US - MIDEAST: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is meeting with U.S. President George Bush at the White House today for talks on advancing the peace process with Israel. Mr. Bush wants Israel and the Palestinians to complete a peace deal before he leaves office in less than nine months. Mr. Abbas has said that any deal must include specific timetables for the creation of a Palestinian state. During talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Wednesday, Mr. Abbas said Israel's settlement activity in the West Bank is the biggest obstacle to the peace process The U.S. backed road map peace plan calls for a complete freeze in settlement activity.
IRAQ: The U.S. military says coalition forces in Iraq have killed four Iranian-trained militants, and captured five others during operations north of Baghdad. The military says soldiers battled militants today in Rashidiyah after apprehending a person suspected of receiving weapons and finances from Iran to lead attacks against coalition forces. In other violence, a bomb blast in a Baghdad supermarket killed at least three people and wounded 15 more. Also today, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on a previously unannounced visit to Baghdad.
US - PETRAEUS: U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army General David Petraeus, will take up leadership of all American forces in the Middle East, East Africa and Central Asia. Gates made the announcement Wednesday at the Pentagon. He said Petraeus is the best person to become the head of the U.S. Central Command because he is the top expert on so-called "asymmetric warfare," where conventional armies are fighting insurgents. General Petraeus will replace Admiral William Fallon, who stepped down from Central Command last month and plans to retire.
US - NOKOR - SYRIA: U.S. intelligence officials will meet with congressional lawmakers on Capitol Hill today to discuss North Korea's alleged nuclear cooperation with Syria. High-ranking U.S. officials are telling reporters the lawmakers will be shown video of North Koreans working at a suspected nuclear reactor site in Syria. The video also reportedly shows the reactor's design was identical to the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon. The suspected reactor site was destroyed by Israeli warplanes last September. Damascus protested the air raid, accusing Israel of aggression.
NOKOR - NUCLEAR: North Korea says it has made progress in talks this week with a U.S. delegation on stalled negotiations to end Pyongyang's nuclear program. In a statement today, state-media quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying the negotiations proceeded in a sincere and constructive manner. The statement, carried by the Korean Central News Agency, gave no additional details. The U.S. delegation, led by senior U.S. State Department official Sung Kim, returned from North Korea today after two days of talks.
BURMA - SANCTIONS: A European Union official says the 27-nation bloc is preparing to extend its political and economic sanctions against the military regime in Burma. Slovenia's State Secretary for European Affairs, Janez Lenarcic, whose country is the current EU president, said on Wednesday that EU ministers will decide on a sanctions extension during a meeting next week in Luxembourg. He says he expects the sanctions will be extended by 12 months. Lenarcic said the EU will urge Burma's authorities to pave the way for a transition to a civilian government, release political prisoners and stop the crackdown on the opposition.
THAILAND - VIOLENCE: Authorities in southern Thailand say five construction workers have been shot dead in an ambush by suspected Muslim militants. The workers were attacked as they arrived at a school construction site in Pattani province today. One worker was wounded in the attack. Pattani is one of three Muslim-dominated southern provinces where about three-thousand people have been killed in a violent separatist insurgency that began in 2004. Thailand's cabinet recently approved a three-month extension of emergency rule in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces.
NEPAL - ELECTIONS: Nepal's Maoists have won the most seats in the country's new assembly, which is tasked with rewriting the constitution and abolishing the monarchy. Nepal's election commission said today that preliminary results show the left-leaning Maoists secured 29 percent of the vote -- and twice as many seats as any other single party. The Maoists are expected to have 217 seats altogether, short of a simple majority. They are expected to try to form a coalition government. Party leader Prachanda, who goes by only one name, met today with officials from the United Nations to talk about assistance for the future government.
OLYMPIC TORCH: The Australian leg of the Olympic torch relay was completed today in the capital city of Canberra without major incident. About 80 runners carried the torch along the heavily guarded 16-kilometer route after a traditional Aboriginal cleansing ceremony. Authorities increased security to prevent a repeat of chaotic demonstrations that marred the torch's relay in London, Paris and San Francisco. Thousands of pro-Chinese supporters, many of them students, traveled to Canberra to support the torch relay. Many waved Chinese flags and chanted pro-Chinese slogans.
TAIWAN - POLITICS: Taiwan's Supreme Court has upheld a lower court's acquittal of President-elect Ma Ying-jeou on corruption charges. Today's ruling was issued less than a month before Mr. Ma is to take office. Mr. Ma was first indicted last year on charges that he illegally diverted more than 300-thousand dollars from a public discretionary fund to his personal accounts while serving as mayor of Taipei from 1998 to 2006. The indictment forced Mr. Ma to resign as chairman of the Nationalist Party. He was acquitted by a district court last August, and the Taiwan High Court rejected prosecutors' appeals in January.
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