Passage of U.S. health care bill imminent

Democrats appear to have pushed through a final version of the health care reform bill. Final vote on the bill is expected tonight. The bill will impose new limits on health insurance companies, including ending the practice of denying coverage based on pre-exisiting conditions. It will also require individuals to buy health insurance or face a penalty. Details of the final bill, Reuters. Passage of the bill was boosted by concessions by President Obama and Democrats that ensure health care reform will exclude federal payments for abortions. Text of the President’s statement, CNN.  Timeline of the past 100 years of American health care reform, New York Times.

Two weeks after elections in Iraq, the votes are still being counted. Iyad Allawi’s secular coalition narrowly leads over current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s mainly Shi’ite coalition. Maliki has called for a recount but Iraq’s electoral commission ruled that a recount is not necessary. About 95 percent of the votes have been counted, Reuters.

Two Palestinians were shot by Israeli military in the West Bank today. The military says the men had attempted to stab a soldier, Al Jazeera.

Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon has called for Israeli to end its blockade of the West Bank, BBC News.

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Israeli airstrike in Gaza injures 11 amid fierce clashes

An Israeli airstrike has injured 11 people in the Gaza strip. Another strike 24-hours earlier hit two smuggling tunnels and a weapons manufacturing site. The strike occurred amid clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli police in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Fighting erupted after Israel announced plans to build 1600 new homes in East Jerusalem, which has prompted outrage from the U.S., Al Jazeera.

Massive protests continue in Thailand. The opposition “red shirts,” which aim to oust the current government, have planned marches around Bangkok for tomorrow and have succeeded in their attempts to hold non-violent rallies. 150,000 people participated in last Sunday’s march, and analysts believe the movement is winning many sympathizers, Reuters.

A reported mine collapse that is believed to have killed almost 200 people is being denied by the country’s government. Minister of Mineral Resources Alpha Kanu says he visited the site and no collapse occurred, BBC News.

Hot Topic: Economist Paul Krugman on healthcare reform.

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Nigeria dissolves cabinet

The acting president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, has dissolved Nigeria’s cabinet. President Umaru Yar’Adua has been ill since November and has traveled abroad for treatment. About half of the current cabinet ministers are expected to be asked to return, AFP.

One person, a migrant worker from Thailand, was killed after militants from Gaza fired a rocket into southern Israel, Voice of America.

Officials, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are in Moscow for a summit concerning Israel and the state of conflict in the Middle East as well as talks on nuclear disarmament, The Guardian.

Aid groups may be preventing the formation of a functioning government in Haiti, particularly with their increased resources in the wake of the January 12 earthquake that devastated Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince and killed more than 200,000, CNN.

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Controversial U.S. detainee policy in Afghanistan amended

The Haitian government has released new figures concerning rebuilding the country after January’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake, estimating the cost to be around $11.5 billion. A major conference will be held in New York on March 31st to discuss the plan, BBC News.

The U.S. has announced a change in policy that previously allowed soldiers to interrogate detainees in Afghanistan for 96 hours before having to release the detainees or turn them over to Afghani law enforcement. The new policy extends the time period to 14 days, and in some cases detainees may be held even longer. A Pentagon spokeman assured, “Most combatants we pick up on the battlefield will still be turned over to Afghani authorities within 96 hours,” CNN.

Fiji has suffered “overwhelming” damage from Cyclone Tomas, which pounded the South Pacific island for three days. Winds reportedly reached up to 130 mph, and one death has been reported, AP.

The Tamil Tigers, a rebel group in Sri Lanka, have declared that they no longer are seeking to establish their own separate homeland from the country. Many analysts believe this move may finally signal the end of civil war in the country, possibly ending the 25-year conflict, Guardian UK.

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Protesters shut down Bangkok

Red-shirt protesters, supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have converged on Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok to call for new elections, BBC News. the protesters, numbering in excess of 100,000, have shut down parts of Bangkok, New York Times.

5 same-sex couples wed in Mexico City. While civil unions are legal in some parts of Latin America, Mexico City is the first in Latin America to explicitly allow same-sex marriage, BBC News.

A U.S. court has ruled that there is no evidence a vaccine containing thimerosal has caused autism in the cases of three families who brought lawsuits, Reuters.

Amnesty International issued a report condemning maternal deaths in the U.S. The rate of death among pregnant women in the U.S. has doubled in the past 20 years. Lack of access to regular care during pregnancy, particularly among minority women and women living in poverty, endangers both the health of the mother and the child, CNN. Full report, Amnesty International.

Pope Benedict XVI has come under fire for his alleged involvement in the cover-up of a sexual abuse case in Germany in 1980 when he was archbishop, BBC News.

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Two French hostages freed near Darfur

The party of France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy is likely to be defeated in regional elections, according to new exit polls. Sarkozy’s center-right UMP party is reportedly losing to the Socialists, a result aided by low turnout. This is the last nationwide vote before the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections, BBC News.

An American consulate worker and her husband have been killed by suspected drug traffickers in Cuidad Juárez, Mexico. Another worker’s husband was also killed, and two children were wounded. The White House has responded to the killings, expressing outrage and vowing to work with Mexican officials to find the killers, NY Times.

Soccer legend David Beckham is expected to miss this summer’s World Cup, which was likely to be his last, after he tore his Achilles tendon in an Inter Milan match today, Sky News. In college basketball news, today the 64 teams who will take part in March Madness, the annual championship tournament, were chosen. Brackets can be found here.

Two French hostages taken in the Central African Republic in November have been freed. Both were working for French aid group Triangle Generation Humanitaire. They were released in the Darfur region and are on their way to the Sudanese capital city Khartoum, BBC News.

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Attacks continue in Afghanistan

35 people have died after coordinated explosions struck the city of Kandahar in Afghanistan, Al Jazeera.

Myanmar announced a new law barring anyone convicted of a crime from running for office. The new law will exclude political activists from participating in the upcoming election and may also force political parties to remove activists from their membership. The law is in large part targeted against Aung San Suu Kyi, the last democratically elected leader of Myanmar (previously Burma) who has been under house arrest or in prison for much of the past 20 years. Myanmar is a tightly controlled society that is run by a military junta. Military leaders are going ahead with elections this year but are working to ensure that only hand-picked candidates can participate, Al Jazeera.

Google has added biking directions and biking maps to 150 U.S. cities in its Google Maps feature, Wired News.

The Large Hadron Collider will be shut down for a year to fix design flaws, BBC News.

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Iraq election still undecided

The likelihood of a clear winner in the Iraqi election for Prime Minister is decreasing. Votes were cast on Sunday and are still being counted. Current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki currently has a slight lead. He is working to build a coalition to stay in power, Associated Press.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the timing of Israel’s announcement that it will continue construction of homes in a disputed area East Jerusalem on the first day of Vice President Joe Biden’s visit was “insulting.” The U.S. supports a two-state solution but Israel and Palestine must be able to engage in talks and negotiations over borders before a Palestinian state can be formed, CNN.

45 people were killed in attacks targeting the military in Lahore, Pakistan, Al Jazeera.  More on militants in Pakistan, New York Times.

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