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Thursday, December 8

Editor's Note: CNN News Update is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents, producers and Wires.CNN editors.

Sunni group says it will not participate in Iraqi elections

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A Sunni Muslim group said in a statement it would not participate in Iraq's Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, in part because "that will give legitimacy to occupiers for their staying in Iraq."

The Association of Muslim Scholars, however, did not urge Sunnis as a group not to participate in the political process, as it has done in the past.

Instead, in a statement issued earlier this week, the group said it will "respect the choices of Iraqi people whether to participate in the coming elections or not and ask all Iraqis not to impose one's will on another and to respect each other's opinion."

The organization said it was not supporting any party in the elections. In October, when Iraqis went to the polls to approve a constitution, the association asked Sunnis not to participate.

They also boycotted a January vote to elect a transitional National Assembly.

State Department: U.S. contractor killed in incident near Kirkuk Wednesday

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A State Department spokesman on Thursday said an "American contractor working for the U.S. government was killed" Wednesday night outside the Iraqi city of Kirkuk.

Spokesman J. Adam Ereli said the incident is under investigation and couldn't provide more detail.

Edward Loomis with the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Air Force provided no additional details on the contractor's death, but said a quick reaction team was "notified of the incident and recovered the body of the individual who was killed." -- CNN Producer Arwa Damon contributed to this report. (Updated 1:25 a.m.)

Thai Health Ministry: 5-year-old dies from bird flu

BANGKOK (CNN) -- Thailand's Health Ministry Friday confirmed the death of a 5-year-old boy from avian influenza. He was first hospitalized on Dec. 5 and died two days later on Dec. 7, according to the ministry's bird flu center.

The boy came from Nakhon Nayok, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Bangkok. His death is the country's 14th fatality due to the H5N1 strain of bird flu. Thailand has confirmed 22 cases of the virus within its borders.

Avian influenza has spread rapidly among birds, first in Southeast Asia and more recently in Europe. More than 120 people have been infected with the H5N1 strain, and half of those have died. -- CNN Producer Narunart Prapanya in Bangkok contributed to this report. (Posted 12:00 a.m.)

Southwest jet skids off runway in Chicago during landing

CHICAGO (CNN) -- A Southwest Airlines jet carrying 103 people skidded off a runway during a heavy snowstorm at Chicago's Midway Airport Thursday night, crashing through a barrier and sliding into an intersection, killing a young boy in a car.

Eleven other people, including three passengers, were taken to hospitals, said Chicago Fire Commissioner Cortez Trotter. Aboard the plane, which collided with two cars, were 98 passengers and five crew members.

Deborah Song, spokeswoman for Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oaklawn, said the 6-year-old boy who died was in the car with his two younger brothers, including an infant, and his parents. The vehicle was crushed under the nose and fuselage of the plane, said Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.

The mother, in her 30s, was in good condition; the father, in his 40s, was in serious condition; the 4-year-old middle son was in fair condition; and the infant was in serious condition, Song said.

Four people in the second car, which was found under a wing of the Boeing 737-700 jet, were in serious but stable condition. In addition, three passengers from the plane were in good condition, said Trotter, quoting paramedics.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said there were no indications of maintenance problems with the plane, and that it underwent a routine check Wednesday in Phoenix. "All indications are that the aircraft was cleared to land properly," Kelly said. He said that despite the heavy snow and light winds, there was "plenty of visibility."

"We've been operating at Chicago-Midway for 20 years. It's a great airport, and we've never had any problem whatsoever," he said. (Updated 1:19 a.m.)

Rumsfeld: If 'conditions permit,' U.S. troop size will shrink

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The military will bring home close to 20,000 U.S. troops after next week's parliamentary elections in Iraq and will consider reducing the troop size further if the "conditions permit," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday night.

American troop levels, once as high as 160,000, now stand at 155,000, he told "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." "We're going to go back down to our baseline of 137-138,000 after the elections. I'm sure of that. Then after that, we'll look at the conditions, the circumstances."

Iraqis are to elect a permanent National Assembly Dec. 15. They chose a transitional parliament in January, and approved a constitution in October paving the way for next week's vote.

U.S. troop levels were increased by about 20,000 in anticipation of election violence by insurgents, but Rumsfeld said he expects attacks to decrease after the voting.

The administration has come under increasing pressure from Democrats, and some Republicans, to come up with an exit strategy. (Posted 10:10 p.m.)

U.S. urges China to be more active global power

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States and China ended strategic talks Thursday aimed at managing the two powers' future relationship and fostering better cooperation on global issues.

"I believe we have had a constructive interchange about how China and the United States can cooperate in the present international system, so as to work for a more secure and prosperous world that respects human rights and the rule of law," Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said in a written statement.

The talks were led by Zoellick and Chinese Vice Foreign Minster Dai Bingguo, and covered bilateral and international issues such as the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, the war in Iraq, the conflict in Sudan, reconstruction in Afghanistan and the need to prevent an avian flu pandemic.

"We noted that by anticipating challenges and discussing problems openly, including in those areas where we may not agree, we are more likely to advance our mutual interests and manage our differences," Zoellick said.

He said the two sides spoke about the "importance of freedom and human rights." "We explained that the United States does not raise these issues to threaten or destabilize China, but rather because we believe expanded freedom is a natural and integral part of China's development."

On Friday, the delegations will visit Springwood, former President Franklin D. Roosevelt's mansion in Hyde Park, N.Y. (Posted 10 p.m.)

Wife says man shot by air marshals had bipolar disorder

MIAMI (CNN) -- The wife of Rigoberto Alpizar, the man shot to death Wednesday by air marshals at Miami's airport, told police he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental condition, Miami-Dade County Police Lt. Veronica Ferguson said in a written statement.

A passenger who said Alpizar, 44, had been acting strangely before the incident that ended in the shooting had previously said she had overheard the wife, Anne Buechner, say that the man was bipolar and had not taken his medication.

Dave Adams, a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service, said Alpizar began running in the plane's aisle yelling, "I have a bomb in my bag."

But no passenger witnesses have publicly corroborated that account. One passenger recalled Alpizar saying, "I've got to get off, I've got to get off," CNN's Kathleen Koch reported. And two others who spoke to CNN said they did not hear the man say anything. (Posted 6:22 p.m.)

Yoko Ono visits Lennon memorial on the 25th anniversary of his death

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Amid the scores of fans and mourners assembled at the Strawberry Fields section of Central Park Thursday, Yoko Ono, John Lennon's widow and long-time collaborator, visited the Imagine memorial that commemorates the former Beatle's legacy.

Lennon, who was murdered outside his New York apartment just a short distance from the memorial, died 25 years ago Thursday. Ono, who traditionally lights a candle in her apartment window to mark the anniversary, was escorted to the memorial by New York City police. --From CNN's Chris Browne (Posted 6:14 p.m.)

Judge nixes plea deal for Florida teacher who admitted sex with student

(CNN) -- A judge in Marion County, Fla., rejected a proposed plea deal Thursday for Debra Lafave, who pleaded guilty to having sex with a 14-year-old student while she was a teacher. Her trial is set for April 10.

"The agreement went below the guidelines, and I'm not willing to go below the guidelines," Judge Hale Stancil told CNN, without elaborating.

Defense attorneys sought to spare their client a prison sentence, which they were able to do with a plea agreement in Hillsborough County, where the 25-year-old former reading teacher pleaded guilty Nov. 22 to two counts of lewd and lascivious behavior.

She was sentenced to three years of community control, or house arrest, followed by seven years of probation. Lafave also must register as a sex offender. She could have been sentenced to 15 years for each count. (Posted 5:43 p.m.)

Lawyers for co-founder of Crips gang appeal for clemency

SACRAMENTO (CNN) -- The attorneys for convicted killer Stanley "Tookie" Williams -- the co-founder of the Crips street gang who has become an anti-gang crusader while on death row -- appealed to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday to spare him the death penalty.

Williams' attorneys, along with prosecutors, met with Schwarzenegger for about an hour on an appeal for clemency, which would commute his death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Williams -- who would turn 52 on Dec. 29 -- is scheduled to die by lethal injection just after midnight Tuesday. Schwarzenegger has until late Monday to reach his decision, although his office has indicated it is likely to come sooner rather than later.

Neither the defense attorneys nor the prosecutors would discuss how the meeting went with the governor. (Posted 5:22 p.m.)

Bush assures Austrian chancellor that U.S. does not engage in orture

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Amid ongoing questions about the United States' treatment of detainees, President Bush sought to assure a visiting European leader Thursday that the United States does not engage in torture.

According to White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, President Bush raised the issue of torture at the end of a discussion on human rights with Austria's chancellor, Wolfgang Schussel. That discussion took place Thursday morning in the Oval Office.

McClellan said the president told Schussel he wanted to "reiterate our position, which is we don't torture." McClellan said the president added, "As I've said on numerous occasions, we are a country that abides by our laws and our values and our treaty obligations." --From CNN White House Correspondent Elaine Quijano (Posted 4:38 p.m.)

Israeli sources: Airstrike kills 3 Palestinian militants in northern Gaza

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- An Israeli airstrike in Jabalya in northern Gaza killed three members of the Palestinian militant group al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, including a senior militant, according to Israeli security sources.

Israeli security sources said the three militants were involved in attempted suicide attacks, rocket attacks, and planting explosives.

Iyad Hassin Sa'ud Najar, 30, was identified as a "senior terrorist" in the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of the Palestinian political party Fatah.

The attack came a day after another Israeli airstrike in Gaza killed a member the radical Popular Resistance Committees. Wednesday's strike happened in Rafah, in southern Gaza. Israel has vowed to renew airstrikes in Gaza amid an uptick of violence in the region. (Posted 2:56 p.m.)

Frist: Bird flu pandemic could cost U.S. $675 billion, if country does not prepare

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Citing statistics from the Congressional Budget Office, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on Thursday said a bird flu pandemic could cost the United States $675 billion if the country does not prepare.

In a speech to the National Press Club titled "Pandemic: the Economy's Silent Killer," Frist -- who is a heart surgeon -- outlined how a flu pandemic could quickly spread.

"Think of a fast-moving, highly contagious disease that wipes out 50 million people, half a million here in the United States," Frist said. "The killer pandemic claims more victims in 24 weeks than HIV-AIDS could claim in 24 years."

He said a pandemic would generate two waves of negative economic impact. The first economic hit would be the indirect result of fear and panic, including a decline in tourism, which already has hampered Asian economies where bird flu has spread to humans. The second would be a direct result of the pandemic: massive hospitalizations and deaths resulting in the loss of productivity. (Posted 2:42 p.m.)

Downturn in housing market likely to dent, but not sink, economy, study finds

NEW YORK ( -- The expected downturn in the housing market could end up costing 800,000 construction and finance jobs, putting a big dent in economic growth over the next two years, a report from UCLA said.

But even with economic growth slowing as much as 1 or 2 percentage points, the nation should be able to avoid a recession, according to the widely watched report from UCLA Anderson Forecast.

The authors of the report admitted that they had forecast earlier this year that the slowdown in the housing market was going to start in mid-2005, which now looks like it was a little premature. But they noted that recent reports from home builders, real estate agents and the government indicate the slowdown may have now begun. --By Senior Writer Chris Isidore (Posted 2:19 p.m.)

Family of Miami shooting victim issues a statement

(CNN) -- The sister-in-law of Rigoberto Alpizar, the man shot and killed by federal air marshals at Miami's airport, read a statement from the family outside their Orlando area home Thursday.

"Rigo Alpizar was a loving, gentle and caring husband, uncle, brother, son and friend," Jeanne Jentsch said. "He was born in Costa Rica and became a proud American citizen several years ago. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him."

She would not take questions from the reporters outside her Maitland, Fla., home and asked the media to leave her property and respect her request for privacy. (Posted 2:10 p.m.)

Israeli soldier fatally stabbed at checkpoint

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- An Israeli soldier was fatally stabbed Thursday by a Palestinian at the Qalandiya checkpoint north of Jerusalem, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

"An initial inquiry of the incident shows that the Palestinian arrived at the crossing and, during his security check, pulled out a knife from his bag and stabbed the soldier," the IDF statement said. "The soldier died instantly." Qalandiya is the main crossing between Ramallah in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Israeli soldiers arrested the attacker, who is being questioned by security forces, IDF said. (Posted 1:05 p.m.)

IDF: Israeli forces target, kill senior Palestinian militant in northern Gaza

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli forces Thursday targeted and killed a senior Palestinian militant who was hiding in a building in Jabalya in northern Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The militant was a senior member of the Palestinian militant group Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of the Palestinian political party Fatah, the Israeli army said.

"The terrorist was involved in numerous terror attacks against Israeli targets," an IDF statement said. IDF called the Jabalya attack "a security forces operation," but residents said it was the result of an Israeli missile strike.

Palestinian security sources said the strike killed two Palestinian militants and seriously wounded another. (Posted 1:02 p.m.)

Review of U.S. military planted stories under way in Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. military command in Iraq has placed a Navy admiral in charge of investigating details behind a U.S. "information operation" program that paid Iraqi newspapers to run pro-American stories written by U.S. troops as if they were actual news articles, according to U.S. military officials.

Rear Adm. Scott Van Buskirk was put in charge of the investigation by the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, who ordered the probe. Last week, U.S. military officials in Iraq acknowledged the program existed.

Some lawmakers and military officials in Washington argued that programs like this would hurt the credibility of the United States as it tries to help establish democracy and freedom of the press inside Iraq. --From CNN Pentagon Producer Mike Mount (posted 12:57 p.m.)

FDA says Paxil use in pregnant women tied to heart defects in fetuses

NEW YORK ( -- Paxil, a blockbuster antidepressant from GlaxoSmithKline, increases the risk of babies' heart defects when taken during pregnancy, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

At the request of the FDA, GlaxoSmithKline has strengthened the warning label on Paxil to show that studies in pregnant women have demonstrated a risk to the fetus, according to the company and the FDA.

The FDA said a study showed that when pregnant women take Paxil during the first trimester there is a 2 percent chance of their fetus developing a heart defect, compared to 1 percent for the general population. A second study showed a 1.5 percent chance of developing defects with Paxil, compared to a 1 percent chance in expectant mothers taking other types of antidepressants, said the FDA.

Most of the defects were holes in the chambers of the heart, the FDA said.(Posted 12:40 p.m.)

Technical hearing held for 5 main suspects in failed July 21 London bombings; no pleas entered

LONDON (CNN) -- A judge Thursday set a provisional date of September 2006 for the start of the trial of five key suspects in the failed July 21 London terror bombings even though several defense attorneys said they would not be ready until 2007.

The five made a court appearance via videolink for a largely technical hearing. No pleas were entered. Ramzi Mohamed, 23; Yassin Omar, 24; Ibrahim Muktar Said, 27; and Hussain Osman, also known as Hamdi Isaac, 27, are all charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to murder in connection with the would-be bombings of three Underground trains and a double-decker bus. All four bombs misfired.

A fifth man, Manfo Kwaku Asiedu, 32, is charged with conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause explosions likely to endanger life related to an unexploded bomb found abandoned in northwest London on July 23.

None of the five spoke in Thursday's hearing except to give their names. They were ordered held in custody for a further hearing in January. No specific date was set for that hearing. --From CNN International Correspondent Paula Hancocks (Posted 12:16 p.m.)

Congressional leaders reach deal on extending Patriot Act provisions

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congressional leaders Thursday reached a deal to extend 16 provisions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire at the end of the year, lawmakers said.

"There's no doubt about the need for tools for law enforcement to fight terrorism both domestically and internationally," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. who led negotiations on the Senate side. "But equally clearly there's been a need for refinement of the protection of civil liberties and civil rights."

He said the compromise measure is "not a perfect bill but a good bill."

Negotiations on extending the provisions had been stalled for months because of concerns that the provisions may violate civil liberties. After working around the clock, Senate and House negotiators agreed to extend three provisions for four years, instead of 10, which was a key stumbling block.

Those provisions include FBI access to libraries and business records, roving wiretaps, and the "lone wolf" provision, which deals with a suspect who acts alone in a terror act. --From CNN Congressional Correspondent Ed Henry (Posted 12:12 p.m.)

5th case of bird flu in a human reported in China

(CNN) -- The fifth case of bird flu in a human has been detected in China, the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua reported Thursday.

The victim is a 31-year-old female farmer from Heishan County of Liaoning Province, Xinhua said. (Posted 11:50 a.m.)

Dean says Democrats have united plan; differences are 'very small'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Thursday his party has a plan for Iraq "that we can coalesce around" and the small differences between Democrats are being overemphasized by the media.

"I think that's mostly press gobbledygook," he told CNN's "American Morning." "The press wants to focus on the differences. The differences are pretty small, perhaps Senator Lieberman excepted."

Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut on Wednesday chided fellow Democrats for criticizing Bush during a time of war. (Posted 11:23 a.m.)

GOP: Congressional leaders reach deal on Patriot Act provisions

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congressional leaders Thursday reached a deal to extend 16 provisions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire at the end of the year, Republican leaders, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, confirmed to CNN.

Negotiations on extending the provisions had been stalled for months because of concerns that the provisions may violate civil liberties.

Senate and House negotiators agreed to extend the provisions for four years, instead of 10, which was a key stumbling block. The provisions include FBI access to libraries and business records, roving wiretaps, and the "lone wolf" provision, which deals with a suspect who acts alone in a terror act.

Some congressional leaders were concerned that if the provisions were kept on the books for another decade, they would not have had an opportunity to review any possible civil liberties violations. --From CNN Congressional Correspondent Ed Henry (Posted 11:14 a.m.)

Passenger says man, wife acted strangely before deadly confrontation at Miami's airport

MIAMI (CNN) -- Rigoberto Alpizar and his wife were acting strangely before the incident at Miami's airport that prompted air marshals to fatally confront Alpizar, said a passenger who added that she overheard the wife say that the man had not taken his medication for bipolar disorder, a mental condition.

The wife "was frantic, she was nervous, we knew there was something going on back in the cabin and apparently they had a uproar, they had a fight," passenger Mary Gardner, from Orlando, told CNN's "American Morning."

Ellen Sutliff, who said she sat near Alpizar on his flight into Miami, from Quito, Ecuador, described him as agitated even before he boarded the plane. His wife kept coaxing him, "We just have to get through Customs, please, please help me get through this," according to Sutliff.

"We're going to be home soon, and everything will be all right," Sutliff quoted the wife as saying.

Gardner said she was concerned, but was comforted when an airline pilot seated beside her told her air marshals were on the plane and aware of the situation. "There was something going on that just was not right and the pilot told me, he said ... 'Look, there's a marshal right there, they know what's going on. We're covered.'

"So we all felt fine and then, of course, everything happened." (Posted 11:12 a.m.)

Bush huddles with Republican congressional leaders to talk about Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush will meet with Republican congressional leaders Thursday morning for a briefing on Iraq and the war on terror, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace will be at the meeting as well, while Gen. John Abizaid and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad will attend via video conferencing.

This is one in a series of meetings with Congress to update them on the progress and challenges in Iraq, said McClellan. He said similar meetings with Democrats are expected. -- From CNN's Becky Brittain (Posted 10:25 a.m.)

Military spokesman: Saddam, Barzan 'properly cared for' in prison

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Saddam Hussein and his half-brother Barzan Hassan al-Tikriti have been "properly cared for" while they have been in custody, an American military official told reporters Thursday.

A reporter asked Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch about the claims both men made during the Dujail war crimes trial this week about not being treated "in a dignified manner" they expect while in detention.

"We focus in great detail on the care and comfort of any detainees" in coalition and Iraqi custody, Lynch said. "We have indeed looked to see about these allegations and both those detainees have been properly cared for."

Both men are among eight people on trial for crimes against humanity in connection with the killing and mistreatment of Dujail residents after a failed assassination attempt on Hussein 23 years ago. (Posted, 9:20 a.m.)

Top Croatian war crimes fugitive apprehended in Spain

(CNN) -- A longtime Croatian war crimes fugitive wanted for crimes during the Balkan wars has been arrested in Spain, according to the office of the prosecutor in the Hague.

The office said the procedure to transfer former Croatian Gen. Ante Gotovina to the Hague is now under way, the office said. Carla del Ponte, the chief war crimes prosecutor, said he was arrested Wednesday night in Spain's Canary Islands.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer lauded Gotovina's arrest, which has major political and symbolic significance. That's because his fugitive status has posed obstacles for Croatia's pursuit of European Union membership. (Posted, 9:20 a.m.)

Former British PM Thatcher released from hospital

LONDON (CNN) -- Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was released Thursday after being hospitalized overnight, her political party said.

According to Conservative Party spokesman Henry Macrory, doctors at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital deemed her well enough to be sent home.

Thatcher fell ill Wednesday afternoon, prompting her hospitalization and a series of medical tests.

Thatcher, now 80, retired from public life in 2002 after suffering a stroke. She has suffered a number of minor strokes since then and has appeared frail in occasional public appearances. (Posted 6:59 a.m.)

Iraq closes borders in preparation for election

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- The Iraqi government has closed its border with Syria and two provinces in preparation for the country's Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, according to a statement.

The borders between Syria and Iraq's volatile Nineveh and Anbar provinces wil be closed to pedestrians, railways and vehicles between the two countries until further notice, said a statement dated Wednesday from Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's office.

From the border to 5 kilometers inside Iraqi territory, measures in place will include a 10 p.m.- 7 a.m. curfew and a ban on carrying weapons, except for security forces. Similar measures may be implemented in other provinces as the election approaches. (Posted 5:31 a.m.)

Epsilon weakens rapidly, expected to dissipate

MIAMI (CNN) -- Epsilon, the record 26th named Atlantic storm of the 2005 season, was weakening rapidly Thursday after its maximum sustained winds diminished to tropical storm strength, forecasters with the National Hurricane Center said.

"Continued weakening is forecast, and Epsilon is expected to degenerate into a remnant low pressure system later today," the NHC said at 4 a.m. Thursday.

"The remnants of Epsilon are expected to be absorbed by a cold front by Friday." Epsilon, which became a Category 1 hurricane but never posed a threat to land, was located about 1,050 miles southwest of the Azores early Thursday. (posted 4:35 a.m.)

U.S. soldier killed, 3 wounded in roadside bomb

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A U.S. soldier was killed and three others wounded Thursday when a roadside bomb struck their patrol, a U.S. military spokesman told CNN.

The bombing occurred in eastern Baghdad. One Humvee was damaged in the attack, the spokesman said.

Since the start of the war, 2,132 U.S. troops have died in Iraq. (posted 4:15 a.m.)

30 killed, 25 wounded in Iraq suicide bombing

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A suicide bomber detonated inside a passenger bus in southern Baghdad on Thursday, killing 30 passengers and wounding 25, Iraqi police said.

The bus was departing from the al-Nahtha terminal close to the Kindi hospital and was headed to Nasiriya when the explosion occurred about 11 a.m. (3 a.m. ET), police said.

The bus was packed with passengers traveling home for the weekend, authorities said.

Officials have warned such attacks might increase as Iraq's Dec. 15 parliamentary elections draw closer. (Updated 5:32 a.m.)

Explosion in northwestern Pakistan kills at least 8 people

LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- At least eight people were killed and more than a dozen others injured in a blast that ripped through a weapons shop in northwestern Pakistan Thursday, government officials said.

The explosion took place in the town of Tank, near the Afghan border

A local official told CNN the blast was not a terrorist act. (posted 2:40 a.m.)

Japan extends troop deployment in Iraq for another year

TOKYO (CNN) -- Japan's Cabinet on Thursday extended the military deployment of troops in Iraq for a year, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said.

The deployment of 500 troops previously was set to expire this month.

"Today, the Japanese government has decided to extend the dispatch of SDF (Self-Defense Forces) by one year for the humanitarian and reconstruction support of Iraq," Koizumi said in a news conference.

"The activities of the SDF were highly valued by the people and government of Iraq," he said. "I met the Iraqi prime minister Monday and he directly requested the extension to me with highest regards to their activities." (posted 3:25 a.m.)

8 killed, at least 50 injured in Bangladesh blast

(CNN) -- Eight people were killed and more than 50 others injured Thursday in a suicide bombing in the central Bangladeshi town of Netrokona, authorities said. The bomber also died in the attack.

The dead included two police officers and five civilians, Dhaka police said. One of the deceased could not be immediately identified.

The blast occurred in front of Udichi, a cultural organization, between 10 and 11 a.m. Netrokona is located about 225 miles (360 km) north of the capital, Dhaka.

Last week, three blasts in two Bangladeshi towns killed 14 people. Authorities believe all the incidents, including Thursday's, are linked to the banned Islamic militant group Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB) -- a group, police say, has a suicide squad of 2,000 members. --Journalist Tasneem Khalil contributed to this report. (Updated 5:32 a.m.)

China mine blast kills at least 74 workers

(CNN) -- At least 74 workers were killed and 32 were missing after an explosion at a coal mine in northern China's Hebei Province Thursday, according to the official China news service Xinhua.

It is the third deadly mining accident in China in less than a month. Rescuers found the remains of 71 miners and brought 32 others to the surface alive as of 11 a.m. Thursday, but three of those died in a hospital, an official told Xinhua.

There were 188 miners underground when Wednesday's blast occurred in the Liuguantun Colliery in Tangshan City, the news service said. No cause for the blast was announced. The mine's management said 82 miners made it out safely after the blast, and 104 others were trapped underground. Investigators, however, found the actual number was two more than that, Xinhua said.

More than 150 rescuers were trying to reduce the density of gas in the mine as they searched for the missing miners. (Updated 12:27 a.m.)

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