ZIMBABWE: Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe marked the country's independence day today with a speech denouncing former colonial ruler Britain. Mr. Mugabe delivered the address in front of thousands of supporters at a sports stadium outside Harare. It was his first major speech since Zimbabwe's disputed March 29th elections. Mr. Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since it claimed independence from Britain in 1980, has accused his rival, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of working with Britain to overthrow the current government.
SOUTH KOREA - US: A free-trade agreement will top the agenda today and Saturday when President Bush and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak hold their first summit. The two leaders will meet at Camp David outside Washington where Mr. Lee will be the first South Korean leader to visit the presidential retreat. Washington and Seoul signed a free trade agreement last June, but that agreement is still awaiting legislative approval in both countries before it can go into effect. Earlier this month, South Korean voters gave Mr. Lee's Grand National Party a parliamentary majority helping to clear the way for its passage there.
US - POPE: Pope Benedict travels to New York today where he will address the United Nations General Assembly. The pontiff will also meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other officials during his visit to the world body. The last pope to visit the U.N. was his predecessor, John Paul the Second, in 1995. Pope Benedict heads to New York after a three-day visit to Washington. During an outdoor Mass Thursday at the city's baseball stadium (Nationals Park), the pontiff expressed regret about the sexual abuse scandal involving U.S. priests and called for healing for the victims. He later held a private meeting at the Vatican embassy with a small group of victims.
OLYMPIC TORCH: The Olympic torch has arrived in Thailand under heavy security on the latest leg of its international journey that has attracted protesters angry over China's harsh crackdown in Tibet. A chartered flight carrying the torch and a Chinese security entourage landed early today at Bangkok's military airport from New Delhi. The torch was taken to a luxury hotel, where it will remain until Saturday's scheduled 10-kilometer torch relay. Thailand's Olympic Committee president (General Yuttasak Sasiprapha) says any foreigners attempting to disrupt the torch relay will be expelled from the country.
ISRAEL - PALESTINIANS: Israeli forces have killed a senior member of a Palestinian militant group in a second day of violence in the West Bank. During military operations in the Balata refugee camp in Nablus today, Israeli troops shot and killed a local leader of the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade (Hani al-Kabi). On Thursday, Israeli forces killed two Palestinians near the West Bank town of Jenin. In other news, Israel has announced it will build 100 homes in two West Bank settlements (Ariel and El Kana), a move Palestinians have said could undermine the peace process.
BRITAIN - US: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wraps up his second official visit to the United States today with a meeting with U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. Mr. Brown spent Thursday meeting with President Bush at the White House. During a joint press conference, the two leaders said they discussed the strained global economy and what their countries are doing to address housing concerns, inflation and an international food shortage. On foreign policy matters, Mr. Brown said he made no apologies for pushing to extend sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council against Iran for its nuclear development program.
AFGHAN - VIOLENCE: The son of the new Dutch military commander in Afghanistan has been killed in a roadside bombing. Officials in the Netherlands announced today that Lieutenant Dennis van Uhm, son of General Peter van Uhm, was one of two soldiers who died in the attack today, north of the Dutch military base in the southern province of Uruzgan. A statement from the Dutch defense ministry said there was no indication that van Uhm was targeted specifically. Van Uhm died just a day after his father took command of the Dutch military in Afghanistan.
RICE PRICE: Rice prices rose to more record highs Thursday. A key benchmark price in the United States jumped more than two percent to 23 dollars, 37-point-five cents for future delivery of 45-kilogram units. And a news report (on Reuters) says the benchmark for Thai rice hit a record of 950 dollars a ton. Rice is a staple food that feeds half the world's population. The cost of rice has doubled in the past year due to rising demand, drought in some producing areas, and efforts by some major producers to restrict exports to make sure there are sufficient supplies for domestic consumption.
CHINA - TYPHOON: China's state-run media say the first typhoon of the year is approaching the southern island of Hainan. The Xinhua news agency says Typhoon Neoguri is expected to make landfall either tonight or early Saturday morning. Forecasters say Neoguri is expected to drop up to 180 millimeters of rain on Hainan. Authorities on the island have recalled nearly 22-thousand fishing boats back to shore, and canceled ferries across the Qiongzhou Strait between Hainan and the neighboring province of Guangdong on the mainland.
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