A new U.N. report says poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is down 22%. Afghanistan is the world’s leading grower of the crop which is used to make heroin and opium, BBC News. Download the full U.N. report (PDF file), BBC News.
Dr. Abdullah Laghmani, the Deputy Intelligence Chief for Afghanistan, was assassinated by a suicide bomber this morning as he was leaving a mosque in Laghman province. 15 others were killed and at least 45 wounded, New York Times.
In Pakistan, the country’s religious affairs minister has survived an attempted assassination. Two gunmen shot at Hamid Saeed Kazmi as he was leaving his office. His driver was killed, but Kazmi was wounded in the leg and is being treated in hospital. The attack is thought to be retaliation from the Taliban which Pakistan has been cracking down on lately, Reuters.
A truck bomb exploded outside the Athens stock exchange in Greece early this morning. One person was injured, Bloomberg.
A 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Indonesia today. The quake was felt in the capital of Jakarta, but was centered near Indonesia’s Java island where 15 people were killed, Voice of America.
The two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were arrested for illegally crossing the border to North Korea have released their first statement since being released last month, Current TV.
The two journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who have been released from North Korean prison after former President Bill Clinton obtained a pardon from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, have landed safely on U.S. soil and have been reunited with their families, Washington Post. The U.S. had diplomatic relations agreed to normalize relations with North Korea in the early 1990s under the George H.W. Bush administration, but the agreement was broken off after the George W. Bush administration called North Korea a member of an “axis of evil.” Relations were again picked up in 2007 when North Korea agreed to be part of the “Six Party Talks.” Though it is stressed his visit was not official, Clinton’s visit may be a sign that the U.S. is willing to resume talks.
A U.S. drone has struck the home of a family member of Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan’s most wanted Taliban leader. It is unknown if Mehsud was in the home at the time, but there are reports that his wife was killed in the airstrike, BBC News.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was officially sworn in for his second term as Iran’s president, Reuters.
New information is available on the tragic shooting at an LA Fitness gym in Pennsylvania last night. We know that George Sodini, a 48 year-old white man, who was a member of the gym, entered a Latin dance class around 8pm last night, turned off the lights, and fired about 50 rounds from handguns. He then fatally shot himself. Three women are dead and 9 are injured, ABC News. ABC News has a link to Sodini’s online diary, Gerogesodini.com. According to the diary, he had originally planned the shooting for January 6, 2009, but did not go through with it. Viewing the source code for the page shows that Sodini included a paragraph about his interest in a woman at the gym and his feeling that if he could strike up a relationship with her, he would not go through with the shooting. Update: The death toll is reported to now be six, including Sodini, UPI.
President Bill Clinton is currently en route to Los Angeles with journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who had been held in North Korea on charges of illegally entering the communist country. They are expected to be reunited with their families shortly. The two were pardoned today after being imprisoned for almost five months, AP.
Three more men have been arrested today in connection with an Australian terror plot. Four were arrested yesterday and are accused of plotting to attack an army base in Sydney. Officials say all seven men are believed to be a part of the Somali-based al-Shabab group, BBC News.
Hot Topic: The Risk And Reward In Clinton’s N. Korea Mission.
Former US President Bill Clinton flew to North Korea last night on an unannounced visit to negotiate the release of two American journalists who were convicted of trespassing on North Korean soil earlier this year. Laura Ling and Euna Lee are sentenced to 12 years in prison in North Korea. North Korea asked that in return for their release the US make an apology which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has done and that a high-profile American come to North Korea. Clinton is expected to return with the journalists released, ABC News. Profile of the jailed women, BBC News.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the release of three Americans being held in Iran. Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Joshua Fattal were said to be hiking in the mountainous area on the border between the Kurdish region of Iraq and Iran when they were arrested for crossing the border into Iran. The United States has no diplomatic relationship with Iran and does not have an embassy in the country so the Swiss embassy is working on the release, CNN.
The Palestinian political group Fatah is holding a conference, their first in 20 years. Fatah is the political party of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. The conference got off to a rocky start after Hamas, the group that controls much of the Gaza Strip, refused to allow 400 Fatah members to join the conference. Fatah is hoping to bring younger people into the party and to update its positions on the peace process, Al Jazeera.
The US Senate will begin debate on the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court. The National Rifle Association has come out hard against her nomination but the Democratic majority is expected to confirm her this week. Watch the debate live on CSPAN2 starting at 10am EDT.
After some confusion, Gabon officials have confirmed that President Bongo, the longest serving African leader, has died. He was being treated for cancer in Spain at the time of his death. The country will have a 30-day period of mourning, CNN.
The U.S. is calling for two American journalists, sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in a North Korean camp, to be released. The Obama administration says they believe the harsh sentence to be a ploy used to gain leverage. Laura Ling, 32, and Euna Lee, 36, were charged with illegally entering North Korean territory, but their families say they were actually arrested while they were on the border and had no intention of entering the country, New York Times.
International soccer star Kaka has been traded from Inter Milan to Real Madrid. Reports had indicated that Chelsea was interested in him, but his six-year deal is now complete, BBC Sport.
Two U.S. journalists have been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in North Korean camps for crossing into the country’s territory without permission. Laura Ling, sister of prominent journalist Lisa Ling, and Euna Lee, arrested three months ago, are reporters for Al Gore’s Current TV, New York Times.
Conditions in North Korea’s labor camps are often described as being inhuman. Here are some of the allegations. For a great look at North Korea, watch VSB.TV’s report here.