BURMA: Burma's military government says it will accept foreign aid for the victims of last week's deadly cyclone, but it does not want foreign aid workers to enter the country at this time. A foreign ministry statement issued today says Burma would use its own nationals to distribute relief supplies. It noted that authorities turned back a flight carrying a search and rescue team and media who did not receive permission to enter the country. Burma's stance has sparked growing outrage within the international community. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says Burma's government is "behaving appallingly."
BURMA SDBR: REFERENDUM: Burma's ruling military government is calling on its citizens to vote for the military-backed draft constitution in Saturday's referendum, ignoring international calls to postpone the vote in the wake of last week's deadly cyclone. Burmese state-run media are running messages telling citizens it is their patriotic duty to approve the new charter. The military-run government has vowed to hold the nation-wide constitution, despite the emergency caused by Cyclone Nargis. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the government to postpone the vote to focus more resources on the recovery efforts.
CHINA - VIRUS: The death toll in China from an outbreak of a severe intestinal virus that has sickened thousands of children now stands at 34. China's official Xinhua news agency says two children died in the eastern province of Anhui, where the majority of the casualties have been recorded. Earlier today, authorities said an eight-month-old girl in southern Guangdong province and an 18-month-old boy in neighboring Guangxi province died this week. The outbreak has been traced to the "enterovirus 71" virus, which causes a severe form of hand, foot and mouth disease that can lead to high fever, paralysis and viral meningitis.
CHINA - OLYMPICS: London-based Amnesty International says human rights are eroding significantly in China ahead of the August Beijing Olympics. The rights group's Asia advocacy directory T. Kumar said Thursday that Chinese authorities are using the Olympics as an excuse for a crack down on freedoms. Kumar says China has detained hundreds of thousands of people and held them without charge as part of what it calls a "patriotic education" campaign. He said Amnesty is not against China hosting the Olympics and has not called for a boycott. Kumar instead called for U.S. corporate sponsors of the Olympics to speak out about violations.
LEBANON: Hezbollah gunmen in Lebanon have seized control of west Beirut after clashes with Sunni fighters loyal to the country's Western-backed government left at least 11 people dead. Fighters from the Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah also forced a pro-government television station (Future Movement) off the air today and attacked an affiliated newspaper. The station is owned by Saad al-Hariri, a leader of Lebanon's governing coalition. A rocket also slammed into the perimeter fence of his west Beirut home without causing injuries. Authorities also closed Beirut's port due to the violence.
IRAQ: U.S. military officials in Iraq say the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq has not been captured. They denied reports from an Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman, who told Iraqi state television on Thursday that Abu Ayyub al-Masri had been detained in a raid in the city of Mosul. Al-Masri, who also goes by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, took over command of al-Qaida in Iraq after Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2006. Last year, Iraqi forces said al-Masri had been killed in fighting, but al-Qaida in Iraq denied that report and released an audio recording from the Egyptian-born militant.
ZIMBABWE - ELECTION: South African President Thabo Mbeki is in Zimbabwe today to mediate an end to the country's political crisis. South Africa's foreign ministry says Mr. Mbeki will meet political leaders in Zimbabwe, where violence has escalated since a disputed election in March. Regional leaders have asked Mr. Mbeki to act as a mediator between Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. But, the MDC says it does not want Mr. Mbeki as a mediator because the South African leader refuses to take a tough line with President Robert Mugabe.
RUSSIA - MILITARY PARADE: The Russian military rolled heavy weaponry through Moscow's Red Square in the annual Victory Day parade today for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the return of heavy weapons to the parade marking the defeat of Nazi Germany will demonstrate Russia's "growing defense capabilities." He added that the event does not constitute "saber-rattling" by Russia. Russian lawmakers confirmed Mr. Putin as prime minister Thursday, a day after he handed the presidency to his successor, Dmitri Medvedev.
US - INTERPOL - PEDOPHILE: The international police organization Interpol says a suspected pedophile has been arrested in the United States, less then 48 hours after the agency appealed to the public to help find the man. The France-based agency says Wayne Corliss was detained early today in (the U.S. eastern state of) New Jersey. Interpol officials say information people left on the agency's website led to the arrest of the suspect, who is in his late 50s. Images of Corliss abusing at least three boys between the ages of six and 10 were found on the Internet and retrieved from the computer of a convicted pedophile.
BOLIVIA RECALL VOTE: Bolivian President Evo Morales has agreed to hold a recall election, two years after he was elected to office. Mr. Morales says he will sign the recall bill into law and let the people decide if he should continue as leader or new general elections be held. The vote must be held within 90 days. The move comes in the wake of an overwhelming vote for autonomy by Bolivia's wealthy Santa Cruz region last Sunday - a vote Mr. Morales condemned as divisive and illegal.
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