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Zimbabweans Vote in Presidential Runoff


ZIMBABWE: Zimbabweans are casting ballots today in a presidential run-off election offering just one candidate -- incumbent Robert Mugabe, who has defied international calls to postpone the vote. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the race earlier this week, saying violence against his supporters made the election impossible. In an election day message, he asked supporters to boycott the vote unless they or their families were in danger. Journalists told VOA that pro-Mugabe militias have said they will check people's hands for ink to show that they cast their ballot and threatened to beat people who did not. Witnesses say there was a slow start to voting.

NOKOR - NUCLEAR: North Korea has destroyed the cooling tower at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex, a symbol of its atomic weapons program. Video footage showed the cooling tower crumbling to the ground in a swirl of dust and smoke today. A U.S. official was on hand to verify the demolition, which was a move by North Korea to show in visual terms its compliance with a multinational agreement to eventually end its nuclear weapons program. China, Russia, Japan, the United States and South Korea have promised the North energy and financial benefits in exchange for steps in that direction. The explosion comes just one day after Pyongyang turned over a long-delayed declaration of its nuclear activities.

THAILAND - POLITICS: Embattled Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundavarej has survived a parliamentary no-confidence vote. The lower house of parliament rejected the motion today by a vote of 280-to-162. Seven other cabinet ministers also survived no-confidence motions. Mr. Samak's six-party ruling coalition holds about two-thirds of the seats in parliament. Thailand's opposition parties have accused Mr. Samak's administration of mismanaging the country's economy, which is struggling under high oil prices. He is also accused of protecting his predecessor, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in 2006 in a bloodless military coup. Mr. Thaksin has been accused of corruption during his tenure.

CAMBODIA - THAILAND: Cambodia's foreign minister has warned Thailand that a heated political debate in Bangkok over a contested Hindu temple on the Cambodian border could harm ties between the two nations. Speaking with reporters today Hor Namhong accused politicians in Thailand of using the dispute over the temple (Preah Vihear) as part of their push for a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej this week. That vote failed today. He also warned that if the debate continued, it risked damaging the two countries' friendship and cooperation. Cambodia has requested that the temple be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, but Thai lawmakers say that could have an impact on territorial disputes around the site.

SOKOR - US BEEF: South Korean protesters have clashed with police after the government lifted a ban on U.S. beef imports. Police used water cannons and fire extinguishers to disperse thousands of demonstrators Thursday evening in the capital, Seoul. A crowd tried to force past a barricade of police buses into the presidential office complex. Union members also gathered in the port city of Busan where thousands of tons of frozen U.S. beef awaits inspection. Similar protests took place outside warehouses in other cities following the detention of 130 protesters late Wednesday. About 53-hundred tons of American beef shipped earlier are awaiting inspection in customs and quarantine facilities.

UN - RAMOS-HORTA: East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta says he will not pursue the position of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Mr. Ramos-Horta told reporters today in the capital Dili that his early departure from the presidency would trigger early elections. He says the move would cause an "unfair burden" on the citizens, who voted three times in 2007. Louise Arbour, the current U.N. human rights commissioner, is scheduled to step down at the end of the month. The 58-year-old Ramos-Horta is the second year of a five-year term as East Timor's president. He narrowly survived an assassination attempt in February that was carried out by a group of rebels.

ISRAEL - PALESTINIANS: Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have fired two mortar shells into southern Israel, putting further strain on the fragile week-old truce. There are no reports of injuries from today's attack, which was the third such incident this week. A militant group linked to the Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas claimed responsibility for firing rockets in a separate incident Thursday. Gaza's Hamas rulers have issued strong warnings against these groups for threatening the cease-fire deal. Israel responded to a rocket attack earlier this week by blocking shipments of goods into Gaza. The crossings remained closed today, but Israel says it is allowing some fuel into the Palestinian territory.

US - IRAQ WAR FUNDING: The U.S. Senate has approved 162-billion dollars in spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, without setting timetables for troop withdrawals. The Senate overwhelmingly passed the spending plan Thursday by a vote of 92 to six. The House of Representatives passed the war funding bill last week. President George Bush is expected to sign the measure into law once he receives it from Congress. The new war funding will pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan until after the next president takes office in January. Mr. Bush had strongly opposed attempts by Democrats who hold the majority in Congress to set deadlines for pulling combat troops out of Iraq.

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