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Obama on Arab TV: Moment at Hand to Forge Middle East Peace Accord


OBAMA - MIDEAST: U.S. President Barack Obama says "the moment is ripe" for the Israelis and Palestinians to achieve a lasting peace, but he stressed that all parties in the region must play a role in the process. In an interview late Monday with Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television, Mr. Obama said both sides would have to decide for themselves what is best for them. But the new president says the Israelis and Palestinians must realize the current situation will not result in "prosperity and security" for their people.

US ECONOMY: U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Capitol Hill today to meet with opposition Republican Party leaders in the U.S. House and Senate about his proposed 825 billion-dollar economic stimulus proposal. Republican lawmakers have increasingly expressed opposition to the huge spending plan, which calls for about 250 billion dollars in tax cuts and 550 billion in spending. The spending portion of the bill is directed at public works projects, including repairing and upgrading roads and bridges. The spending is also aimed at science and energy, along with other areas.

THAILAND - BURMA: Thai officials say more Rohingya migrants from Burma have arrived in Thailand, but are being held by police rather than the military, which is accused of dealing harshly with hundreds of migrants. Authorities in Bangkok said today that the Thai navy found around 78 Rohingya at sea Monday and turned them over to police. The move is a break from the Thai army's processing of other Rohingya on a remote Andaman Sea island before towing them out to sea and abandoning them. The migrants picked up Monday had wounds that looked like lash marks, and told Thai authorities they had been beaten by soldiers from Burma.

THAILAND - LAOS - HMONG: Human rights groups are warning that fear among Lao Hmong refugees in Thailand could lead to unrest, following reports that the new government plans to repatriate thousands of Hmong people. Human Rights Watch analyst Sunai Phasuk says it is not clear what happens to refugees once they cross the Thai-Lao border. He says fear may lead to resistance and protests among refugees, and that could be met by a heavy-handed response from the Thai military. About five thousand members of Lao Hmong minority live in a refugee camp in Thailand (370 kilometers north of the Thai capital, Bangkok.)

SRI LANKA: Sri Lankan troops are trying to capture the last territory held by Tamil rebels in northern Sri Lanka, as international concern grows for civilians trapped in the area. Several journalists reported hearing heavy weapons fire as they made a rare visit to the combat zone today under escort from Sri Lanka's military. U.N. spokesman in Colombo Gordon Weiss says an estimated 200-thousand to 300-thousand civilians are trapped by the fighting between Sri Lankan troops and Tamil rebels. Pro-rebel Web site Tamilnet accuses Sri Lankan forces of killing hundreds of civilians Monday by firing on a refugee safe zone set up by the government last week.

ZIMBABWE: Southern African leaders have ended a summit on forming a unity government in Zimbabwe, but the regional leaders and representatives of the country's opposition disagree on the results. The regional grouping released a communique early today saying opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai should be sworn in as prime minister by February eleventh. However, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change released a contradicting statement saying the summit fell "far short of our expectations." The MDC says it plans to meet at the end of the week to define its position on the summit.

SOMALIA: The African Union is condemning Monday's takeover of the Somali town of Baidoa by Islamic insurgents. The town is home to Somalia's parliament. Al-Shabab seized control of Baidoa after Ethiopian troops left, and while most lawmakers were in neighboring Djibouti approving plans to double the size of parliament to admit moderate Islamists. The new parliament had planned to elect a new Somali president as soon as it was seated. Former Somali Education Minister Mohammed Ali Ahmed tellls VOA that al-Shabab plans to enforce fundamentalist Islamic law in Baidoa and promises not to harm anyone who obeys the law.

JAPAN - ECONOMY: Japan's parliament has approved a contentious stimulus package that includes cash payouts for taxpayers. Japan's parliament passed the 54 billion dollar extra budget after hours of wrangling between Prime Minister Taro Aso's ruling party and opposition lawmakers. It is the second time in less than a year that Japan has approved an extra budget. In addition to extending credit to small businesses the budget will also give more than 22 billion dollars in cash to taxpayers in a bid to boost consumer spending.

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