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*Regional and International Affairs:

Political Headlines:

Al-Maliki renominated as Iraqi prime minister(The Washington Times)
Lebanon PM: Cooperation with Iran indispensable(Haaretz)
U.S. briefs allies about next WikiLeaks release(The Washington Times)
U.S. and South Korea push ahead with war games(The Washington Times)
Report: North Korean official to visit China(the Washington Post)
Southern Sudanese carry high hopes, many challenges as independence vote nears(the Washington Post)
Debt crisis escalates in Europe; fears grow about Spain(The New York Times)
Ivory Coast Votes in 1st Election in a Decade(The New York Times)
*Regional and International Affairs:

Political Headlines:

Al-Maliki renominated as Iraqi prime minister
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani formally renominated Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to his post Thursday, giving him 30 days to assemble a government.

"It will be a government of partnership," Mr. al-Maliki, a Shiite who has been prime minister since 2006, said in a televised ceremony. "Nobody will be neglected."

The long-awaited action helps imbed the democratic principle in the country that the U.S. invaded in 2003 and from which the U.S. is preparing to remove all of its troops by the end of 2011. U.S. combat troops were removed in August, even as Iraq's major political players dickered over forming the next government.

Iraq's political blocs reached a framework agreement this month, eight months after elections to decide the makeup of the 325-member Council of Representatives.

In the March 7 vote, Mr. al-Maliki's State of Law coalition won 89 seats, while the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc — led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite — won 91.


Lebanon PM: Cooperation with Iran indispensable
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Friday that cooperation with Iran was indispensable for Lebanon, the Iranian agency IRNA reported.

"We consider cooperation (with Iran) as indispensable for the threats endangering both countries," Hariri told official news agency IRNA in Beirut ahead if his visit to Tehran.

Hariri is scheduled to arrive in Tehran on Saturday afternoon and meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi and probably also Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Lebanese prime minister said that security among the Arab states in the Middle East was also important for Iran and therefore Tehran would do its best for realizing this security, including in Lebanon.

"The visit by President Ahmadinejad (last month) to Beirut was an opportunity for strengthening bilateral ties and God willing, this aim will be further materialized by my visit to Tehran," Hariri said in the exclusive interview with IRNA.

Iran supports the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah which however is leading the opposition against Hariri's Western-backed government.

The rift between the two factions has deepened after reports said that the United Nations-backed tribunal investigating the killing of Hariri's father was ready to indict Hezbollah members for the murder.


U.S. briefs allies about next WikiLeaks release
U.S. allies around the world have been briefed by American diplomats about an expected release of classified U.S. files by the WikiLeaks website that is likely to cause international embarrassment and could damage some nations' relations with the United States.

The release of hundreds of thousands of State Department cables is expected this weekend, although WikiLeaks has not been specific about the timing. The cables are thought to include private, candid assessments of foreign leaders and governments and could erode trust in the U.S. as a diplomatic partner.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman, Steve Field, said Friday that the government had been told of "the likely content of these leaks" by U.S. Ambassador Louis Susman. Field declined to say what Britain had been warned to expect.

"I don't want to speculate about precisely what is going to be leaked before it is leaked," Field said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said U.S. diplomats were continuing the process of warning governments around the world about what might be in the documents. Many fear the cables will embarrass the United States and its allies, and reveal sensitive details of how the U.S. conducts relations with other countries


U.S. and South Korea push ahead with war games
The United States and South Korea prepared for war games Sunday as South Koreans demanded vengeance over a deadly North Korean artillery bombardment that has raised fears of more clashes between the bitter rivals.

The North, meanwhile, worked to justify one of the worst attacks on South Korean territory since the 1950-53 Korean War. Four South Koreans, including two civilians, died after the North rained artillery on the small Yellow Sea island of Yeonpyeong, which is home to both fishing communities and military bases.

North Korea said civilians were used as a "human shield" around artillery positions and lashed out at what it called a "propaganda campaign" against Pyongyang.

It claimed the United States orchestrated last Tuesday's clash so that it could stage joint naval exercises in the Yellow Sea with the South that include a U.S. nuclear powered supercarrier — enraging the North and making neighboring China uneasy.

The North Korean attack on an area with a civilian population marked a new level of hostility along the rivals' disputed sea border. Only eight months ago, according to the findings of a South Korean-led international investigation, a North Korean torpedo sank a South Korean warship in waters farther west, killing 46 sailors.


Report: North Korean official to visit China
A state news agency says a senior North Korean official will visit China this week. The visit comes amid heightened tensions following North Korea's shelling of a South Korean island last week.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Sunday that the chairman of North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly will visit China from Tuesday to Saturday.

It says Choe Thae Bok was invited by China's second most powerful official, Wu Bangguo. Wu is chairman

Washington and Seoul have pressed China to use its influence on Pyongyang to ease tensions. China is impoverished North Korea's biggest benefactor and its only major ally.


Southern Sudanese carry high hopes, many challenges as independence vote nears
Aguek Deng is the only doctor at the government hospital in Kuajok, southern Sudan's newest state capital.

Servicing nearly 1 million people, the hospital ward has just 11 beds, none of which has a mattress. The on-site pharmacy boasts mainly acetaminophen and vitamins; Deng says injections for pain relief, pneumonia and malaria run out too quickly.

In the ward, Atong Akol, who says she doesn't know how old she is but who looks to be about 15, sits on the edge of a bed frame. In front of her lies her 10-day-old daughter, Akot, who Deng thinks has "some kind of infection." The odds are stacked against her survival; according to the United Nations, one in six children in southern Sudan die before they reach their first birthday.

The state of health services in Kuajok is indicative of health services across southern Sudan, an area the size of Texas that is likely to become the world's newest nation next year. On Jan. 9, southern Sudanese will vote in a referendum that will mark the final stage of a 2005 peace agreement that ended 22 years of war between the Sudanese government in the mainly Muslim north and rebels based in the mainly Christian and animist south.



Debt crisis escalates in Europe; fears grow about Spain
The debt crisis in Europe escalated sharply Friday as investors dumped Spanish and Portuguese bonds in panicked selling, substantially heightening the prospect that one or both countries may need to join troubled Ireland and Greece in soliciting international bailouts.

The draining confidence in Western Europe's weakest economies threatened to upend bond markets, destabilize the euro and drag out the global economic recovery if it is not quickly contained. It also underscored the mounting problems facing countries that during the past decade have both over-borrowed and overspent, and are now in danger of losing investor faith in their ability to make good on their massive piles of debt.

The perceived risk of debt defaults in Portugal and Spain drove their borrowing costs to near-record highs Friday, with the interest rate demanded on Portuguese bonds at a point where it could effectively cut the Lisbon government off from raising fresh cash to run the country.

Ivory Coast Votes in 1st Election in a Decade
Polls have opened in a long-overdue presidential election in Ivory Coast that some hope will reunite the country eight years after a civil war divided it in two.

Millions of voters will choose Sunday between president Laurent Gbagbo and the man he accuses of being behind the rebellion that sought to topple him, Alassane Ouattara.

While many expect the voting to take place peacefully, recent violence has stoked fears that the situation could degenerate if the results aren't accepted. A first round of voting was held in October, in what is the country's first election in a decade.

Gbagbo imposed a nationwide nightly curfew in an attempt to head off violent protests, but the opposition rejected it claiming it opens the door to electoral fraud.



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