IRAQ: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has extended a deadline for Shi'ite gunmen fighting government forces in the southern city of Basra to surrender their weapons. Mr. Maliki said in a statement that militants will be rewarded financially if they hand over their weapons anytime between this Saturday and April 8th. The Iraqi leader had earlier set today as a deadline for Shi'ite militias to disarm and warned of consequences if they did not comply. Meanwhile, the British military said coalition planes have dropped bombs on Basra for the first time in support of Iraqi forces.
CHINA - TIBET: A high-level official in Tibet says monks who disrupted a government-led media tour of the capital Lhasa Thursday will not be punished. About 30 Buddhist monks of the Jokhang Temple stormed into the briefing and complained of a lack of religious freedom. They also disputed Beijing's claims that Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was behind the recent protests against Chinese rule. Baema Chilain, the vice-chairman of the Chinese-controlled Tibetan government, says the monks were trying to "mislead the world's opinion."
NORTH KOREA: A spokesman for South Korea's presidential office has confirmed that North Korea fired several short-range missiles off its western coast. South Korea's Yonhap news agency says the launches occurred earlier today. The spokesman says the missile firings appear to be part of routine military training. The firings come one day after Pyongyang expelled South Korean officials working at a joint North-South industrial complex. North Korea is angry over the much harsher line taken towards Pyongyang by South Korea's new conservative President Lee Myung-bak.
NOKOR - LAOS - ASYLUM: The South Korean embassy in Laos says 12 North Korean refugees have entered the building in an apparent bid to seek asylum. The refugees made their way into the embassy in Vientiane on Thursday. They were aided by human rights activists who say the group is seeking freedom in South Korea. The South Korean embassy says it will handle the North Koreans' cases according to their wishes. Tens of thousands of North Koreans have crossed the Chinese border and traveled to a third country seeking asylum from the poverty and isolation of their native land.
US - AUSTRALIA: U.S. President George Bush will welcome Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to the White House today for talks on a range of issues, including Iraq and the unrest in Tibet. Mr. Rudd's visit to Washington is his first since leading the Labor Party to victory in last November's parliamentary elections. The two leaders are expected to reaffirm the long-standing security alliance between the U.S. and Australia, despite Mr. Rudd's decision to remove 550 combat troops from Iraq. Mr. Bush's national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, says it is crucial that the alliance "is strong and will endure under new leadership" in Canberra.
EAST TIMOR - UN: East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta says the United Nations squandered an opportunity to catch the gunmen who nearly took his life in an attack in Dili last month. Speaking to reporters today in the Australian city of Darwin, Mr. Ramos-Horta says if Australian-led forces had been able to act independently, they would have promptly shut off the attackers' escape routes. The president also complained of the U.N. paramedics' slow response to his emergency call as he lay bleeding from critical gunshots wounds.
COLOMBIA - BETANCOURT: Colombia has offered to suspend the sentences of jailed FARC members if the rebels free their hostages, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. Colombia Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo says if some captives are liberated immediately, the process of exchanging rebels for dozens of hostages could begin. The move comes amid reports that Betancourt is ill with hepatitis B and malnutrition and is in a very delicate state of health. Colombia's ombudsman Volmar Perez said his office has received reports that Betancourt has become so ill that her rebel captors sought medical attention for her last month in southeastern Colombia.
US - DISEASE STUDY: U.S. researchers have determined how the dengue virus matures and becomes infectious, information that could be used to develop treatment for dengue fever and other ailments. Biologists at Purdue University in Indiana released a statement Thursday detailing the study. The study used the dengue virus, but the researchers say their findings also apply to other insect-borne diseases, including West Nile, yellow fever and encephalitis.
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