January’s situation reports

SITUATION REPORTS – January 31, 2007

0315 GMT – The Pentagon is investigating Iranian connections in a Jan. 20 attack against U.S. military personnel in Karbala, Iraq, media reported Jan. 30. Five soldiers died in the attack. Pentagon officials say the Iranian link is only in the preliminary stages of investigation, saying they are examining how the attackers obtained uniforms and sport utility vehicles that appeared similar to those used by U.S. soldiers. This report will likely lead to further U.S.-Iranian tensions.

0304 GMT – Cuban leader Fidel Castro appeared on Cuban state television Jan. 30 for the first time in three months. A 10-minute video, taped Jan. 29, shows Castro sitting and standing up and talking with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The video is an attempt by the government to bolster support for Cuba’s leader, who has temporarily ceded power to his brother Raul, while media reports say Fidel is in critical condition.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 30, 2007

2327 GMT – Venezuela on Jan. 30 said it will purchase products from two Bolivian industrial coca plants. The plants, located in abundant coca areas, are funded by Venezuela.

2306 GMT – Guyanese officials on Jan. 30 said Guyana will buy Venezuelan oil starting in May as part of the PetroCaribe initiative, in which Guyana will pay 60 percent of the oil imports in cash and the remainder over a 23-year period. The deal will supply Guyana with half of its oil needs.

2245 GMT – Saudi-Iranian talks regarding Lebanon’s political crisis have not solved that situation, but have shown that Iran has replaced Syria in the search for such a solution, political sources said, Saudi newspaper Al Hayat reported Jan. 30.

2237 GMT – Tensions between Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims in Kuwait are elevated, according to a Jan. 30 report by the Elaph independent news website. The escalation stems from statements issued by Muhammed Al-Mahri, the secretary-general of the Congregation of Muslim Shia clerics in Kuwait, labeling terrorist attacks in Kuwait in the 1980s as “patriotic.” In response, the Islamic Coalition in parliament and a spokesman for the Salafi movement in Kuwait called for apologies and legal action.

2156 GMT – Amendments to the law on mineral mining and on the assets of nonresidents in Russian strategic enterprises will be discussed Jan. 31, RIA Novosti reported Jan. 30. Proposed amendments would bar nonresidents from holding a majority stake in strategic deposits and from participating in Natural Resources Ministry auctions of said deposits. The bill will also dictate what is considered to be “strategic.”

2113 GMT – The 14 March majority coalition in Lebanon is planning to retaliate against the 8 March bloc sit-ins in downtown Beirut, a source there said Jan. 30. The sit-ins would be an attempt to counter the pro-Hezbollah sit-ins that have been going on for two months.

2045 GMT – Ecuador’s government condemned the Jan. 30 disruption of Congress by demonstrators demanding lawmakers approve President Rafael Correa’s proposed referendum on rewriting the Ecuadorian Constitution. Police quickly removed the estimated 6,000 demonstrators who forced the legislature to end its session.

2027 GMT – Iraq’s strategy with neighboring countries is based on a historical relationship, and Iraq does not have to commit to U.S. strategy, Saudi-owned newspaper Al Hayat reported Jan. 30, citing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Al-Maliki also said that as far as security is concerned, U.S. and Iraqi strategy are identical.

2000 GMT – There is a large cooperation gap between NATO and the European Union, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Jan. 30 during a discussion of European defense policy organized by the German government. De Scheffer added that one reason for this gap arises from skeptics who seek to divide NATO and the European Union out of fears of excessive U.S. influence. De Scheffer also said the European Union and NATO should cooperate more to improve the situation in crisis regions worldwide.

1829 GMT – European governments are not supporting a U.S. drive to cut exports to Iran and cutoff Iranian government financial transactions abroad, the New York Times reported Jan. 30, citing unnamed U.S. and European officials. Europeans are not moving quickly enough for the Bush administration, though there are complications for Europe because of its closer ties to the Iranian economy, and especially its oil. European banks have responded quickly, mostly because of a need to comply with U.S. Treasury Department regulations.

1828 GMT – Followers of Shiite leader Ahmed Hassani al-Yemeni were not involved in fighting with U.S. and Iraqi troops in the Iraqi city of An Najaf on Jan. 28, the group said Jan. 30. Al-Yemeni’s followers said their group is not linked to the messianic cult known as the Soldiers of Heaven, which fought in the battle and reportedly planned to kill top Shiite clerics during the Ashura commemorations.

1815 GMT – Israel must begin talks with Hamas in order to bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani told visiting Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres on Jan. 30 in Doha. Peres responded by saying it was Hamas that refused to come to the table with Israel. The two also discussed Qatar’s efforts on behalf of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and regional political and economic issues.

1812 GMT – Saudi National Security Council Secretary-General Prince Bandar bin Sultan is in Moscow to prepare Russian President Vladimir Putin for his Feb. 11-12 trip to the Saudi capital of Riyadh, Agence France-Presse reported Jan. 30, citing a Saudi official. Bin Sultan is expected to discuss joint cooperation in combating terrorism, economic agreements and other cooperative measures to be signed in Riyadh. A weapons agreement is reported to be part of the talks.

1804 GMT – U.S. special envoy for counterterrorism Joseph Ralston met with his Turkish counterpart Edip Baser on Jan. 30 in Ankara, Turkey, to discuss ways to combat Kurdish militants in Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized U.S. inaction against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Turkey accuses of launching raids from bases inside Iraq.

1758 GMT – France sees no reason to work towards a negotiated peace settlement between Syria and Israel because Syria continues to interfere in Lebanon, French Ambassador to the United States Jean-David Levitte said Jan. 30. Levitte also said French and U.S. views regarding Syria are very similar.

1752 GMT – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Feb. 15 to discuss Iran, Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Turkish newspaper Dunya reported Jan. 30. Olmert’s visit to Turkey in August 2006 was canceled because of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict.

1744 GMT – Israel’s response to a Jan. 29 suicide bombing in the Israeli resort town of Eilat will be “moderate,” the Israel National News reported Jan. 30, citing unnamed sources inside the office of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The sources said the reason for the muted response is that a large offensive would likely inflame Palestinian sentiment and increase rocket attacks against Israel, which have waned in recent weeks.

1740 GMT – An attack against Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) leaders in retaliation to the Jan. 29 bombing in Eilat, Israel, would result in “an especially hard response,” PIJ military wing the al-Quds Brigades said Jan. 30. The al-Quds Brigades, which was responsible for the Eilat bombing, has promised more attacks.

1738 GMT – Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko accepted the resignation of Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk on Jan. 30. Deputy Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko will serve as the temporary replacement until a Yushchenko nominee can be confirmed in February. The Ukrainian parliament voted Dec. 1, 2006, to dismiss Tarasyuk and Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko.

1732 GMT – According to a poll administered by the Smith Institute, if elections were held in Israel now, opposition party Likud would win, Ynet reported Jan. 30. Israel Our Home received the second most votes and the ruling Kadima party came in third. The poll also showed that opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is perceived to be the most capable candidate for prime minister.

1722 GMT – Brazilian federal police launched Operation Kolibra on Jan. 30 to serve 80 arrest warrants against members of an international drug-trafficking organization. The operation, which involves about 350 police officers, is being conducted with collaboration from the governments of Spain, Portugal and Belgium. Operation Kolibra resulted from investigations initiated in 2005 after German police sent intelligence to Brazil indicating that Lebanese drug traffickers were shipping cocaine from Brazil to the United States, Europe and Africa.

1712 GMT – The so-called executive force militia that answers to the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Interior Ministry is illegal, Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in Cairo after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Jan. 30. Abbas said he had agreed to redeploy the force and integrate it into Palestinian security forces, but that the group cannot remain independent.

1710 GMT – The Turkish Foreign Ministry released a statement Jan. 30 warning Lebanon and Egypt not to go ahead with oil and natural gas exploration deals signed with Cyprus. The ministry said Turkey has rights in the region and will protect its interests there. Lebanon and Cyprus signed an agreement Jan. 17 to delineate an undersea border to allow for oil and natural gas exploration. Egypt has a similar agreement with Cyprus.

1700 GMT – Saudi Arabia and Iran are working together to defuse the ongoing violence in Lebanon and Iraq, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said Jan. 30. He added that Iran approached Saudi Arabia about cooperating to avoid Shiite-Sunni violence in spite of U.S. attempts to internationally isolate Iran, and a Saudi envoy is currently in Tehran studying possible Iranian contributions to resolving the crises.

1648 GMT – Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz met with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Brussels, Belgium, on Jan. 30 to discuss cooperation between Pakistan and NATO and the ongoing situation in Afghanistan. De Hoop Scheffer said the talks are a demonstration of the relationship that has developed in recent years between Pakistan and NATO. Aziz arrived in Brussels on Jan. 28 for a series of talks with NATO, EU and Belgian officials.

1632 GMT – Indian Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murali Deora left Jan. 30 to lead a high-level delegation to Libya and then Yemen. The delegation intends to increase cooperation in the energy sector between the countries. Deora will speak with Libyan officials about exploration cooperation and participation in refinery upgrade projects. While in Yemen, the delegation plans to discuss cooperation in the hydrocarbon sector and potential for downstream project cooperation.

1622 GMT – Negotiations are ongoing for the release of two Israeli soldiers who were kidnapped by Hezbollah in July 2006, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah told followers in Beirut, Lebanon, on Jan. 30. Nasrallah also called for a unified “national resistance” to liberate Shebaa Farms from Israeli control and repel invaders.

1602 GMT – Islamic militants from the al Qaeda Organization for the Countries of the Arab Maghreb, formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, killed five people Jan. 29 during an attack on a checkpoint in eastern Algeria, Reuters reported Jan. 30.

1600 GMT – Russian President Vladimir Putin will tour the Middle East on Feb. 11-13, visiting Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, Russian news agency Interfax reported Jan. 30.

1553 GMT – Standard & Poor’s has raised India’s debt rating from BB+ to BBB-, a rating considered investment-grade, the company said Jan. 30. Moody’s Investors Service raised its rating for India to investment-grade in January 2004, while Fitch Ratings did the same in August 2006.

1527 GMT – Chilean President Michelle Bachelet spoke by telephone late Jan. 29 with Peruvian President Alan Garcia, and the two agreed to meet in person sometime in the near future, El Comercio reported Jan. 30. Bachelet and Garcia discussed bilateral relations, as well as a Chilean government proposal to assume control of 540 acres of Peruvian territory.

1521 GMT – The Venezuelan government is negotiating the purchase of Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia, El Universal reported Jan. 30. Venezuelan Defense Minister Raul Isaias Baduel said Jan. 29 that Venezuela is interested in purchasing up to 12 systems for a reported total price of $290 million. In July 2006, the leader of Russia’s weapons export agency said Russia was in talks with Venezuela over an arms deal.

1519 GMT – Colombian army officials found and deactivated five car bombs that they said were to be used by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia against military installations in Argelia, El Pais reported Jan. 30.

1507 GMT – Nepalese Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula said Jan. 29 that the government is willing to redraw the parliamentary districts in the Terai and Kathmandu Valley areas in order to give more seats to the ethnic Madhesi people, Reuters reported Jan. 30. Two weeks of anti-government protests by the Madhesi have left nine people dead.

1450 GMT – Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf left Jan. 30 to visit Indonesia and Malaysia and discuss new ideas for peace in the Middle East with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Other regional and international issues are also on Musharraf’s agenda.

1355 GMT – Russia wants the Western aid blockade on the Palestinian territories to be lifted by the Middle East Quartet when it meets Feb. 2, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov said Jan. 30. Dialogue between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should be converted to full-fledged peace talks, Saltanov added.

1251 GMT – Six-party talks over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions will resume Feb. 8, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Jan. 30. The last round of six-party talks, held in December 2006 after a 13-month hiatus, ended without significant progress.

1245 GMT – British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern will meet Jan. 30 to discuss power-sharing between rival blocs in Northern Ireland following a Jan. 28 vote by Sinn Fein to end opposition to the predominately Protestant police force.

1239 GMT – Russian Ambassador to Georgia Vyacheslav Kovalenko met with Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili on Jan. 30 to discuss ways to resume bilateral cooperation. It was the first meeting between the two since Kovalenko returned to Georgia last week. He was recalled to Russia in September 2006 amid a diplomatic feud between the two countries.

1233 GMT – Chinese President Hu Jintao departed Jan. 30 on an eight-nation tour of Africa aimed at strengthening economic relations. Hu will visit South Africa, Sudan, Cameroon, Liberia, Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique and Seychelles.

1227 GMT – Two blasts struck a newspaper and a hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, on Jan. 30, though no casualities were reported. The first explosion occurred at about 1:30 a.m. local time outside the office of the Daily News, Thailand’s second-largest newspaper; a second hit the Rama Garden hotel next door. Police said they believe the culprits fired a grenade launcher at the properties.

1220 GMT – Rocket and mortar fire hit a Shiite religious procession in the Pakistani city of Hangu in the North-West Frontier Province on Jan. 30, leaving at least two people dead. The Ashura procession is the climax of the Islamic holy month of Muharram for Shia.

0242 GMT – Israeli aircraft bombed a tunnel in the Gaza Strip on the Israeli border Jan. 30 amid a cease-fire between Hamas and Fatah. The Israeli army spokesman who announced the raid said the tunnel was being used to carry out attacks. No casualties were reported.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 29, 2007

2321 GMT – Israel might have broken rules for use of U.S.-manufactured cluster bombs during the Lebanon conflict in 2006, a U.S. State Department spokesman said Jan. 29. The spokesman did not disclose the regulations that Israel might have violated.

2306 GMT – Demonstrators in the Bolivian city of Camiri blockaded the only road linking Bolivia with Argentina and Paraguay on Jan. 29. The protesters want more government control over oil and natural gas firms and said they will not give up their protest until Bolivian state oil firm Yacimientos Petroleos Fiscales Bolivianos is restructured, the British Broadcasting Corp reported.

2232 GMT – Hamas and Fatah on Jan. 29 declared a cease-fire, to take effect in three hours, to halt infighting, The Associated Press reports.

2231 GMT – A U.S. National Security Council spokesman told Stratfor on Jan. 29 that the White House has nothing to confirm that a letter was sent by U.S. officials to Iran in an official capacity or through third-party channels. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyed Mohammad Ali Hosseini said in a weekly press conference Jan. 28 that Iran is reviewing a letter sent by U.S. officials and politicians that discusses how to resolve the ongoing crisis between the two countries. The Iranian spokesman did not divulge any specific information on the names of the officials or contents of the letter.

2205 GMT – Venezuela’s Congress agreed Jan. 29 to expand President Hugo Chavez’s Enabling Law to include oil affairs. A special session of Congress will be held Jan. 31 to formally approve these measures. After approval, Chavez will have the authority to adapt any regulation involving hydrocarbon and its derivatives. He will also have control over the supervision and management of the Energy and Oil Ministry.

2119 GMT – Armenian President Rober Kocharyan has scheduled parliamentary elections to be held May 12, the presidential press service reported Jan. 29. Elections will involve all 131 deputies in the one-chamber parliament.

2113 GMT – Bolivian President Evo Morales on Jan. 29 announced the appointment of Manuel Morales Olivera to replace Juan Carlos Ortiz as executive president of gas company Yacimientos Petroleos Fiscales Bolivianos. Ortiz resigned Jan. 26.

2053 GMT – Venezuelan Defense Minister Raul Isaias Baduel said Jan. 29 that Venezuela has moved forward with plans to establish a technical military agreement with Iran. During a press conference, Baduel said Venezuela plans to build military planes with the help of Iran, but he did not specify which model will be built.

2021 GMT – Five Venezuelan oil unions said Jan. 29 they will take over heavy crude oil installations in the Orinoco Belt if necessary in support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s nationalization plan. Chavez has promised that Venezuelan state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, will take a majority stake in the four Orinoco projects. The unions said ExxonMobil is resisting the changes.

2001 GMT – Saudi Arabia’s Shiite citizens are loyal to Saudi Arabia, not Iran, prominent Saudi cleric Sheikh Hassan al-Saffar said Jan. 29. “Shiite citizens are proud of their nationalism and don’t see themselves as an element in regional political struggles in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon,” he said. Al-Saffar further said Shiite authorities in Iraq and Iran have never once fixed a situation in Saudi Arabia and that the presence of these authorities abroad is “just an excuse to create doubt and incite Shia.”

1929 GMT – Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres arrived in Qatar the evening of Jan. 29. He is expected to spend two days in Doha to appear on a television program and answer “tough and controversial questions” from 300 Arab students, according to the show’s organizers. Peres is the highest Israeli official to visit the Gulf region since he last visited Qatar as president in 1996.

1906 GMT – Brazilian officials said Jan. 29 that the New El Dorado mine has been reinforced with 90 armed Brazilian federal agents and air force helicopters to help contain crime and monitor environmental damage and diseases. The mine already has attracted about 6,000 wildcat miners, but local environmental inspection chief Mario Jorge said the impact of the wildcat miners is limited, as miners are not allowed to use heavy machinery to reduce environment destruction.

1825 GMT – Hezbollah called off its violent strike Jan. 23 after receiving a warning that U.N. troops would assist Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government to keep access to the Beirut airport and seaport open, sources said Jan. 29. The order to cancel the protests reportedly came from Iran, which was informed of the offer to support Sinora by Saudi Arabia.

1757 GMT – Serbian President Boris Tadic plans to meet with U.N. special envoy to Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari after Ahtisaari’s decision on Kosovo’s final status, AKI news service reported Jan. 29. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has said he will not meet with Ahtisaari because only the new government can discuss Kosovo’s future status with him.

1705 GMT – A Pakistani police officer said Jan. 29 that two rockets hit a Shiite mosque in the northwestern city of Bannu. Approximately 11 people were wounded, two seriously, as worshippers approached the mosque to observe the holy festival of Ashura. This is the third attack in recent days against Shiite Muslims living in this area.

1651 GMT – Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev will meet Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on Feb. 2, Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reported Jan. 29. They are expected to discuss building a joint oil refinery in Ukraine capable of processing about 21.99 million barrels of oil per year.

1639 GMT – Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on Jan. 29 signed a decree naming former Agriculture Minister Azim Isabekov as Kyrgyzstan’s new prime minister after Isabekov won the majority vote in the Kyrgyz parliament. Isbekov will relieve acting Prime Minister Felix Kulov.

1634 GMT – Adel al-Jubeir was named the new Saudi ambassador to the United States on Jan. 29 by a royal decree issued by the Saudi government. Al-Jubeir previously served as an advisor to King Abdullah and is replacing Prince Turki al-Faisal, who resigned from his post in December 2006.

1616 GMT – A protest against a planned U.S. radar base in the Czech Republic will take place Jan. 29. Protesters will meet in Prague’s Wenceslas Square and march to the U.S. Embassy and the Office of the Government. City hall has banned the protest, saying it will disrupt traffic.

1612 GMT – NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Jan. 29 NATO forces are on alert for potential violence in Serbian province of Kosovo as the United Nations prepares to reveal plans for the future of the province.

1606 GMT – Mohammed Faisal al-Saqsaq, who has been identified by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades as the suicide bomber responsible for attacking the Israeli town of Eilat, entered Egypt from Gaza and then came into Israel along the Sinai border north of Eilat, Israeli police said Jan. 29. Al-Saqsaq then hitched a ride into the town with an Israeli motorist. The motorist became suspicious after dropping al-Saqsaq off and called the police.

1602 GMT – Police confiscated a stock of explosives from a house in Jalgaon, India, on Jan. 28, the police reported Jan. 29. Acting on a tip, the police raided Someshwar Somani’s house, found the explosives and arrested Somani. Police said the explosives were to be sold.

1601 GMT – Turkish Parliamentary Speaker Bulent Arinc says Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would win if he chooses to run for president in Turkey’s upcoming elections, Turkish daily Hurriyet reported Jan. 29. Arinc also told reporters that if Erdogan became president, current Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul would most likely become prime minister.

1558 GMT – A suicide bomber in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, killed two policemen Jan. 29. The officers were trying to prevent the attacker from approaching a Shiite procession when the explosives detonated. Seven people were injured by the blast.

1555 GMT – Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Jan. 29 talks with Taliban militants and other groups battling the government must be renewed. NATO and U.S. officials have warned that a spring offensive by Taliban fighters is possible.

1554 GMT – A three-day strike by British Airways’ crews that was scheduled to begin Jan. 29 has been canceled due to last minute negotiations between the crews’ main union, Transport and General Workers’ Union, and the airline. The company said the strikes planned for Feb. 5-7 and Feb. 12-14 also have been cancelled. In anticipation of the strikes, British Airways canceled 1,300 flights scheduled for Jan. 30 and Jan. 31, affecting more than 140,000 passengers; the airline says it is too late to reinstate these flights.

1548 GMT – Saif al-Islam, son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, said Jan. 29 the five Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor who were sentenced to death by a Libyan court in December 2006 for intentionally infecting children with HIV will not be executed. Al-Islam said the trial was undermined by errors and that Gaddafi is against the executions. Al-Islam also said a compromise should be worked out to satisfy the families and save the medics. The families are seeking compensation of $13 million per child from Bulgaria.

1531 GMT – A suicide bombing in the Israeli resort town of Eilat was meant to “focus Palestinians’ attention away from killing each other,” according to a statement issued by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) on Jan. 29. PIJ was one of three groups that claimed responsibility for the bombing.

1526 GMT – Brazilian governors will meet Jan. 29 to formulate a proposal regarding the terms of the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) and infrastructure construction. The legislators also will discuss the renegotiation of the states’ debt with the federal government and the distribution of resources. The proposal is set to go before President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva on March 6.

1521 GMT – The Egyptian public prosecutor froze the assets of 29 members of the Muslim Brotherhood on Jan. 29. Authorities said the people implicated were laundering money and financing an illegal organization. It was the first time the government has taken such action against the organization.

1431 GMT – Three Palestinian militant groups have now claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in the Israeli resort town of Eilat that killed three people early Jan. 29. Palestinian Islamic Jihad initially claimed the attack, but al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and a previously unknown group called the Army of the Believers have also said they carried out the attack. It was the first bombing in Israel by a Palestinian group since April 2006.

1424 GMT – Outside influences are fueling infighting between Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian territories and preventing peace talks with Israel, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Jan. 29. Lavrov did not say what outside influences he believes are responsible.

1417 GMT – The leader of a militant group in Iraq that had planned attacks on Shiite clerics in the holy city of An Najaf, was among those killed Jan. 28 in fighting with U.S. and Iraqi troops, Iraqi National Security Minister Shirwan Alwali said Jan. 29. The leader, who reportedly went by the name Mahdi bin Ali bin Ali bin Abi Taleb, claimed to be the Mahdi, a messiah-like figure in Islam.

1411 GMT – Shiite militants in Yemen who killed six government soldiers Jan. 27 must surrender or face a crackdown by security forces, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said Jan. 29. Officials have accused followers of Shiite rebel leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi of carrying out the attacks.

1408 GMT – Setting up federal regions in Iraq, particularly in the majority Shiite south and central regions, is the best way to solve the problems plaguing Iraq, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said Jan. 29. Al-Hakim has consistently advocated the creation of federal regions in Iraq.

1249 GMT – Iran is prepared to assume major responsibility in the reconstruction of Iraq and offer training, equipment and advisers to Iraqi government forces, Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Hassan Kazemi Qomi told The New York Times in an interview published Jan. 29. He also acknowledged for the first time that the two Iranians held and later released by U.S. forces in December were security officials, but said they had been engaged in legitimate discussions with the Iraqi government.

1243 GMT – Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility Jan. 29 for a suicide bombing earlier in the day in the southern Israeli resort town of Eilat. Three people were killed in the attack at a bakery in a residential area. Israeli police have cordoned off the area and taken other precautions to guard against the possibility that more suicide bombers are in the city.

1237 GMT – China will lend $3 billion to African countries over three years and double aid and interest-free loans during the same period, China’s Commerce Ministry said Jan. 29, a day ahead of President Hu Jintao’s visit to the continent. On his 12-day tour, Hu will visit Cameroon, Sudan, Namibia, South Africa, Seychelles, Liberia, Zambia and Mozambique.

1230 GMT – Turkish police have detained 46 people on suspicion of links to al Qaeda, state-run Anatolian news agency reported Jan. 29. Police are holding 25 people in the central province of Konya, while another 21 people were rounded up during raids in Istanbul, Izmir, Kocaeli and Mardin provinces.

1223 GMT – The United States has offered to contribute air support to an African Union (AU) peacekeeping force in Somalia, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said Jan. 29. The AU is prepared to send a 7,600-strong force to Somalia by the end of January, a deadline that will be missed only by Uganda, Nigeria and Malawi.

1216 GMT – Some 300 to 350 militants were killed and dozens arrested in a daylong battle with U.S. and Iraqi forces near the Shiite holy city of An Najaf that lasted into Jan. 29, Iraqi police said. The gunmen reportedly were followers of an apocalyptic Muslim cult led by Ahmed Hassani al-Yemeni. An Najaf Gov. Asaad Abu Gilel said authorities uncovered a plan to kill leading Shiite clerics in An Najaf on Jan. 29 to coincide with the Shiite rite of Ashura.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 28, 2007

2335 GMT – Iran announced Jan. 28 that it has received a letter from the United States that calls for resolving bilateral disputes. An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, without disclosing the identities of the U.S. officials or divulging the contents of the correspondence, said Tehran is reviewing the letter, which seeks to solve the problems between the two countries.

2109 GMT – Fifty militants stormed a police station in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, on Jan. 28 to release of one of their leaders. The militant group Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta claimed responsibility for the attack.

1902 GMT – Sinn Fein, the predominantly Roman Catholic Irish nationalist party, voted Jan. 28 to end opposition to Northern Ireland’s predominately Protestant police force. The endorsement is expected to pave the way for a regional power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland.

1800 GMT – The Indian air force is creating an aerospace command to exploit space, the Indian military said Jan. 28. The new command will integrate air force components including satellites, communications and aircraft.

1524 GMT – National unions in Guinea have called off their strikes, Reuters reported Jan. 28, following a union leader’s statement Jan. 27. Union leaders urged Guinean workers, who had been striking since Jan. 10, to return to work. The deal also will provide for lower fuel and rice prices. President Lansana Conte agreed Jan. 26 to appoint a prime minister, though no one has yet been named for the position.

1518 GMT – Fighting between Hamas and Fatah continued in Gaza City on Jan. 28, killing at least five people. The clashes, ongoing for several days, have prevented talks from continuing on forming a Palestinian unity government.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 27, 2007

1917 GMT – A suspected suicide bomb attack near a Sunni mosque and a Shiite community center in Peshawar, Pakistan, has killed at least 15 people and wounded at least 20, a senior provincial government official said Jan. 27. Most of those killed are police officers.

1541 GMT – Saudi King Abdullah said any attempts to convert Sunni Muslims to Shiites will fail, Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Seyassah reported Jan. 27. For the past several months Arab media have been buzzing that Iran — a predominantly Shiite country — is attempting to trigger conversions to increase its geopolitical power in the region. Saudi Arabia is the seat of Sunnism.

0243 GMT – The United States is set to resume talks with North Korea on the issue of financial sanctions, the U.S. Treasury Department said Jan. 26. Daniel Glaser, deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, will meet with officials from North Korea on Jan. 30.

0239 GMT – Russia said that the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program will resume Feb. 5 or 8, Itar-Tass news agency reported Jan. 26. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov cautioned that the significant disagreements between the various parties to the negotiations on several critical issues will prevent any “quick and easy decisions.”

0236 GMT – The United States reiterated Jan. 26 that Pakistan is a sanctuary for Taliban fighters launching attacks in Afghanistan. U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Pashtun jihadists enter Afghanistan from Pakistan to stage attacks and then return to Pakistan seeking “refuge and refitting.”

0232 GMT – Hamas, the ruling party in the Palestinian National Authority government, suspended power-sharing negotiations with rival Fatah on Jan. 26 after clashes between the two left 11 dead within a 24-hour period.

0117 GMT – Outer space will likely be weaponized “in our lifetime,” People’s Liberation Army senior colonel Yao Yunzhu, who directs the Asia-Pacific Office at China’s Academy of Military Science, said Jan. 26 in reference to China’s recent test of an anti-satellite missile. Yao’s comment marks the first time a Chinese military officer has commented on the test.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 26, 2007

2254 GMT – International Monetary Fund (IMF) Director Rodgrigo Rato said Jan. 26 the closure of the IMF office in Venezuela had no political motivations.

2248 GMT – U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and Mexican Economic Secretary Eduardo Sojo signed a cooperation agreement Jan. 26 in Davos, Switzerland, that will help the Mexican and American textile industries integrate with those of several Central American countries. The agreement also will implement new regulations that will allow Central American clothing manufactured with Mexican textiles to be sent to the United States without tariffs.

2222 GMT – British Airways (BA) notified customers by e-mail Jan. 26 that strikes planned for Jan. 30 and 31 by BA crews will proceed. The notification comes after negotiations failed Jan. 25 between BA chief executive Willie Walsh and Transport and General Workers’ Union chief Tony Woodley. Two more three-day strikes are planned for Feb. 5-7 and 12-14 if a resolution is not found.

2203 GMT – India and Pakistan will not be deterred from moving along with their peace process despite the Jan. 26 suicide attack on a Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, representatives from both nations said. Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Satyabrata Pal said that agreeing to carry on with the meeting would send a message to the attackers that India and Pakistan will not be “frightened and disturbed.”

2150 GMT – The Netherlands will not vote again on whether to ratify the draft EU constitution unless the document is significantly altered, Dutch officials said Jan. 26. The announcement came as EU member-states who had ratified the constitution met in Madrid to discuss how the Union should move forward; countries that had not ratified the document were not invited. Dutch officials said the meeting is polarizing the document’s future. The Netherlands, along with France, first rejected the constitution in 2005.

2142 GMT – Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said Jan. 26 that he will appoint another woman as defense minister, but he did not specify who he would name. Correa made the announcement during the funeral services for late Defense Minister Guadalupe Larriva, who died Jan. 24 in a helicopter crash.

2140 GMT – The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, an Islamist militant organization in Algeria, changed its name to the al Qaeda Organization for the Countries of the Arab Maghreb on Jan. 26. The change is meant to demonstrate the group’s allegiance to al Qaeda.

2135 GMT – Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela and Cuban state oil company Cubapetroleo will jointly explore for petroleum in Cuba’s part of the Gulf of Mexico and in Venezuela’s Orinoco River belt, Venezuelan officials said in a press release Jan. 26. The joint exploration is one of 16 economic agreements signed Jan. 24 by the two countries.

2133 GMT – Iranians should actively take part in the rallies planned for Feb.11 to show their strong response to the “enemy’s plots and threats,” Expediency Council leader Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Jan. 26 during Friday prayers at the University of Tehran. Rafsanjani added that Iranians need to safeguard their national security under the “auspices of Islam.” The rallies will mark the 28th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

2113 GMT – The suicide bomber who attacked the Marriott hotel in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad on Jan. 26 had been wandering around for quite some time near the hotel, sources in Islamabad said. He is believed to have been waiting for the employee shift change which normally takes place at 2:30 p.m., when the employee door (opposite the hotel’s parking lot) would be opened and he could make his way in. The bomber was waiting for the door to open up at the corner of Ataturk Road and the road on which the hotel is located, near the laundry area door, when guards at the vehicle exit gate barrier spotted him in the large convex mirrors located there.

2106 GMT – U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield said Jan. 26 that he will spend his time improving bilateral relations between the two countries instead of worrying about packing his bags. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Jan. 25 that Brownfield, who said Caracas’ nationalization plans should be done in a “transparent and legal manner,” could be considered persona non grata and be expelled from the country if he continues to meddle in Venezuela’s affairs.

2026 GMT – Iran is at least five to 10 years away from developing nuclear weapons, International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said Jan.26 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Baradei added that any military strike against Iran’s nuclear program would be “absolutely catastrophic” and would only “accelerate a program, if it exists.”

2020 GMT – Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi will appoint government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham to parliament as the new justice minister, Fars News Agency reported Jan.26.

1945 GMT – Bolivian Public Prosecutor Mario Uribe issued an arrest warrant Jan. 26 for former Bolivian President Jaime Paz Zamora for not appearing in court Jan. 25. Paz Zamora was to have been questioned regarding links between leaders of his party, the Revolutionary Left Movement, and drug trafficking.

1826 GMT – Iran demanded the removal of the most senior International Atomic Energy Agency official in charge of nuclear inspections Jan. 26. An unnamed diplomat accused the inspector of passing confidential information to states opposed to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Inspectors from any state that voted for sanctions against Iran have also been banned from working in Iran.

1822 GMT – Talks between Palestinian parties Hamas and Fatah on forming a national unity government should last no more than three weeks, Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Jan. 26 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Abbas also said he would call for parliamentary and presidential elections if talks fail.

1805 GMT – Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta said in an interview with Reuters on Jan. 26 that Pakistan is using terrorism as a tool of foreign policy. While Spanta said “some circles” in Pakistan are behind the policy of terrorism, he declined to identify them. Spanta also said Taliban militants could be defeated in two to three years if Pakistan fully cooperated in stopping cross-border incursions.

1705 GMT – Leading Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram published an editorial Jan. 26 that said Iran is trying to spread Shia Islam in non-Shiite countries in an attempt to recreate a Persian empire in the Middle East. The paper’s editor, Osama Saraya, wrote that Iran is manipulating events in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories to prevent stability.

1704 GMT – The U.S. command in Iraq said Jan. 26 that the U.S. soldiers killed in Karbala last week did not die while repelling their attackers as previously reported, but were instead abducted and later killed.

1655 GMT – Iraqi security forces briefly detained Sunni leader Adnan al-Dulaimi at the Baghdad airport Jan. 26. Security said there was an outstanding warrant for Munkith al-Dulaimi, Adnan’s son, who was traveling with his father to Amman, Jordan. Both men were allowed to continue after checks were made.

1618 GMT – U.N. Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari presented his plan for the future of the Serb province of Kosovo at a closed door meeting of the Kosovo Contact Group (United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and Italy) in Vienna, Austria. Leaks indicate the plan calls for granting of many of the trappings of independence to Kosovo, but to stop short of actually granting it independence. A final decision on Ahtisaari’s recommendations will need to be made at the U.N. Security Council.

1600 GMT – Argentine President Nestor Kirchner signed a decree Jan. 26 authorizing current and former army, police and civil employees to disclose classified information related to the investigation of state terrorism. Argentine Defense Minister Nilda Garre said the measures aim to remove obstacles to obtaining information on human rights violations by the state during Argentina’s military dictatorship.

1540 GMT – The Mexican army installed roadblocks around the city of Monterrey in the early morning Jan. 26 and removed them around daybreak. The roadblocks come after several police officers were killed in the area. A military official said the army plans to install roadblocks around the city at night and run patrols during the day.

1539 GMT – Spain and Luxembourg are hosting a summit in Madrid, Spain, to which the 18 EU states that have already ratified the EU constitution have been invited, but the nine that have not ratified it have explicitly not.

1537 GMT – Ecuadorian Armed Forces Joint Command chief Hector Camacho on Jan. 26 announced who will comprise a commission investigating the cause of a Jan. 24 military helicopter crash, which killed Defense Minister Guadalupe Larriva, her daughter and five military personnel. The commission will include five Chilean air force investigators, a delegation from the Ecuadorian armed forces, Larriva’s son, a delegation from the president’s office, and a delegation from Larriva’s Socialist Party. The commission also wants technicians from the French company that built the helicopters to participate.

1456 GMT – Two pigs in Bali, Indonesia, have become infected with the bird flu virus, Chinese medical expert Zhong Nanshan said Jan. 26. Detecting the virus in pigs raise concerns that the virus could be transmitted to people.

1449 GMT – Chinese National People’s Congress deputy Deng Zhonghua has been removed from his position to allow bribery charges to be brought against him, Chinese state-owned news service Xinhua reported Jan. 26. Deng’s position as deputy had allowed him immunity from prosecution. Deng is accused of taking and offering large bribes while he was president of Hunan Chendian International Development.

1317 GMT – Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has asked Germany to show more interest in Belarus during its term as EU president, German daily Die Welt quoted him as saying in an interview published Jan. 25. Lukashenko said Belarus wants to learn from the West’s example of prosperous democracies. He said the West should begin to show interest by lifting the ban of Belarusian politicians traveling to Europe.

1303 GMT – A suicide bomber detonated at the Marriott hotel in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad on Jan. 26, killing a security guard and injuring five people, according to media reports from the region.

1252 GMT – Lebanon’s army lifted a curfew on Beirut early Jan. 26, although schools and universities remained closed. The measure, imposed a day earlier in an effort to prevent sectarian violence from spreading, was the first night curfew in Beirut since the 1975-1990 civil war.

1247 GMT – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Jan. 26 he would work to create a “new national identity” for Japan by separating the country from its World War II defeat. He renewed promises to return patriotism to the schools and rewrite the country’s pacifist constitution. Abe has been attempting to revive his public support, which dropped to 40 percent this week from the 70 percent approval rating he enjoyed shortly after taking over from former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

1236 GMT – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has instructed his staff to work toward passage of a bill that would change the system of electing the president, daily newspaper Haaretz reported Jan. 26. The move would improve the electoral prospects of Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Olmert’s choice for president, Haaretz said. The Knesset currently elects the president by secret ballot, and the proposed open vote is expected to deter members from breaking ranks with coalition candidates.

1228 GMT – Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on Jan. 26 offered acting Agriculture Minister Azim Isabekov as an alternative candidate for prime minister. The move came after the parliament twice rejected Bakiyev’s nomination of acting Prime Minister Felix Kulov for the post.

1220 GMT – An improvised explosive device detonated in a stairwell at a Moscow State University residence hall Jan. 26, damaging a wall and smashing windows, but reportedly causing no injuries. Some 1,200 residents were evacuated, though the university continued to function normally. During a search of the hall, another homemade explosive device containing the equivalent of slightly more than a pound of TNT was found and destroyed.

1214 GMT – The U.S. military is authorized to capture or kill Iranian agents inside Iraq under a plan approved by U.S. President George W. Bush in the fall of 2006, The Washington Post reported Jan. 26, citing unnamed government and counterterrorism officials with knowledge of the plan. The plan is intended to weaken Iran’s influence in the region and force the country to abandon its nuclear program, the sources said.

0420 GMT – Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik became Israel’s acting president Jan. 25 following the Knesset House Committee’s approval of President Moshe Katsav’s request for a three-month leave of absence. Israel’s attorney general has recommended that Katsav be indicted on charges of rape and abuse of power.

0254 GMT – South Korean officials Jan. 26 denied a report suggesting the existence of a plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, saying the report has no credibility.

0040 GMT – The U.S. military unveiled the Active Denial System on Jan. 25, a vehicle-mounted weapon that emits a high-energy beam that gives victims a sudden burning sensation, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported Jan. 26. Military officials said the nonlethal weapon has a range of 550 yards and can penetrate clothes in order to heat a target’s skin to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.

0037 GMT – Japan will impose stronger economic sanctions on North Korea should North Korea fail to abandon its nuclear ambitions, Reuters reported Jan. 26, citing Japanese National Security Advisor Yuriko Koike. The official also said six-party talks without a tangible outcome only will allow North Korea to continue its nuclear program.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 25, 2007

2334 GMT – Bolivia’s opposition Poder Democratico Social party proposed a law Jan. 24 that would nullify the government’s agrarian reform and hydrocarbon nationalization laws, Prensa Latina reported Jan. 25.

2256 GMT – The governor of the Venezuelan state of Miranda and an ally of President Hugo Chavez, Diosdado Cabello, ordered the expropriation of the Oscar Machado Zuloaga private airport on the outskirts of Caracas, Venezuela, El Universal reported Jan. 25. The airport, currently used by smaller planes, will now serve as a public alternative to Simon Bolivar International Airport. The expropriation of the airport will further Chavez’s plan to nationalize business in the Venezuela.

2154 GMT – Confrontations in the city of Tripoli, Lebanon, between armed members of the Salafi movement and Shia Alawites escalated Jan. 24 during the funeral of the Sunni Bilal Al-Hayik, Saudi newspaper Al Hayat reported Jan. 25. The Salafis yelled anti-Iranian and anti-Syrian chants and spoke out against Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Despite the presence of the army and security forces, gunfights broke out.

2131 GMT – The Yemeni government is acting as a go-between in talks between Islamist Somalian leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and the U.S. government, SomaliNet reported Jan. 25, citing unnamed sources. The cleric, who is being held in Nairobi, Kenya, is viewed by the United States as a Muslim leader with widespread support that could facilitate reconciliation in the war torn country.

2038 GMT – The U.S.-led occupation of Iraq was “an idiot decision,” Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi said. Jan 25. However he said the reinforcement of 21,500 troops in Baghdad could work and is crucial to quelling all violence in the region.

2020 GMT – Israel released Fawaz Damra, a Palestinian cleric suspected of having links to the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), on Jan. 25 after authorities were unable to find sufficient grounds to charge him, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported. Damra, who previously lived in the United States, was deported by U.S. authorities because of alleged links to PIJ.

1840 GMT – Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said Jan. 25 he will not nominate acting Prime Minister Felix Kulov for the post of prime minister again. Kuvlov’s nomination has already been rejected by parliament twice.

1835 GMT – Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met with Pope Benedict XVI on Jan. 25 in an attempt to establish diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Vietnam. Nguyen also met with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi to discuss developing economic ties between their countries.

1831 GMT – Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said Jan. 25 Londonderry police warned him that Irish Republican Army dissidents might be planning to assassinate him. Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and policing spokesman Gerry Kelly have received similar threats. The threats come before a possible shift in Sinn Fein’s political support of Northern Ireland police. Sinn Fein will hold a conference Jan. 28 in Dublin, and McGuinness, Adams and Kelly are expected to ask party members to vote for normalized relations with the Police Service of Northern Ireland for the first time.

1810 GMT – Indian and Pakistani forces exchanged small-arms fire after militants tried to cross into Indian-administered Kashmir from the Pakistani side, an Indian army official said Jan. 25. The officer said one militant was killed.

1810 GMT – Bolivian Senate President Jose Villavicencio said Jan. 25 the Senate will review the country’s military agreements with Venezuela. Villavicencio said the current agreement, which was approved in November 2006, is unclear on the extent of Venezuelan assistance allowed in disarmament and internal crises.

1808 GMT – Georgia withdrew all its demands but one concerning Russia’s entry to the World Trade Organization, a Russian Ministry for Economic Development and Trade spokesman said Jan. 25. Georgia is still requiring customs checkpoints on the Russian border with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

1801 GMT – At least two people were killed and six others injured Jan. 25 after United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) militants set off as many as five blasts in the Guwahati and Tinsukia districts of Assam, India. Police have tightened security at Republic Day event locations throughout the state because of these and other potential ULFA attacks.

1800 GMT – Turkey will only damage its reputation if it uses threats to solve its problems, Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdish regional government in Iraq, said Jan. 25. He made the comment during parliamentary discussion on remarks by the Turkish government concerning possible Turkish intervention in northern Iraq to combat the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey alleges the PKK uses Iraq as a base of operations for attacks inside Turkey.

1738 GMT – The Lebanese army is imposing a curfew in Beirut, Fox News reported Jan. 25.

1737 GMT – Radio Caracas Television President Marcel Granier will take legal action to defend his company in the face of a threatened license revocation by the Venezuelan government, Granier said Jan. 25.

1724 GMT – Germany, which currently holds the EU presidency, laid out a timetable for EU constitution negotiations in a letter sent to EU leaders Jan. 2 and published by the EU Observer on Jan. 25. Germany has asked each member to appoint an advisor to head negotiations. German Chancellor Angela Merkel laid out dates for each negotiating point to be discussed and Merkel intends to hold bilateral talks with the member-states from May 21-June 1, which will lead up to the June EU summit.

1646 GMT – Russian state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom will meet with officials from Japan’s Agency of Natural Resources and Energy on Jan. 25 in Moscow to discuss an energy cooperation agreement made in November 2005, agency leader Harufumi Mochizuki said. The agreement, signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s November 2005 visit to Tokyo, focuses on several areas for potential cooperation, including liquid natural gas, oil exploration and gas-to-liquid technology.

1636 GMT – Swiss State Secretary of Foreign Affairs Michael Ambuhl and diplomat Nicholas Lang visited Damascus, Syria, this week in an effort to restart Israeli-Syrian peace talks, European diplomats said Jan. 25. Earlier reports suggested that a secret Swiss-brokered peace plan based on Israel’s withdrawal from the Golan Heights had been rejected by both sides.

1626 GMT – Cuban First Deputy Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez left Jan. 25 for a three-day official visit to Guatemala. Rodriguez is scheduled to meet with Guatemalan Foreign Minister Gert Rosenthal to discuss bilateral relations and regional issues. Rodriguez will also meet with political and governmental leaders participating in the Ministerial Conference of the Association of Caribbean States on Jan. 26.

1622 GMT – Indian authorities on Jan. 25 arrested Iftikar Alam, a suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba militant, at a metro station in northeast Delhi, a senior police official said. Alam was caught with 5.5 pounds of RDX, two detonators and a timer. The arrest comes on the eve of Republic Day amid intelligence reports warning of high probabilities for suicide attacks around the national holiday.

1610 GMT – Civil servant strikes are planned for Jan. 31 in the United Kingdom to protest job cuts, Bloomberg reported Jan. 25. About 280,000 people could strike, which might shut down government departments and other public offices, such as the tax authority, passport offices and national museums.

1608 GMT – A Russian citizen has been sentenced to eight years in prison for attempting to sell 100 grams of highly enriched uranium in Georgia, the head of the Georgian Interior Ministry’s analytical department, Shota Utiashvili, said Jan. 25. Three Georgians also were sentenced to prison terms ranging from four to six years in connection with the case.

1607 GMT – Benito Astorga, the mayor of the Philippine town of Daram, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen Jan. 25. His death, in the central province of Samar, came one day after Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo demanded an end to political violence ahead of elections in May. The national election commission had earlier named Daram a potential “hotspot” for such violence.

1600 GMT – British Airways said Jan. 25 it will cancel all flights Jan. 30-31 through London’s Heathrow and Gatwick Airports because of a strike by the airline’s crews. The airline, which is Europe’s third-largest carrier, said more strikes are possible. Crews are protesting pay and sick leave cuts. British Airways competitors Ryanair and BMI said they are planning alternative flights.

1550 GMT – U.S. and Israeli representatives met Jan. 24 in Tel Aviv, Israel, to discuss the Iranian nuclear threat and ways to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon, Israeli daily Haaretz reported Jan. 25. Israeli Transportation Minister and former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns led the two contingents. They also discussed new U.S. plans for Iraq and the Lebanese political and economic crises.

1548 GMT – If Nepal ignores the demands of the Madhesi people living in the southern plains, there will be further violence in the country, a Madhesi protest leader said Jan. 25. The Madhesi People’s Rights Forum has organized anti-government protests that have left five dead and dozens injured in the past week. The group says the government discriminates against Madhesis over army, police and government jobs, as well as in seats in parliament.

1543 GMT – Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said Jan. 25 that he will request international assistance from “friendly countries” to investigate the Jan. 24 helicopter crash that killed Defense Minister Guadalupe Larriva. The government has not released details on the incident, but initial reports indicate the crash occurred when two helicopters collided in midflight. Larriva’s 17-year-old daughter and at least two crew members were also killed.

1539 GMT – Saudi Arabia supports Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear energy program, Saudi National Security Council Secretary-General Prince Bandar bin Sultan said Jan. 25 before leaving Iran. Bin Sultan discussed regional instability with his Iranian counterparts while visiting Tehran.

1537 GMT – Sunni cleric Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi should be relieved of his post as head of the international federation of Muslim scholars because he embraces radical views and actively sows sectarian dissent, top Kuwaiti Shiite cleric Sayed Mohammad Baqer al-Mahri said Jan. 25.

1532 GMT – Mirwaiz Omer Farroq, the moderate leader of Kashmiri separatist group All Party Hurriyat Conference, on Jan. 25 called for militants to support peace efforts in Indian Kashmir but refrained from saying they should end their armed struggle. Farroq also urged the Indian government to withdraw troops from Kashmir.

1522 GMT – German Chancellor Angela Merkel intends to invite Mexican President Felipe Calderon to join a working committee comprised of the United States, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, France and Russia when Calderon visits Germany on Jan. 26, El Universal reported Jan. 25. During Merkel’s opening address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 25, she urged member countries to delineate a new dialogue with emerging economies, including Mexico, Brazil, China and India.

1522 GMT – The Former Vice Governor of China’s Guangdong Province, Liu Weiming, was stripped Jan. 25 of his membership in the 10th National People’s Congress (NPC), the Standing Committee of the Guangdong Provincial People’s Congress said. Liu was dismissed for discipline violations, and reportedly has a previous record of involvement in economic crimes.

1518 GMT – The possibility of a pre-emptive U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is “very weak” and the suggestion of such action is only part of a psychological warfare effort, Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said Jan. 25.

1515 GMT – Mexican President Felipe Calderon has announced a gas and electricity subsidy to poor Mexican families beginning March 15, El Universal reported Jan. 25. The subsidy of 50 pesos ($4.57) a month is part of Mexico’s new anti-poverty program Energy Opportunities, the newspaper said. Calderon said five million families will receive the subsidies.

1511 GMT – Realized foreign direct investment to Indonesia declined 32.9 percent in 2006 to $5.98 billion, down from $8.92 billion a year earlier, Chinese state-owned news service Xinhua reported Jan. 25.

1503 GMT – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Jan. 25 jointly condemned countries seeking the “weaponization of outer space.” The statement comes after China staged an anti-satellite missile test Jan. 11. China has denied that its space program is a threat to the world.

1454 GMT – Russian and Indian officials signed a memorandum of understanding Jan. 25 for Russia to construct four nuclear reactors in India. The deal was signed following a meeting in New Delhi between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The reactors will be built in the southern town of Kudankulam and other sites in the country, said an Indian government official.

1452 GMT – The Lebanese army is not intervening in protests in the capital Beirut stemming from clashes between pro- and anti-government supporters at Arab University, sources reported Jan. 25.

1446 GMT – The Bush administration plans to seek an addition $7-8 billion for reconstruction aid to Afghanistan and an additional $5-6 billion for training the Afghan national army, The Washington Post reported Jan. 25. The news comes amid preparations for an expected spring Taliban offensive that has led U.S. commanders there to extend the tour of the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division by four months and to ask for an additional 1,200 troops.

1441 GMT – Members of Islamic militant group Jund al-Sham fired mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at Lebanese army troops Jan. 25 outside the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp near the southern port town of Sidon. The troops returned fire.

1432 GMT – More than 300 Afghan nationals who were deported from Saudi Arabia after traveling there on fake Pakistani passports to perform the Hajj ritual were arrested on their arrival at Pakistan’s Karachi airport, Pakistani immigration officials said late Jan. 24. The Pakistani government has registered more than a million Afghan refugees since October 2006.

1422 GMT – One student was killed and several injured Jan. 25 when gunfire broke out during clashes between pro- and anti-government students at a Lebanese university in Beirut. Hezbollah-run television station Al-Manar blamed pro-government gunmen for the violence.

1417 GMT – One person was killed in a car bombing in the town of Hangu in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province on Jan. 25. The town, close to the Afghan border, was the site of a suicide bombing in 2006, when a man blew himself up during the Shiite festival of Ashura.

1409 GMT – Unconfirmed reports suggest that fighting broke out Jan. 25 at one of the Arab university campuses in Beirut, Lebanon.

1250 GMT – The Czech State Security Council has approved the opening of negotiations with the United States over hosting a U.S. anti-missile radar base in the country, Czech President Vaclav Klaus said Jan. 25. The Senate and lower house must approve the decision.

1243 GMT – Gunmen abducted two or three Chinese oil workers, employees of the Chinese National Petroleum Co., and looted the company’s office in Nigeria’s southern Bayelsa state, police said Jan. 25. An estimated 32 foreign workers are now being held by armed groups in the Niger Delta.

1235 GMT – Kyrgyzstan’s parliament Jan. 25 once again rejected the candidacy of acting Prime Minister Felix Kulov for the post of prime minister. The rejection followed Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s second nomination of Kulov on Jan. 19. Kulov received only 25 of the 38 necessary votes for his candidacy to be approved.

1227 GMT – Israel’s Knesset House Committee is expected Jan. 25 to approve a request by President Moshe Katsav for a three-month leave of absence. The request follows a recommendation by Israel’s attorney general that Katsav be indicted on charges of rape and abuse of power.

1218 GMT – The leftist guerrilla group Revolutionary Struggle, which claimed responsibility for the Jan. 12 attack against the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece, threatened Jan. 25 to stage more attacks on Greek and U.S. targets. The threat appeared in a proclamation published in the Athens weekly To Pontiki.

1211 GMT – Russian President Vladimir Putin flew to India on Jan. 25 for talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, ruling Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi, Oil Minister Murli Deora and Indian business leaders. During his two-day visit, Putin is expected to push for multibillion-dollar deals on energy and weapons.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 24, 2007

2157 GMT – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage met Jan. 24 to sign agreements for economic cooperation between the two countries. The topics of discussion included a deal for an underwater telecommunications cable between the two countries meant to bypass a U.S. embargo, a Cuban nickel project using Venezuelan electricity to make stainless steel and the production and export of rice to Cuba, Venezuelan officials said.

2059 GMT – Belarusian Defense Minister Leonid Maltsev and Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammed Najjar signed a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation Jan. 24. Although both countries are subject to Western sanctions, Belarus said the agreement does not violate international laws or U.N. Security Council resolutions. The agreement covers military and technical cooperation, staff-training coordination and continued consultation between the defense ministers.

2026 GMT – U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said Jan. 24 that the United States will soon disclose evidence of the presence of Iranian agents inside Iraq. Khalilzad added that these agents are conducting activities that harm Iraq’s interests and that he had hoped Tehran would change course after the arrest of several Iranian diplomats in Iraq in mid-January.

2023 GMT – U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said Jan. 24 he is optimistic about the capabilities of the current Iraqi government to contain the Shiite militias in Baghdad. Khalilzad praised Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for taking a new hard-line stance against Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who controls the powerful Mehdi Army.

1752 GMT – Russia and India signed a protocol of intent Jan. 24 for the joint development and production of multirole transport aircraft for the Indian air force. The agreement comes after Jan. 23 reports that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told Indian National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan in a Jan. 11 meeting that Russia will not allow China to supply JF-17 Thunder multirole fighter aircraft to Pakistan equipped with Russian RD-93 engines.

1747 GMT – Syrian President Bashar al Assad met with Qatari Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in Doha, Qatar, on Jan. 24. The two leaders discussed bilateral relations and international developments.

1733 GMT – Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is suffering from a severe bout of flu, Fars News Agency reported Jan. 24. The news comes amid allegations that Khamenei is gravely ill, a claim Tehran has denied.

1725 GMT – Leaders from Libya, Egypt and Algeria met Jan. 24 in the Libyan coastal city of Sirte to discuss the Middle East situation, as well as Somalia and Sudan. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak briefed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Algerian President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika on his recent meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

1654 GMT – The General Office of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) discussed a draft property law with local legislatures Jan. 24, Chinese state-owned news service Xinhua reported. The draft law attempts to balance state and private ownership of property, prohibiting theft or demolition of state, private or collective assets. Nearly 3,000 NPC deputies will deliberate on the draft law at the upcoming annual meeting of the 10th NPC in March.

1625 GMT – Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora arrived in Paris on Jan. 24 ahead of the Paris III donors’ conference that is scheduled to take place Jan. 25-26. The conference is meant to raise money to help Lebanon’s struggling economy.

1624 GMT – Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf arrived in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, late Jan. 23 at the start of a two-day visit to the country, media reported Jan. 24. Musharraf is to meet with Emirati President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan to discuss how to increase bilateral relations and regional developments.

1622 GMT – Egyptian security forces arrested seven members of the Muslim Brotherhood north of Cairo in Beheira province Jan. 24. The men were arrested as part of a general clampdown on the group, which the government has been pursuing over the past two months.

1604 GMT – China’s National Statistics Bureau released a revised estimate of the country’s 2005 gross domestic product (GDP), reporting growth of 10.4 percent, state news service Xinhua reported Jan. 24. The new figure is 0.5 percent higher than the original estimate, boosted by surging growth in the industrial and tertiary sectors.

1537 GMT – Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and his Indian counterpart, Arakkaparambil Antoni, signed a contract Jan. 24 on licensed production of Russian-designed RD-33 plane engines in India, Russian state-owned news service Itar-Tass reported. The two countries also agreed to manufacture a transport plane.

1532 GMT – The European Commission has announced a fine against 11 companies that make power generation equipment for engaging in price fixing, EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said Jan. 24. Of the companies fined, Siemens received the largest fine EU regulators have ever levied — $543 million — for its leading role in the scandal. The fine for ABB was waived because the company revealed the cartel to EU authorities in 2004.

1530 GMT – Russia on Jan. 24 signed World Trade Organization (WTO) ascension protocols with Costa Rica and El Salvador in Geneva. Russia still needs to sign accords with Guatemala and Georgia before it can join the WTO.

1527 GMT – India’s ruling coalition, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), would win a clear majority of the Parliament if snap elections were held now, according to a survey by the Center for the Study of Developing Societies released Jan. 24. The survey further said that the UPA could gain 300 seats, compared with the 222 seats it won in the May 2004 elections. According to the poll, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition, UPA’s main opponent, would win 115 seats, compared with the 189 it won in 2004.

1520 GMT – Mexican President Felipe Calderon left Jan. 24 for his first European tour as president. He is scheduled to visit Germany, Sweden, Spain, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. Calderon plans to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, during his tour.

1513 GMT – Israeli President Moshe Katsav said Jan. 24 he is taking a leave of absence in the face of pending rape charges but not resigning. Katsav’s spokeswoman said he will make a public statement at 7 p.m. local time. Katsav denies wrongdoing and cannot be charged during his term, which ends in July.

1312 GMT – South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min Soon said Jan. 24 that North Korea showed flexibility during the recent talks on its nuclear weapons program.

1249 GMT – Senior officials from 20 countries, including the United States, China and India, met in Tokyo on Jan. 24 to start work on a follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. The 20 countries involved account for about 70 percent of total global gas emissions. The current Kyoto Protocol, agreed upon by 35 countries accounting for only one-third of global greenhouse emissions, requires the signing countries to cut emissions 5 percent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

1241 GMT – Japanese Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma said Jan. 24 that U.S. President George W. Bush was wrong to invade Iraq and warned that Japan might not automatically renew its air force mission to Iraq when it expires in July. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised continued Japanese assistance for the reconstruction process in Iraq and expressed hope that U.S. plans to increase troop presence would lead to “effective achievements.” Former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi withdrew Japanese troops from Iraq before leaving office in 2006, but the country has continued to deploy its air force to transport goods and personnel into the country.

1233 GMT – The hijacker of a domestic Sudanese passenger plane was arrested Jan. 24 after the plane landed at the airport in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena. The Air West plane, carrying 103 passengers, had left Khartoum, Sudan, and was headed for el-Fasher, the main town in Sudan’s western Darfur region. The hijacker carried an AK-47 assault rifle.

1226 GMT – Russia and Georgia on Jan. 24 resumed bilateral talks on Moscow’s bid to enter the World Trade Organization (WTO). Tbilisi had revoked its approval for Russia to join the WTO in July 2006.

1220 GMT – South Korea’s consolidated defense command — some 200 top military and government officials headed by Prime Minister Han Myeong Sook — has decided to strengthen South Korea’s 24-hour surveillance of North Korea’s nuclear activities and heighten its military countermeasures, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement released Jan. 24. Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program will continue, the statement said.

1213 GMT – North Korea has permitted Iranian nuclear scientists to study the results of Pyongyang’s October 2006 nuclear test in order to assist Iran in preparing to conduct its own underground nuclear test, British daily Telegraph reported Jan. 24, citing an unnamed senior European defense official. The official said Iran could attempt to conduct its test by the end of the year.

0307 GMT – Bolivian President Evo Morales replaced seven of his 16 Cabinet ministers Jan. 23, the day after he celebrated the end of his first year in office. The new ministers are Alfredo Rada in the Government Ministry, Gabriel Loza in the Planning and Development Ministry, Walter Delgadillo in the Labor Ministry, Victor Caceres in the Education Ministry, Jerjes Mercado in the Public Works Ministry, Celima Torrico Tojas in the Justice Ministry and Susana Rivero in the Rural Development and Agriculture Ministry.

0238 GMT – Election officials in Ecuador on Jan. 23 forwarded to the opposition-controlled congress a request by President Rafael Correa for a referendum to change the constitution to rule. Earlier protests forced the tribunal to meet outside the court building. Correa’s left-leaning supporters protested the move, believing that opposition lawmakers in the Congress would subvert Correa’s referendum plan.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 23, 2007

2312 GMT – The Venezuelan National Assembly adjourned Jan. 23 before approving the Enabling Law, which would grant Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez special ruling powers. The legislators said the bill needs more assessment and is set to be approved Jan. 25.

2307 GMT – A BP-led consortium stopped natural gas production at the Shah Deniz natural gas field off the coast of Azerbaijan in the Caspian Sea on Jan. 23 because of unspecified technical problems that surfaced during an inspection of recent maintenance work. The upkeep work followed the Dec. 15 production halt that led Georgia to sign agreements to buy Russian natural gas.

2252 GMT – Russia’s Natural Resources Ministry will finish its investigation into possible environmental violations by Rusia Petroleum, a subsidiary of TNK-BP, in the Kovykta natural gas and condensate field in Eastern Siberia by mid-February, Russian Minister of Natural Resources Yuri Trutnev said Jan. 23. Trutnev added that the company may be given an opportunity to remedy its violations or may lose its license.

2153 GMT – Bahrain’s borders will be closed to Iranians beginning midnight Jan. 23, Bahrain’s Deputy Interior Minister Rashid ben Khalifa al-Khalifa said. Iranians are also forbidden from stopping over in Manama’s international airport. Al-Khalifa said American pressure did not influence the move.

2108 GMT – Supporters of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa broke into Ecuador’s election court Jan. 23 to goad legislators to approve Correa’s request for a referendum for a redraft of the constitution. If passed by the court, the referendum would bypass the influence of opposition lawmakers in Congress who oppose Correa’s planned constitutional reforms.

2059 GMT – Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said Jan. 23 that Iran will continue to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in accordance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the Safeguards agreement. Larijani added that the IAEA inspections so far have unveiled no diversions on the part of Iran and that the Non Proliferation Treaty is a useful agreement if correctly implemented.

2053 GMT – Iran has “had utmost cooperation” with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regulations and will continue to follow them, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad said Jan. 23. Ahmadinejad’s remarks come after Iran refused to admit 38 IAEA inspectors into the country.

2052 GMT – Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini reacted negatively to European support for U.N. Resolution 1737, which places partial sanctions on Iran for its nuclear fuel enrichment program. Hosseini said a diplomatic policy that is not reliant on diplomatic pressure or preconditions would be more successful.

2036 GMT – The pro-Syrian opposition called off protests and strikes aimed at toppling the government throughout Lebanon late Jan. 23, although it was unclear for how long protesters would refrain from disruptions, sources reported. Media reports said that protesters began removing roadblocks on Lebanese streets and highways. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora earlier said that the protests are contrary to the general welfare of Lebanese citizens, but called for an emergency parliament session to discuss the ongoing crisis with opposition parties.

2031 GMT – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s administration will begin taxing idle farm land in April 2007 to increase agricultural development and redistribute oil wealth in the country to the poor, the tax agency said Jan. 23. The agency has not yet established the tax rate but government officials have started inspecting large estates to determine whether they are underused.

1955 GMT – Saudi Arabia will not support Iraqi Sunnis if the United States decides to leave Iraq, Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal said Jan. 23. The statement refutes an article published in December by The New York Times that says Saudi King Abdullah told U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney that Saudi Arabia might support Iraq’s Sunnis against the Shia after a U.S. withdrawal.

1943 GMT – Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf arrived in Damascus, Syria, on Jan. 23 for talks with Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Musharraf met with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman, Jordan, earlier in the day.

1930 GMT – U.S. Lt. Gen. David Petraeus said Jan. 23 that the fighting in Iraq has reached a desperate point for the United States and has hurt the country’s military flexibility. However, he added, the situation could be turned around after the deployment of more U.S. troops. Petraeus, who is U.S. President George W. Bush’s choice to take over leadership of the Iraq war, said progress will take time.

1926 GMT – The United States has urged Egypt to release Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour from prison, citing concerns for his health, a U.S. State Department spokesman said Jan. 23. The spokesman added that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised the issue with Mubarak during her recent trip to the Middle East. Nour was the main opposition candidate to Mubarak in the 2005 elections and received 8 percent of the vote.

1910 GMT – Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Jan. 23 called for an emergency session of parliament to work out a resolution to the current crisis through appropriate constitutional channels. Siniora called the protests “an aggression on the people and their freedoms,” but said the government is willing to listen to the complaints of opposition parties.

1828 GMT – The Bolivian government does not have any ties with Basque separatist group ETA, President Evo Morales said Jan. 23. His comments come after Spanish daily El Correo reported that Spanish security forces believe ETA might be looking to establish ties with Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism party. The report said ETA might be seeking a new Latin American refuge if Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s death prompts an attitude change toward the group. Cuba is the only country that supports ETA.

1739 GMT – Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Jan. 23 Russia will deliver four energy units to the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in India. Ivanov also said the two countries could sign an agreement to cooperate in the energy field during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India on Jan. 25-26.

1733 GMT – Islamic groups should come together to calm extremism in the Middle East and prevent the “enemies” of Islam from succeeding, Iranian Expediency Council chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Jan. 23 after meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem. Rafsanjani also said the United States is an obstruction to Iran and Syria’s ties with Iraq.

1718 GMT – Iran will soon replace its permanent representative to the United Nations, Mohammad Javad Zarif Khonsari, official Iranian Fars News Agency reported Jan. 23.

1714 GMT – The American aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis is heading toward the Persian Gulf to join the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier group already in position there as a warning to Iran to halt its attempts to dominate the region, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said Jan. 23. Burns added that direct negotiations with Tehran are “not possible” until Iran gives up its nuclear enrichment program.

1644 GMT – Pakistan People’s Party chairwoman Benazir Bhutto will meet with U.S. President George W. Bush and high-ranking members of Congress and the State Department during a weeklong visit set to begin Jan. 27, Daily India reported Jan. 23.

1614 GMT – About 10,000 security personnel have been deployed in the Indian capital of New Delhi, the Times of India reported Jan. 23. Indian security and intelligence agencies have warned that the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) is planning to strike New Delhi during the Jan. 26 Republic Day celebrations. The ULFA is believed to be responsible for a recent spike in violence in India’s northeast.

1609 GMT – A draft version of a new Iraqi oil law has not been agreed on by all government factions, Kurdistan regional government Oil Minister Ashti Hawrami said Jan. 23. Hawrami’s denial came despite earlier reports that the draft had been finalized and sent to the Cabinet for approval a week earlier.

1606 GMT – A small bomb exploded near a passing three-car army convoy in Algeria’s Al-Babur Mountains Jan. 21, killing one soldier and wounding six, Algerian daily El Khabar reported Jan. 22. The militant Islamist Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat has been blamed.

1557 GMT – Mexican President Felipe Calderon said he plans to pursue reforms to break up monopolies by allowing businesses to operate without restrictions and increase competition, El Universal reported Jan. 23. Calderon specifically mentioned the telecommunications industry and said the price of a phone call is too high.

1557 GMT – The three Westerners taken hostage Jan. 23 in West Bank city of Nablus after being mistaken for undercover Israeli agents were released the same day.

1556 GMT – Peru LNG said Jan. 23 that it has awarded a contract to Chicago Bridge & Iron Company N.V. to operate a liquefied natural gas liquefaction plant in Pampa Melchorita, Peru.

1552 GMT – The Lebanese army re-opened the main coast road Jan. 23 from Beirut to Tripoli, which opposition protesters had closed to traffic. The road from Beirut’s Rafik al-Hariri International Airport remains blocked by concrete barriers and burning tires. Thirty-eight people have been wounded so far in clashes between opposition and government supporters.

1544 GMT – Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Jan. 23 Russia will offer to sell its new combat aircraft, the MiG-35, in response to India’s tender for 126 fighter jets. The United States and Sweden are also competing in the tender; the United States is offering its F/A-18E Super Hornet and F-16, while Sweden is offering its Saab-built JAS-39 Gripen.

1542 GMT – Two bombs and a grenade exploded Jan. 23 in the Indian state of Assam. Members of the United Liberation Front of Asom are believed to be behind the attacks, which targeted a bus stop in Guwahati, a crowded market in Bongaigaon and a small crowd in Kamalpur.

1525 GMT – Ukraine has made another attempt to seize a navigation system belonging to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, the fleet’s press service said Jan. 23. The chief court marshal of the Kherson region attempted to forcibly remove the installation from the Black Sea Fleet’s control. The Russian navy is is located in the Crimean Peninsula, scheduled to withdraw in 2017, according to a 1997 agreement that allows Russia to remain there and pay a rent of $93 million per year.

1516 GMT – The International Court of Justice at The Hague on Jan. 23 denied all three of Uruguay’s requests to order the Argentine government to stop a blockade of international bridges. Protesters in Argentina have been carrying out roadblocks for months to protest the planned construction of two Uruguayan paper mills near the countries’ shared border. Uruguayan Foreign Minister Reinaldo Gargano responded to the ruling by saying Uruguay will not negotiate as long as the bridges remain blocked.

1506 GMT – Total exports out of the major Iranian port of Abadan dropped by 10 percent to $24.98 million during the 10-month period from March 21, 2006, to Jan. 20, the official Iranian Mehr News agency reported Jan. 23. Imports for the same period increased by 39 percent to $29.66 million.

1456 GMT – Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Jan. 23 a “strong initiative” should be taken to reach a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, especially in regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Musharraf made the comments after meeting with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman. Musharraf is scheduled travel to Syria and the United Arab Emirates before returning to Pakistan.

1455 GMT – Russia could make a second public offering of as much as 25 percent of state-controlled oil company Rosneft, Federal Property Management Agency head Valary Nazarov said in an interview published Jan. 23 by Interfax. During the first public offering, Russia raised $10.6 billion to pay off outstanding debts by selling 15 percent of its shares.

1450 GMT – Israeli President Moshe Katsav should be indicted on charges of rape and abuse of power, Israel’s attorney general recommended Jan. 23, The Associated Press reports.

1433 GMT – Palestinian militants announced Jan. 23 that they have captured three Westerners in the West Bank city of Nablus. The hostages, a French diplomat and two bodyguards, were taken after militants mistook the bodyguards for undercover Israeli soldiers. An al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade spokesman said the three likely will be freed soon.

1320 GMT – An American and a Briton were kidnapped early Jan. 23 by unidentified militants in Nigeria’s oil capital, Port Harcourt, local authorities said.

1313 GMT – British authorities arrested five people Jan. 23 under the country’s anti-terrorism laws. London’s Metropolitan Police said two of the suspects were picked up in Halifax, West Yorkshire, in northern England, and that three others were apprehended at separate locations in Manchester. Two of the suspects are British Pakistanis, officials said.

1308 GMT – Moscow will provide direct assistance to India in building nuclear facilities, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Press Trust of India in an interview published Jan. 23. Putin commented ahead of his visit to India on Jan. 25.

1247 GMT – The Iranian parliament approved a bill Jan. 23 to hold parliamentary and presidential elections on the same day. The measure would reduce President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s term by a year and extend the mandate of the current legislature. The bill, passed by a 121-86 vote, now goes to the Guardians Council. Should the council reject the measure, parliament can vote on it again and send it to the Expediency Council.

1240 GMT – Senior Iraqi leaders planned to meet again Jan. 23 to address a last-minute disagreement that is preventing the proposed oil law from being presented to the Cabinet. Kurdish officials are insisting that the language specify that existing contracts will be reviewed only by the Kurdistan regional government. They said the chairman of the drafting committee, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, himself a Kurd, finalized the text without consulting them.

1234 GMT – Some 40 masked gunmen who said they belonged to al Qaeda blew up a vacant resort in the Gaza Strip on Jan. 23, claiming it was owned by top Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan. The manager of the al-Waha complex said the militants detonated large bombs, destroying a large wedding hall and conference room in the southern part of the facility.

1228 GMT – Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced $100 million in assistance for Afghanistan during a visit to Kabul on Jan. 23. The move increases total Indian aid to Afghanistan since 2001 to $750 million.

1221 GMT – Ethiopian forces that helped Somalia’s transitional government regain control over territory under Islamist control will begin leaving Mogadishu immediately, Ethiopian Gen. Suem Hagoss said Jan. 23. Somalian Interior Minister Hussein Mohamed Farah Aideed said the Ethiopian troops would be replaced by African Union peacekeepers from Malawi, Uganda and Nigeria, and that troops from South Africa, Libya, Tanzania, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo would arrive later.

1215 GMT – North Korean nuclear envoy Kim Kye Gwan signaled Jan. 23 that Pyongyang could soften its stance toward the six-party talks. In response to a reporter’s question about whether there could be a change in Pyongyang’s demands, Kim said, “Doesn’t everything change?” Kim, who spoke to reporters after meeting with his South Korean counterpart in Beijing, described his recent meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill as “positive.”

1208 GMT – Hezbollah-led opposition protesters Jan. 23 burned tires and cars on major thoroughfares in and around the Lebanese capital of Beirut, paralyzing the country. Meanwhile, authorities said that seven people sustained gunshot wounds in clashes between Hezbollah supporters and pro-government activists in central and northern Lebanon.

0301 GMT – The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not intend the Jan. 11 test of an anti-satellite weapon by its government to be a threat to the global space program, the U.S. State Department said Jan. 22.

0156 GMT – Russia is working on finalizing a plan to officially give a controlling stake of all new offshore oil and natural gas fields to the state-run companies Gazprom and Rosneft, Russian newspaper Vedomosti reported Jan. 22.

0135 GMT – Japan and China have agreed to resume military exchanges in 2007 as part of their ongoing discussions on defense issues, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Jan. 22. Japanese warships have not visited Chinese ports since the end of World War II.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 22, 2007

2126 GMT – Ecuadorian Attorney General Francisco Cucalon said Jan. 22 that he will not resign, despite criticism of his appointment to the position. Cucalon, who was approved by Congress last week, also has said he will not fire any employee opposed to his appointment, and that the recent protests do not worry him.

2010 GMT – U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan’s Shawal area of North Waziristan accidentally killed a Pakistani soldier and injured two others, the Pakistani military said in a statement released Jan. 22. The statement says coalition forces mistakenly fired at border outposts. However, a coalition spokesman said it dropped four bombs on four suspected militants who had fired rockets at U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan’s Paktika province.

1948 GMT – Early elections are still an option to resolve the current Palestinian political crisis, Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Jan. 22. Abbas and Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal met Jan. 21 and agreed to stop intra-Palestinian violence, but could not reach an agreement on political accommodations.

1942 GMT – Ninety-three al Qaeda-linked militants were killed and another 57 were taken into custody during a Jan. 4-14 joint U.S.-Iraqi operation against insurgents in Iraq’s Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, U.S. Col. David Sutherland said Jan. 22.

1926 GMT – Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva revealed an economic revitalization plan Jan. 22 intended to raise Brazil’s growth rate from 2.6 percent to 5 percent by 2008. The plan will, among other things, stimulate an estimated $236.7 billion in infrastructure investment by both public and private companies. To facilitate private investment, the government will grant tax breaks to private corporations, and government spending is expected to increase between 20 percent and 25 percent of the gross domestic product.

1907 GMT – The Venezuelan army will build a 300-mile road in Nicaragua that will link the Pacific to the Atlantic region, El Universal reported Jan. 22. The construction, set to begin in a year and be completed in at least five years, will cost an estimated $350 million and will be financed by Venezuela as a donation.

1758 GMT – Russia and Venezuela have signed an agreement of mutual assistance for the management, distribution and transmission of natural gas through the countries’ state-owned companies, Gazprom and Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), PDVSA President Felix Rodriguez said Jan. 22. Gazprom and PDVSA will also sign agreements regarding technical assistance in the construction of international pipelines and creating computer programs that simulate natural gas transmission and distribution.

1742 GMT – Turkish politicians are fomenting unrest in northern Iraq which may result in Iraqi economic actions against Turkey, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Jan. 22 after a Cabinet meeting held to discuss alleged interference by neighboring countries. Al-Dabbagh also said Syria and Iran were meddling in Iraq, and that economic pressure could be placed on those states in response.

1731 GMT – Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem arrived Jan. 22 in the Iranian capital of Tehran for bilateral and regional discussions with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. Al-Moualem also carried a message from Syrian President Bashar al Assad for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

1725 GMT – Iran has decided to block 38 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from entering the country, Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee chairman Alaeddin Boroujerdi said Jan. 22. The move is a first step toward implementing a bill passed in December 2006 that requires the Iranian government to revise its cooperation with the IAEA.

1723 GMT – Iranian Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai told Dubai-based newspaper Al-Bayan confrontation between Iran and the United States is “inevitable” because of U.S. President George W. Bush’s aggressive policies toward Iran, IranMania reported Jan. 22. Rezai said U.S. policies are designed to impoverish Iran and spark a popular uprising against the Islamic government in Tehran.

1717 GMT – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced Jan. 21 that gasoline prices will rise in Venezuela for the first time in nine years, El Universal reported Jan. 22. According to Chavez, the rise in gasoline prices will only impact members of the upper and middle classes who drive cars. The price hike could bring as much as $3.87 million per year into Venezuelan coffers.

1713 GMT – Shares of Venezuelan telecommunications firm CANTV fell 11.95 percent Jan. 22, while shares of Caracas Electricity fell 8.57 percent. The drops have been attributed to President Hugo Chavez’s announcement that he will seize the assets of CANTV and will not compensate the firm’s investors. While no announcement has been made regarding Caracas Electricity, the company has been specifically targeted for nationalization.

1649 GMT – A new round of talks will take place between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza on Jan. 23, Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas member, said Jan. 22. The talks will follow the failed meeting between Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus, Syria, on Jan. 21.

1642 GMT – Argentina, Brazil and Guatemala have filed a complaint with World Trade Organization against the United States, trade officials said Jan. 22. The countries say illegal government subsidies are given to U.S. corn growers. Canada filed a similar complaint Jan. 8.

1633 GMT – Iranian Supreme National Security Secretary Council Ali Larijani and Syrian President Bashar al Assad met Jan. 21 in Damascus to discuss bilateral issues, as well as the ongoing situations in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, Iranian news outlet IRNA reported Jan. 22. Larijani’s visit was unannounced.

1629 GMT – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabir al-Thani met Jan. 21 in Tehran to discuss international pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, as well as to emphasize good relations between the two countries, the Fars News Agency reported Jan. 22.

1623 GMT – Iranian police arrested an Iraqi, four Afghans and five Bangladeshis for illegal entry into the country Jan. 22. The Iraqi and Afghans were detained in the waters off the southwestern city of Abadan, while the Bangladeshis reportedly entered Iran in southeastern Chabahar province. More than 1,000 foreigners have been detained for illegal entry into Iran during the last 10 months, mostly from Iraq.

1621 GMT – Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Mustafa Mohammad Najar and Belarusian Defense Minister Leonid Maltsev signed a memorandum of understanding Jan. 22. The ministers said the memorandum is a move to develop complete relations between their countries and emphasizes the expansion and consolidation of their defense ties.

1608 GMT – Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana will meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon on Jan. 22 to demonstrate Argentina’s interest in resolving a territorial dispute with the United Kingdom regarding the Falkland Islands, known in Argentina as the Malvinas. Taiana also intends to initiate bilateral negotiations with the United Kingdom.

1607 GMT – A delegation from the International Federation of Muslim Scholars will be sent to Iran to discuss the sectarian violence in Iraq with top Iranian officials, the group’s leader, Qatar-based Sunni cleric Sheikh Yussef Qaradawi, said in a Jan. 22 statement. Qaradawi made the announcement following a conference on inter-Islamic dialogue in Doha, Qatar. He also called on Shia and Sunnis in Iraq to fight the U.S.-led occupying forces instead of engaging in sectarian violence.

1604 GMT – Mexican oil company Petroleos Mexicanos expects to import an additional 10 million barrels of oil in 2007, El Universal reported Jan. 22. According an annual report by the company, Mexico will import about 37 percent of its domestic oil consumption in 2007.

1548 GMT – Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala called an emergency meeting of the new coalition Jan. 22 after government offices and buses were set on fire Jan. 20-21. Violence erupted after a Maoist activist shot and killed a 16-year-old boy during a demonstration organized by the Madhesi Peoples’ Rights Forum. The group was protesting the new constitution, which incorporates Maoists into the government. Continuing violence then sparked transport companies to call a strike Jan. 22 to protest attacks on their vehicles.

1547 GMT – A U.S.-Turkish coordinated operation against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq could begin in late February or early March, Turkish daily Zaman reported Jan. 22, citing intelligence sources. The operation would reportedly last about two weeks and be limited to a small area of operations defined by the U.S. military. U.S. intelligence and military officials will reportedly meet Jan. 24 to decide definitive action against the PKK.

1526 GMT – Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee will visit Afghanistan on Jan. 23 to invite Afghan President Hamid Karzai to the upcoming South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit, the Afghan Foreign Ministry said Jan. 22. Afghanistan will officially join the organization during the summit, which will be held in New Delhi, India, in April.

1519 GMT – A Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Jan. 22 Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar is probably in southern Afghanistan marshaling resurgent Taliban forces, though his exact location is unknown. The statement from the ministry directly contradicts the claim of a captured Taliban spokesman, who said Omar is in Quetta, Pakistan.

1441 GMT – Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said his country will likely accept an offer to host a U.S. anti-missile radar base, The Guardian reported Jan. 22. Washington made the formal request Jan. 19. Topolanek said the project would boost European security and that he will answer the request within two months.

1420 GMT – Kazakhstan state-owned oil company KazMunaiGaz on Jan. 22 expressed its interest in acquiring shares in the Romanian petroleum group Rompetrol. KazMunaiGaz wants to enter the European oil market and participate in the privatization of the Serbian company Nafta Industrija Srbije.

1313 GMT – EU foreign policy adviser Javier Solana said Jan. 22 he hopes Serbia’s elections will lead to the formation of a pro-Western government. He said it is too early to assess the impact the elections results have on Kosovo’s future status.

1311 GMT – French oil supermajor Total announced plans Jan. 22 to invest an additional $6 billion in Indonesia’s oil and gas sector over the next five years. After meeting with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta, Total chairman Thierry Desmarest said the firm plans to increase production at the Mahakam Delta oil and gas block in East Kalimantan and engage in exploration of new reserves.

1306 GMT – U.S. and Iraqi forces sealed off a predominantly Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad on Jan. 22, but officials denied the move was connected to the forthcoming Baghdad Security Plan. U.S. and Iraqi military spokesmen said the operation in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah district was part of an ongoing effort to clear the area and seize weapons.

1252 GMT – Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, whose Democratic Party of Serbia took 16.3 percent of the vote in the Jan. 21 national elections, said Jan. 22 his party wants to begin negotiations with the other democratic parties to form a coalition government. He said, however, he wants to be prime minister. Kostunica’s party took third place in the election behind the Radical party, which garnered 28.3 percent of the vote, and President Boris Tadic’s pro-EU Democratic Party, which garnered 22.7 percent.

1245 GMT – Russian Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov says Russia will maintain its military relations with India despite India’s growing relationship with the United States, the Times of India reported. Ivanov told the Indian daily that the Kremlin’s military ties with India are moving away from “the buyer-seller relationship” to broader cooperation in research and development and weapons manufacturing. Ivanov, who is visiting India, will be joined later in the week by a Russian delegation led by President Vladimir Putin.

1238 GMT – Rodrigo Rato, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), called on China on Jan. 22 to exhibit more flexibility in setting its exchange rates. Speaking during a visit to Tokyo, Rato said the IMF supported Beijing’s 2005 move to end a decade-long peg to the dollar in favor of a managed float, but that the Chinese need to more vigorously implement that decision.

1231 GMT – NATO’s commander in Afghanistan, British Gen. David Richards, says he needs more troops and another year to defeat the Taliban insurgency. In remarks published Jan. 22 in the British daily The Guardian, Richards said he is concerned that NATO member states believe they can get by with the same force levels as in 2006. Afghan stability should not be the only objective, he said.

1225 GMT – Israeli Defense Ministry Director-General Gabi Ashkenazi will become Israel’s new military chief, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported Jan. 22. Ashkenazi, a reserves major general who was formerly deputy chief of staff, will replace Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, who resigned Jan. 16.

1218 GMT – Four Pakistani troops were killed and as many as 16 wounded Jan. 22 when a suicide bomber struck a military convoy in the country’s northwestern tribal belt. The bombing occurred near the Kajori checkpoint on the outskirts of Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The bomber detonated a parked vehicle as the patrol passed by.

1212 GMT – Federal riot police were deployed and schools were closed Jan. 22 in India’s southern technology hub of Bangalore following communal riots between Hindus and Muslims. Several software firms and call centers continued to operate.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 21, 2007

2149 GMT – The most prominent militant group in southern Nigeria’s Niger River delta region said Jan. 21 that it was not responsible for the kidnapping of six foreign oil workers on Jan. 20. A spokesman for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said that the group had nothing to do with taking six Filipino sailors off a cargo vessel in Delta state’s Escravos region.

2131 GMT – Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Jan. 21 that his meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus, Syria, failed to reach an agreement on a unity government. Abbas also said that the meeting was “fruitful” and expressed hope that dialogue will continue on the unresolved issues.

2127 GMT – With 15 percent of the votes counted, the nationalist Radicals are ahead in Serbia’s parliamentary election Jan. 21. The Radicals have 29 percent, the Democratic Party has 23 percent and the Democratic Party of Serbia has 18 percent of the votes.

1752 GMT – A suspect held in the shooting of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink reportedly confessed to the killing Jan. 21. The official Turkish news agency, Anatolia, reported that Ogun Samast confessed after being detained by Turkish police in the Black Sea town of Samsun on Jan. 20. Ogun reportedly expressed no regret for the killing of Dink, who was being prosecuted on charges of “insulting Turkishness'” for writing articles about the alleged genocide of Armenians by Ottoman troops during World War I.

1721 GMT – Rioters in central Bangalore burned vehicles and Muslim-owned shops Jan. 21. Members of the Hindu extremist group Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh reportedly went on a rampage after local Muslims threw stones at a Hindu ceremony at Murphy Town in the cantonment area and were subsequently charged by police wielding batons and firing tear gas.

1714 GMT – There has been increased Israeli military movement in the Israeli-held Shebaa Farms in recent days, Lebanese army units stationed in southern Lebanon reported Jan. 21. Israeli troop movements, according to a Lebanese military source, exceed the normal routine of troop turnover. Armored personnel carriers have reportedly been deployed, and an increased number of tanks and self-propelled guns has been observed. The Shebaa Farms overlooks the west Bekaa Valley, a stronghold of Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah.

1711 GMT – The Hezbollah-led opposition protests in Beirut, Lebanon, are expected to escalate the week of Jan. 21. Highways will be blocked and movement to the airport and seaport will be disrupted. Labor unions have also called for a general strike Jan. 23.

1648 GMT – Spanish police and gangs of youths clashed in Spain’s Basque country Jan. 21. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets during the clashes in the town of Mungia, where one arrest was made. In Pamplona, gangs threw Molotov cocktails at police, who arrested two individuals. Disturbances were also reported in other towns in the region. The clashes come two days after Spain’s supreme court ruled that three outlawed Basque youth groups should be re-defined as terrorist organizations.

1542 GMT – The Iranian Revolutionary Guards will begin three days of military exercises on the edge of the Kavir Desert on Jan. 21, according to Iranian state television. The maneuvers, to be held approximately 60 miles southeast of Tehran, will include test firings of Zalzal short range missiles and Fajr-5 artillery rockets. The missile tests would be the first since U.N. Security Council sanctions were imposed on Tehran in December 2006.

1539 GMT – Talks between Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal that were abruptly postponed will go ahead Jan. 21 in Damascus, Syria, according to a senior Palestinian official. The meeting, originally set for Jan. 20, was delayed for at least a day due to a failure to come to terms over a new Palestinian government.

1519 GMT – Serbia on Jan. 21 is holding its first parliamentary elections since the country’s union with Montenegro was dissolved in 2006. The Republican Election Commission said that by 2 p.m. local time, voter turnout across Serbia was 30.5 percent. Approximately 6.5 million people are eligible to vote, with the basic choice being between pro-European, pro-reform parties and hardline nationalists.

1514 GMT – The U.S. military announced that the first troops of an increase ordered by U.S. President George W. Bush arrived in Baghdad on Jan. 21. The 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division has moved up from Kuwait and will be combat-ready by the end of January, according to U.S. military officials.

1512 GMT – A senior member of the political movement headed by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced Jan. 21 that the group’s two-month-long boycott of Iraq’s parliament is ending. In a news conference with the ruling Shiite alliance, Bahaa al-Araji said that al-Sadr’s group will rejoin the government and resume participating in parliament and the ministries. Al-Sadr’s group began a boycott of the Iraqi government in November 2006 over the issue of establishing a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

1507 GMT – The U.S. Geologogical Survey reported Jan. 21 that a magnitude 7.2 earthquake occurred in the Molucca Sea off the Indonesian island of Sulawesi late Jan. 20. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center based in Hawaii initially said that a local tsunami could occur, but Indonesia’s meteorological agency later said there was no risk of a tsunami.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 20, 2007

2359 GMT – Five U.S. soldiers were killed in heavy fighting in Iraq’s Shiite holy city of Kerbala on Jan. 20 — the bloodiest day there in more than two years. The 10-day Shiite rite of Ashura has just begun there. Combined with other incidents and the loss of 13 in a helicopter crash (the causes of which remain undetermined), a total of 21 U.S. servicemen died Jan. 20.

2237 GMT – A scheduled meeting between Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal on Jan. 20 was delayed for at least a day due to a failure to come to terms over a new Palestinian government.

1934 GMT – Seven foreign workers were taken off a merchant ship in Nigeria’s southern coastal region Jan. 20 in the latest incident of kidnapping in the African nation. Nearly 100 foreign hostages — mostly oil workers — have been taken. Most have been released unharmed after ransom is paid.

1913 GMT – The United States wants to place a ballistic missile defense base in the Czech Republic, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said Jan. 20. There has been no official response from the Pentagon, but the Czech Republic is one of two eastern European countries — the other being Poland — that have been under consideration for the base. Former Russian Security Council chief Andrei Kokoshin threatened consequences and retaliatory measures.

1630 GMT – A U.S. military helicopter has crashed northeast of Baghdad on Jan. 20, killing all 13 aboard.

1628 GMT – Hezbollah will soon announce “major and effective action” against the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said in a television interview on Al-Manar late Jan. 18. He insisted, however, that the campaign remain peaceful and not lead to “sectarian trouble or a civil war.”

1615 GMT – Key economic reforms for China’s financial system appear to be in the works following a two-day, closed-door meeting led by Premier Wen Jiabao, China’s official news agency Xinhua reported Jan. 20. Plans reportedly include the expansion of the size of corporate bonds, the increased use of foreign exchange reserves and the launch of shareholding reform at the Agricultural Bank of China. The China Development Bank, meanwhile, will take a leading role in starting commercial operations.

1602 GMT – The Philippine military confirmed Jan. 20 that Khadaffy Janjalani, leader of the militant Abu Sayyaf group, is dead. He was killed in fighting with government forces on Jolo Island some 550 miles south of Manila in September 2006. The body was exhumed from a makeshift grave in December, and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation assisted with matching the DNA to Janjalani’s imprisoned older brother.

1557 GMT – Nine battalions of African Union peacekeeping troops will deploy to Somalia in the next six months according to a plan agreed to following a Jan. 19 meeting of the Peace and Security Council. Uganda may also send 1,500 troops, pending parliamentary approval. These troops would replace Ethiopian forces currently in country.

1532 GMT – Iranian troops are reportedly gathering along the border with northern Iraq on Jan. 20. An Iraqi Kurdish source told the Kuwait News Agency, KUNA, that Iran is massing troops stationed at its main border crossing with Iraq, in Pashmakh. The source also said that Iran is beefing up its troops at the Kirban border position with Iraq and Iranian border authorities are stepping up inspections at the border. Both Iraqi Kurds and Kuwaitis are likely concerned about a lighter U.S. footprint in their respective regions.

1518 GMT – Four suspects were arrested at the Andheri railway station in suburban Mumbai, India, with 13.2 pounds of explosives Jan. 20. Andheri is one of the busiest stops on India’s rail network. Jan. 26 marks India’s Republic Day, which is sometimes a peak of militant and separatist activity.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 19, 2007

2214 GMT – Ecuadorian Economy Minister Ricardo Patino and his Argentine counterpart, Felisa Miceli, met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Jan. 19 to formalize Argentina’s debt renegotiation with Ecuador. Patino confirmed that his country will be able to pay 40 percent of its debt to Argentina. Miceli has not yet announced a schedule for meetings between the countries to discuss paying the debt.

2159 GMT – Construction plans on the West Bank settlement of Maskiot were stopped indefinitely by Israeli Minister of Defense Amir Peretz, Defense Ministry officials said Jan.19. Officials said Peretz halted the plans in order to look carefully at its implications. Since Israel had already promised not to build further West Bank settlements, Israel’s announcements in December 2006 that it planned to approve the construction of the Maskiot settlement drew international criticism.

2128 GMT – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Jan. 19 called for the alliance of state-owned companies in the natural gas and petroleum sectors throughout South America. Speaking on the last day of the Mercosur summit, Chavez said other South American countries should follow the example of Venezuela’s Petroleos de Venezuela. Brazil’s Petróleo Brasileiro and Argentina’s Enarsa in order to allow a greater state presence the region’s economy.

2125 GMT – Five Moroccans were acquitted Jan. 19 of terrorism charges by the country’s criminal appeals court, Moroccan state news agency MAP reported. The five, who were released in 2004 from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were accused by the Moroccan government of crimes including criminal gang involvement, failure to denounce crimes harming state security, funding criminal organizations, and passport forgery. Two of the five men still face charges of trying to recruit fighters to fight in Iraq.

2119 GMT – Bolivian President Evo Morales said Jan. 19 that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez should stop Colombia’s close trade and security ties with the United States and instead adopt state-led economic plans similar to those of Venezuela and Colombia. The United States financed the Plan Colombia aid package to fight drug-trafficking and has free trade agreements with Columbia, which Uribe said has led to growth.

2117 GMT – Venezuelan Vice-Minister of Mines Ivan Hernandez said Venezuela will seek to control the commercialization of gold and diamonds, but that such control will not imply state control of mining companies operating in Venezuela, El Universal reported Jan. 19. Venezuela recently announced plans to nationalize the telecommunication and energy sectors, but Hernandez said a similar policy will not apply to Venezuela’s mining industry.

2114 GMT – Jordan aspires to develop a peaceful nuclear program, Israeli daily Haaretz reported Jan. 19, quoting King Abdullah II. King Abdullah II also said he is ready to discuss his plans with Western countries. The U.S. State Department has indicated that it has no objections to a peaceful Jordanian nuclear program.

2059 GMT – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Jan. 19 that his plan to nationalize the telecommunications industry in Venezuela is based on his allegations that Venezuelan company CANTV has spied on him in the past. CANTV is owned by U.S. company Verizon Communications, Inc., and Chavez says CANTV has recorded his telephone calls on behalf of the U.S. government.

1958 GMT – Twenty-two foreigners were arrested in Shanghai, China, in connection with a bribery investigation, local press reported Jan. 19. The names of those detained were not listed, but authorities said they worked for the information technology departments of several companies, including McDonald’s, Swiss engineering firm ABB Ltd. and appliance maker Whirlpool Corp. A police notice sent to local media said the people detained have been accused of accepting bribes in exchange for equipment orders.

1954 GMT – About 400 riot police in Bangalore, India, clashed with thousands of Muslim demonstrators who assembled Jan. 18 to protest the execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, police said Jan. 19. At least 20 people were injured when police fired live ammo into the air and used tear gas to disperse crowds. According to reports, the demonstrations turned violent when protesters tried to force Hindu shopkeepers to close their shops and the shopkeepers refused.

1948 GMT – A trade accord was signed Jan. 19 between the European Union and Russia to end a dispute over meat imports. Prior to the accord, there was a year-long ban on Polish meat supplies by Moscow, which compelled Poland to veto a November 2006 Russia-EU partnership treaty. Under the new accord, the European Union will not export any produce to Russia that cannot be sold in European markets based on health standards.

1922 GMT – EU diplomats said Jan. 19 the European Union will call for complete and rapid implementation of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran at a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on Jan. 22. EU foreign ministers said they will stop Iran’s import and export of all nuclear goods, freeze the assets of people related to Iran’s nuclear program and implement a travel ban on some individuals.

1909 GMT – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Jan. 19 that the leaders of five Arab states are set to meet in Tripoli, Libya, next week to discuss the state of affairs in the Middle East and Africa. Leaders from Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Sudan are expected to participate in the summit. No official date has been set for the meeting.

1901 GMT – Two mortars struck the Somalian presidential palace in Mogadishu on Jan. 19. Explosions and gunfire have been heard across the city. Government officials have not confirmed whether there were any casualties.

1856 GMT – Syria predicts its economy will grow by 5.6 percent in 2007, up from 5.1 percent in 2006, because of higher nonpetroleum exports and Syrian currency stability, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdullah Dardari said Jan. 19. Oil represents about 70 percent of Syrian exports, but has seen quantities decline since 1997.

1831 GMT – Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee will visit Myanmar and urge the country to crack down on United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) rebels, an Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman said Jan. 19. Mukherjee will be meeting with Myanmar’s military junta. The Indian Express reported that, according to their sources, the Indian government believes the ULFA has 14 camps in Myanmar.

1817 GMT – Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr said in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica published Jan. 19 he has responded to recent arrests of Mehdi Army members by moving his family into hiding, drawing up a will and changing his location frequently to avoid detection. Al-Sadr also said his forces will not fight during the Islamic month of Muharram, but after the month ends, fighting might resume.

1810 GMT – Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Jan. 19 that if the latest round of talks with Hamas fails, he will call early elections. Abbas is scheduled to meet Hamas supreme leader Khaled Mashaal in Damascus, Syria, on Jan. 20 to discuss the terms of a coalition. The president has said only a unity government or elections are acceptable. Abbas added that it is time Hamas decides whether it wants to form a government that follows a more moderate platform that is acceptable to the West and that shares power with his Fatah party.

1807 GMT – The Sri Lankan military captured the eastern town of Vakarai from Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam rebels Jan. 19, proclaiming to evict the rebels from the entire eastern region. More than 10,000 refugees fled the region after weeks of fighting.

1800 GMT – U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish daily Hurriyet reported Jan. 19. They discussed Iraq, Cyprus, the Middle East and Turkish contribution to Afghanistan, and Burns said the meeting was productive. Burns promised support for Turkey against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and said he will continue discussions with Turkish authorities regarding the PKK.

1746 GMT – The United Liberation Front of Asom rebel group on Jan. 19 warned migrant workers in northeast India have to leave the region. The group also threatened to increase violence, dismissing new calls for peace talks by Indian Prime Minister Monmohan Singh.

1742 GMT – If conditions permit, a number of the additional 21,500 U.S. troops ordered to Iraq by U.S. President George W. Bush could begin leaving Baghdad by late summer, Gen. George Casey said Jan. 19. While Casey expressed caution over the exact timetable for the withdrawal of troops in Baghdad and the western Anbar province, he said gradual progress should be apparent within 60 to 90 days. This announcement follows the arrival of a brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division in Baghdad. Four additional brigades will be shipped to Iraq between now and May.

1742 GMT – Efforts to recommence the Doha round of trade talks centered on concessions from India as World Trade Organization Director Gen. Pascal Lamy met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Jan. 19. Lamy also spoke with Commerce Minister Kamal Nath and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, emphasizing the re-examination of the Indian position.

1736 GMT – Winds of more than 120 miles per hour and heavy rain continued to tear through Europe on Jan. 19, causing travel disruptions and power outages. At least 40 people have been killed so far. Countries in Eastern and Central Europe — including Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania — are still on high alert. The storm is expected to hit hardest in Eastern Europe on the night of Jan. 19-20.

1733 GMT – Marking an escalation in its campaign to oust the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Hezbollah will begin a comprehensive general strike Jan. 23, Reuters reported Jan. 19, citing an unnamed senior Lebanese political source.

1730 GMT – Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf will tour five countries to discuss the situation in the Middle East, the Foreign Ministry said Jan. 19. Musharraf will leave Jan. 20 and is scheduled to visit the capitals of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

1720 GMT – Opposition Pakistani Senate leader Mian Raza Rabbani said Jan. 18 that the opposition will fight moves to re-elect President Pervez Musharraf for a second term, the Daily Times reported Jan. 19. Musharraf’s potential re-election has caused a series of harsh exchanges between the two sides, with the opposition threatening to resign as a bloc.

1719 GMT – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Venezuela will continue purchasing Argentina’s foreign debt, El Universal reported Jan. 19. The statement came after Chavez met with Argentine President Nestor Kirchner during the Mercosur summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Kirchner and Chavez also came to an agreement regarding Argentine agriculture machinery sales to Venezuela.

1714 GMT – Senior Yemeni officials on Jan. 19 denied allegations by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani that the state is harboring a former deputy of Saddam Hussein’s Revolutionary Command Council, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. Al-Douri is wanted for directing the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.

1700 GMT – A U.S. Predator drone did not carry out the Jan. 16 attack on a militant hideout in Pakistan’s South Waziristan agency, a Pakistani military spokesman said Jan.19, denying reports to the contrary from local villagers. He repeated the government’s position that Pakistani helicopter gunships carried out the attack in the Zamzola area. Twenty militants were killed in the attack, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

1649 GMT – Defeated presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba, the main rival of Congolese President Joseph Kabila, ran for one of Kinshasa’s open senate seats Jan. 19. Bemba’s Union for the Nation party holds a majority in the Kinshasa provincial assembly, all but guaranteeing him the seat, which will keep him at the forefront of the opposition.

1643 GMT – U.S. special envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios will travel to eastern Chad Jan. 19 to meet with Darfur rebels. Natsios is expected to press the rebels to adopt a truce to resolve the Darfur crisis. Last week’s cease-fire negotiated by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has been faltering.

1640 GMT – A new government that includes Maoists will be formed in Nepal 15 to 20 days after the rebels finish surrendering their arms, Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said Jan. 19. The Maoists began turning over their arms at two sites Jan. 17. The weapons are being stored in U.N. containers.

1621 GMT – A study by Mexican state-owned oil company Petroleos Mexicanos predicts a possible 13 percent reduction in crude oil exports to the United States, El Universal reported Jan. 19. The study estimates 150 thousand barrels less per day would be exported in the next four years and the reduction could reach 500 thousand barrels less per day in 2012 or 2013.

1618 GMT – The Jan. 16 airstrike intended to destroy a militant hideout in Pakistan’s South Waziristan agency was carried out by a U.S. plane, local tribesmen said Jan. 19. The tribesman vowed revenge, saying the hideout was not occupied by militants, and that innocents were injured.

1616 GMT – The African Union Peace and Security Council will meet Jan. 19 to discuss a proposed peacekeeping force for Somalia. South Africa, one country considering a request to send peacekeepers to Somalia, expressed doubts regarding the African Union’s ability to deploy troops in addition to its existing deployment in Sudan.

1613 GMT – Uganda’s ruling National Resistance Movement party has approved a plan to send peacekeepers to Somalia, Reuters reported Jan. 19. The deployment of Ugandan troops must now be approved by the country’s parliament. Opposition to an approval is not expected

1607 GMT – As part of a bid to increase Russia’s participation in the global nuclear fuel market, state-run nuclear exporter Techsnabexport announced Jan. 19 that it has signed an agreement with Renova Group, Russia’s leading asset management company, to establish joint ventures to prospect and develop uranium deposits in South Africa, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Asia.

1557 GMT – Protesters clashed with police Jan. 18 during continued strikes in the Guinean capital of Conakry and the city of Labe aimed at forcing President Lansana Conte out of office, Reuters reported Jan. 19. Conte, who ruled Guinea since 1984, is reportedly in poor health and has rejected calls to hand over power to a unity government.

1542 GMT – Bolivian President Evo Morales said Jan. 19 that his administration will proceed with plans to nationalize the country’s mining industry. Morales, who made his remarks at the Mercosur summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, said the reforms he is considering will allow foreign investors to recover their investments but will also require that they make a contribution to the state.

1540 GMT – U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic Hans Hertell said Jan. 18 that the United States will likely certify a pending free trade agreement between the two countries within several weeks, the Dominican Today newspaper reported Jan. 19.

1539 GMT – Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva said Nov. 19 he supports adding Bolivia as a member of Mercosur. Da Silva also proposed reforms to the organization, such as the use of local currencies in transactions between Brazil and Argentina instead of relying on the dollar.

1502 GMT – U.S. and Iraqi special forces arrested Sheikh Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji, radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s media director, in a raid in Baghdad’s Baladiyat neighborhood Jan. 19, a senior al-Sadr aide said. In an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica published the same day, al-Sadr said 400 of his men also have been arrested and that he fears for his life.

1435 GMT – Russian oil supplies to the European Union were cut off briefly and then restored Jan. 19, a spokesman for pipeline operator Ukrtransnafta said. A storm in western Ukraine caused power shortages, forcing the pipeline, which crosses Ukraine, to shut down. The pipeline was down for more than 16 hours.

1319 GMT – Vladimir Mikhailov, Russian air forces chief commander, proposed Jan. 19 the creation of a united air-defense system in the Commonwealth of Independent States. The system would comprise the air-defense systems of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

1306 GMT – Jordan wants to develop its own nuclear power for peaceful purposes, Jordanian King Abdullah II said Jan. 19.

1300 GMT – The Druzhba pipeline carrying oil to the European Union via Ukraine was shut off late Jan. 18 after a winter storm led to power shortages in western Ukraine, a pipeline spokesman said, adding that supplies were expected to resume Jan. 19.

1247 GMT – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed concern Jan. 19 over reports that the Chinese conducted an anti-satellite weapons test Jan. 11. Abe also urged China to continue its stated policy regarding the peaceful use of space. The Japanese government contacted the Chinese Foreign Ministry for an explanation after learning of the test from the U.S. government.

1241 GMT – Israel transferred $100 million of frozen tax funds to Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, an official in Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office said Jan. 19. The transfer, made late Jan. 18, is the first such Israeli payment since Hamas won control over the Palestinian government in March 2006.

1228 GMT – North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Jan. 19 that the talks between U.S. envoy Christopher Hill and his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye Gwan had been conducted in a positive atmosphere and that a “certain agreement” had been reached, but provided no further details. Hill said separately that the discussions had been useful, although he was not aware of the agreement mentioned by the North Koreans.

1219 GMT – Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev again nominated acting Prime Minister Felix Kulov for the post of prime minister Jan. 19 after parliament turned down the nomination the previous day. Kulov garnered only 23 of the required 38 votes in the 75-seat parliament Jan. 18. Under the Kyrgyz Constitution adopted in December, parliament will face dissolution if it rejects the president’s nomination for prime minister three times in a row.

1212 GMT – The lower house of the Russian parliament passed a bill Jan. 19 to reform the country’s nuclear power sector. The bill calls for creation of a state-controlled holding company, Atomenergoprom, and allows other Russian corporations to possess non-weapons-grade nuclear materials, nuclear installations and nuclear storage facilities. Russia’s current nuclear fuel producer and supplier, TVEL, will become a subsidiary of Atomenergoprom.

0156 GMT – The United States, Australia and Canada criticized China on Jan. 18 after reports of an earlier test in space of a Chinese anti-satellite weapon surfaced. A U.S. National Security Council spokesman confirmed the test, which involved destroying an obsolete Chinese satellite in orbit with a missile launched from Sichuan province. Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom are expected to address the Chinese test soon.

0000 GMT – North Korea’s second-highest leader, President Kim Yong Nam of the Supreme People’s Assembly, met with Iranian Vice Foreign Minister Mahdi Safari on Jan. 19. Neither country provided details on the discussions, though the North’s official news agency KCNA said the talks were “friendly.”

SITUATION REPORTS – January 18, 2007

2156 GMT – The United States will continue to support Turkey’s efforts against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and will make “serious efforts” to close PKK bases in northern Iraq, Undersecretary of State Nick Burns said Jan. 18 after his meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Ankara has blamed the United States and the Iraqi governments of falling short in their promises to curb PKK activities in Iraq.

2156 GMT – Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said Jan. 18 that Venezuelan mineral resources should be in the hands of the Venezuelan government. Although he did not give any details as to how a potential nationalization of the mineral industry would proceed, it would likely impact private companies from Canada, China and Brazil operating in the country.

2151 GMT – The Venezuelan National Assembly on Jan. 18 unanimously approved a law that will facilitate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s plan to nationalize several sectors of the Venezuelan economy. The law allows the president to create laws by decree. Supporters hail the law as a way to deepen the impact of Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution headed, while opponents call it an abuse of power.

2132 GMT – United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) troops in southern Lebanon could be targeted by Hezbollah for attack in March or April 2007, according to telephone conversations between Hezbollah members intercepted by UNIFIL ships patrolling the Lebanese coast, sources reported Jan. 18. UNIFIL forces are taking precautionary measures in view of the intercepted calls.

1924 GMT – South African Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota will visit Angola in March to strengthen bilateral defense ties between the countries and review the ongoing Cabinda province peace process, the Angola Press Agency reported Jan. 18.

1911 GMT – Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on Jan. 18 vetoed a second submission of a bill to make Ukraine a parliamentary republic, which would reduce presidential powers. Yushchenko said in a press conference the bill does not conform to the constitution and breaks previous agreements between the president, the Cabinet of Ministers and parliament. The president is able to place a second veto on the bill because it differs from the bill vetoed earlier.

1854 GMT – Bolivian President Evo Morales said Jan. 17 that he will suggest another economic model for regional integration if Mercosur and the Andean Community of Nations do not adopt “profound reforms” that address economic issues experienced by the region’s people rather than big businesses, Estadao reported Jan. 18. Morales announced that should Bolivia enter Mercosur, the country will try to implement profound reforms, giving priority to small producers, associations, cooperatives and communal businesses.

1742 GMT – Power outages struck South Africa on Jan. 18, from Cape Town to Johannesburg. State utility company company Eskom said the 2,000-megawatt shortage resulted from maintenance needs and the shutdown of one unit at the Koeberg facility, the country’s only nuclear power plant. The company anticipates two-hour blackouts until the situation can be resolved early next week.

1700 GMT – The European Parliament passed a resolution Jan. 18 urging its member states to review all ties with Libya. The move is in response to the Dec. 19 conviction of five Bulgarian nurses by a Libyan court of deliberately infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV. THe nurses have been sentenced to death.

1656 GMT – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will represent his country at a meeting of the Middle East Quartet to be held Feb. 2 in Washington, D.C., RIA Novosti reported Jan. 18. The Middle East Quartet, comprised of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, drafted the stalled “road map” peace plan in 2003, which was to lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

1623 GMT – The European Union needs reliable relations with Russia but cannot ignore issues like freedom of the press, civil liberties or conflicts in Russia’s neighboring countries, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Jan. 18. Merkel’s statements came during a speech outlining plans for Germany’s EU presidency.

1620 GMT – The Lebanese opposition is mulling a plan to begin blocking main roads across Lebanon in new protests set to begin Jan. 20, Hezbollah politburo member Mahmoud Qammati said late Jan. 17. The protests are part of a six-week-long attempt by the pro-Syrian opposition to topple the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

1613 GMT – The Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce, Fedecameras, said Jan. 18 it supports Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) in its dispute with the Venezuelan government. Chavez is seeking to revoke RCTV’s license. Fedecameras said it will ask the government to reconsider the plan in defense of the rights and principles of freedom.

1608 GMT – The U.S. Congress should not vote to limit the number of troops that could be sent to Iraq because people in the Middle East could interpret such a move as a sign that President George W. Bush’s authority has weakened, outgoing Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Turki al-Faisal said late Jan. 17. U.S. military intervention against Iran’s nuclear program would be “catastrophic,” al-Faisal added.

1600 GMT – Former Venezuelan presidential candidate Manuel Rosales says President Hugo Chavez is “a despot who wants to transform Venezuela into Cuba,” El Universal reported Jan. 18. Rosales, governor of Zulia state, said the opposition will mount a democratic resistance to Chavez’s infringement on freedom of speech.

1550 GMT – Russian Ambassador to Georgia Vyacheslav Kovalenko has met with Russian President Vladmir Putin and is preparing to return to Georgia after a four-month absence, Itar-Tass reported Jan. 18. Kovalenko’s return marks another important step in normalizing Russian-Georgian relations after the countries signed an agreement in December on gas supplies. Kovalenko was recalled in September after Georgian officials arrested five Russian service personnel on espionage charges.

1548 GMT – ExxonMobil Senior Vice President Stuart McGill said his company expects the Venezuelan government to respect existing contracts, El Universal reported Jan. 18. McGill’s statement is in response to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s announcement that he intends to nationalize the country’s energy sector.

1542 GMT – U.S. officials hope to reopen 10 former state-run Iraqi factories within weeks, giving work to as many as 11,000 Iraqis, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Business Transformation Paul Brinkley said Jan. 18 in Baghdad. The factories included in the plan produce cement, heavy industry, machine parts, textiles and tractors. About $10 million is needed to get them running again, Brinkley said.

1536 GMT – Venezuelan state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela and Argentine state-owned company Argentina Energy have agreed to jointly operate the Rhasa refinery in Argentina until January 2008, with an option to buy it later, Argentine news agency Telam reported Jan. 18

1526 GMT – Former Sunni Baathist members of the Iraqi army are planning to escalate the anti-government insurgency, which they have led since 2003, Iraqi parliamentarian Sheikh Majeed al-Gaood, who has contacts in the insurgency, said Jan. 18. Al-Gaood added that the message came from Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the highest-ranking member of Saddam Hussein’s regime still at large.

1516 GMT – Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas will travel to the Syrian capital of Damascus on Jan. 20 for talks with Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal, PNA mediator Ziyad Abu Amr said Jan. 18.

1516 GMT – Nepali Congress leader Narahari Acharya demanded Jan. 18 that Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala resign as head of his party. Acharya said no one can meet the responsibilities of both party chief and head of state.

1515 GMT – Nepal’s Maoists planned Jan. 18 to dissolve their “People’s Government” and “People’s Courts” that ruled portions of the country over the past decade of insurgency. The dissolution is in accordance with the Nov. 8, 2006, agreement with the government that calls for the local governments to be disbanded upon the formation of an interim legislature.

1509 GMT – Edmund Stoiber, governor of Germany’s southern Bavaria state, said Jan. 18 he will not run in the 2008 elections and will step down as leader of the Christian Social Union party (CSU) after the party’s congress in September. The CSU is the smallest party in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s three-way coalition. Opinion polls show that if Stoiber remains the CSU’s lead candidate, then the party will lose the overall majority in Bavaria.

1501 GMT – The U.S. Labor Department reported Jan. 18 that the consumer price index rose 0.5 percent in December 2006 after experiencing no change in November. This is the greatest change since April and is a reflection of the higher costs of gasoline and natural gas. Without including food and energy, core consumer inflation increased 0.2 percent.

1450 GMT – The Pakistani government refuted allegations Jan. 18 that its intelligence service is hiding Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar in the Afghan border city of Quetta. Abul Haq Haqiq, a Taliban spokesman captured in Afghanistan on Jan. 17, has accused Pakistan of harboring Omar.

1249 GMT – Pakistani opposition parties are protesting the Cabinet’s Jan. 17 decision to have the current parliament elect the country’s president. The opposition contends that the present parliament, whose term will expire in November, has no right to elect a president for the next five-year term. The current parliament elected President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

1242 GMT – Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz will consider limiting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s authority as Olmert faces a criminal investigation in connection with the Bank Leumi affair, Mazuz’s deputy said Jan. 18. Olmert is suspected of improperly promoting the interests of two businessmen during the 2005 privatization of the bank.

1237 GMT – Saudi Arabia plans to expand its crude oil production capacity to 12.5 million barrels per day by 2009 from the current 9 million, and will double its refining size over the next five years, Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi said Jan. 18. The plans are part of an $80 billion commitment by the country to increase global oil supplies.

1230 GMT – Five Chinese telecom workers who were abducted by an unknown group in Nigeria’s southern Niger Delta on Jan. 5 were released Jan. 17, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Jan. 18. Italian Roberto Dieghi, held hostage by another group, was released the same day. Militants still hold two Italians and one Lebanese.

1223 GMT – South Korea’s ruling Uri Party on Jan. 18 officially declared plans to disband and to create a new party ahead of the December presidential election. The Uri Party has sought to partner with other liberal parties, particularly the minor opposition Democratic Party. Polls ahead of the election currently are led by former Seoul Mayor Lee Myung Bak, of the minor conservative opposition Grand National Party (GNP), who has 40 percent to 50 percent voter support. In second place in early polling is another GNP member, Park Geun Hye.

1222 GMT – The United States rejected a package of concessions offered by Iran in 2003, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported Jan. 18, citing Lawrence Wilkerson, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff. Iran offered to help stabilize Iraq, end support for Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups and make its nuclear program more transparent. In exchange, Iran asked the United States to end its hostility and sanctions as well as disband the Iranian rebel group Mujahideen e-Khalq. The offers came in an unsigned letter seen by the BBC program Newsnight.

1216 GMT – U.S. intelligence agencies believe China destroyed the aging Feng Yun 1C polar orbit weather satellite in a successful anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) test Jan. 11, China Daily reported Jan. 18, citing an article to appear in the Jan. 22 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology. U.S. intelligence agencies are still attempting to verify the ASAT test, which would signify that China has a major new military capability.

0304 GMT – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Jan. 18 in Berlin that a “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” of North Korea would lead to normalized relations with the United States. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill began nuclear talks with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye Gwan, in Berlin the same day.

0303 GMT – U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Jan. 18 that it is “important” to reinforce U.S. troops’ success in Afghanistan. Gates noted that military commanders in Afghanistan want to increase troops in the country, but he did not say he would recommend increasing troop levels.

0137 GMT – At least three people were killed Jan. 17 in demonstrations against Guinean President Lansana Conte, IRIN reported Jan. 18. A nationwide strike began last week and negotiations between Conte and strike leaders have been fruitless.

0132 GMT – Roberto Dieghi, an Italian held hostage by a militant group in Nigeria, was released Jan. 18. Dieghi was kidnapped Dec. 7 with other employees of the Italian oil company ENI. The other captives have not been released.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 17, 2007

2108 GMT – Four people working for the U.S. National Democratic Institute were killed in Baghdad, Iraq, on Jan. 17, the group’s Middle East director said. A Hungarian, a Croatian, an Iraqi and an American woman were killed when gunmen attacked their three-car convoy in Baghdad.

2038 GMT – Peru and Colombia must address labor issues raised by Democrats in the U.S. Congress before the Bush administration asks Congress to approve free trade agreements with the two South American countries, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative John Veroneau said Jan. 17.

1910 GMT – A peace deal has been reached between the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and rogue general Laurent Nkunda in the country’s volatile east, a DRC army spokesman told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Jan 17. Col. Delphin Kiyimbi said Nkunda’s troops would be incorporated into the national army and that he himself would be granted immunity and asylum in a neighboring country regardless of the war crimes charges against him.

1905 GMT – The five Iranian diplomats arrested in Iraq by U.S. forces must be immediately released, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said in a meeting with Iraqi Minister of State and National Security Shirwan al-Waili on Jan.17. Mottaki said Iran considers the Iraqi government responsible for the five men.

1901 GMT – The United States and Great Britain have created an “imaginary enemy” in the Middle East in order to justify their presence there, Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said in a joint press conference with Iraq’s minister of state and national security Jan.17. The two diplomats also discussed the recent raid on the Iranian consulate general in Arbil.

1728 GMT – Venezuela is prepared to transfer 10 percent of its international reserves to the Banco del Sur, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said, the official Venezuelan news agency ABN reported Jan. 17. Chavez added that by creating a South American bank, in five to six years “we will need neither the World Bank nor begging around the world.”

1644 GMT – Pakistani forces did not fire on Indian troops in Kashmir on Jan. 17, Pakistani Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said. India said Pakistani troops opened fire on an Indian position near Jammu, the summer capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, in violation of a three-year-old cease-fire to provide cover for infiltrating militants. Sultan said Indian security forces were responsible for the gunfire.

1639 GMT – Venezuelan state-owned oil firm Petroleos de Venezuela and India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) are in ongoing talks about Venezuela supplying additional oil to India, ONGC said Jan 17. Both oil firms are also interested in exploration projections in India and Venezuela.

1631 GMT – Uruguay will support the membership of Bolivia in Mercosur, Foreign Minister Reinaldo Gargano told Prensa Latina on Jan. 17. He said Mercosur would benefit from Bolivia’s reserves of natural gas, as well as oil and mineral production, and said its accession to the union would open the door for other countries such as Ecuador to join the common market. The issue will be further addressed at a Mercosur summit in Brazil scheduled to begin Jan 19.

1625 GMT – The Sri Lankan air force bombed a suspected Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam base near the northeastern village of Verugal on Jan. 17, the Sri Lankan military said.

1622 GMT – Poland and Algeria have signed a memorandum of understanding on energy cooperation, Polish Economy Minister Piotr Wozniak said Jan. 17. Poland’s state-owned Polskie Gornictwo Naftowe I Gazownictwo and Algeria’s state-owned Sonatrach will begin exploratory talks Jan. 18 on a liquefied natural gas (LNG) supply contract. Poland is looking to receive its first shipments of LNG from Algeria by 2010-2011.

1615 GMT – Two people were killed and five others injured Jan. 17 after a bomb exploded at a crowded marketplace in Dispur, the capital of the Indian state of Assam. Police suspect rebels tied to the separatist United Liberation Front of Asom were behind the attack.

1610 GMT – Supreme Islamic Courts Council (SICC) leader Sheikh Ahmed Sharif was arrested by Kenyan authorities near the Dadaab refuge camp on the Somali-Kenyan border, Kenyan daily the East Africa Standard reported Jan. 17. Sharif, a deputy to Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, was previously considered a moderate representative of the SICC and is the first member of the SICC leadership to be brought into custody.

1600 GMT – Chinese President Hu Jintao will visit South Africa on Feb. 7, South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said Jan. 17. The multination trip is the latest in a series of overtures by the Chinese, and will build on Hu’s April 2006 visit to Africa and China’s recent hosting of the China-Africa summit in November 2006.

1555 GMT – Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the United States should open dialogue with Iran and Syria to improve the situation in Iraq, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed al-Sabah said Jan. 17. The two met Jan. 16 on the sidelines of a summit of the foreign ministers the six Gulf Cooperation Council states, Jordan and Egypt to discuss Iraqi security.

1550 GMT – The Somalian parliament has ousted its speaker, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, Reuters reported Jan. 17 Adan, who had unilaterally led efforts to reach peace deals with the country’s Supreme Islamic Courts Council (SICC) before the war with the SICC, was blamed for fomenting rifts in the government.

1536 GMT – Israel plans to release $100 million in withheld tax revenues to Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas by Jan. 19, a senior Israeli official said Jan. 17. The move is part of a U.S. push to help empower Abbas against the current Hamas government. Israel has withheld $500 million in Palestinian customs receipts since it halted the transfer of revenues after Hamas came to power in elections in February 2006.

1531 GMT – Russia withdrew a nationwide security alert Jan. 17 after failing to find evidence of a reported imminent attack, a spokesman for the state anti-terror committee said.

1527 GMT – EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana left Jan. 17 for a four-day tour of the Middle East. He will travel to Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan.

1525 GMT – The General Federation of Labor Unions (GFLU) continued its protests against Lebanon’s economic reform plan Jan. 17, rallying outside the Economy Ministry. It is the fourth such protest in eight days by the GFLU, which is supported by the Hezbollah-led anti-government March 8 coalition.

1522 GMT – Political stalemate between Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah is delaying the release of kidnapped Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, and the subsequent freedom of Palestinians in Israeli jails, representatives of Jaish al-Islam said Jan. 17. Jaish al-Islam was one of three groups who participated in Shalit’s kidnapping, along with Hamas’ armed wing.

1248 GMT – Iraq’s Oil Committee has agreed on a final draft of a measure that sets regulations for sharing oil revenues and improving output, an Oil Ministry spokesman said Jan. 17. The draft of the Oil Law calls for a federal committee headed by the prime minister to oversee all future contracts and review existing deals signed under Saddam Hussein’s regime or by the Kurdish regional government. The bill will go to the full Cabinet next week for approval before heading to parliament.

1241 GMT – The European Union and China began talks Jan. 17 on a comprehensive treaty covering 22 areas of relations, including trade, the environment and human rights. Negotiations for the treaty, which will replace a pact signed more than 20 years ago, could last up to two years, although there is no official timetable. The European Union will provide about $48 million and China $81 million for the projects.

1235 GMT – U.S. and North Korean envoys will hold a second, and perhaps third, day of talks on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said Jan. 17. Hill began talks with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye Gwan, in Berlin on Jan. 16, marking the first bilateral negotiations outside of the framework of the six-party talks that began in 2003.

1229 GMT – Two Indian border guards were injured when Pakistani soldiers opened fire in Indian-administered Kashmir in order to provide cover for militants attempting to cross the border, an Indian official said Jan. 17. The official called the incident the first violation of the Indian-Pakistani cease-fire, which took effect in 2003. Pakistan has not yet responded to the accusations.

1220 GMT – The South Korean air force plans to add 20 next-generation fighter jets — with weapon-loading capacity equivalent to at least the F-15K’s — from foreign contractors between 2010 and 2012, defense officials said Jan. 17. The $2.5 billion acquisition project is in line with the nation’s long-term military buildup plan set to be completed by 2020.

1214 GMT – In response to a visit to Singapore by ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s coup-intalled government said Jan. 17 it would review all cooperation with Singapore, including military agreements providing for the usage of army camps and air force bases in Thailand. The previous day, Thailand canceled a visit by Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo scheduled for Jan. 29-30, and suspended the Thailand-Singapore Civil Service Exchange Programs. Although the Thai government intends to take additional measures, it will not affect existing trade and investments between the two countries, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

0247 GMT – The Philippine military Jan. 17 confirmed it killed Abu Solaiman, a senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf Islamist militant group, in a Jan. 15 battle on the island of Jolo.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 16, 2007

2355 GMT – The Russian Federal Security Service’s (FSB) anti-terrorism committee said Jan. 16 it has obtained a foreign report about a possible threat to the ground transportation and metro system. The announcement did not specify a possible location for the threat. FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev has put the federal and regional anti-terrorism headquarters on high alert. The FSB is working to verify the report.

2323 GMT – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa signed nine energy agreements Jan. 16, including provisions to increase Ecuador’s oil refining capacity and lead the countries in pursuing several joint projects between the state-owned enterprises Petroleos de Venezuela and PetroEcuador. Under the accords, which cover a period of five years, the two countries also agreed to develop commercial policies that ensure “sovereign control” of hydrocarbon resources.

2302 GMT – Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz resigned Jan. 16, two weeks after promising to step down if the Winograd Committee found that he had mishandled the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, a former Golani infantry brigade commander, will serve as temporary replacement for Halutz, over whose resignation Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed regret.

2237 GMT – Foreign ministers of six Persian Gulf Arab states plus Egypt and Jordan backed U.S. President George W. Bush’s plan for a military buildup in Iraq while meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Kuwait on Jan. 16.

2156 GMT – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez denied Jan. 16 reports by Spanish newspaper El Pais that Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s condition is serious. Chavez also denied that Chavez has cancer, as has been alleged. Chavez did acknowledge that Castro’s recovery is slow and full of risk.

2046 GMT – Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said Jan. 16 that he does not see a need for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to hold an emergency meeting about declining oil prices. He added that he expects prices to trend higher after an OPEC cut already scheduled for Feb. 1 is implemented.

2019 GMT – Armed men attacked a small ferry near the Bonny Island oil facility in southern Nigeria on Jan. 16, reportedly killing four people, including one Dutch foreign oil worker and a Nigerian serviceman, Reuters reported. The South Korean company Hyundai reportedly operated the ferry.

1837 GMT – Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez has replaced 50 percent of general officers in Uruguay’s army and navy and 16 percent of its air force general officers since taking office in March 2005, military reports released by Uruguay on Jan. 15 indicate, Prensa Latina reported Jan. 16. A law passed in 2005 changed the promotion system for general officers, giving the president the authority to choose whom to promote.

1737 GMT – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be investigated for his involvement in the 2005 privatization of Israel’s second-largest bank, Bank Leumi, the Israeli Justice Ministry said Jan. 16. Olmert was finance minister in 2005, when it is alleged he might have improperly promoted the interests of two businessmen during the sale of the bank.

1644 GMT – A contingent of African peacekeepers is expected to arrive in Somalia within two weeks, Somalian Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi said Jan. 16. The Associated Press reported that Ghedi expects troops from five countries to send peacekeeping units to Somalia, although only Uganda has publicly committed troops. Nigeria, named by Ghedi as part of the group, will not comment on the deployment until after an African Union regional security summit scheduled for Jan 29-30 in Ethiopia.

1629 GMT – Former U.N. oil-for-food program director Benon Sevan has been indicted in New York federal court for allegedly taking bribes of around $140,000 from Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s regime, Fox news reported Jan. 16, citing anonymous sources. Sevan allegedly received the bribes between 1996 and 2003 in the form of oil voucher payments that are used in the program.

1612 GMT – Cuban leader Fidel Castro is suffering complications from an intestinal infection and is in “very grave” condition after three failed operations, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported Jan. 16. A Cuban diplomat in Madrid, speaking anonymously, denied the report.

1602 GMT – All political options are void and no settlement to the current Lebanese political crisis is possible, Hezbollah television station Al Manar reported Jan. 16, adding that a major escalation likely will occur soon. Meanwhile members of the Free Patriotic Movement led by Michel Aoun and allied to the pro-Syrian opposition said the party remains on “high alert” and will step up protests in due time.

1554 GMT – The Somalian government reversed its broadcasting ban Jan. 16 against three radio stations and one television station, Reuters reported. After meeting with media executives and coming under pressure from local and international groups, the government lifted the ban imposed a day earlier against Shabelle Media Network, Horn Afrik, Voice of the Koran and Al Jazeera television.

1541 GMT – The government of Bremen, a northern German city-state, said Jan. 16 that it has agreed to purchase a portion of the stake in the European Aeronautics Defense and Space Company (EADS) offloaded by DaimlerChrysler. The $38.7 million purchase will help keep the shares in German hands. The local governments of Hamburg and the northern state of Lower Saxony have also showed interest in acquiring a portion of the stake in EADS.

1532 GMT – British foreign intelligence agency MI6 has challenged government claims that a corruption inquiry into BAE Systems’ dealings with the Saudi Royal family would threaten national security. The British government stopped an investigation in to possible arms dealings between BAE and the royal family, saying that furthering the investigation would severely damage U.K./Saudi security, intelligence and domestic cooperation.

1528 GMT – Peru will re-establish diplomatic relations with Venezuela within one month, as both countries will send ambassadors, Peruvian President Alan Garcia said Jan. 16. Garcia said the normalization of relations will also define the type of energy collaboration that Peru will have with Venezuela.

1526 GMT – Officials from the Finnish company Botnia, which is building a controversial paper mill in Uruguay, have met with a Spanish mediator and indicated they could be open to direct negotiations with the Uruguayan and Argentine governments, Montevideo daily La Republica reported Jan. 16.

1522 GMT – Chinese banks will now have to set aside 9.5 percent of their total deposits as reserves, up from a 9 percent reserve requirement, as part of continuing efforts by the government to slow down lending and investment in the country, People’s Bank of China said Jan. 15. This marks the fourth increase in the reserve requirement since June 2006.

1517 GMT – A second set of explosions in Baghdad, Iraq, on Jan. 16 killed 28 people and wounded 65, police and hospital officials said. The blasts reportedly occurred near a university in eastern Baghdad. Earlier in the day, twin bombs killed at least 15 people and wounded 70 near a Sunni mosque in central Baghdad.

1516 GMT – Russian prosecutors are looking to reopen an investigation into the death of Russian businessman Yuri Golubev, media reports said Jan. 16. Golubev died Jan. 8 in London and was a key witness in an investigation of Yukos, the former Russian oil producer headed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky, also a major critic of the Putin administration, is currently jailed in Russia. After an initial autopsy in Britain, Golubev’s death was attributed to natural causes by British police.

1514 GMT – Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has submitted to parliament the candidacy of acting Prime Minister Felix Kulov for prime minister, the Kyrgyz presidential press office reported Jan. 16. Bakiyev has the power to appoint a prime minister according to a new constitution that was ratified Dec. 30. Kulov and his Cabinet resigned mid-December over disagreements with parliament and the opposition. Parliament will review the candidacy Jan. 17.

1509 GMT – China will attempt to increase imports and reduce exports in 2007 in order to prevent the economic problem of a trade surplus from becoming a political problem in relations with the United States and Europe, Commerce Minister Bo Xilai said Jan. 15.

1507 GMT – Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra called for a return to democracy in Thailand, denied involvement in the New Year’s Eve bombings in Bangkok and said he has no intention of returning to politics in interviews with CNN and the Hong Kong-based Asian Wall Street Journal on Jan. 15. CNN’s broadcast of the interview was blocked in Thailand by the interim government.

1425 GMT – Clashes between rival communities in southern Nigeria prompted Royal Dutch/Shell to evacuate two oil installations Jan. 16. The facilities were not attacked directly, but were evacuated as a precaution. Only skeleton crews remain at two pipeline hubs in Rivers state after fighting between local villages left a dozen community chiefs dead Jan. 14, according to Nigerian officials. Additional government troops were deployed to the area to restore order.

1322 GMT – Russia has completed transfers of the Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Jan. 16. The Tor-M1 is a high-accuracy missile designed to intercept cruise missiles as well as both manned and unmanned aircraft. Despite U.N. sanctions on Iran, Russia insists that the contract was in line with international law and that the system is for defensive purposes only.

1250 GMT – Twin bombs killed 15 people and wounded 70 near a Sunni mosque in central Baghdad, Iraq, on Jan. 16. The blasts had been timed so that the second would hit rescue workers who came to help victims of the first explosion. More than 34,000 Iraqi civilians were killed as a result of violence in Iraq in 2006, according to a Jan. 16 U.N. report.

1243 GMT – The European Parliament will elect a president Jan. 16 to replace outgoing President Josep Borrell. German Christian Democrat Hans-Gert Poettering is the favorite to take over the post. Other candidates include European United Left-Nordic Green chief Francis Wurtz of France, the Green’s co-chairman Monica Frassoni of Italy and Danish eurosceptic Jens-Peter Bonde.

1238 GMT – Executives from Al Jazeera and three top Somalian radio stations — Shabelle Radio, Radio HornAfrik and Voice of the Koran — were called to the Somalian national security agency for discussions Jan. 16 following a broadcasting ban imposed on the stations by the Somalian government. Four of Mogadishu’s seven radio stations reportedly are still broadcasting. The government runs two of its own radio stations and a Web site, and could begin publishing its own paper.

1230 GMT – Only 17 of Russia’s registered political parties comply with Russian law, Federal Registration Service head Sergei Movchan said Jan. 16, adding that the remaining 15 parties will be disbanded in court procedures, All political parties were required to submit documents Jan. 1 confirming that they had met the required minimum membership of 50,000 people and that they had at least 500 members in 45 regional departments.

1223 GMT – The Pakistani army launched an airstrike on a militant camp in Zamzola in South Waziristan on Jan. 16, killing 25 to 30 militants. A military spokesman said the operation was a precision airstrike and that no ground troops had been used.

1217 GMT – Nepal’s Maoist rebels took seats in the 330-member National Congress the evening of Jan. 15, marking the first time Maoists were represented in parliament. The Nepali Congress party holds 85 seats in parliament while the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) and the CPN (Maoist) group each have 83 seats The Maoists entered the interim legislature only hours after the previous parliament agreed on a temporary constitution allowing the former guerrillas to hold political office. The current parliament is expected to hold elections in June for a body that will create a new constitution ending the monarchy and establishing a democratic republic.

1211 GMT – Saudi Arabia supports the goals of the new U.S. strategy for Iraq, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said at a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Riyadh on Jan. 16. He emphasized, however, that only Iraqis can make the plan succeed. Rice was visiting Saudi Arabia as part of a regional tour to garner support for U.S. President George W. Bush’s plan to send more than 20,000 more troops to Iraq.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 15, 2007

2110 GMT – Argentina will present to the International Court of Justice at The Hague its case Jan. 15 against Uruguay for allegedly locating pulp mills along the Uruguay River illegally.

1947 GMT – The Shah Deniz gas field in the Caspian Sea has resumed operations after three weeks of stalled efforts, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan said Jan. 15. The BP-led consortium that runs the field expects to produce up to 5.6 billion cubic meters of gas this year. The resumption comes at a crucial time, with Russian gas monopoly Gazprom looking to increase its supply prices in negotiations with Georgia.

1940 GMT – Lebanon’s General Federation of Labor Unions held a sit-in Jan. 15 outside the Telecommunications Ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, in protest of proposed economic reforms. This marks the third such protest supported by the Hezbollah-led opposition in January.

1920 GMT – EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Jan. 15 after meeting with Kosovar President Fatmir Sejdiu that the European Union will increase its engagement in Kosovo following the upcoming decision on its status.

1901 GMT – The current U.S.-led operation to improve security in Baghdad will likely take at least six months to have an effect, and could be the last chance for success for the beleaguered government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, senior Iraqi politicians said anonymously Jan. 15. The operations, expected to begin the week of Jan. 21, will aim at disarming Sunni insurgents as well as Shiite militias.

1847 GMT – Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov and Chinese President Hu Jintao on Jan. 15 signed a bilateral treaty on friendship and cooperation, as well as six cooperation agreements on economic and technological issues.

1842 GMT – Armed men kidnapped at least four officials from the Karak offices of Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission on Jan. 14, Pakistani daily Dawn reported. The men entered the facility and escaped with the officials using the commission’s vehicles.

1835 GMT – Protesters from a number of different groups said they will block main roads and avenues Jan. 15 in El Alto, Bolivia, to demand the resignation of La Paz Prefect Jose Luis Paredes. Expecting further clashes, local police have increased security in the area.

1605 GMT – The leaders of 16 Asian nations endorsed a free trade zone that will reach from India to New Zealand, rivaling a similar plan by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, during a Jan. 15 meeting in Cebu, Philippines. The free trade area, covering a region with an aggregate economic output of $9 trillion, will comprise Japan, China, India, Australia, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Brunei, Myanmar and Cambodia.

1603 GMT – Peruvian President Alan Garcia will meet with Bolivian President Evo Morales on the sidelines of Ecuador’s presidential inauguration Jan. 15. The two plan to discuss bilateral issues such as Bolivian access to the Pacific Ocean.

1600 GMT – Ecuadorian President-elect Rafael Correa will assume the presidency Jan. 15 with a promise to end the country’s neoliberal economic model and jump-start political reform, Argentine daily Clarin reported. Eleven presidents are scheduled to attend the inauguration, including Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Brazil’s Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva and Peru’s Alan Garcia.

1559 GMT – Foreign direct investment (FDI) in China, excluding the finance sector, climbed 4.5 percent in 2006 from the year before, to $63 billion, the Chinese Commerce Ministry reported Jan. 15. Including the finance sector, FDI fell 4.1 percent, to $69.5 billion.

1554 GMT – Lebanon’s March 8 anti-government coalition does not oppose an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, as long as it is not politicized, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Anbaa published Jan. 15. The coalition also does not oppose the Paris III donor’s conference to be held Jan. 25-26, but would like to discuss a new six-point economic plan with the government, as it believes the plan will plunge Lebanon further into debt.

1544 GMT – Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has signed amendments to the Kyrgyz Constitution that would expand his executive authority, the presidential press office said Jan. 15. The amendments would give Bakiyev the power to appoint a prime minister, regional governors and security heads. A previous compromise constitution signed in November 2006 curbed Bakiyev’s powers.

1539 GMT – Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, will meet with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Jan. 15 in Ecuador. The two hope to settle their disagreement over Insulza’s criticism of Chavez’s revocation of Radio Caracas Television’s license.

1537 GMT – China’s foreign exchange reserves topped $1 trillion for the first time at the end of December 2006, the People’s Bank of China reported on its Web site Jan. 15. The increase puts more pressure on the government to let the yuan appreciate faster. China’s reserves have climbed from $819 billion at the end of 2005. China’s trade surplus also swelled by 74 percent, to $177.5 billion, in 2006.

1533 GMT – Guatemalan President Oscar Berger refused to read his State of the Nation speech to Congress on Jan. 14 and instead sent a written version to the legislature after demonstrators from the nation’s teachers union and other labor groups clashed with police outside the legislative building, The Associated Press reported Jan 15. The opposition has accused Berger of failing to fulfill his promises.

1505 GMT – The United States and South Korea should be able to finish free trade negotiations by March, chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Cutler said Jan. 15. It is expected to take three months for the agreement to be approved by the U.S. Congress; therefore, the United States needs consensus by March in order to get the deal passed before the president’s trade promotion authority expires July 1. Current disputes focus on U.S. anti-dumping regulations, pharmaceutical trade and Korean importation of U.S. beef.

1439 GMT – Gunmen attacked an Ethiopian convoy late Jan. 14 in the northern Arafat district of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, Reuters reported Jan. 15. Two trucks were hit and at least one Ethiopian and three Somalis were killed in the ensuing shootout.

1419 GMT – EU justice and interior ministers were meeting Jan. 15 in Dresden, Germany, to discuss cooperation in fighting illegal immigration to the European Union. On the agenda is a proposal to issue an EU “green card” to attract highly skilled migrants and a call by European Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini for member states to offer boats and aircraft to patrol the Mediterranean Sea.

1417 GMT – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa will sign a series of energy accords on Jan. 16, Bloomberg reported Jan. 15. The accords will cover the modernization of Ecuador’s Las Esmeraldas refinery and create a joint venture between state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and PetroEcuador to explore Venezuela’s Orinoco Belt oil reserve. In February, PDVSA also is expected to begin refining up to 100,000 barrels per day of Ecuadorian crude oil at no charge.

1416 GMT – Newly elected Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa is expected to convene an assembly Jan. 15, the day of his inauguration, to begin the process of rewriting Ecuador’s Constitution. Correa has announced that he will not make small changes, but instead will pursue a sweeping revolution of affairs in Ecuador.

1409 GMT – An estimated 175,000 people in Madrid, Spain, and another 80,000 in Bilbao protested Jan. 14 against a recent bombing by the militant branch of the Basque separatist group ETA. The protesters say they want the Spanish government not to resume peace talks with the group. The government suspended talks following the Dec. 30, 2006, bombing that killed two people at Madrid Barajas International Airport.

1409 GMT – Five hundred federal troops have arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to support the state police, JB Online reported Jan. 15. Justice Minister Marcio Thomaz Bastos will meet with Rio de Janeiro Gov. Sergio Cabral later in the day to develop a strategy to combat violence plaguing the state.

1249 GMT – Iran and Nicaragua announced plans to open embassies in each other’s capitals during Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit with new Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega over the weekend, The Associated Press reported Jan. 15. The trip to Nicaragua was part of Ahmadinejad’s tour of Latin America, which includes meetings with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales.

1242 GMT – The first parliamentary meeting of the expanded 27-member European Union took place in Strasbourg, France, on Jan. 15. The 35 Romanian and 18 Bulgarian members of parliament bring the European Parliament’s total to 785. Romania and Bulgaria joined the union Jan. 1.

1236 GMT – Iran intends to have 3,000 centrifuges at its pilot nuclear facility at Natanz by March, a government spokesman said Jan. 15. The country eventually intends to have 60,000 centrifuges, enough to advance to industrial-scale enrichment. Iran launched a second experimental chain of 164 centrifuges at the facility in October 2006.

1229 GMT – Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met Jan. 15 to discuss the creation of a free trade area during the ASEAN summit in the Philippine city of Cebu. The proposal marks the first time that Asian nations have agreed to an integration similar to the European Union. The countries involved hold almost half of the world’s population and have a combined economic output of $9 trillion.

1220 GMT – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Jan. 15, primarily to discuss ways to further the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process, including improving the position of Fatah Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the power struggle with Hamas. The two have agreed to meet with Abbas, although no date has been announced. After meeting with Olmert, Rice is scheduled to travel to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Germany and the United Kingdom.

1213 GMT – Two of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s aides — Hussein’s half-brother, former intelligence head Barzan al-Tikriti, as well as former judge Awad al-Bander — were hanged at dawn Jan. 15. The two originally had been scheduled to hang Jan. 4, but the executions were postponed following a backlash from Sunnis over Hussein’s hanging.

0220 GMT – Egyptian authorities found a cache of at least 1,100 pounds of TNT on Jan. 14 near El Arish, on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The find was the result of a tip-off; no arrests have been made.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 14, 2007

2202 GMT – The U.S. military on Jan. 14 accused five Iranians arrested in Iraq of having ties to the Qods Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The men, arrested Jan. 11 at an Iranian consular office in the Iraqi city of Arbil, were accused of providing funds, weapons, explosives and training to help destabilize the Iraqi government and attack Iraqi and coalition forces.

2156 GMT – Palestinian National Authority president Mahmoud Abbas met Jan. 14 with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is on a tour of the region. Abbas rejected a suggestion to create a provisional Palestinian state within temporary borders, saying that the provisional borders would commit the Palestinians to an inferior territory.

2126 GMT – Nepal’s parliament is expected to approve an interim constitution Jan. 15 that creates a provisional legislature that will include members from the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). The Maoists, who waged an insurgency against King Gyanendra’s government until a 2006 cease-fire, are nominating 83 members to the proposed 330-member legislature.

1825 GMT – French Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy accepted the Union for a Popular Movement party presidential nomination Jan. 14. The move will pit Sarkozy against Socialist party presidential candidate Segolene Royal in the country’s May 6 election.

1820 GMT – Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will visit Japan in April, Japanese government officials said Jan. 14. The visit will be the first by a Chinese leader since former Premier Zhu Rongji visited in October 2000.

1816 GMT – African Union (AU) officials arrived in Somalia on Jan. 14 to discuss plans with Somalia’s interim government for a peacekeeping force. The AU has proposed an 8,000-strong force for Somalia and has called for funding from the international community.

1550 GMT – Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman called Jan. 13 for NATO troops to deploy to Gaza. During a meeting with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Lieberman said that a deployment of 30,000 NATO troops would prevent Palestinian insurgents from rearming and would avoid an otherwise inevitable military confrontation in Gaza.

1545 GMT – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met Jan. 14 on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in the Philippines to discuss cooperation on North Korea. The two leaders were expected to agree to continue to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear program.

1540 GMT – The U.S. government is funding the creation of a special security force in Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan to contain cross-border movement of Taliban and al Qaeda militants. The plan calls for 900 troops each for South and North Waziristan in addition to 1,000 troops elsewhere.

1534 GMT – Sri Lankan troops captured three Tamil Tiger rebel bases in the country’s eastern Ampara region, Sri Lankan Defense Ministry officials said Jan. 14. Sri Lankan officials said that at least five soldiers and six civilians were killed in clashes with the rebels over the weekend.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 13, 2007

2227 GMT – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to arrive at the 12th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit Jan. 14 to hold multilateral talks with South Korea and China, Japan’s Kyodo news reported Jan. 13. North Korea’s nuclear program will be high on the agenda when Abe meets with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun. Abe will wrap up his visit Jan. 15 by attending the second East Asia Summit, which comprises the 10 ASEAN member states plus Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.

2223 GMT – Belarus is satisfied with the results of two days of talks with Russia over oil, Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov said Jan. 13. Russia reduced the export duty on oil after Belarus lifted a transit tax on Russian oil flowing through Belarusian territory to Western Europe. Rather than a concession to Russia, Kobyakov said that lifting the transit tax is a “civilized way of settling disputes with proper calculations and an economic analysis.”

2215 GMT – Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri met Jan. 13 in Islamabad, Pakistan, setting March 13 and 14 as the dates for the next round of the so-called “composite dialogue” between the two countries. The two sides also agreed to ease travel restrictions for each other’s diplomats and decided that a joint anti-terrorism group will hold its first meeting before April 2007.

2003 GMT – A U.N. Security Council resolution calling for Myanmar to stop political repression failed to pass Jan. 12 after being vetoed by China and Russia. Representatives from the two countries argued that the Security Council is not the appropriate forum to address Myanmar’s human rights issues because they do not threaten world peace. South Africa also opposed the U.S.-proposed resolution.

1952 GMT – Police and soldiers in Bangladesh arrested over 2,500 people after a new caretaker government was sworn in Jan. 13. Election Commission official Mihir Sarwar Murshed said that all activities related to upcoming elections have been suspended. The homes of several political leaders were also raided, but no prominent opposition members were arrested.

1943 GMT – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez plans to nationalize “absolutely all” of the Venezuelan energy sector and is almost ready to nationalize the foreign-owned projects in the Orinoco Belt, he said Jan. 13. Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., ExxonMobil Corp., Statoil and BP are among the foreign oil majors that will be affected by Chavez’s nationalization policy.

1938 GMT – Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee met with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad, Pakistan on Jan. 13. Following the meeting, which came during Mukherjee’s first visit to Pakistan, Musharraf said that conditions are good to resolve outstanding issues between the two countries. Mukherjee is also set to meet with Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Ahmed Kasuri on Jan. 13.

1933 GMT – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began a trip to the Middle East on Jan. 13. Rice will meet with Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Jan. 14 and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Jan. 15, followed by visits to Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Rice’s tour is part of a diplomatic effort to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to secure support for U.S. efforts in Iraq.

1714 GMT – Afghan jihadist leader Jalaluddin Haqqani is operating from inside Pakistan, U.S. Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley said Jan. 13. Freakley said Haqqani recruited and sent men to fight in Afghanistan but that his exact whereabouts are unknown.

1710 GMT – U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney could visit Japan for talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in early February, Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun reported Jan. 13. The purpose of the visit is reportedly to take Tokyo into confidence regarding U.S. plans to send 21,000 additional troops to Iraq.

1707 GMT – Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Mustafa Mohammad Najar met Jan. 13 with his Sudanese counterpart Abdulrahim Mohammad Hussein in Iran’s capital, Tehran. Najar remarked that Iran’s strategic position in the Middle East and that of Sudan’s in Africa and the Red Sea region could prove to be “a decisive factor in regional affairs.”

1703 GMT – North Korea says that its decision whether to carry out a second nuclear test depends upon the actions of the United States, Taku Yamasaki, a former deputy leader of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said Jan. 13 following a five-day visit to North Korea. Yamasaki said the comments came from Song Il Ho, the North Korean ambassador overseeing negotiations towards normalization of diplomatic relations with Japan.

1645 GMT – Petrobras Energia, the Argentine unit of Brazilian state-owned oil company Petroleo Brasileiro, plans to invest more than $2 billion in Argentina during the next five years and to begin oil exploration in Argentina’s territorial waters this year, Petrobras Energia Director General Carlos Fontes said Jan. 13.

1557 GMT – Five of Bangladesh’s 10-member interim Cabinet were sworn in Jan. 13 at the presidential palace in the capital, Dhaka. The new advisors include a newspaper owner, two leading businesspeople, a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and a former anti-corruption commission official. The other five members of the non-partisan advisory council are expected to be inducted over the next few days.

1553 GMT – The United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), a rebel group in northeastern India’s Assam state, threatened Jan. 13 to assassinate politicians of the ruling Congress Party in response to Indian military operations in the state. ULFA leader Prabal Neog told a local newspaper that the group will target Congress leaders and local politicians “if any Assamese youth is killed in the ongoing army operations.”

1542 GMT – Saudi Arabia will seek clarification from the United States over its new strategy toward stabilizing Iraq, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Jan. 13. Al-Faisal said Saudi Arabia is waiting to hear the details of the plan from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice next week when she visits the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

1536 GMT – Leaders from member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) pledged Jan. 13 to seek sterner measures against terrorism, expedite the process towards a single market, and transform the regional bloc into an EU-style entity. During the first day of discussions at the summit meeting in the sea resort of Cebu in the Philippines, ASEAN leaders signed a counterterrorism agreement and a commitment to create a charter for the alliance, which is to be drafted and adopted by November.

1531 GMT – British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown warned Jan. 13 against growing support for dividing England and Scotland, which have been politically united for 300 years. In an article published in the Daily Telegraph, Brown, who is tipped to succeed Tony Blair as prime minister in September, called upon Britons to resist a “drift towards a Balkanization of Britain.”

1524 GMT – Somalia’s interim legislature in Baidoa approved a move Jan. 13 to impose martial law in the country for a three-month period beginning at a time of the government’s choosing. The vote was 154-2, with the government’s remaining 119 MPs absent from the session.

1515 GMT – Progress is being made in secret negotiations toward a power-sharing mechanism for the Palestinian National Authority, Hamas and Fatah officials said Jan. 13. According to the developing deal, independent legislator Ziad Abu Amr would be named foreign minister, former Finance Minister Salam al-Fayyad would return to his old post, and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would retain the prime ministership. The government’s agenda and control over security forces, however, have yet to be agreed upon.

0318 GMT – Torrential monsoons have displaced some 60,000 Sri Lankans in the central hills, the head of the National Disaster Management Center said Jan. 13. Some 13 people have been killed in the district of Nuwara Eliya.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 12, 2007

2225 GMT – The Syrian-Malaysian Economic Forum will be held in Damascus, Syria, at the end of February, Said al-Hafez, chairman of the Syrian-Malaysian Business Council, said Jan. 12. The forum is considered the starting point for developing economic, technical and trade cooperation with Malaysia, al-Hafez said. He also announced plans to build a joint Syrian-Malaysian bank, al-Thawra newspaper reported.

2221 GMT – Cpl. Daniel James of the British military will likely be tried in 2007 for spying for Iran during his service as a NATO interpreter in Afghanistan, a judge said Jan. 12 during a preliminary hearing in London. James is accused under Britain’s Official Secrets Act and will appear June 15 to enter a plea.

2157 GMT – Turkey reserves the right to send troops into Iraq to “crush Kurdish rebels,” Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said during a news conference Jan.12. Erdogan also said it was wrong for the United States to tell Turkey to stay out of Iraq. It is reported that some 5,000 Kurdistan Workers’ Party militants are hiding out in northern Iraq.

2154 GMT – French prosecutors released Russian billionaire and metals tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov on Jan. 12, who has been in detainment since Jan. 10 for possible involvement in a prostitution case. French authorities said Prokhorov was brought in for questioning as a witness and not as a suspect.

2148 GMT – The United States is not preparing war plans against either Iran or Syria, despite the concerns of some U.S. lawmakers, White House spokesman Tony Snow said Jan. 12. Concern was raised after U.S. President George W. Bush said the United States would “interrupt the flow of support” to Iraqi insurgents coming from Syria and Iran during his Iraq policy speech Jan. 10.

2140 GMT – Syrian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Sufian Alao said Jan. 12 that the Arab natural gas line project will be connected with the Syrian main pipeline that distributes natural gas to all consuming centers in Syria. Alao added that the project will be one of the most significant components of the Arab economy’s integration in the field of energy.

2058 GMT – Tunisian security forces found lists of foreign diplomats’ names, plans of embassies and explosives in the possession of a group of suspected Islamist militants after a gunbattle with the men Jan. 3, Tunisian Interior Minister Rafik Haj Kacem said Jan. 12. The militants were thought to be members of the militant Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, an Algerian group affiliated with al Qaeda.

2031 GMT – Russian and Belarusian negotiators reached an agreement Jan. 12 on transiting crude through Belarusian territory. According to the new agreement, reached after two days of negotiations, the Russian duty on crude exported to Belarus is reduced from $24.65 to $7.23 per barrel. Additionally, Russia is to receive 70 percent of the income from Belarus’ exports of refined Russian oil to Europe in 2007, increasing to 80 percent in 2008 and 85 percent in 2009.

2012 GMT – Venezuelan opposition leader Gov. Manuel Rosales and fellow party member Julio Borges began a campaign of street protests Jan. 12 against President Hugo Chavez’s proposed nationalization plans. The goal of the protests is to warn Venezuelans about the dangers of Chavez’s plan to nationalize various sectors of the economy.

2001 GMT – Palestinian National Authority (PNA) government employees will end their three-month strike over unpaid wages Jan. 13 after officials sign an agreement, government employee union head Bassam Zakarneh said Jan. 12. As per the agreement, PNA President Mahmoud Abbas will immediately begin making partial salary payments. Acting PNA Finance Minister Samir Abu Eisha said the funds will come from the PNA’s account with the Arab League and local revenue.

1958 GMT – India’s industrial production rose in November 2006 at its fastest annual rate in more than a decade, growing 14.4 percent year on year, the Commerce and Industry Ministry reported Jan. 12. Figures show an increase in the production of capital and consumer goods.

1950 GMT – Ecuador’s second-largest party, the Patriotic Society Party, has joined ranks with President-elect Rafael Correa, Prensa Latina reported Jan. 12. The move enables Correa to pursue constitutional reform during his tenure and promotes political stability in the country.

1950 GMT – The Indian government said Jan. 12 it will begin a review of oil prices Jan. 31 and will consider lowering the national basket on crude oil if international prices continue to fall. The Indian basket on crude oil is averaging around $51 a barrel; a reduction in gasoline and diesel prices could be feasible if crude prices dropped below $50 a barrel.

1945 GMT – Venezuelan National Assembly Second Vice President Roberto Hernandez said Jan. 12 the legislature will soon pass a law facilitating rapid passage of the nationalization reforms recently announced by President Hugo Chavez.

1935 GMT – U.N. special envoy for Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari attended the EU Internal Ministries meeting in Dresden, Germany, on Jan. 12 and presented a draft solution for the final status of the Serbian province of Kosovo.

1916 GMT – Bulgarian Energy Minister Rumen Ovcharov said Jan. 12 Bulgaria will try to push the European Union to let the country reopen two Kozloduy nuclear reactors, which were closed at the end of 2006 due to safety concerns.

1847 GMT – U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Ross Wilson said Jan. 12 it is Turkey’s decision whether to conduct cross-border operations in Iraq against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Ross also said, “Turkey knows best where and when it should conduct such operation or not.”

1837 GMT – Nine South Korean oil workers who were kidnapped Jan. 10 from an oil services base were freed unharmed Jan. 12, a Nigerian government spokesmen said.

1637 GMT – The Algerian army killed six members of the militant Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat as they hid near Skikda, about 250 miles east of Algiers, Algerian daily Al Khabar reported Jan. 12, citing military sources. Algerian forces searching the group’s hideout found Kalashnikov machine guns and the identification papers of militants who have been killed by police.

1622 GMT – Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht has called for European sanctions against Libya, Flanders News reported Jan. 12. The move is in response to the Dec. 19 conviction of five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor by a Libyan court of deliberately infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV. All six people have been given the death sentence.

1601 GMT – The Jan. 10 meeting between Indian National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov covered various issues, including international security and regional crises around the globe, Press Trust of India reported Jan. 12. The meeting was held to set the agenda for the Jan. 25 Indo-Russian summit between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

1555 GMT – Two bombs exploded in southern Thailand on Jan. 12, one in Narathiwat province and the second at an army camp in nearby Pattani province. Suspected insurgents are thought to be responsible for bombs. The Narathiwat blast injured three soldiers. No Injuries were reported in the second blast.

1549 GMT – Indian army Lt. Gen. A.S. Sekhon said Jan. 12 Pakistan still harbors training camps and communication hubs on their side of the Line of Control for militants contesting Indian control in Kashmir. Sekhon’s statement comes before Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Pakistan on Jan. 13 to advance the peace process between the two nations.

1526 GMT – The Hezbollah-led opposition to Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government will stage a “symbolic” protest outside the Justice Ministry in Beirut at 11 a.m. local time Jan. 13, the opposition said in a statement issued Jan. 12.

1523 GMT – Bank loans in Japan grew by 1.8 percent in December, bringing overall lending for 2006 up 1.2 percent, according to numbers released by the Bank of Japan on Jan. 12. The growth, which marked the first improvement in a decade, was accompanied by a strong surge in money supply, indicating a return to normalcy in the financial system after years of no interest rates and deflation.

1517 GMT – The five Iranians detained Jan. 11 by U.S. forces in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil were in the country with government permission and were operating as part of a liaison office, which had applied for full consulate recognition, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Jan. 12.

1506 GMT – Vietnam plans to privatize 104 state-owned firms in 2007 and 2008, including firms in the oil and gas industries and Vietnam Airlines, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said Jan. 12. This announcement follows Vietnam’s official accession to the World Trade Organization on Jan. 11.

1503 GMT – Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva will meet with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during the Jan. 18-19 Mercosur summit in Rio de Janeiro to discuss Chavez’s nationalization plans, O Globo newspaper reported Jan. 12.

1458 GMT – Two people were reported dead Jan. 12 and hundreds injured after riots Jan. 11 that shut down the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia. The riots were incited by clashes between coca growers who have been blockading in a protest aimed at forcing provincial Gov. Manfred Reyes Villa to resign and supporters of Reyes Villa trying to evict the protesters from the city. Road blockades have begun to threaten the city’s food supply.

1442 GMT – Venezuelan Minister of Telecommunications Jesse Chacon has affirmed that his government will not nationalize the entire telecommunications industry in the country, only CANTV, El Universal reported Jan. 12. Chacon says CANTV will be targeted because it has unfairly dominated the industry in Venezuela.

1421 GMT – China’s gross domestic product grew 10.5 percent in 2006, reaching $2.6 trillion, China’s National Development and Reform Commission head Ma Kai said Jan. 12. China’s economy grew by 10.7 percent in the first three quarters of 2006. Ma credited government measures to slow lending and investment.

1418 GMT – German Economy Minister Michael Glos in an interview with the Financial Times on Jan. 12 said his government supported the European Commission’s efforts to separate the processes of electricity generation and supply from distribution and retail, so long as such “unbundling” was applied evenly across the entire European Union. He also, in theory, supported the formation of an EU-wide energy regulator, but only if closer cooperation between existing energy regulators proved insufficient. This is a sharp change in the German stance, which until Jan. 12 sought to preserve the de facto monopoly of German energy giant E.On.

1413 GMT – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has announced an aid package to Nicaragua that will include 15 projects totaling $600 million, El Universal reported Jan. 12. Venezuela will facilitate the construction of an oil refinery as well as 32 electric plants, and provide 10 million barrels of oil annually at subsidized prices.

1245 GMT – Former Bangladesh Bank Governor Fakhruddin Ahmed is to be sworn in Jan. 12 as the new chief adviser for the Bangladeshi caretaker government, the government announced. Ahmed currently heads the government’s Micro-Finance Department. President Iajuddin Ahmed canceled elections scheduled for Jan. 22 following a boycott by the opposition and months of protests over the election, saying a new interim government would be formed within the next few days.

1237 GMT – U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher met with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad on Jan. 12 to discuss concerns over terrorist activity in Pakistan. The two also discussed the dispute over Pakistan’s plans to mine and fence parts of its border with Afghanistan to prevent militants from crossing.

1232 GMT – Nine people were reported killed Jan. 12 in a clash between government troops guarding the Somalian president’s compound and militiamen who attempted to force their way into the building. The clashed occured while President Abdullahi Yusuf met with a group of the country’s warlords inside the building. A government source told Reuters that the attackers were bodyguards for warlord Mohammed Qanyare. Following the meeting, a government official announced that the warlords agreed to disarm and join a new Somalian national army.

1226 GMT – Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said Jan. 12 his office has contacted the U.S. Embassy and U.S. military to seek the release of five Iranians arrested a day earlier when U.S. troops raided an office representing the Iranian government in Arbil, Iraq. Earlier in the day, the U.S. Army said the troops carried out the operation as part of a broader action against elements suspected of involvement in killing troops. One of the six detainees has been released, and the others will be subject to investigation, the Army said. Iranian and U.S. officials said the office did not have formal diplomatic status.

1208 GMT – The extremist group Revolutionary Struggle claimed responsibility for the Jan. 12 rocket attack against the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece, police said, citing an anonymous phone call to the embassy. The anti-tank rocket reportedly pierced the building near the front entrance, damaging a bathroom on the third floor and shattering windows in nearby buildings. Revolutionary Struggle previously claimed responsibility for three explosions near ministry buildings in Athens and for an unsuccessful assassination attempt against a former minister of public order in June 2006.

0605 GMT – Initial reports of the Jan. 12 explosion at the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece, do not indicate that the explosion was of significant magnitude or the result of a deliberate attack. There were no casualties in the blast, the U.S. State Department reported.

0534 GMT – An explosion occurred at the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece, on Jan. 12, Greek police said. There are no initial reports on whether there are injuries or casualties. Greek state-run television, NET, reported that the explosion occurred in the embassy’s main building. All roads surrounding the embassy have been closed.

0112 GMT – The U.S. Defense Department is changing the limit on the amount of time a National Guard or Reserve member can be on active duty, Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Jan. 11. Under the new rule, no single mobilization can exceed 24 months; the previous policy had been a cumulative limit of 24 months on active duty.

0107 GMT – U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recommended Jan. 11 adding 92,000 troops to the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. The increase, to be spread out over five years, would expand the army to 547,000 troops and the Marines to 202,000.

0102 GMT – Fifty-seven parliamentary deputies belonging to the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance in Lebanon are expected to hand in their resignations as the next step in their campaign against the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, sources in Beirut, Lebanon, reported Jan. 11.

0053 GMT – A Syrian border patrol confiscated large quantities of U.S. dollars from three pickup trucks trying to enter Syria, a Lebanese military source reported Jan. 11. The trucks were intercepted along a common smuggling route in the Anti-Lebanon mountains that form the eastern border between Syria and Lebanon. The source suspects the Syrians were tipped off about the shipment, which was likely intended for latent Syrian opposition groups.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 11, 2007

2222 GMT – NATO forces killed as many as 150 Taliban militants Jan. 11 after the militants crossed into Afghanistan’s eastern Paktika province from Pakistan, according to U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick. The militants were likely in the process of preparing an attack, Fitzpatrick added. The nine-hour engagement was the largest battle of the winter, although the Afghan Ministry of Defense estimates the death toll at 80.

2204 GMT – The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said Jan. 11 that it will no longer consider an existing proposal for a financing package for the Sakhalin-2 project. Russian state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom recently acquired a majority stake in Sakhalin-2, which focuses on offshore oil and natural gas production from Russia’s eastern coast. As a result, EBRD feels the current financing proposal is not feasible.

2154 GMT – The U.S. Department of Defense announced Jan. 11 the specific units that would make up the 20,000-troop “surge” of U.S. forces to Iraq. In addition to one U.S. Army airborne brigade, which will deploy from Kuwait, a brigade already in Iraq will extend its current deployment as three other brigades deploy in one month intervals. Two of the U.S. Marine Corps’ reinforced infantry battalions and the special operations-capable 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit already in Iraq will extend their deployments. In addition, the USS Stennis Carrier Strike Group and an air defense battalion will deploy to the region.

1939 GMT – Venezuela intends to use its international reserves to compensate companies in sectors President Hugo Chavez has decided to nationalize, National Assembly Finance Committee chairman Ricardo Sanguino said Jan. 11.

1923 GMT – Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has said Nicaragua will join the Bolivarian Alternative for America, an integration project with social and economic components, El Universal reported Jan. 11. Ortega also said he will not abandon Nicaragua’s commercial treaty with the United States and Central America.

1831 GMT – Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee plans to visit Pakistan to convey that India is not ready to agree to a proposal for joint management of Jammu and Kashmir, the Hindustan Times reported Jan. 11. However, India is open to setting up joint consultative mechanisms on various issues, including health and tourism. Mukherjee also intends to invite Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to New Delhi for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in April.

1739 GMT – Bangladeshi President Iajuddin Ahmed resigned Jan. 11 as chief of the caretaker government charged with holding Jan. 22 parliamentary elections. Ahmed appointed his senior adviser, Fazlul Haque, acting head of the caretaker government.

1631 GMT – Striking workers shut down the subway in Lisbon, Portugal, on Jan. 11. It is the second strike in a week and the 10th strike in 12 months. The workers are trying to prevent a change in their employment contracts, which ensure 36 vacation days a year and a limit of six-hour shifts. State-owned Lisbon subway company Metropolitano de Lisboa says the contracts are financially unsustainable.

1606 GMT – South Korea plans to set up a new department that will be able to detect a nuclear test by North Korea, a Korea Meteorological Agency spokesman said Jan. 11. The department would monitor seismic activity and be responsible for detecting man-made seismic activity caused by events such as nuclear tests.

1602 GMT – Two militants were killed Jan. 11 during a shootout between Indonesian counterterrorism police and a group of Islamic militants on the island of Sulawesi. Five of the militants were arrested.

1544 GMT – Iran has established an industrial complex in the central Syrian city of Homs and intends to invest up to $5 billion in the Syrian economy over the next three years, a source in Beirut, Lebanon, said Jan. 11. The Iranian plan is to build up to 60 factories for producing heavy equipment, the source said. Iranian investments have been instrumental in supporting the lagging Syrian economy, which is still largely dependent on agriculture.

1541 GMT – The United Nations on Jan. 11 suspended technical support for the Jan. 22 Bangladeshi elections, while the European Commission said it has suspended its mission to observe the balloting. The country’s opposition has boycotted the elections, saying they will not be free and impartial. “The political crisis in Bangladesh has severely jeopardized the legitimacy of the electoral process,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said in a statement.

1538 GMT – The Pakistani government placed National Assembly member Khwaja Asif of the Pakistan Muslim League under house arrest in Sialkot on Jan. 11 for his role in a Jan. 10 demonstration against rising prices and unemployment. Some 100 other people were arrested in connection with the protest.

1532 GMT – The U.S. submarine Newport News was spying on Iranian coastal installations — specifically, anti-aircraft defense sites — when it collided with the Japanese tanker Mogamigawa on Jan. 8 near the Strait of Hormuz, Hezbollah sources said Jan. 11.

1515 GMT – French prosecutors confirmed Jan. 11 that Mikhail Prokhorov, the CEO of Russian mining giant Norilsk Nickel, and others are being held for alleged involvement in prostitution-related activities. A total of 26 Russians were detained. Fifteen people have been released, while the other 11, including Prokhorov, remain in custody.

1509 GMT – Mexican President Felipe Calderon said the future of Mexico lies with Latin America and that his administration will seek strong ties of mutual respect with Latin American governments, El Universal reported Jan. 11. Calderon added that he does not expect this to impact Mexico’s relations with the United States.

1503 GMT – Russia’s only sea route for oil and gas to the Mediterranean, Turkey’s Bosporus Strait, remained closed Jan. 11 because of heavy fog. The strait closed to northbound and southbound traffic due to fog Jan. 10.

1502 GMT – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Jan. 11 she would be willing to meet with the Iranian leadership to discuss “every facet” of U.S.-Iranian relations if Tehran would cease its uranium enrichment program. Rice added that the entire international community, not just the United States, seeks the suspension of the Iranian program.

1459 GMT – The United Kingdom’s Bank of England raised its benchmark interest rate by a quarter-point Jan. 11, putting the repurchase rate at a five-year high of 5.25 percent. It was the third increase since August. The bank said the risk of inflation appears to be on the rise and could prompt more demands for higher wages.

1459 GMT – Speaking to the inauguration ceremony of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Bolivian President Evo Morales said the Bolivian government will nationalize Bolivian mining resources in 2007, media reported Jan. 11. A previous effort at nationalizing the mining industry failed in October 2006 because of lack of funding.

1457 GMT – Venezuelan Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas confirmed Jan. 11 that the government will fully nationalize the electricity sector, although the method has yet to be determined. The nationalization will include Caracas Electricity, which, unlike many of its peer companies, has always been privately owned.

1456 GMT – British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Jan. 11 the United Kingdom will not commit additional troops to Iraq, but welcomes U.S. plans to send an additional 21,500 troops to the region.

1454 GMT – Lebanon’s General Federation of Labor Unions called no protests for Jan. 11 because it wanted to hold meetings and plan upcoming moves, union chief Ghassan Ghosn said. The two days of protests outside of the Lebanese Finance and Energy Ministries drew sparse crowds. The union is back by Lebanon’s pro-Syrian opposition.

1449 GMT – First time jobless benefits claims in the United States fell by 26,000 claims to 299,000 the week ending Jan. 6, the lowest number in nearly six months. A figure below 400,000 usually indicates a strengthening labor market.

1446 GMT – Bangladeshi President Iajuddin Ahmed declared a state of emergency following weeks of violence and protests. Nightly curfews will be imposed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. local time in an attempt to stop the violence that has occurred in the run-up to elections.

1440 GMT – The German economy grew at its fastest pace since 2000 in 2006, the Federal Statistics Office reported Jan. 11. Germany’s gross domestic product expanded 2.5 percent following a 0.9 percent rise in 2005.

1421 GMT – The body of Yuri Golubev, the founder of now-bankrupt Russian oil firm Yukos, was found in his London apartment Jan. 7, Yukos shareholders said Jan. 11. Scotland Yard has not determined the cause of death, but close friends suspect a heart attack and believe there is no cause for suspicion.

1252 GMT – Chinese and Iranian representatives will meet in February to finalize a $16 billion natural gas agreement, despite a warning from the United States on possible sanctions against the Chinese partner, state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), an Iranian official said Jan. 11. The deal calls for CNOOC to invest $16 billion to develop Iran’s Pars natural gas field in exchange for 50 percent of the field’s liquefied natural gas production.

1244 GMT – NATO-led ground troops backed by air support killed about 150 Taliban militants in a late Jan. 10 battle in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, close to the Pakistani border, NATO said in a statement Jan. 11. NATO had observed the two large groups of insurgents infiltrating the province from Pakistan, according to the statement.

1236 GMT – U.S. troops raided an Iranian consular office in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil on Jan. 11, detaining five employees and seizing documents and computers, Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported.

1233 GMT – India intensified operations against militants in the country’s northeast Jan. 11, sending thousands of combat troops across Assam state and two other states in an effort to hunt down United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) rebels and destroy their training camps. The Indian government has blamed ULFA rebels for killing dozens of migrant workers during the past week.

1230 GMT – Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki threatened Shiite militiamen with an all-out assault if they do not surrender their weapons. The announcement came hours after U.S. President George W. Bush pledged to control violence in Iraq with 21,500 additional troops and a more aggressive Iraqi army. Al-Maliki previously resisted such a move because the fighters are loyal to Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, his powerful political ally.

1215 GMT – Three explosions occurred Jan. 11 in the southern Iranian town of Khorramshahr, in Khuzestan province bordering Iraq. The explosions hit far from any oil facilities in Khuzestan, the center of Iran’s oil industry. Although the cause of the blasts is unclear, a local reporter told Reuters they were controlled explosions meant to destroy land mines that had been left in the area since the 1980-99 Iran-Iraq war. The governor’s office informed people in the area the evening before that mine-sweeping activities would take place, the journalist said.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 10, 2007

2359 GMT – Belarus resumed pumping Russian oil through the Druzhba trunk pipeline on Jan. 10, the head of Belarusian oil transit company Gomeltransneft, Alexei Kostyuchenko, said. Transit resumed to Poland, Germany, Ukraine, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary. Representatives of the Polish energy company PERN have confirmed that Russian oil began to arrive at the Polish border. The Ukrainian oil transit company Ukrtransnafta has also confirmed that the Ukrainian section of the Druzhba pipeline is functioning.

2354 GMT – A plan for a 60-day cease-fire between the Sudanese government and the Darfur rebels was announced Jan. 10, Reuters reported. Sudan has also agreed to let foreign journalists into Darfur, and both factions will attend a peace summit to be sponsored by the African Union and the United Nations no later than March 15. The cease-fire date will be determined by the two mediating bodies.

2140 GMT – The Bolivian government announced Jan. 10 its new combined natural gas company, Petroandina Exploracion y Explotacion, which is a joint venture of Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos and Petroleos de Venezuela. This is part of Bolivia’s accelerated industrialization of the hydrocarbons sector.

2139 GMT – Azerbaijan will begin pumping natural gas to Georgia on Jan. 12, two days behind schedule, Khoshbakht Yusifzade, the First Vice President of State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic, said Jan. 10. Azerbaijan plans to transport 30 million cubic meters of natural gas to Georgia via a Soviet-era pipeline over the subsequent 10 days at $120 per 1,000 cubic meters.

2126 GMT – Ecuador has agreed to ship crude oil to Venezuela in exchange for diesel, Petroecuador President Galo Chiriboga said Jan. 10. Under the deal, Petroecuador will send 36,000 barrels per day of heavy crude oil to Venezuela starting in March while Venezuela will send 220,000 barrels of diesel to Ecuador by the end of February. Ecuador, which lacks sufficient capacity to refine crude, spends billions of dollars each year importing refined products.

2048 GMT – Israeli parliamentarian Raleb Majadele will be appointed Science and Technology Minister, making him the first Arab cabinet minister in Israeli history, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Jan. 10. A member of the Knesset since 2004, Majadele will replace Ophir Pines-Paz, who left office in October 2005 in response to right-wing Avigdor Lieberman entering parliament.

1940 GMT – Karachi Mayor Mustafa Kamal was invited to the upcoming session of the World Economic Forum in recognition of the Pakistani port city’s increasing potential as a “safe” destination for foreign investment, Kamal said Jan. 10.

1857 GMT – Five incarcerated leaders of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) will be released only if ULFA’s chairman or commander in chief participate in direct talks, Tarun Gogoi, the chief minister of India’s Assam state, said Jan. 10. Gogoi accused the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of controlling ULFA.

1853 GMT – European Commission President Jose Manuel Durao Barosso said Jan. 10 after meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush that the European Union wants to continue membership negotiations with Turkey even if the process will be long and difficult.

1851 GMT – A new joint Indo-Pakistani anti-terror mechanism will hold its first meeting in New Delhi soon, Pakistani officials said Jan. 10. The mechanism, which consists of three-member committees from both nations, is intended to promote greater cooperation between the countries’ security forces in dealing with allegations of terrorist acts comitteed against one another.

1846 GMT – U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher is expected to visit Pakistan on Jan. 11-14 for meetings with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri. Issues likely to be discussed are Pakistani fencing and mining of its border with Afghanistan; the security, stability and prosperity of Afghanistan; Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s proposal of a peace treaty with Pakistan; and Musharraf’s proposed Jan. 19-24 peace mission to the Middle East.

1840 GMT – Three bombings occurred in the southern Philippines on Jan. 10, the eve of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, killing at least six people and wounding 27 more. A bomb exploded in a marketplace in the city of General Santos. A second bomb detonated near a police outpost near the town of Kidapawan, about 65 miles north of General Santos. The third bomb detonated in a dumpsite along a major street in Cotabato City, about 70 miles west of Kidapawan.

1825 GMT – EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Jan. 9 U.N. plans establishing the final status of the Serbian province of Kosovo will be announced by early February. The United Nations had previously planned to release the details when Serbians vote for their new government Jan. 21. The decision to grant Kosovo independence would likely encouraged Serbians to vote for nationalist candidates.

1748 GMT – All Indian airports were put on high alert Jan. 10 after Kashmiri militants threatened to hijack planes. The Civil Aviation Ministry sounded the alert after receiving information from intelligence agencies. Security measures at airports have been enhanced to include additional searches and more security personnel. Indian security forces have received intelligence that some Kashmiri militant outfits could attempt to target passenger aircraft to demand the release of Mohammed Afzal Guru, a convicted Kashmiri militant sentenced to death for the 2001 suicide attack on the Indian Parliament.

1550 GMT – Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could resign in as soon as four months, and could be replaced by Adel Abdel Mahdi, his main rival for the position during the last elections, sources said Jan. 10.

1529 GMT – Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky said Jan. 10 Belarus has canceled the transit duty imposed on Russian oil. Sidorsky said the measure was part of a compromise achieved during a telephone conversation between the countries’ presidents. Sidorsky will visit Moscow on Jan. 11 to meet with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to discuss details of the compromise.

1524 GMT – Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani supports government efforts to disarm militias in Iraq, regardless of their Sunni or Shiite affiliation, National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie said Jan. 10 after briefing al-Sistani in An Najaf. Al-Rubaie declined to say whether he discussed disarming Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army with al-Sistani.

1513 GMT – Bolivian President Evo Morales began an international tour Jan. 10, in which he is scheduled to travel to Nicaragua, Ecuador and Brazil. Morales is to attend inaugurations of Nicaraguan President-elect Daniel Ortega and Ecuadorian President-elect Rafael Correa and a Mercosur meeting.

1510 GMT – Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said Jan. 10 he will travel to Syria soon to discuss increasing border security in order to stop the flow of insurgents into Iraq from Syria.

1505 GMT – British troops could be prepared to hand over security control in Basra, Iraq, to Iraqi forces in a matter of weeks, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Jan. 10. Blair’s comments suggest an earlier handoff than had previously been anticipated. The United Kingdom has about 7,100 troops stationed in and around Basra.

1505 GMT – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was inaugurated for his third presidential term Jan. 10. Chavez’s term ends in 2013.

1502 GMT – Palestinians should avoid using violence as a way to solve problems and should work to prevent the current unrest from exploding into all-out civil war, Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Jan. 10.

1459 GMT – Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak led a poll for potential Labor Party leaders, Israeli daily Maariv reported Jan. 10. Barak won 30 percent of the vote, Defense Minister Amir Peretz won 12 percent and former internal security agency director Ami Ayalon won 23 percent. Israel’s next parliamentary election is not scheduled until 2010.

1459 GMT – Iran’s nuclear program and the importance of sanctions against Tehran will be the main topic of discussion during meetings among Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, an Israeli official said Jan. 10.

1448 GMT – The European Commission on Jan. 10 submitted a set of energy proposals in which it looks to “unbundled” energy companies, which would separate energy companies’ transmission and production businesses and increase competition. The proposal, along with others, will be discussed at the EU summit in March. Connected to the proposal, the European Union is investigating some European energy giants — E.On, Gaz de France and Eni SpA — for possibly collaborating to keep competition out of the energy sector.

1439 GMT – The United States and Japan are developing a plan to cooperate on the research and construction of new nuclear power plants, including the construction of efficient fast-reactor plants in the United States, U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman said Jan. 10. The plan is expected to be announced by April.

1436 GMT – A grenade exploded Jan. 10 at a Malaysian army post on the country’s border with Thailand at about 5 a.m. local time. Four people were wounded. Those responsible for the blast have not been identified.

1433 GMT – The U.S. trade deficit narrowed by 1 percent to $58.2 billion in November, the U.S. Commerce Department said Jan. 10. It was the third month in a row that the deficit narrowed. The shift was attributed to the weak dollar and strong economies in Europe and Asia. The monthly trade gap with China also dropped 6 percent to $22.9 billion.

1429 GMT – Nine South Korean workers and one Nigerian were kidnapped Jan. 10 in Nigeria’s southern Niger Delta region. No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings.

1423 GMT – Venezuela will compensate oil, telecommunications and power industry companies whose assets are nationalized by the government of President Hugo Chavez, National Assembly Finance Committee Chairman Ricardo Sanguino said Jan. 10. The mechanism for compensation is yet to be determined.

1255 GMT – Thailand’s ruling military council revoked ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s passport Jan. 10 and told local media not to report comments by him or his lawyer. This is the first attempt by the post-coup government to censor the media, and Thai news outlets have been holding crisis meetings to discuss the situation.

1250 GMT – Belarus and Russia have come to an agreement over their oil dispute that will allow for resumption of Russian exports of crude oil via the Druzhba pipeline, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s office said Jan. 10. A Kremlin official declined to comment. The countries’ prime ministers are expected to finalize the proposals to present to Lukashenko and Putin on Jan. 12.

1243 GMT – Daniel Ortega will be sworn in as president of Nicaragua on Jan. 10. Heads of state attending the ceremony include Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt will head the U.S. delegation.

1235 GMT – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to face a criminal investigation by the Justice Ministry upon his return from China, Haaretz reported Jan. 10. The investigation will focus on the state sale of a controlling stake in Bank Leumi. The ministry declined to confirm the reports.

1229 GMT – The United States launched a new airstrike in Somalia on Jan. 10, a Somalian government source told Reuters. The attack hit close to the coastal village of Ras Kamboni near the Kenyan border, where many Islamist fighters are believed to have hidden after fleeing Ethiopian troops that are protecting the Somalian interim government.

1220 GMT – The Kazakh parliament approved Karim Masimov as prime minister during a joint session Jan. 10. President Nursultan Nazarbayev selected Masimov following Prime Minister Danial Akhmetov’s Jan. 8 resignation.

1213 GMT – Hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside of Lebanon’s Energy and Water Ministry in Beirut on Jan. 9, a day after a similar demonstration at the Finance Ministry. The demonstrations, called by the General Federation of Labor Unions to protest an economic reform plan, coincide with the announcement of increased efforts by the pro-Syrian opposition to topple the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

0307 GMT – U.S. President George W. Bush lifted a ban Jan. 9 on drilling for oil and natural gas in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Studies and public comment will take place before drilling is allowed. The 5.6 million acre bay, home to endangered whales, is estimated to contain 200 million barrels of oil and 142 billion cubic meters of natural gas.

0135 GMT – The U.S. Treasury blacklisted the Iranian state-owned Bank Sepah on Jan. 9. U.S. companies or citizens are now barred from doing business with the bank, which will have its assets frozen in the United States. Treasury officials cited Bank Sepah’s alleged role in Iran’s acquisition of ballistic missiles as the reason for the sanctions.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 9, 2007

2309 GMT – U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to announce Jan. 10 a gradual deployment of up to 20,000 additional troops to Iraq before the end of January, a senior defense official told The Associated Press. Troops from both the 2nd Brigade and the 82nd Airborne Division are scheduled to move into Iraq from Kuwait. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin said he doubts Bush will announce the duration of the additional deployment.

2255 GMT – The defense lawyer for former CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady withdrew from his case Jan. 9, saying her client did not want to cooperate. Seldon Lady, who faces indictment by an Italian court for his alleged role in the 2003 U.S. CIA rendition from Italy to Egypt of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, said that the case should have a political solution, not a judicial solution, his former lawyer added. Seldon Lady is in the United States at present; the Italian government has not sought the extradition of any American suspects tied to the rendition.

2050 GMT – Al Qaeda militants from Iraq and Pakistan are arriving in Lebanon to carry out attacks against U.N. forces in the south of the country, Israeli Military Intelligence head Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin said Jan. 9. Al Qaeda has ordered its members to spread to Lebanon, Egypt and Syria to carry out attacks, Yadlin said.

2032 GMT – Reformist lawmakers in Iran have collected 38 of the 72 parliamentarian signatures necessary to begin impeachment proceedings against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, AKI news service reported Jan. 9.

1747 GMT – Police in Dhaka, Bangladesh, fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters throwing bombs and rocks at them during the third day of protests Jan. 9; dozens were injured. About 130 people have been injured since Jan. 7. The activists are boycotting the Jan. 22 general elections, saying the interim government has not ensured a free and fair vote.

1653 GMT – Russia might cut oil production following problems with oil transit through Belarus, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Jan. 9. Putin said the government will discuss the possible cut with Russian oil companies. Approximately 1.2 million barrels per day of Russian oil normally transits through Belarus, but oil supplies to the European market have been disrupted since late Jan. 7 in response to an oil transit fee imposed by Belarus.

1611 GMT – Indian police asked information technology (IT) companies in Hinjewadi IT Park to tighten their security measures Jan. 9 after suspected Kashmiri militant Imran, alias Bilal, said he procured arms in Pune. IT companies in the park include Infosys Technologies, Wipro Technologies and Tata Consultancy Services.

1540 GMT – Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) leader Abu Musab Abdul-Wadud said Jan. 8 in a video posted to a Web site linked to the group that Islamist militants in Algeria should attack Algerian government and French targets, Reuters reported Jan. 9. He added that the GSPC is waiting for instructions from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before striking its next targets.

1531 GMT – A Russian delegation led by Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin left Jan. 9 to attend the inauguration of Nicaraguan President-elect Daniel Ortega. The delegation plans to meet with several Nicaraguan officials, including Ortega.

1531 GMT – Demonstrators blocked roads in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba on Jan. 9 as part of their protest aimed at forcing provincial Gov. Manfred Reyes Villa to resign. The new commander of the police force was fired Jan. 9 after he was blamed for violent clashes between protesters and security forces.

1530 GMT – Due to concerns about time and costliness, Indian Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said Jan. 9 the government will take steps to accelerate the completion of large-scale industrial projects such as POSCO’s steel mill in Orissa state, airport infrastructure in Delhi and Hyderabad and the expansion of the Delhi Metro.

1518 GMT – The Youth of Tawhid and Jihad of Tunisia claimed responsibility Jan. 9 for a shootout Jan. 3 in the Tunisian town of Soliman, 25 miles south of Tunis. The group was previously unknown in Tunisia. Al Qaeda in Iraq had used the same name, and groups with similar names sympathetic to al Qaeda have appeared elsewhere.

1509 GMT – Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) are reportedly in talks to unify their ranks to oppose Fatah forces should further violence or civil war erupt, a Hamas spokesman said Jan. 9. The agreement is said to have come out of meetings between Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and PIJ Secretary-General Ramadan Shallah in Damascus, Syria, and the Gaza Strip.

1458 GMT – Hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside of Lebanon’s Finance Ministry in Beirut on Jan. 9 against a new six-point economic recovery plan. The protest, called by the General Federation of Labor Unions, coincides with the announcement of increased efforts by the pro-Syrian opposition to bring down the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

1455 GMT – The U.S. Treasury is expected to announce sanctions against Iran’s Bank Sepah, Reuters reported Jan. 9, citing several U.S. officials and diplomats. The move comes under a presidential order meant to combat nuclear weapon proliferators and their supporters. The United States says Bank Sepah facilitates acquisitions related to Iran’s ballistic missile program.

1440 GMT – Jordanian security forces killed a suspected al Qaeda-linked militant in the northern city of Irbid on Jan. 9. Another suspect was arrested after a three-hour standoff.

1439 GMT – Turkey will be forced to take action should the Iraqi Kurds gain control of the northern city of Kirkuk in a referendum later in 2007, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Jan. 9. The Turkish government has accused the Kurds of relocating families to Kirkuk in order to influence the voting. Erdogan did not say what action Turkey might take.

1425 GMT – The Russian Finance Ministry’s customs division said Jan. 9 oil export duties for Urals crude oil will be reduced by 14 cents per barrel from the figure set for Dec. 1, 2006. The new duty will be $24.52 beginning Feb. 1.

1330 GMT – A magnitude 6 earthquake cracked houses in Kyrgyzstan’s southern Batken region late Jan. 8, but reportedly caused no casualties or destruction. In neighboring Uzbekistan, authorities said magnitude 5 tremors were registered in the capital of Tashkent late Jan. 8.

1318 GMT – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrived in China on Jan. 9 to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao on bilateral relations and international issues of common concern.

1314 GMT – Natural gas imports to Turkey from Iran have returned to normal levels, Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler said Jan. 9. Iran resumed exports to Turkey on Jan. 7 after a four-day halt aimed at meeting its own domestic demand.

1313 GMT – Slovenian Economy Minister Andrej Vizjak said Jan. 9 that Slovenia is considering building a second reactor at the Krsko nuclear power plant in order to meet the country’s long-term electricity needs.

1249 GMT – Thailand will limit foreign investors to holding no more than 50 percent of shares or voting rights in Thai companies under legal changes approved to the Foreign Business Act on Jan. 9. Finance Minister Pridiyathorn Devakula said foreign investors who currently hold more than a 50 percent stake in a company must reduce their shares within the next year, while those with more than 50 percent voting rights must reduce their voting capacity within two years.

1242 GMT – Czech President Vaclav Klaus on Jan. 9 named a new government led by Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. Topolanek’s right-wing three-party coalition, comprised of the centrist Christian Democrats, the Green Party and his own Civic Democrats, has only 100 seats in the 200-seat parliament, while the left also controls 100 seats. The constitution calls for a vote of confidence to be held on the coalition government within 30 days, although Topolanek said the vote would come sooner. The Czech Republic has remained in limbo for almost seven months following an inconclusive election.

1237 GMT – Azerbaijan will begin to supply natural gas to Georgia beginning Jan. 10, Georgia’s Fuel and Energy Ministry said Jan. 9. Instead of providing the expected 1 million cubic meters of natural gas per day, Georgia will receive up to 3 million cubic meters per day, paying $120 per 1,000 cubic meters.

1232 GMT – Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov arrived in Moscow on Jan. 9 for talks on oil transit between Russia and Belarus. Russian President Vladimir Putin was scheduled to meet with his officials the same day to discuss the issue.

1226 GMT – South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun issued a statement Jan. 9 proposing a nationwide debate on amending the constitution to reduce the presidential term in office from five years to four, but adding the possibility for re-election. The current constitution bars the president from seeking a second term.

1219 GMT – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe departed Jan. 9 for a five-day official trip to Europe, where he will meet with EU and NATO heads to encourage stronger ties between Japan and the European Union, discuss the North Korean nuclear issue and promote a greater security role for Japan. The departure coincides with the upgrading of Japan’s Defense Agency to full ministry status and a redefinition of overseas international peace cooperation activities as primary duties of the country rather than subordinate ones.

0342 GMT – Former Fijian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudry was sworn in by reinstated President Ratu Josefa Iloilo as the Fijian interim government’s finance minister at a ceremony Jan. 9. Interim Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama swore in 14 ministers between Jan. 8 and Jan. 9.

0340 GMT – Japan formally established a standalone Defense Ministry at a ceremony Jan. 9 as part of the country’s efforts to raise its military profile. The measure to move the defense agency from the Cabinet to its own ministry division was approved by the Japanese parliament in December 2006. Former Defense Agency leader Fumio Kyuma now holds the position of defense minister.

0037 GMT – The U.S. government carried out a single airstrike with an AC-130 aircraft Jan. 8 against a suspected al Qaeda target in southern Somalia, CNN reports, citing a senior Pentagon official. NBC news says the target was Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, responsible for the 1998 bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. He also was behind the 2002 strike against an Israeli resort in Mombassa and a missile plot against an Israeli passenger plane.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 8, 2007

2241 GMT – In light of the recent mobilization of troops in territory claimed by the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), a representative from FARC threatened Jan. 8 to kill captives whose return FARC is currently negotiating with the government. The negotiations were expected to include an exchange of 58 prisoners.

2232 GMT – The Venezuelan government will nationalize its electric, water and telecommunications utilities, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Jan. 8. Chavez will also seek constitutional modifications to nationalize the Central Bank, and he plans to reduce the role of foreign companies in refining crude oil in Venezuela. In order to achieve these goals, Chavez called on the legislature to pass a special law allowing him to pass legislation more easily than usual.

2155 GMT – The State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic (SOCAR) will not pump oil through the Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline during the first quarter of 2007, a company spokesman told Interfax on Jan. 8. The SOCAR spokesman said power stations in Azerbaijan have begun using fuel oil, thereby increasing the demand for oil at home. He said, however, increased extraction of natural gas should be able to meet the higher demand by April, allowing for oil to be transported once again through the Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline.

2137 GMT – Forensics tests on a suspicious package found at the Port of Miami on Jan. 8 came back negative for plastic explosives. The port had been shut down and a bomb squad was called in when detectors picked up traces of plastic explosives.

2117 GMT – Kazakh President Nursultan Nazabayev on Jan. 8 chose Deputy Prime Minister Karim Masimov to become prime minster, replacing Danial Akhmetov, who resigned. The proposed candidate will go for approval to a joint session of parliament Jan. 10. Masimov is formerly the senior chairman of Kazakhstan’s People’s Bank, minister of transport and minister of economy.

2054 GMT – Sergei Grigoryev, vice president of Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft, admitted for the first time Jan. 8 that the company has halted all crude exports to Belarus via the Druzhba pipeline, cutting supplies to Poland and Germany.

2006 GMT – A suspicious package found at the Port of Miami has been found to contain C-4, a type of plastic explosive, Fox News reported Jan. 8. A bomb squad has been dispatched to the scene and a flight restriction imposed for the surrounding area.

1957 GMT – Saudi King Abdullah might reshuffle his Cabinet soon, Saudi diplomats and media said Jan. 8. It would be the first such move since Abdullah took over the throne. The reshuffle might include the positions of foreign minister, which has been held by Prince Saud al-Faisal for more than 30 years, and oil minister. The reshuffle, expected to be announced next month, is speculated to be an attempt by the king to bring new life to the 20-member Cabinet.

1938 GMT – Mounir al-Motassadeq, a Moroccan convicted for failing to report the plans of the Sept. 11 hijackers, was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a German court Jan. 8. Al-Motassadeq was given the maximum penalty recommended by federal prosecutors.

1744 GMT – Iran could block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for imposition of international sanctions, Basij commander Gen. Majid Mir Ahmadi said Jan. 8. Ahmadi said the move would be specifically directed against U.S. allies in the region, adding that Iran’s strategy for the Persian Gulf is “security for everyone or for nobody.”

1605 GMT – New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Jan. 8 there was a small gas leak on Manhattan’s Bleecker Street, but the leak does not account for the odor reported by residents elsewhere in midtown Manhattan and in downtown Jersey City. No injuries have been reported.

1604 GMT – Former Iraqi Electricity Minister Ayham al-Samaraie said Jan. 8 that his prosecution on corruption charges was motivated by sectarian prejudice within the Shiite-led government. He also called for greater inclusion of dissident groups in the government. Al-Samaraie, a dual Iraqi-U.S. citizen who escaped from custody in Baghdad in December, has arrived in Dubai after traveling to Jordan, where he has residency.

1557 GMT – Outgoing Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos and President-elect Daniel Ortega met Jan. 7, announcing afterward that they will work together to ensure a smooth transition of power, El Nuevo Diario reported Jan. 8.

1548 GMT – Lebanon’s pro-Syrian opposition will begin protests targeting government ministries throughout Lebanon after its 37-day protest in downtown Beirut failed to bring down the government of anti-Syrian Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, the groups said in a statement released Jan. 8. Maronite Christian leader Michel Aoun said no ministry or facility will be exempt from the protests.

1540 GMT – Iraqi Shia are victims of a “sectarian genocide” that has increased in intensity since the hanging of former President Saddam Hussein, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Shiite political party the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said Jan. 8 during a speech broadcast on state-run Al-Iraqiya TV. Al-Hakim implied that Sunnis were complicit in the rumored executions of several Shia in a Sunni district of Baghdad on Jan. 6.

1540 GMT – Reports of natural gas odors in New York City’s midtown Manhattan prompted calls to emergency workers Jan. 8 and an investigation by the city’s Office of Emergency Management. Calls reporting the odor came from Chelsea, Battery Park West, Madison Square Park, and the intersection of 66th Street and Columbus Avenue, as well as downtown Jersey City. No injuries have been reported. WCBS-TV in New York reported that at least four schools in Manhattan have been evacuated and some train service from New Jersey to New York has been suspended. Sources reported that the source of the odor appears to be Bleecker Street.

1508 GMT – European Commission President Jose Manuel Durao Barroso and EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson arrived in Washington on Jan. 8 for talks with U.S. President George W. Bush and Trade Representative Susan Schwab. The top issue will be the stalled Doha round of World Trade Organization talks.

1456 GMT – Maoist rebels in Nepal and the ruling seven-party alliance agreed Jan. 8 to present a draft constitution to Nepal’s interim parliament Jan. 15. The draft will be ratified and adopted that same day, allowing for the creation of an interim government and Maoist representation in parliament. Leaders say the document, which still faces some criticism, will not be amended.

1322 GMT – The leader of the Abu Sayyaf militant group in the Philippines, Khadaffy Janjalani, is alive, his brother said in an interview with ABS-CBN News published Jan. 8. Hector Janjalani gave the interview from prison, where he is detained on kidnapping charges. The Philippine military said Dec. 27 that it found a body likely to be that of Khadaffy Janjalani, but is awaiting DNA confirmation.

1250 GMT – Austria’s two main parties, the Social Democrats and Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel’s People’s Party, are expected to reach an agreement Jan. 8 to create a new governing coalition that will make Social Democratic leader Alfred Gusenbauer the next chancellor. The new coalition also is expected to keep most of the policies of the previous government, led by the People’s Party. The two parties reached the final negotiations more than three months after the Social Democrats overtook the People’s Party as the largest group in the October 2006 elections. Neither party had been able to find appropriate partners to create a stable majority, forcing them back into a coalition with one another.

1242 GMT – Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Jan. 8 that Iran will not refrain from using nuclear technology, and that the country has a right to use such technology, state television reported. Recent rumors of Khamenei’s death were never corroborated.

1237 GMT – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will depart for China on Jan. 8 for an official visit with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. Efforts to counter Iran’s nuclear program will top the agenda. China recently hosted Ali Larijani, the head of Iran’s National Security Council.

1230 GMT – China has accused Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian of attempting to damage relations between the United States and China by planning a stopover in California on the way to Nicaragua. Chen is scheduled to depart for San Francisco on Jan. 8 en route to Nicaragua for the inauguration of President-elect Daniel Ortega. In San Francisco, Chen will meet with Raymond Burghardt, chairman of the American Institute for Taiwan, which handles U.S.-Taiwanese relations in the absence of formal diplomatic ties.

1223 GMT – Russian oil stopped flowing through the Druzhba pipeline via Belarus to Poland and Germany on Jan. 8. A spokesman for Polish pipeline operator PERN said the company does not know why the oil supplies were suspended or when they will resume. Problems arose after Belarus sought legal action against Russian state pipeline operator Transneft for not paying a newly imposed tax on oil supplies pumped through the country. Transneft has since accused Belarus of siphoning off large amounts of Russian oil supplies destined for Europe — almost 6,600 barrels over the past 24 hours and 580,000 barrels since Jan. 6. Europe has enough oil reserves to last 80 days without new supplies.

1215 GMT – Chinese police killed 18 people and arrested 17 during a raid on an alleged terrorist camp run by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement in China’s western Xinjiang region, a police official said Jan. 8. The raid reportedly was carried out Jan. 5. Police are searching for suspects believed to have escaped during the raid.

1131 GMT – Kazakh Prime Minister Danial Akhmetov resigned Jan. 8, constitutionally requiring the resignation of the entire Cabinet of Ministers. President Nursultan Nazarbayev will appoint the new prime minister with the consent of parliament, and a joint session of both houses of parliament is scheduled for Jan. 10. Kazakhstan is a constitutional republic with a strong presidency, and Nazarbayev has firm control over the Cabinet of Ministers and other aspects of the government. The resignation appears to reflect an internal power struggle and does not indicate instability.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 7, 2007

2027 GMT – At least 50 people were injured in clashes between protesters and police Jan. 7 in Bangladesh as activists began a three-day transportation blockade. Seeking to boycott the general elections set for Jan. 22, protesters have set up barricades, stopped trains and suspended traffic from the main seaport at Chittagong and at several land ports that connect India and Myanmar.

1822 GMT – The once-dominant Palestinian Fatah movement, co-founded by the late Yasser Arafat, held a large rally Jan. 7 at the main stadium in the Gaza Strip to commemorate the movement’s 42nd anniversary. Tens of thousands of people turned out in support of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as tensions continued between Fatah and the rival Hamas Islamist faction.

1708 GMT – Somalian President Abdulahi Yusuf met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Males Zenawi Jan. 7 in Addis Ababa to discuss the political and military situation in Somalia. Yusuf is trying to assemble an African peacekeeping force as Ethiopian troops, now serving in Somalia to protect his transitional government, prepare to withdraw within a few weeks.

1706 GMT – Gunmen attacked an armed forces patrol boat and kidnapped an officer Jan. 7 in Nigeria’s Rivers state, according to oil company security officials in the Niger Delta. Seven speedboats were used in the attack near the island of Okrika, outside Port Harcourt. The Nigerian army and navy said no information was available on the incident.

1650 GMT – Rival political activists clashed Jan. 7 in India’s West Bengal state over the issue of turning farmland into an industrial zone. At least two people were killed and dozens injured. Farmers have refused to sell their land to Salim Group, the Indonesian conglomerate planning to build the industrial hub in Nandigram, approximately 90 miles north of Kolkata. Opposition parties have called for a 24-hour strike against the communist state government on Jan. 8 in protest of the killings.

1636 GMT – Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak officially announced Jan. 7 his intention to run for leadership of the Labor Party and for the position of Israeli defense minister. Amir Peretz currently holds both posts.

1608 GMT – Stanislaw Wielgus, the recently appointed archbishop of Warsaw, resigned Jan. 7 shortly before his planned installation. Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation and asked Wielgus’ predecessor, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, to continue in his role. Wielgus has confessed to collaborating with the Polish Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa, the communist-era secret police.

0056 GMT – Israel has made secret plans to destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities using low-yield nuclear “bunker busters,” The Sunday Times reported Jan. 7. The plan reportedly involves the use of conventional laser-guided bombs to open “tunnels” into the targets, in which nuclear warheads would be fired. Israeli air force pilots have reportedly flown to Gibraltar in recent weeks to train for the mission.

0042 GMT – Spanish police clashed with Basque separatist supporters at a sit-in Jan. 6 in the northern Spanish town of San Sebastian. Thousands of demonstrators, some of whom set fire to trash cans and a car, were demanding the release of ETA prisoners. Police said two people were arrested.

0028 GMT – The Iraqi army reportedly killed 30 militants and arrested others during a gun battle Jan. 6 in Baghdad. The firefight was cited as the beginning of a new security drive in the city that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had announced earlier in the day. The operation is being carried out by the Iraqi army and supported by U.S. forces.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 6, 2007

2232 GMT – Japanese newspapers reported Jan. 6 that Taku Yamasaki, former vice president of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, may visit North Korea Jan. 9 in an attempt to break the deadlock in relations between Japan and North Korea. His visit is seen as separate from any overture by the Japanese government.

2220 GMT – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Meiji Jinju shrine Jan. 6 for New Year’s worshipping instead of the Yasukuni Shrine. Abe’s visit to the Meiji shrine, which is dedicated to the former Japanese emperor and his wife, comes at a time when Japan and China are mending ties frayed by previous Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni, which honors convicted Japanese war criminals as well as war dead.

2208 GMT – Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced a plan Jan. 6 for Iraqi forces to crack down on militant groups in Baghdad, “regardless of sect or politics.” Al-Maliki has yet to support any proposal by U.S. President George Bush to send more U.S. troops to Iraq.

2203 GMT – Economic disputes should not affect bilateral military cooperation between Russia and Belarus, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Jan. 6. Russia currently has two military installations in Belarus and the two countries have an air defense agreement ready for signing.

1950 GMT – The Russian economics ministry has informed the ambassador of Belarus that Belarus should immediately abolish a $45 transit duty on Russian oil, Russian Deputy Economy Minister Andrei Sharonov said Jan. 6. Sharonov said Russia has not ruled out “adequate measures” against Belarus if it did not fulfill Russia’s request.

1820 GMT – Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian intelligence agent killed by polonium 210, had planned to blackmail a wealthy Russian businessman with connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Litvinenko acquaintance told CBS television’s “60 Minutes” Jan. 6 in a program to be aired Jan. 7. Julie Svetlichnaya said that when she spoke to Litvinenko about a book she was writing, he revealed that he was planning to blackmail an exiled Russian oligarch living in the United Kingdom.

1812 GMT – United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) separatist rebels killed 48 people in a series of overnight attacks in India’s Assam state, police said Jan. 6. Thirty-two were gunned down in separate raids in the eastern district of Tinsukia, 15 people were killed in strikes in the Dibrugarh district and one more died in a blast in the Sivasagar district. Police considered the attacks an attempt to intimidate people following an opinion poll that showed that 90 percent of Assam residents surveyed in nine districts rejected the ULFA’s separatist demands.

1710 GMT – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Jan. 6 that Hamas security forces that are not integrated with Palestinian National Authority units in the Gaza Strip would be considered illegal. The governing Hamas militant movement responded by saying it would double the size of its “Executive Force” to 12,000 personnel, although it gave no timeframe for the expansion. Abbas’ presidential guard has about 3,700 members.

1507 GMT – One person was killed and 30 others wounded Jan. 6 when a grenade was thrown into a crowded marketplace in Kashmir. Militants are thought to have aimed at an army patrol but missed the target. None of the region’s militant groups has claimed responsibility for the attack.

1504 GMT – North Korea accused the United States on Jan. 6 of holding air exercises to practice attacking targets in the country and said the move reflected a U.S. desire to ignite a nuclear war on the peninsula. According to the North Korean news agency KCNA, the United States carried out the exercises over South Korea on Dec. 5 with B-52 strategic bombers.

1500 GMT – Hundreds of Somalis gathered in Mogadishu on Jan. 6 to protest the presence of Ethiopian forces backing the interim Somalian government. Witnesses said Ethiopian troops fired into the air to disperse the crowd.

0110 GMT – Separatists from Angola’s Cabinda province are due to disarm and hand over their weapons Jan. 7 as part of a peace agreement reached with the Luanda-based government, media reports said Jan. 5. In return for disarming, the Cabindans will be given amnesty and posts in the army, government and foreign service.

0106 GMT – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon appointed Tanzanian Foreign Minister Asha-Rose Migiro as deputy secretary-general Jan. 7. Migiro, the third person (and the second woman) to hold the position, was previously Tanzanian minister of community development, gender and children, and a law lecturer at the University of Dar Es Salaam.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 5, 2007

2127 GMT – The United States has imposed economic sanctions on 24 legal entities, including Chinese, Russian and North Korean companies, for selling missiles and other weapons to Iran and Syria. The sanctions were enacted Dec. 28, 2006, and published in the U.S. Federal Register on Jan. 5. The two-year sanctions will prohibit the U.S. government from doing business with or supporting the entities and prohibit U.S. companies from selling items that require export licenses to the entities.

2112 GMT – Poland’s Roman Catholic Church confirmed Jan. 5 that recently appointed Archbishop of Warsaw Stanislaw Wielgus informed on fellow clerics for communist-era secret services. The statement comes the same day that Wielgus formally assumed his duties and issued a statement saying that he will respect any decision made by the Pope regarding his status. A Jan. 5 Polish opinion poll asserted that most polls believe Weigut should not assume his post in the wake of the revelations.

2059 GMT – Hezbollah’s military mobilization department is sending groups of fighters to the Lebanese villages of Suhmur, Yuhmur and Zulaya, in the western Bekaa Valley, for military and logistic missions, Lebanese military sources reported Jan. 5. Hezbollah is closely monitoring what it sees as the beginning of an Israeli military buildup. The militant organization is concerned that the Israeli military could be preparing for blitz missions against Hezbollah positions in the Bekaa.

2044 GMT – U.S. President George W. Bush on Jan. 5 chose Thomas P. D’Agostino, who currently serves as deputy administrator of defense programs, as acting head of the National Nuclear Security Adminstration (NSAA). He will be replacing Linton Brooks, who was ousted in the wake of several security lapses in the NSAA.

1932 GMT – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert plans to ask Defense Minister Amir Peretz to resign from his post and either take another Cabinet position or leave the government, The Guardian reported Jan. 5. Peretz, who is Labor Party leader, has had a difficult relationship with Olmert since they began their coalition partnership in 2006.

1917 GMT – A demonstration against the hanging of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein took place Jan. 5 in Amman, Jordan. Hussein had been convicted of crimes against humanity. Opposition groups, including Baathists, nationalists and Islamists, organized the demonstration, which 3,000 people attended.

1828 GMT – U.S. Gen. William Ward, a top candidate to head Africa operations for the Department of Defense, said Jan. 5 conditions in Somalia are not sufficient to prompt any kind of U.S. military presence there. Ward also said the State Department is directing the United States’ role in the conflict in Somalia.

1707 GMT – U.S. President George W. Bush on Jan. 5 named retired Vice Adm. Mike McConnell the national intelligence director. McConnell will take over for John Negroponte, who will become the deputy secretary of state.

1701 GMT – Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand posted advisories Jan. 5 warning travelers of a possible militant attack in the Philippine islands of Mindanao and Cebu. The alerts, which followed a warning issued by Canada, come as the Philippine government is set to host the 12th Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Cebu from Jan. 10 to 15.

1622 GMT – The bank accounts of three Syrian scientific institutes were frozen by the U.S. Treasury Department on Jan. 5 due to suspicions that the institutes developed and distributed weapons of mass destruction.

1620 GMT – Police in Bangalore, India, on Jan. 5 arrested a suspected Kashmiri militant as he arrived on a private bus carrying an assault rifle, 300 rounds of ammunition, AK-47 magazines, hand grenades, a satellite phone and SIM cards in his luggage. The suspect also carried a map of Bangalore with the airport and the Infosys campus marked, and is believed to have been planning attacks in the city with at least one accomplice.

1618 GMT – Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva has formally confirmed that the federal government will send the national security force to patrol the state of Rio de Janeiro to combat gang violence, Infobae reported Jan. 5. The request for troops came from Rio de Janeiro Gov. Sergio Cabral Filho.

1602 GMT – Defeated Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will begin a weekly television show Jan. 9, El Universal reported Jan. 5. The show will be directed at reporting on the activities of his shadow government, which Lopez Obrador says is the legitimate government of Mexico.

1544 GMT – A bomb exploded on a bus in the western Sri Lanka town of Nittambuwa on Jan. 5 during rush hour. Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels are believed to be responsible the blast. At least five people were killed and 30 more were wounded.

1532 GMT – Stratfor has not found any information to corroborate a Jan. 4 Pajamas Media report that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has died. The source has previously reported similar information that proved to be untrue.

1501 GMT – The European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, said Jan. 5 confidence in the European economy remained near a six-year high and unemployment has fallen to a record low. The commission also said a sentiment index among euro area employers and consumers slipped to 110.1 in December from 110.3 in November. The jobless rate declined to 7.6 percent in November, the lowest rate since 1993.

1449 GMT – Chinese banks have been asked to set aside additional money as reserves, the People’s Bank of China said Jan. 5. It is the fourth time in seven months that such a request has been made. The move is intended to prevent a rebound in lending and investment. Banks must put aside 9.5 percent of deposits, up from 9 percent, beginning Jan. 15.

1436 GMT – U.S. employers added 167,000 workers to payrolls in December, and incomes increased the most in the last eight months, the Labor Department reported Jan. 5. In November, employment was up by 154,000, and the jobless rate held at 4.5 percent.

1253 GMT – China has signed a series of agreements with Chad providing loans, economic cooperation and debt relief totaling about $81 million, the Chadian Foreign Ministry said Jan. 5 following a visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing. The agreements were signed less than six months after Chad restored diplomatic ties with China.

1245 GMT – Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso will visit Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia on Jan. 9-15, he said Jan. 5. The trip is part of Aso’s intiative to strengthen Japan’s relations with and support the development of the emerging economies of Europe and Asia.

1240 GMT – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ended their meeting late Jan. 4, reportedly having achieved little. The talks were overshadowed by an Israeli raid into the West Bank town of Ramallah hours before the two leaders met. In a news conference following the meeting, Mubarak condemned the Israeli raid, which left four Palestinian civilians dead and 20 injured.

1233 GMT – Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and President Mahmoud Abbas agreed Jan. 5 to withdraw gunmen loyal to their rival Hamas and Fatah factions from the streets and to deploy police forces to increase security. The same day, a U.S. government document reportedly was seen saying the Bush administration will provide $86 million to aid security forces loyal to Abbas.

1226 GMT – A new audiotape from al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri urges Somalia’s Islamists to begin Iraq-style guerrilla attacks, including suicide bombings, against Ethiopian forces in Somalia. The tape was posted Jan. 5 on a Web site used by militant Islamist groups. A day earlier, several jihadist Web sites announced the expected arrival of the tape.

1219 GMT – South Korean officials reported increased activity, including personnel and vehicle movement, near a suspected nuclear test site in North Korea on Jan. 5, but said there is no evidence to suggest that Pyongyang will test another nuclear weapon.

0142 GMT – Venezuelan congressman Rodrigo Cabezas confirmed Jan. 4 that he will replace Finance Minister Nelson Merentes in President Hugo Chavez’s Cabinet. Cabezas is currently President of the national Assembly’s Finance Committee and will be sworn in as finance minister Jan. 9, the day before Chavez is inaugurated into his third term.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 4, 2007

2351 GMT – The online blog Pajamas Media reported Jan. 4 that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has died at age 67, citing an unnamed source. The blog said that Farideh Vafai, a spokeswoman for Reza Pahlavi, the former shah of Iran, said, “We cannot confirm this news. We have heard rumors but so far have no confirmation.” The reliability of this information is unknown.

2342 GMT – Venezuelan troops arrived in Bolivia on Dec. 28, as opposition leader Sen. Oscar Ortiz alleged Jan. 3, Bolivian Defense Minister Walker San Miguel said Jan. 4. The Bolivian military initially denied the accusation. San Miguel did, however, reject Ortiz’s claim that the troop arrival was unconstitutional, saying that the Venezuelans were pilots visiting to train Bolivian troops and to help repair equipment.

2337 GMT – Iran has amassed a stockpile of 250 tons of uranium hexafluoride, which is being stored in underground tunnels for use as raw material in the country’s nuclear program, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Gholam-Reza Aghazadeh, said Jan. 4. If enriched to 90 percent, the material could be enough for 50 nuclear warheads.

2259 GMT – Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguaran Arana ordered Jan. 4 the arrest of President Jorge Londono and Vice President Federico Guillermo Ochoa of Bancolombia, Colombia’s largest bank. The two are suspected to have cheated minority shareholders in the merger of Banco de Colombia and Banco Industrial Colombiano in April 1998.

2150 GMT – The Cuban government will allow a group of 15 demonstrators to march to the Cuban security fence surrounding the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay on Jan. 11 to protest the abuses at the prison camp, according to Witness Against Torture spokesman Matt Daloisio. The protestors will include U.S. activists, a former detainee and relatives of a British citizen currently detained at the prison.

1912 GMT – Retired U.S. Vice Adm. Mike McConnell will be named the national intelligence director, succeeding John Negroponte, a senior Bush administration official said Jan. 4.

1708 GMT – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could be removed from office in 2007, sources in Beirut, Lebanon, said Jan. 4.

1628 GMT – The United Nations final status report on Kosovo’s independence from Serbia will be completed by Jan. 21, the date of Serbia’s general elections, U.N. spokesman Remi Dourlot said Jan. 4. Dourlot added that the final report could be presented any time after that date. Another U.N. official said U.N. special envoy for Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari could brief the Contact Group for the Balkans — which includes the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Russia — on Jan. 26 before presenting the report to Serbia and Kosovo.

1620 GMT – The Indian Intelligence Bureau delivered a secret advisory to Mumbai police Jan. 4, warning of possible attacks in the city by a group comprised of 600 Lashkar-e-Taiba militants. According to the advisory, the militants have received navigational training by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency and the Pakistani navy to infiltrate India’s coastlines and island territories. The advisory also warns of attempts by militants to kidnap VIPs or aircraft in order to demand the release of Mohammed Afzal Guru, a convicted Kashmiri militant sentenced to death for the 2001 suicide attack on the Indian Parliament.

1620 GMT – Police in northern Spain found a car loaded with at least 150 pounds of undetonated explosives Jan. 4. The find comes after a Dec. 30, 2006, car bombing at a Spanish airport parking garage for which the militant branch of Basque separatist group ETA claimed responsibility. Police have not determined if the cases are related.

1614 GMT – Former Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador resumed traveling around Mexico on Jan. 4, beginning in the state of Yucatan. Lopez Obrador has said he intends to gather the opinions of people in the countryside and will likely seek support for his shadow government.

1528 GMT – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said late Jan. 3 that he will reshuffle his Cabinet on Jan. 10, at the beginning of his third term, El Universal reported Jan. 4. Chavez plans to replace Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel with Jorge Rodriguez, and to replace Interior and Justice Minister Jesse Chacon with Pedro Carreno. Chavez cited the deteriorating domestic security situation as the reason for the reshuffle.

1524 GMT – Iranian National Security Council head and chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani is visiting China from Jan. 4-5 to discuss bilateral ties, the Iranian nuclear issue and other issues of mutual concern, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Jan. 4. The spokesman also said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will visit China from Jan. 9-11. It will be Olmert’s first visit to China as prime minister.

1522 GMT – The suspects involved in a shootout Jan. 3 with Tunisian security forces in Soliman are “Islamic militants” from Algeria that were part of a larger group that crossed into the country, Arabic daily Al-Hayat reported Jan. 4. The incident resulted in 15 arrests; 12 suspects were killed by Tunisian forces.

1516 GMT – New U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon urged the Iraqi government Jan. 4 to cancel the executions of two of Saddam Hussein’s former top aides. The two are scheduled to be executed in the next few days.

1516 GMT – Greek anarchists are planning a demonstration on Jan. 10 to protest plans by Greece’s government to abolish a state monopoly on university education, The Associated Press reported Jan. 4. Civil servants’ unions have announced a strike on the same day to show support for the demonstrations.

1515 GMT – A constitutional referendum will be held in 2007, Algerian Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem said Jan. 4. The referendum would reportedly do away with presidential term limits and lengthen the presidential term from five years to seven years.

1510 GMT – Iran would like to normalize relations with Egypt, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said Jan. 4. The countries have not had formal diplomatic ties since the Iranian revolution of 1979. The main sticking point for Egypt is the renaming of a street in Tehran, which is named for the assassin of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

1509 GMT – A smuggling tunnel under the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip collapsed early Jan. 4, leaving several Palestinians injured and one man trapped underground. The men are thought to be racketeers and not associated with armed groups.

1507 GMT – The impending release of a new message from al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri was announced Jan. 4 by several jihadist Web sites. The message is said to address the situation in Somalia.

1506 GMT – A series of bombings in Corsica on Jan. 3-4 killed one man in Sollaro and damaged four banks and the public revenue department in Ajaccio. A security official said the man who died was likely the bomber, suspected to be a Corsican separatist. The attacks precede the Jan. 6 visit of French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

1414 GMT – German Chancellor Angela Merkel will arrive in Washington on Jan. 4 to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush. The top topic for discussion will be breaking down regulatory barriers to trade between the United States and European Union.

1351 GMT – U.S. first-time jobless claims for the week ending Dec. 30, 2006, increased by 10,000, to 329,000, the Labor Department reported Jan 4. The rise was largely due to a weakening housing market. In general, any figure below 400,000 indicates a strong labor market.

1250 GMT – Iraq has not yet set an execution date for two of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s aides, an aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Jan. 4. Hussein’s half-brother, former intelligence head Barzan al-Tikriti, as well as former judge Awad al-Bander reportedly had been scheduled to hang Jan. 4, but the government is facing a backlash from Sunnis over Hussein’s hanging.

1242 GMT – Russian state-run natural gas monopoly Gazprom will increase its daily natural gas exports to Turkey to 84 million cubic meters from 14 million cubic meters following a supply cutoff by Iran, Turkish state-run pipeline company Botas said Jan. 4. Iran temporarily cut off natural gas supplies to Turkey to meet its own domestic demand, but said it would resume supplies in 10 days. Iran is contracted to supply Turkey with 27 million to 28 million cubic meters of natural gas per day.

1236 GMT – According to the latest poll, 49 percent of Kadima voters would back Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s nomination as head of the party should national elections be held earlier than scheduled. In the same poll, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gathered only 8.7 percent support. Results of the survey were released by Israel Radio on Jan. 4.

1229 GMT – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Jan. 4, primarily to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian prisoner exchange mediated by Egypt, increased Egyptian supervision of the Sinai-Gaza Strip border, and establishing a regional support network for Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the diplomatic process. The meeting will be the second between the two since Olmert’s election.

1221 GMT – Bangladesh will hold its planned parliamentary elections Jan. 22 despite a decision by the multiparty alliance led by former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to stage a boycott, election officials said Jan. 4. Two other parties, the Jatiya Party of former army ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad and the Liberal Democratic Party of former president A.Q.M. Badruddoza Chowdhury, also announced their decision to boycott.

1214 GMT – Fijian army chief Frank Bainimarama on Jan. 4 returned executive authority to President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, who will now appoint an interim government — set to be dominated by the military — that will stay in power until elections are held. Bainimarama took over as president when he deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase in a coup.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 3, 2007

2237 GMT – Bolivian opposition leader Sen. Oscar Ortiz said Jan. 3 he witnessed 40 Venezuelan troops dressed in combat uniforms arrive in Bolivia on Dec. 28, 2006, without the approval of the Bolivian legislature. Ortiz demanded that Bolivian President Evo Morales clarify the actions of the Venezuelan military. Gen. Wilfredo Vargas, commander in chief of Bolivia’s armed forces, rejected the claim, saying the only foreign troops in the country are members of a “technical staff” who are cooperating with the Bolivian military.

2222 GMT – Brazil’s Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD) announced Jan. 3 that shareholders of Canadian company Inco Ltd. approved Inco’s merger with CVRD’s subsidiary in Canada, Itabira Canada. The merger becomes effective Jan. 4. CVRD is the world’s largest producer of iron ore.

2140 GMT – Following a Jan. 3 meeting with Brazilian National Security Secretary Luiz Fernando Correa, Rio de Janeiro Gov. Sergio Cabral Filho said the Brazilian federal government will send a national security force to patrol his state’s borders. The move is an attempt to curb gang violence that has recently killed about 20 people in what President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva has described as terrorist acts.

2107 GMT – The Mexican government’s Operation Tijuana is “late and delayed,” an Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) spokesman said Jan. 3. The federal government sent 3,296 federal troops Jan. 2 to fight drug gangs that have become a significant problem in the past decade in Tijuana. The PRI welcomes the troops, the spokesman said, but hopes the operation will have better success than a similar action in Michoacan state.

2009 GMT – Mexican President Felipe Calderon met with Mexican Secretary of Defense Guillermo Galvan on Jan. 3 in the state of Michoacan for an update on the progress of Operation Michoacan in combating drug cartels in the state. The operation has resulted in the destruction of around 5,000 marijuana plantations and in 80 arrests. Calderon encouraged the troops to keep fighting hard and assured them that pay raises are on the way.

1955 GMT – U.S. forces are patrolling the Somalian coast to cut off escape routes for extremists from the Supreme Islamic Courts Council (SICC) who are fleeing Ethiopian forces, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Jan. 3. SICC’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, is on U.N. and U.S. extremist lists.

1934 GMT – Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko said Jan. 3 Russia will be charged a transit fee for oil that crosses into Belarusian territory. Lukashenko said, “If those in Russia … are still willing to make a scapegoat of Belarus … then let’s ask the Russian Federation … to pay us in full for our services.” Russian oil transport company Transneft responded by saying Belarus has no grounds to charge the fee.

1829 GMT – Dublin-based airline Ryanair said Jan. 3 it is suing the French government over restrictions by French labor laws on the airline’s operations budget. Ryanair director of regulatory affairs Jim Callaghan said France’s restrictions go against European laws of free movement of labor and services, but did not specify what the restrictions are. The airline is asking the European Union to overturn the application of French labor laws on Ryanair employees.

1709 GMT – U.N. High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina Christian Schwarz-Schilling said his mandate could be extended past its July 2007 deadline, AKI reported Jan. 3. The announcement comes amid rising tensions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and calls from the Republika Srpska for independence.

1558 GMT – Iraqi authorities Jan. 3 arrested an official who presided over the execution of former dictator Saddam Hussein in relation to the investigation of leaked video recordings of Hussein’s hanging made on a mobile phone. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office did not release the official’s name.

1550 GMT – Bolivia’s majority Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party will meet Jan. 4-5 to evaluate the party’s activities during 2006 and plan for 2007, La Razon newspaper reported Jan. 3. The meeting will include the political leadership, social groups affiliated with the party and other activist groups. Sectors allied with MAS are demanding changes in President Evo Morales’ Cabinet and are questioning the slow progress on constitutional reform, which MAS expected to have passed before 2007.

1545 GMT – Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian plans to visit Nicaragua on Jan. 8 to attend the inauguration of President-elect Daniel Ortega, and is likely to visit Belize, Dominican Today reported Jan. 3. Chen also might stop in Los Angeles. Nicaragua is one of the few countries that recognize Taiwan over China, though there has been speculation that Nicaragua will sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan, as Ortega vowed during his campaign to recognize Beijing if elected.

1544 GMT – Brazilian National Security Secretary Luiz Fernando Correa met Jan. 3 with Rio de Janeiro State Security Secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame to discuss the current wave of gang violence in Rio de Janeiro. Organized crime groups with ties to drug trafficking have been targeting civilians and police, killing 19 people since Dec. 28. Beltrame is expected to make an official request for military forces to help patrol the city.

1529 GMT – Dividing the Kuril Islands by land area instead of number may solve the decades-old territorial dispute between Japan and Russia over the islands, Japanese New Komeito Party leader Akihiro Ota said Jan. 3.

1514 GMT – Moldova has signed a five-year contract with Russian state-run natural gas monopoly Gazprom to gradually increase the price of Russian natural gas imports to the price of European gas by 2011, starting at $170 per 1,000 cubic meters, Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said Jan. 3.

1503 GMT – Hezbollah deputy chief Sheikh Naim Qassem and senior aide Mohammed Fneish flew to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Dec. 26 to meet with Saudi King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and discuss the Lebanese political crisis, Reuters reported Jan. 3, citing a Lebanese political source. Qassem said Jan. 1 he did not see a chance for an early end to Lebanon’s political standoff.

1502 GMT – Iran has access to a complete nuclear fuel cycle and expects to start production of industrial nuclear fuel in the near future, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Jan. 3.

1440 GMT – Iranian National Security Council head and chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani will travel to China on Jan. 4, IRNA reported Jan. 3. Larijani will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and deliver a message from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

1437 GMT – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Jan. 3 in Beirut, Lebanon. Erdogan is scheduled to meet with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri later in the day.

1437 GMT – Tropical Cyclone Isobel hit Australia’s northwestern coast Jan. 3, causing little damage, though it has disrupted offshore oil production by Woodside Petroleum Ltd. and Santos Ltd. The temporary oil disruption is 162,000 barrels per day of oil. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said the Category 1 cyclone could merge with a deep depression inland, creating a highly destructive storm either late Jan. 3 or on Jan. 4.

1430 GMT – Peace talks are not over between the Spanish government and the militant Basque group ETA following a Dec. 30 ETA bombing at an airport parking garage, a spokesman for Batasuna, the group’s political wing, said Jan. 3. Speaking at a news conference in Bayonne, France, the spokesman asked ETA to explain why the bombing occurred.

1421 GMT – Skirmishes broke out Jan. 3 in northern Gaza between members of the ruling Palestinian Hamas movement and loyalists of Fatah. The fighting, which occurred in the Jabalya refugee camp, began shortly after gunmen killed a Fatah member in Gaza and a car carrying Hamas security officials was ambushed.

1403 GMT – Palestinian National Authority security officials said Jan. 3 that U.S. and European citizens should leave Gaza because they are at risk of being kidnapped. The warning was also directed at U.N. Relief and Works Agency workers, though the agency said it does not plan to evacuate its personnel from Gaza. The warning follows the Jan. 1 kidnapping of a Peruvian photographer working for Agence France-Presse.

1252 GMT – Sri Lankan jets Jan. 3 bombed positions held by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels in the eastern Batticaloa district, scene of the most intense fighting over the previous few weeks. The attack came a day after airstrikes killed 14 civilians. In response, the United Nations has urged both sides to stop fighting and protect civilians during the conflict.

1245 GMT – Thailand’s main stock index fell as much as 3.8 percent Jan. 3 in response to the New Year’s Eve bombings in Bangkok. Jan. 3 was the first trading day since the attacks.

1240 GMT – Iran will take legal action to gain compensation for damages inflicted on the country during eight years of war resulting from the by U.S.-backed Iraqi invasion, parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel said Jan. 3.

1231 GMT – Ethiopian warplanes and Somalian government troops pursued fleeing Islamist forces near the Kenyan border Jan. 3. Meanwhile, Kenyan authorities deported more than 300 Somalian refugees who had fled the fighting. After withdrawing from their last stronghold Jan. 1, the Islamists fled into the hills between the border with Kenya and the Indian Ocean port of Kismayo.

1225 GMT – North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun has died, the official KCNA news agency reported Jan. 3. The 78-year-old Paek had been rumored to be ill for some time.

1218 GMT – Bangladesh’s Awami League party and its allied parties said Jan. 3 they will boycott the Jan. 22 parliamentary elections because the atmosphere is not conducive to a fair and free election. The parties also called for a nationwide transport blockade Jan. 7-8 to demand electoral reforms.

0259 GMT – Deposed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Jan. 3 denied allegations that a series of bomb blasts in Bangkok on Jan. 31 were linked to him. In a handwritten letter sent from Beijing, Thaksin said the bombings were the work of militants, and that the new leadership wants to blame him rather than admit that its “olive branch” approach to the southern militancy has failed.

0255 GMT – Kenya increased security on its border with Somalia on Jan. 3 in an effort to prevent defeated Islamist militants from entering the country from southern Somalia as they retreat from advancing Ethiopian and Somalian interim government forces. Hundreds of soldiers and police supported by helicopters have been deployed to Kenya’s border, and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has met with Somalian interim President Abdullahi Yusuf to discuss security as the military situation in Somalia evolves.

0236 GMT – Colombia’s homicide rate has fallen to its lowest point in 20 years, Colombian officials reported Jan. 3. Police Chief Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro said the lower rate indicates progress is being made in President Alvaro Uribe Velez’s campaign against right-wing paramilitary groups, left-wing rebel groups and drug traffickers.

0202 GMT – Rival gangs of prisoners clashed in a Venezuelan jail Jan. 2, killing 16 before the National Guard restored order, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported Jan. 3. The two gangs from different cell blocks were battling for control of the Uribana prison, southwest of the capital of Caracas.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 2, 2007

2242 GMT – Pakistan plans to begin constructing a fourth port in 2008 in order to handle the recent increase in cargo volume, the Pakistani government said Jan. 2. Pakistani Shipping Minister Babar Khan Ghauri said cost estimates and a location have yet to be determined.

2239 GMT – Sri Lanka will purchase military equipment, including tanks, bombs, fuses and ammunition, from Pakistan, an Indian news agency reported Jan. 2. The purchase, estimated at about $100 million, will boost Sri Lanka’s ability to curb the activities of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels. Pakistan could sell up to $200 million in arms in the coming year and a half.

2236 GMT – Israeli Tax Commission Director Jacky Matza and Shula Zaken, a longtime aide to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, were among 20 government officials arrested Jan. 2 in connection with an investigation into payoffs made in exchange for tax breaks. Olmert was not implicated or questioned about the matter. No one has been formally charged.

2219 GMT – Belarus will consider sharing the profits from its exports of refined oil products with Russia if Moscow reverses its plan to charge full duties on shipments of crude oil to Belarus, Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko said Jan. 2.

2211 GMT – Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will not seek a second term and hopes to resign his post before the end of his current term, he told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published Jan. 2. Al-Maliki said he would like to continue serving the Iraqi people through the government but not from within the circle of senior officials. Al-Maliki’s term began in April 2006 and was intended to last four years.

1954 GMT – Peruvian President Alan Garcia met Jan. 2 with a delegation of six U.S. senators to elicit support in the U.S. Senate for the pending free trade agreement between the countries. Garcia has qualified the senators’ visit as extremely important for Peru.

1929 GMT – CITIC Group, China’s state investment arm, completed a deal Jan. 2 to acquire $1.9 billion in oil assets in Kazakhstan from Canadian-based Nations Energy. The deal includes the rights to the Karazhanbas field, which has reserves of approximately 340 million barrels of oil.

1752 GMT – Sergei Monich, a Belarusian citizen accused of espionage in Poland, on Jan. 2 appealed a ruling regarding his extradition from Lithuania. The appeal requests that the Lithuanian Court of Appeals overturn a ruling passed by a Vilnius district court, which granted Poland’s request for extradition Dec. 22. The Lithuanian State Security Department is also investigating Monich for espionage.

1747 GMT – A portion of the Samara-Lisichansk oil pipeline ruptured in Russia’s Saratov province, RIA Novosti reported Jan. 2, citing local law enforcement officials. The leak caused about 1,100 barrels of oil to spill across 12.5 acres of surrounding land near the town of Bratsky. The rupture will reportedly take at least three days to repair and an investigation is under way to determine the cause of the spill.

1740 GMT – The U.S. Treasury Department is reviewing a recommendation that the embargo on sending civil aircraft spare parts to Iran be lifted, Fars News Agency reported Jan. 2. Through the deal, parts for Shah-era American-built planes, as well as General Electric engines on Airbus aircraft, would be shipped to third countries for repairs.

1650 GMT – Lebanon will undertake a six-point program of economic reform to present to a conference of donors set for Jan. 25 in Paris, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Jan. 2. The goals of the reforms include creating jobs, implementing a conservative monetary policy, and most important, encouraging increased foreign investment.

1649 GMT – The U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora lifted a ban Jan. 2 on the export of caviar, except the beluga variety, from the Caspian Sea. The move will allow Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan to sell limited amounts of caviar from the Caspian Sea on the world market. A decision will be made regarding the export of beluga caviar during 2007.

1643 GMT – The president of the German Bundestag, Norbert Lammert, began a four-day Middle East tour Jan. 2. He is to visit Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Cyprus, as well as German naval vessels stationed off the Lebanese coast.

1638 GMT – U.S.-led forces in Iraq will likely launch a limited offensive around Jan. 5 against Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia, Reuters reported Jan. 2, citing senior Iraqi officials. A Pentagon report issued in December called the Mehdi Army the biggest threat to Iraqi security.

1637 GMT – Russia’s state-controlled natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, will acquire a 50 percent ownership of Belarus’ state-run natural gas transport company, Beltransgaz, by June 1, 2010, Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko said Jan. 2. Gazprom is to pay for the stake in four installments of $625 million each year for the next 4 years.

1635 GMT – U.S. authorities attempted to delay the execution of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein by requesting the signatures of the three members of the Iraqi Presidential Council and the official sentencing document before handing the former dictator over to Iraqi control, the official Kuwait News Agency reported Jan. 2. The Iraqi government produced a presidential document showing that the requested documents were not needed, and the execution proceeded.

1530 GMT – In contradicting reports regarding a proposed swap of Israeli-held Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Jan. 2 that a deal has been reached. The report comes a day after Ynetnews cited Israeli sources as saying they are unfamiliar with claims of progress following a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former deputy Shin Bet head Ofer Dekel. Under the reported proposed deal, Hamas would release the soldier to Egypt and Israel would release 450 prisoners. Israel and Hamas would then agree on the names of other prisoners to be released by Israel in around two months.

1514 GMT – The Iraqi Baath Party issued a statement Jan. 2 appointing Deputy Secretary-General Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri its new secretary-general. Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was the party’s previous secretary-general. Al-Douri has a $10 million bounty on his head and has operated in hiding since the party was ousted from power in 2003.

1249 GMT – The damage to the undersea telecommunications cables by the earthquake off of Taiwan on Dec. 26 was greater than previously suspected, and will require at least two weeks to fix, Hong Kong’s Office of the Telecommunications Authority said Jan. 2. It had been estimated that the repairs would take about one week.

1243 GMT – China’s imports and exports for 2006 will break the $1.75 trillion mark, up 24 percent from 2005, China’s Commerce Ministry reported Jan. 2.

1237 GMT – The Sri Lankan air force bombed a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam naval base near the northwestern town of Mannar on Jan. 2, an air force spokesman said in a news conference. The Tigers, however, claimed the attack killed 15 civilians and injured 25 in a fishing village.

1230 GMT – The previously canceled U.S.-Philippine military exercises, called Balikatan, are back on, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said in Manila on Jan. 2. The resumption of the annual exercises was announced four days after a convicted U.S. Marine was transferred to U.S. custody.

1222 GMT – U.S. President George W. Bush will make a speech in a few days announcing a plan to send more troops to Iraq in order to increase security there, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported Jan. 2, citing senior administration officials.

1214 GMT – Ethiopian troops will remain in Somalia for a few more weeks to continue to assist the transitional government in securing the country, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Jan. 2.

SITUATION REPORTS – January 1, 2007

2034 GMT – A statement attributed to al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri was released Dec. 31 and re-posted Jan. 1 on several Web sites. The message, marking Eid al-Adha, criticizes Palestinian leaders, accusing Palestinian National Authority president Mahmoud Abbas of having “grown fat on the bribes of the Jews and gifts of the Americans,” and accuses the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen of serving U.S. interests. The date of the statement is unclear, but it makes no mention of either the hanging of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein or the retreat of the Somali Islamist forces in the face of the Ethiopian assault.

2031 GMT – A section of the main natural gas pipeline in Pakistan’s Dera Bugti district was damaged in an explosion Jan. 1. The attack caused a disruption in the distribution of natural gas supplies in the area.

2029 GMT – The Alliance of the People of Baghdad, an Iraqi group based in Amman, Jordan, released a statement Dec. 31 naming Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri as the legitimate president and military commander in Iraq, and vowed to support the Iraqi resistance led by al-Douri.

2026 GMT – Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing began a visit to Africa on Jan. 1, arriving in Benin. Li will also visit Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Chad, the Central African Republic, Eritrea and Botswana during his trip.

2024 GMT – Thai military chief Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who cut short his Hajj to Saudi Arabia following the Dec. 31 bombings in Bangkok, on Jan. 1 blamed “people who lost political power” for the bombings in the city, saying there had been intelligence reports that some attacks may happen, but that he “did not think it would be as bad as [they were].” Sonthi repeated earlier Thai statements that the bombings were not related to the unrest in the South.

Published in: on January 27, 2007 at 12:52 am  Comments (7)  

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