NATO SUMMIT: NATO leaders have invited Albania and Croatia to open alliance membership talks, but postponed action on Macedonia until it resolves a dispute with Greece over the country's name. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer announced the decision at the alliance summit in Bucharest. Earlier, a senior U.S. official said NATO leaders agreed to endorse a planned U.S. missile defense system for Europe. Russia is strongly opposed to the missile defense shield that Washington insists is targeted at rogue states such as Iran.
ZIMBABWE ELECTION: Officials with the ruling party of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe say they are preparing for a presidential run-off. Zimbabwe's election commission has not released any official results from Saturday's vote, but the state-owned Herald newspaper says neither Mr. Mugabe nor opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai received the required 50-percent of the vote. Independent candidate Simba Makoni was running a distant third. An official with ZANU-PF (Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga) says the party is confident the president will win the second round of voting.
CHINA - DISSIDENT: A Chinese court has sentenced an outspoken activist to three-and-a-half years in prison on charges of subversion. The Beijing court sentenced 34-year-old Hu Jia today, several days after he was tried on an official charge of "inciting subversion of state power." Hu is an advocate for AIDS patients and the environment, and has been a vocal critic of China's human rights records. His articles on an overseas Chinese-language website, and interviews with foreign journalists, led to the charges against him.
KOREAS - TENSIONS: South Korean media say North Korea is threatening to take unspecified military "countermeasures" against the South. The Yonhap news agency says Pyongyang made the threat in a note sent to Seoul today. North Korea has launched a series of verbal attacks against its democratic rival in recent days, after South Korea's top military official said the army would strike North Korea's nuclear sites if Pyongyang attacked it with atomic weapons. North Korea accused conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak of driving inter-Korean relations to "confrontation and catastrophe" and threatened to turn South Korea into "ashes" with a pre-emptive military strike.
US - CAMBODIA PLOT: A Cambodian-born U.S. citizen is on trial in the United States on charges of trying to orchestrate a coup attempt against the government of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Yasith Chhun, an accountant in California, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to four charges, including conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, and engaging in a military expedition against a country with which the United States is at peace. He could face life in prison if convicted. Federal prosecutors say the 52-year-old Chhun headed a group called the Cambodia Freedom Fighters, which attacked government buildings in Phnom Penh in 2000 in a plot called "Operation Volcano."
AFGHANISTAN - VIOLENCE: The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanista n says its troops killed several armed insurgents and detained four others in southern Helmand province. A statement says the soldiers were looking for a Taliban leader in the area when insurgents fired on them. The coalition forces returned fire, killing "a number" of them. Helmand has been the site of some of the fiercest fighting between coalition forces and insurgents. It is also the biggest opium producing region in the world.
AL-QAIDA - ZAWAHIRI: The al-Qaida terrorist organization's number two leader - Ayman al-Zawahiri - has called the United Nations an enemy of Islam and Muslims, and pledged more attacks against Jews in and outside of Israel. Zawahiri made the comments in an audio message released late Wednesday. The authenticity of the recording could not be immediately verified. He was responding to about 100 questions culled from those posted to Islamic militant online forums. Zawahiri had solicited the questions from the public in December. The audio message lasted at least 90 minutes.
GENETICS - SMOKING: Three teams of independent researchers have found that genetics could explain why people become addicted to smoking, and determine which people develop cancer, whether they smoke or not. The studies, published this week in the journal Nature differ on whether genetic variations cause an individual to be more vulnerable to nicotine addiction, or simply make lung cancer more likely regardless of smoking behavior. The research suggests half the general population carries a single copy of the gene variants, which it says raises the risk of lung cancer by 30 percent.
US - CONGRESS - AIDS: The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to triple the amount of funding given to programs for fighting AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis around the world. Lawmakers Wednesday voted (308 to 116) to provide 50-billion dollars over the next five years in U.S. efforts, extending a program proposed by President Bush in 2003. The measure received broad bipartisan support after compromises were reached on what types of AIDS prevention and treatment programs the money will fund. Among the compromises, lawmakers removed a requirement that at least one-third of funds be used in programs that only advocate sexual abstinence.
HEALTH - WATER: U.S researchers say there is no need for average, healthy adults to drink eight glasses, or about one and a half liters, of water a day. Doctors from the University of Pennsylvania determined that people who live in hot, dry climates and athletes have a higher need for water. But they say average people gain no benefits from an increased intake of fluids. The researchers were investigating the widely-held belief that drinking eight glasses of water a day leads to better skin and fewer headaches, and promoted weight loss and improved kidney function.
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