CHINA - QUAKE: China's state-run news agency says a strong aftershock has struck near the epicenter of Monday's earthquake, as authorities have increased the official death toll. Xinhua says the five-point-nine aftershock in Lixian county today triggered landslides that cut off roads and buried vehicles. The aftershock is likely to further hamper search-and-recovery efforts, as chances of finding survivors in the rubble of this week's initial quake diminish with each hour. Foreign rescue teams are arriving in China to assist the 130-thousand troops deployed in the affected areas.
BURMA: Heavy rains lashed parts of Burma's Irrawaddy River delta today, deepening the misery of victims of Cyclone Nargis and further complicating desperately needed relief efforts. Foreign governments and aid groups have warned of starvation and disease if larger amounts of relief supplies do not quickly get to affected areas. The international Red Cross tells the Associated Press that a lack of clean water could become the biggest killer in Burma's post-disaster environment. The group's operations chief, Thomas Gurtner, says hundreds of thousands could fall victim to diseases such as dysentery if they do not get clean water.
BURMA SDBR: CHOLERA: International health experts say there are confirmed reports of cholera in Burma in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. But a representative for the World Health Organization says the number of confirmed cases of cholera in the cyclone-hit areas have yet to surpass normal levels. Cholera is a water-borne bacterial disease that causes chronic dehydration, and is potentially fatal if not treated within hours. Relief agencies are struggling to deliver badly-needed medicine and other supplies to about two million Burmese left vulnerable from the cyclone that devastated the Irrawaddy Delta region two weeks ago.
ZIMBABWE - ELECTION: Zimbabwe's government says the country's run-off presidential election will be held on June 27th. The announcement was made today. Official results from the March 29th presidential election showed opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai beating President Robert Mugabe, but falling short of a majority needed to avoid a run-off. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change disputed those results but agreed to take part in a run-off. However, the MDC's secretary-general has insisted that voting be held by May 23rd, in line with laws that say a the run-off must come within 21 days of the election results being announced.
BUSH - MIDEAST: U.S. President George Bush has arrived in Saudi Arabia for talks on record oil prices that have affected Western consumers, after visiting Israel for three days. Mr. Bush plans to meet today with Saudi King Abdullah on his ranch outside the capital, Riyadh. Saudi Arabia maintains about one-fifth of the world's oil reserves and accounts for 14 percent of U.S. crude oil imports. Mr. Bush's visit to Saudi Arabia is intended partly to celebrate 75 years of formal U.S.-Saudi relations. In a statement today, the White House says the two countries have signed deals to protect energy resources, enhance peaceful nuclear cooperation, broaden the fight against terrorism, and strengthen the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
LEBANON: Lebanon's political leaders plan to meet in Qatar today for fresh talks on electing a new president and forming a unity government. Lebanon's pro-Western government and Hezbollah-led opposition agreed Thursday to an Arab League proposal to resume the talks and end a week of sectarian violence that killed at least 65 people and wounded 200 others. Qatar's prime minister (Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani) led an Arab delegation in Lebanon that brokered the deal. The agreement also calls for all Lebanese factions to remove armed militiamen from the streets and to refrain from using weapons or violence to achieve political goals.
UN - SOMALIA: The U.N. Security Council has passed a resolution that opens the door to a possible deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in Somalia. The resolution says the council will consider sending a U.N. peacekeeping operation to Somalia to take over from the small African Union force currently there -- but only if the country's political and security situation stabilizes. The resolution, drafted by Britain, also urges the United Nations to move its Somali political office from Kenya to the Horn of African nation, a measure aimed a boosting the U.N.'s visibility in Somalia.
SRI LANKA: Sri Lanka's military says a suicide bomb blast in the capital has killed at least nine people, including seven policemen. A spokesman says a suicide bomber on a motorbike crashed into a bus carrying policemen in a commercial area in Colombo that is the site of Sri Lanka's presidential office. He says more than 85 people were wounded. The spokesman blamed Tamil Tiger rebels for carrying out today's (Friday's) attack. There has been no immediate claim of responsibility. Tamil rebels have been fighting for an independent Tamil state in northern Sri Lanka since 1983.
The United Nations is warning the world economy is on the brink of a severe downturn, mainly because of worsening US housing and credit markets. The organization's mid-year economic update is predicting declines in all parts of the world. In a report released Thursday, U.N. economists say world economic growth will slow to one-point-eight percent this year, down from three-point-eight last year. The report's author, Rob Vos, says the surge in food and oil prices is contributing to the slowdown.
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