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President Bush Visits Afghanistan, Iraq


BUSH TRIP: U.S. President George Bush has pledged continued security efforts in Afghanistan during a meeting in Kabul with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Mr. Bush told Mr. Karzai today (Monday) that he could count on the new U.S. administration to keep fighting Afghanistan's Taliban insurgency. U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to increase troop levels in Afghanistan after he takes office in January. After the meeting, Mr. Karzai awarded Mr. Bush with the Ghazi Amir Amanullah Khan Insignia for his efforts to rebuild Afghanistan and fight the country's illegal drug trade. The stop in Afghanistan followed Mr. Bush's Sunday visit to Iraq for farewells with troops and government officials. During a news conference in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a television correspondent called Mr. Bush a "dog" in Arabic and then threw his shoes at the president. Mr. Bush ducked and the shoes sailed over his head. Security officials dragged the reporter out of the room, as other Iraqi journalists apologized.

THAILAND - POLITICS: The leader of Thailand's opposition won a special parliamentary vote today (Monday) to become the country's third prime minister in less than a year. Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva won 235 votes, as opposed to 198 for the candidate of the former ruling party and its allies, ex-police chief Pracha Promnog. Hundreds of supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra attempted to block the parliament building following the vote and smashed windows of cars carrying members of parliament from Mr. Abhisit's Democrat Party.
Mr. Abhisit, a British-born and educated politician who backed the anti-government protests that closed Bangkok's airports for eight days earlier this month, replaces Somchai Wongsawat. Mr. Somchai resigned as prime minister earlier this month after a court found his party and its coalition partners guilty of election fraud.

CHINA - TAIWAN: China and Taiwan have launched direct air, sea and postal services for the first time since the two sides split following a civil war in 1949. A flight left this (Monday) morning from southern China's city of Shenzhen for Taiwan, while another flight left's Taiwan's capital, Taipei, for Shanghai on the Chinese mainland. Under an agreement reached in November, the two sides have established a cargo charter flight service and regular passenger flights, which used to take off only on weekends and during major festivals. Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou presided over a ceremony in the port city of Kaohsiung to witness the launch of direct shipping links, while a senior Taiwanese ruling party official participated in a parallel event in the Chinese port city of Tianjin.

PHILIPPINES - FERRY: Philippine authorities say at least 22 people are dead and 34 others are missing after a ferry rocked by large waves capsized in the Luzon strait. The boat was thought to be carrying nearly 100 passengers to the town of Aparri in Cagayan province when it overturned late Sunday. The Associated Press says most of the 46 survivors swam about a kilometer to shore.

BURMA - THAILAND: Thai police say at least seven Burmese migrant workers have died in a car accident near the Thailand-Burma border. Police say the driver of a pick-up truck, which was carrying some 15 illegal migrant workers, tried to break through a border checkpoint at high speeds and lost control. The truck slammed into an electricity pylon, killing the driver and seven migrants. Eight other Burmese migrants were injured in the crash in Kanchanaburi province. The Thai government says about 500-thousand workers are legally registered to work in Thailand, a large number of them from Burma. But, it is believed that more than a million undocumented workers are in the country.

WORLD ECONOMY: Asian and European stocks rose today on speculation the U.S. Treasurywill step in and bail out ailing automakers. The markets are also reacting to Saturday's announcement by the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea that they will work to jump start the world economy. While a plan to help U.S. automakers was blocked in the Senate last week, President Bush today repeated his support for the idea of using money originally set aside to shore up the financial sector to assist the car companies. Mr. Bush said bankruptcy for Chrysler, Ford or General Motors could be devastating for the economy as a whole.

ISRAEL - PALESTINIANS: Israel has began freeing 227 Palestinian prisoners today (Monday), after postponing their release last week. The Israeli government announced last month that it planned to release about 250 prisoners as a goodwill gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Officials had originally said the release could coincide with last week's Muslim festival, Eid al-Adha.

NEWS UPDATES: ASEAN-CHARTER: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations hassigned a charter that makes the regional bloc a legal entity for the first time in its four decade history. The charter was enacted today (Monday) at the group's headquarters in Jakarta. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono praised the ratification of the document, calling it a momentous day for the 10-nation body.

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