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US Navy Shadows Somali Pirates Holding American Captain


SOMALIA - PIRATES: The U.S. Navy is keeping close watch on a tense situation off the coast of Somalia, where pirates are holding the captain of a U.S. cargo ship hostage. A U.S. warship, the USS Bainbridge, arrived at the scene early Thursday. Pirates briefly hijacked the cargo ship Wednesday, before the American crew retook control. The crew members say four pirates are still holding the American captain hostage on a lifeboat. The 17,000-ton container vessel "Maersk Alabama" was carrying emergency food aid to Mombasa, Kenya. The ship was the sixth vessel seized in the region within a week but it was the first American-registered vessel to be hijacked by the pirates operating off the coast of East Africa.

INDONESIA - ELECTIONS: Indonesians voted Thursday in parliamentary elections that will determine whether President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will have enough support to win a second five-year term in office. The vote began early Thursday against a backdrop of concerns about vote-rigging, fraud, and regional violence in the country. About 170 million people were eligible to cast ballots for tens of thousands of legislative candidates, but polls show the president's ruling Democrat Party is likely to win the most support. Voters will elect a new 560-seat legislature and determine who can field a presidential candidate in July's election. Hours before voting began, police say six people died in violence in Indonesia's Papua province.

THAILAND - PROTESTS: Anti-government protesters in Thailand paralyzed traffic in the country's capital Thursday as they threatened to shift their massive rally to a regional summit being held in the seaside resort of Pattaya. Leaders of the protest, which swelled to 100,000 on Wednesday say they are debating whether to travel to Pattaya and put more pressure on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Bangkok's red-shirt clad demonstrators, who support ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, are demanding Mr. Abhisit resign along with a top adviser to the country's revered king. On Thursday, about 100 taxi drivers left their cars at one of Bangkok's main traffic circles, Victory Monument, jamming the city's already clogged streets.

NORTH KOREA: North Korean state media report the country's rubber stamp parliament has re-appointed Kim Jong II as military chief. The Korean Central News Agency reports Thursday that during the first session of parliament, Mr. Kim was reappointed as chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission. Western news agencies say Mr. Kim was expected to preside over the session, in what would be his first major public appearance since August. The report did not say whether Mr. Kim was present at the meeting. The parliamentary session comes a day after North Korea's government said 100,000 people attended a rally to celebrate North Korea's rocket launch Sunday and Mr. Kim's third term in office.

ASEAN - EAST ASIA: China says East Asian leaders should focus on boosting regional trade -- and not North Korea -- during upcoming talks in Thailand. China's Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue on Wednesday said leaders should focus on coping with the global financial crisis when they meet on the sidelines of a summit with Southeast Asian leaders. Hu told Chinese state media Beijing attaches great importance to the meeting with the Association of Southeast Asian leaders that will open Friday. China's official Xinhua news agency quoted Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao as saying he hopes to conclude a free trade agreement with ASEAN during the annual East Asia Summit.

IRAN - NUCLEAR: An aide to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Tehran will review the offer of nuclear talks made by the United States and five other world powers. The aide said Thursday that Iran will decide how to respond after it examines the details of the offer. Senior diplomats of the five permanent Security Council member states (U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain) and Germany met in London Wednesday and said they would ask European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana to invite Iran to a meeting soon to seek a diplomatic solution to the "critical" nuclear issue. In their statement, the nations strongly urged Iran "to engage seriously with all of us in a spirit of mutual respect."

IRAQ: Tens of thousands of supporters of an anti-U.S. Shi'ite cleric rallied in Baghdad to protest the U.S. military presence in Iraq and to mark the sixth anniversary of the fall of the Iraqi capital to American forces. Backers of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr gathered Thursday at Firdous Square, the area where Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled on April 9, 2003. An aide to the cleric read out comment from al-Sadr, who is believed to live in Iran, in which he described the U.S. presence as a "crime against all Iraqis." The protest contrasted the jubilation at the square six years ago when Iraqis cheered as U.S. marines hauled down the dictator's statue. The U.S. military is scheduled to withdraw from the country in 2011.

BRITAIN ARRESTS: Britain's top counter terrorism officer resigned Thursday after accidentally revealing details of a secret operation. Police were apparently forced to arrest 12 suspects earlier than planned after assistant commissioner Bob Quick was photographed holding secret documents related to an anti-terror operation. Details of the long-planned operation were clearly visible in the photograph of Quick entering the prime minister's office. Following the security lapse police quickly arrested the targets: ten Pakistanis with student visas and two other men in northern England. The raids were staged in several locations, including an Internet cafe in Manchester and the library at John Moores University in Liverpool.

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