US - ABORTION: U.S. President Barack Obama has signed an order ending a ban on U.S.
funding for international groups that provide abortion-related
services. President Obama signed the order canceling out the
restrictions on Friday, the third full day of his presidency. The ban,
also known as the "gag order," had forbidden the United States
from funding overseas family planning groups that are in any way
involved with abortion services, including providing abortion
information, counseling or referrals.
AFGHANISTAN: U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan say they killed 15 militants during an overnight operation in the east, while local officials says those killed were civilians. In a statement today, coalition forces say their troops were targeting Taliban militants in Laghman province when they came under attack. It says the troops returned fire, killing 15 militants, including a woman carrying a rocket-propelled grenade. Local officials dispute the account and say as many as 22 civilians were killed.
IRAQ: Iran's ambassador to Baghdad has rejected U.S. accusations that Iran is
seeking to interfere in upcoming elections in Iraq.
In an interview with the French news agency (AFP / Agence France
Presse) today, Ambassador Hasan Kazemi Qomi said the United
States has never shown evidence to support the claim.
In a report earlier this month, the U.S. Defense Department said Iran
may use Iraq's provincial elections to exert its influence by
supporting pro-Iranian candidates.
Iraqi and U.S. officials are hoping the January 31st elections will
bring about greater security in the country, despite rising sectarian
violence in recent weeks.
GUANTANAMO: Pakistan says it supports U.S. President Barack Obama's order to close
the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba within one
A foreign ministry statement today says the decision to shut
the center adds, what it calls, "the much needed moral dimension in
dealing with terrorism."
According to a list compiled by the Washington Post, there are
currently six Pakistani nationals being held at Guantanamo. They
include top suspects accused of planning the September 11, 2001
terrorist attacks on the United States.
THAILAND - LAOS: Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva traveled to Laos Friday for his
first official overseas visit, saying he intends to strengthen ties
with the Communist state.
Mr. Abhisit met with his counterpart, Bouasone Bouphavanh, and Laos President Choummaly Sayasone in Vientiane.
On the agenda for discussion was the world economic crisis and the
repatriation of thousands of Lao Hmong, who live in camps in northeast
Thailand and are seeking political asylum.
The Hmong say they fear political persecution at home because many of
them fought alongside U.S. forces during the Vietnam War.
ISRAEL - PALESTINIANS: Thousands of children in the Gaza Strip are returning to schools that
were shut during an Israeli offensive against Hamas militants in the
Schools run by the United Nations re-opened today,
after being shut for nearly a month because of the violence. Some
schools had been used as refugee shelters during the conflict, and
several were hit by Israeli fire.
Some 13-hundred Palestinians were killed during the 22-day offensive,
which ended after both sides declared cease-fires last Sunday.
U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes called the casualty toll "shocking."
SOMALIA PIRACY: Officials in Nairobi say Somali pirates have released a vessel with its crew, after holding it for almost two months. The Liberian-flagged chemical tanker Biscaglia with its crew of 25 Indians and three Bangladeshis was hijacked November 28th. Three security guards jumped overboard shortly after the pirates overtook the vessel. It was not immediately clear whether a ransom was paid for the release of the ship and its crew. Pirates based in Somalia have made the waters off East Africa some of the most dangerous in the world.
NIGERIA DELTA: Nigerian officials say gunmen ambushed two vessels in separate incidents Friday off the Niger Delta. They say at least 10 men in two speedboats attacked an Exxon Mobil vessel near Bonny in Rivers state. They say no one was hurt, but some items were stolen. Later in the same region, another vessel came under attack by gunmen in three speedboats. Violence is common in the Niger Delta, where militant groups are demanding the government share more of the region's oil wealth with local residents. The attacks have cut Nigeria's oil production by about 20 percent from its peak in 2005.
INDIA PRIME MINISTER: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is undergoing heart bypass surgery today at a New Delhi hospital. The surgery is expected last several hours. Doctors will use existing blood vessels to redirect blood around a clogged artery. The 76-year-old leader underwent a similar operation in Britain in 1990. The clogged artery was detected during a series of tests earlier in the week, after Mr. Singh complained of chest pains. Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee is expected to take over day-to-day operations of the government while Mr. Singh recovers, but will not be named "acting prime minister."
CHINA BIRD FLU: China's Health Ministry says a fourth person has died from (H5N1) bird flu this year.
The ministry said on its Web site today that
the latest victim is a 31-year-old woman who lived in the far northwest
region of Xinjiang. The report said she died early Friday morning.
A statement Wednesday from the ministry said there was no evidence of
the possibility of a large-scale (H5N1) outbreak, noting that those who
died lived in different parts of the country.
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