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Thursday, January 19

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

Fire reported in W. Va. mine; 2 unaccounted for

(CNN) -- Rescue teams were combing a West Virginia coal mine early Friday for two miners who got separated from their crew as they were exiting the mine because of a reported fire, officials said.

Four mine rescue teams were working underground in an effort to reach the two, said Doug Conaway, director of the West Virginia Office of Miner's Health, Safety and Training. Two other teams were on standby and others were en route, he said.

The fire was reported Thursday night at the Aracoma Mine in Logan County, W.Va. The crew of 12 was working in the mine when a monitor went off indicating a possible fire about 5:36 p.m. Thursday, Conaway said. Two crew members somehow became separated from the others on the way out.

Individuals from the mining company went into the mine and found "evidence of a fire" on a belt drive, Conaway said. The team went as far in as they could before backing out.

The fire site was about 10,000 feet inside the mine, he said, and about 900 to 1,000 feet underground. At the request of the families involved, said Gov. Joe Manchin, the two miners' names and ages were not released. (Updated 4:21 a.m.)

6 killed, 9 wounded, 5 kidnapped in Iraqi violence

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Six Iraqis were killed and five others were kidnapped in incidents across Baghdad on Thursday and Friday, police said, while eight Iraqi police and soldiers were wounded in two bombings in restive Diyala province.

At 10:20 a.m. Friday, two Iraqi civilians were killed and a third was wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. military convoy in southeastern Baghdad, police said. The kidnapping occurred about 11 p.m. Thursday, when at least 15 masked gunmen dressed like Iraqi police commandos stormed the Najam al-Zawiya restaurant in central Baghdad, according to an Iraqi police official with Baghdad emergency police.

About 6 p.m. Thursday, gunmen fatally shot two people working inside a cell phone shop in southwestern Baghdad's al-Amil neighborhood, police said. An hour later, two barbers were shot to death inside their shop in southwestern Baghdad's al-Bayya neighborhood.

In Diyala province, four Iraqi police officers were wounded about 9 a.m. Friday when a roadside bomb struck their convoy in Muqdadiya, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Baquba, according to an official with Diyala Joint Coordination Center. Four soldiers were injured when a second roadside bomb exploded near an Iraqi Army patrol in eastern Baquba about an hour earlier. (Updated 4:33 a.m.)

50 killed, 10 injured when bus rolls into gorge

SRINAGAR, Indian-controlled Kashmir (CNN) -- At least 50 people were killed and 10 injured Friday when a bus rolled into a deep gorge near the village of Sianganji, police said.

The bus was traveling from Darhal to Rajouri, a police official said. The injured were taken to a hospital in Rajouri. The crash occurred at about 9 a.m. local time. --From Journalist Mukhtar Ahmad. (Posted 3:21 a.m.)

Journalist's father makes appeal for her release

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- The father of kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll on Friday appealed to her kidnappers to free her, saying they should "use Jill to be your voice to the world."

"I want to speak directly to the men holding my daughter Jill because they may also be fathers like me," Jim Carroll said in the statement which aired Friday on the Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera. "My daughter does not have the ability to free anyone. She is a reporter and an innocent person. Do not sacrifice an innocent soul ... as a father, I appeal to you to release my daughter for the betterment of all of us. And I ask the men holding my daughter to work with Jill to find a way to initiate a dialogue with me."

Also, Arab satellite channels on Friday aired a press conference held by Adnan Dulaimi, head of the General Conference of the Iraqi People. Dulaimi added his voice to the growing chorus calling for Carroll's release, beseeching her kidnappers to free her in the name of God.

Carroll was abducted Jan. 7 in Baghdad. She appeared Tuesday in a video aired on Al-Jazeera, in which her captors threatened to kill her unless the U.S. military released all female Iraqi prisoners within 72 hours. (Posted 2:49 a.m.)

Israel defense minister: Iran financed Tel Aviv bombing

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli officials believe Iran financed a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on Thursday in which more than 20 people were wounded, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said, and the directions came from Islamic Jihad headquarters in Syria.

Israel's Defense Ministry on Friday confirmed Mofaz's remarks, which were made Thursday after a security meeting.

A teen-age suicide bomber detonated in a food stand near an old central bus station in Tel Aviv, officials said. Palestinian security sources identified him as Sami Abed al-Hamid, 18, from the Nablus area. Al-Hamid was the only person killed, but Israeli medical services reported 22 people were wounded -- one seriously, five moderately and 14 lightly. --CNN Producer Michal Zippori contributed to this report. (Updated 3:28 a.m.)

Security beefed up in several provinces before election results announced

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Security was being tightened Friday in several Iraqi provinces as authorities prepared to release the results of the country's Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, an Interior Ministry official said.

Increased checkpoints were being set up in Diyala, Salaheddin and Anbar provinces, the official told CNN, and certain areas were being sealed off in an effort to prevent violence. The election results were to be announced later Friday.

Eleven million people went to the polls last month to vote for a 275-member Council of Representatives. The results are expected to show a Shiite majority on that council. It was not known how long the additional security measures would stay in place. --CNN Producer Terence Burke contributed to this report. (Posted 2:16 a.m.)

Fire reported in W. Va. mine; 2 unaccounted for

(CNN) -- A fire was reported Thursday night at a coal mine in Logan County, W. Va., and two mine employees remain unaccounted for, according to a spokeswoman for Gov. Joe Manchin.

Speculation is that the fire in the Aracoma Mine was sparked by a belt in the mine, Lara Ramsburg said, but the cause was unknown. Given the recent disaster at the Sago Mine in Tallmansville, W.Va., in which 11 miners died, "we're very concerned," she said. "We want to make sure we're doing everything to make sure of the safety of the two individuals who are in the mine."

But, Manchin said, "we have a difference this time. We don't have an explosion. which is good news." While carbon monoxide is always present in a mine fire, he said, levels were "nowhere near what they were in the Sago Mine." --CNNRadio's Ninette Sosa and Barbara Hall contributed to this report. (Posted 2:16 a.m.)

Stock exchange attempting to increase system capacity by next week

TOKYO (CNN) -- The Tokyo Stock Exchange, which was forced to close early this week during a massive selloff because of concerns about its system capacity, is hoping to increase that capacity as of next week, a spokesman said Friday.

The exchange closed about 20 minutes early Wednesday because of high trading volumes, with officials fearing the system might crash under the load. The number of transactions totaled about 3.5 million ahead of the close; the system's limit is 4.5 million.

The spokesman said Friday officials are trying to increase the system's capacity to 5 million as of next week. The exchange will also appoint a new chief information officer, who looks after its computer systems, he said. (Posted 2:14 a.m.)

Friends of abducted journalist believe her Arabic skills may save her

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Friends and former co-workers of abducted American journalist Jill Carroll said Thursday night her fluent Arabic and knowledge of the Middle East may help convince her kidnappers to release her unharmed.

Carroll, who was abducted Jan. 7 in Baghdad, appeared Tuesday in a video on the Arabic-language TV network Al-Jazeera in which her captors threatened to kill her unless the U.S. military released all female Iraqi prisoners within 72 hours.

"The kidnappers who took Jill need to know that Jill is only an innocent journalist ... who only went to Iraq only to convey the truth, to tell the stories of the Iraqi people," close friend Natasha Tynes said on CNN's "Larry King Live." "She had nothing to do with the war that happened in Iraq." "I'm hoping that her Arabic skills and her knowledge of the region will help her to survive this."

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, former Baghdad bureau chief for The Washington Post, met Carroll in 2002 in Amman, Jordan, where she worked for a year before going to Iraq. "Jill is a spunky, courageous woman. I was struck when I first met her by her sheer chutzpah," he said. (Posted 12:03 a.m.)

CIA: Voice on tape believed to be bin Laden's

(CNN) -- CIA intelligence officials said Thursday the voice on a newly released audiotape is believed to be Osama bin Laden -- the first message from the al Qaeda leader in more than a year.

In it, bin Laden said it is "only a matter of time" before the United States is attacked again. "Our mujahedeen were able to overcome all the security measures in oppressor European countries and the proof of that are the attacks that you have seen in major European capitals of this alliance of aggressors," he said in the poor-quality audio message, which aired on Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera.

"The operations are in the planning stages, and you will see them in the heart of your homeland as soon as the planning is complete."

Top U.S. officials responded by saying the United States would not be swayed in its fight against terrorists.

Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke said there are no plans to raise the nation's threat level from its current status of "yellow" -- or elevated -- to "orange" -- or high. (Posted 8:43 p.m.)

Spokeswoman: Ford eager to leave hospital

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (CNN) -- Former President Gerald Ford is eager to leave the Southern California hospital where he is receiving respiratory therapy, his spokeswoman said Thursday, but no predictions were made on when he might be released.

Ford was "getting out of bed, reading newspapers and eating well," according to a statement from Penny Circle, the former president's chief of staff. "He is in a good mood and wanting to return home."

On Wednesday, she said Ford might be released Thursday. Ford, 92, was admitted to Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage with pneumonia on Saturday. Another medical status report was expected Friday afternoon. (Posted 8:38 p.m.)

Medicare drug plan glitches hit at least 26 states

(CNN) -- More than half of U.S. states have intervened to get prescription drugs to mostly low -income seniors who should have been covered by Medicare's prescription drug program since it took effect Jan. 1, state officials reported Thursday.

The long-awaited drug benefit, known as Medicare Part D, has had a "rocky" start, said Martha Roherty, director of the National Association of State Medicaid Directors. At least 26 states have taken steps to make sure that poor seniors who used to receive drugs through state-run Medicaid programs get their prescriptions filled under Medicare, Roherty (prono: ROAR-ty) told CNN.

Those seniors were supposed to have been transferred to government-subsidized private insurance plans at the first of the year.

Medicare spokesman Peter Ashkenaz said Thursday the problem is believed to affect only a few hundred thousand of the 5.6 million "dual-eligible" seniors. (Posted 7:20 p.m.)

American hostage in Nigeria reportedly ill

(CNN) -- The family and company of an American oil worker in captivity in Nigeria said Thursday they are worried about his health, following reports from his kidnappers that he is gravely ill and could die.

Patrick Landry, a 61-year-old resident of Houston, was one of four hostages abducted by gunmen off the coast of Nigeria and taken captive Jan. 11. The kidnappers called Reuters news agency early Thursday to say Landry was ill and could die.

According to Reuters, the hostages spoke of deteriorating conditions. Then, one of the kidnappers got on the phone and said Laundry was seriously ill -- and the other three men in custody would be killed if he died.

Landry suffers from high blood pressure and high cholesterol, his son Dwight Landry told CNN. He added that he is concerned his father does not have enough medication with him. (Posted 7:02 p.m.)

Plane carrying Slovak soldiers crashes in Hungary

(CNN) -- An AN-24 military plane believed to be carrying 45 Slovak soldiers and three crew members crashed Thursday in rugged terrain in northern Hungary, and Hungarian rescue teams reported one survivor, government spokesman Andras Batiz said.

The crash site is in a remote mountainous area, accessible only by foot, near the Hungarian town of Telkibanya, about one mile from the Slovak border.

The survivor, identified as a 30-year-old soldier by the Hungarian National Police, was being taken to the border, Batiz said, where he will be handed over to a Slovakian rescue team for transport to a hospital in Kosice, Slovakia. It was not immediately known if the survivor was one of the soldiers or a crew member.

About 100 Hungarian special forces, using infrared goggles, climbed the rocky terrain and were searching the area in hope of finding more survivors, Batiz said. (Updated 4:25 a.m.)

Soul legend Wilson Picket dead at 64

(CNN) -- Soul singer Wilson Pickett, who rose to fame in the 1960s with such classic hits as "In The Midnight Hour" and "Mustang Sally," died Thursday at a hospital in Reston, Va., after suffering a heart attack, said his manager, Christ Tuthill.

Pickett, 64, had been suffering from health problems that forced him to stop performing last year. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

Born in Alabama in 1941, he moved as a teenager to Detroit, then a mecca for R&B music. After a stint with a group called The Falcons, he launched a solo career, striking gold in 1965 with his first hit, "In The Midnight Hour." (Posted 5:47 p.m.)

U.S. to take part in Afghan donors conference

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to London later this month to a donors conference for Afghanistan, the State Department announced Thursday.

Spokesman Sean McCormack said the conference, hosted by Britain January 31 through February 1, will "mark the beginning of a new phase in the international community's long-term partnership with Afghanistan."

Donors are expected to pledge both political and financial support to goals put forth by the Afghan government for security, development, governance, human rights and counternarcotics, McCormack said. --From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott (Posted 5:04 p.m.)

Bush administration files lawsuit seeking material from Google databases

(CNN) -- Google Inc. said it intends to "vigorously" resist a Bush administration's motion asking a court to order the popular Web site to turn over a broad range of materials.

"Google is not a party to this lawsuit and their demand for information overreaches," said Nicole Wong, associate general counsel for Google Inc. in a written statement to CNN. "We had lengthy discussions with them to try to resolve this, but were not able to and we intend to resist their motion vigorously."

The motion was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif.

The lawsuit is the government's attempt to revive the 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA) which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court on grounds it violated the First Amendment. COPA was enacted by Congress with the aim of protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors from exposure to the harmful effects of sexually explicit material on the Internet. --From CNN N.Y. Assignment Editor Lauren Rivera (Posted 4:14 p.m.)

Muslim cleric in race-hate trial says British police gave him 'freedom of speech'

LONDON (CNN) -- Muslim cleric Abu Hamza told a London court Thursday that British authorities had given his preaching the all-clear during a discussion in 1999.

"You have freedom of speech," he alleged the police had told him. "We don't have to worry as long as we don't see blood on the streets."

The alleged conversation was revealed as Hamza took the stand for the first time in his race hate trial at Britain's Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey.

Hamza, 47, denies 15 charges against him, including nine of soliciting murder and four of inciting racial hatred. (Posted 4:08 p.m.)

Democrats voice opposition to Alito's Supreme Court nomination

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Thursday kicked off a chorus of Democratic opposition to Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court, saying the federal judge has failed to demonstrate "his independence from the interests of the president."

"I cannot vote for this nomination, I will not vote for this nomination," said the Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat, speaking at Georgetown University Law Center.

Later in the day, fellow Democrats Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts -- who are among the committee's eight Democrats -- also voiced opposition to Alito after raising concerns about his stance on abortion, civil rights and his coziness with President Bush.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to recommend Alito's nomination to the Senate, which will make the final decision. Alito likely has secured the votes of all the committee's 10 GOP members. (Posted 3:14 p.m.)

Justice Department offers more in-depth legal justification for NSA Program

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Repeating the same broad legal justifications the government has used previously to defend the National Security Agency's controversial domestic surveillance program, the Justice Department on Thursday released a new document with a more in-depth defense of it.

The department's "white paper" again says the president has the legal authority to approve the program because of the power given to him in the Constitution to protect the country as well as the post-9/11 authorization to use military force passed by Congress.

"The NSA activities lie at the very core of the commander-in-chief power, especially in light of the AUMF's (authorization to use military force's) explicit authorization for the president to take all necessary and appropriate military action to stop al Qaeda from striking again," the position paper states. --From CNN Producers Kevin Bohn and Bill Mears (Posted 3:10 p.m.)

U.S. Muslim group releases statement urging release of journalist in Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Council on American-Islamic Relations on Thursday released a statement signed by a wide range of "American Muslim leaders, scholars and organizations" urging the release of American journalist Jill Carroll, seized in Iraq by militants earlier this month.

"We, the undersigned representatives of the American Muslim community, call for the immediate and unconditional release of Jill Carroll, a journalist with a well-documented record of objective reporting and respect for both the Iraqi people and Arab-Islamic culture," the statement said.

"Certainly, no cause can be advanced by harming a person who only sought to let the world know about the human suffering caused by the conflict in Iraq."

CAIR -- a top grass-roots Muslim group -- has sent a delegation to Iraq to help secure Carroll's freedom. She was kidnapped on Jan. 7 and her captors indicated they would kill her if the U.S. military didn't release Iraqi women they have in custody. The military says there are eight such women. (Posted 2:08 p.m.)

10-year Pluto mission under way

(CNN) -- The New Horizons spacecraft has started its 10-year, 3 billion-mile trip to Pluto.

The Atlas V rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 2 p.m. ET Thursday after a series of delays from the scheduled 1:08 p.m. launch time caused by low clouds obscuring optical tracking downrange.

The launch had been postponed twice -- Tuesday by strong wind gusts at the launch site and Wednesday by a weather-related a power outage at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission.

Now that it is off the ground, the spacecraft won't waste any more time in the Earth's vicinity. Once it separates from its third stage, New Horizons will speed from Earth at about 16 kilometers per second, or 36,000 miles per hour. That will send it past the orbit of the moon within nine hours after launch. (Posted 2:01 p.m.)

Iranian president pays visit to Syria

(CNN) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Syrian counterpart Thursday offered one another mutual support in their respective conflicts with the West, Syria over its activities in Lebanon and Iran over its push to develop its nuclear programs.

Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met Thursday in Damascus, where the Iranian president came for a two-day visit.

"We support the right of Iran and every state in the world to acquire peaceful (nuclear) technology," al-Assad said. "Until now, countries who oppose this have given no convincing reason. If there is a reason, they should start with Israel because it is the only one in the Middle East that owns a nuclear arsenal."

Israel neither confirms nor denies it has nuclear weapons but is widely believed to have such an arsenal. (Posted 1:32 p.m.)

Scientists examine 'ancient cosmic treasure'

(CNN) -- Scientists Thursday said they are "absolutely thrilled" with the payload of NASA's Stardust spacecraft, which they estimate contains more than a million specks of dust from a comet.

Stardust principal investigator Donald Brownlee, during a briefing at Johnson Space Center in Houston, said the mission has "exceeded all of our grandest expectations."

After a seven-year mission to fly through the tail of a comet, Stardust made a soft parachute landing in Utah Sunday. The canister containing the comet dust was then transported to Johnson Space Center in Houston, where scientists got their first look at the contents Tuesday.

The comet dust was caught in a grid filled with a special low-density substance called aerogel, designed to minimize the effects of impact. Brownlee said scientists were "totally overwhelmed" to find they could see some of the impacts in the aerogel with the naked eye. He said the comet dust looks like transparent black mineral grains. (Posted 1:21 p.m.)

N.Y. smokers at risk for cancer want cigarette leviathan to pay for annual scans

NEW YORK ( -- Marlboro smokers from New York state sued Philip Morris Thursday, demanding the tobacco giant pay for CT scans to detect early stage lung cancer, said the law firm that filed the federal suit.

The suit, filed by smokers who are at risk for cancer but have not been diagnosed, does not seek monetary damages from Philip Morris, according to the plaintiff firm Levy Phillips & Konisberg. Instead, the plaintiffs want the company to pay for annual low dose CT scans, also known as LDCS, which are generally not covered by health insurance.

Mike York, independent spokesman for Philip Morris parent Altria Group Inc., said he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit, but noted the company successfully defended itself against two similar lawsuits in state court, in West Virginia in 2001 and Louisiana in 2004. York said claims were rejected in both these cases, which demanded medical monitoring with CT scans. (Posted 1:15 p.m.)

Citing concerns of 'unchecked power,' Leahy says he will not vote for Alito

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat, Patrick Leahy, said Thursday he will not vote in favor of Samuel Alito's Supreme Court nomination, saying the judge has failed to demonstrate "his independence from the interests of the president."

"I cannot vote for this nomination, I will not vote for this nomination," said the Vermont Democrat, speaking at Georgetown University Law Center.

Leahy is the first of the committee's eight Democrats to indicate how he will vote on Tuesday. Alito likely has secured the votes of all the committee's 10 GOP members.

"It appears that he (Alito) was chosen to serve as a surrogate for the president when the Supreme Court is called upon to review this president's expansive claims of governmental power to intrude into Americans' lives," Leahy said in his speech. (Posted 12:09 p.m.)

Pentagon refuses to confirm or deny U.S. military involvement in Pakistan airstrike

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon continues to neither confirm nor deny reports that the U.S. military may have been involved in last week's missile strike in Pakistan that Pakistani officials say killed 18 people, possibly including some top al Qaeda operatives.

U.S. officials have told CNN that the CIA ordered and carried out the strike.

The CIA has its own fleet of unmanned Predator spy planes armed with Hellfire missiles, but does not have control of manned strike aircraft, so far as is known. (Posted 12:03 p.m.)

U.S. military not aware of plans to release female detainees in Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pentagon officials on Thursday said they are not aware of any plans by the U.S. military to release some eight female Iraqi prisoners held by U.S. forces in Iraq.

The comments came as the abductors of an American journalist in Iraq demanded that all female detainees held in Iraq be released or they will kill their hostage.

The female prisoners are being held because of security threats, said military officials, who added they could not say what crimes the women were being held for. --From CNN Pentagon Producer Mike Mount (Posted 11:22 a.m.)

Very rare opportunity to buy a Michelangelo

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A drawing that Michelangelo completed late in his life is for sale in a rare opportunity for art collectors to own a piece of the Renaissance master's work.

The black-chalk-on-paper sketch of a man's body will be auctioned by Christie's next Tuesday in an annual sale of Old Master drawings. It is expected to cost the buyer at least $3 million to 4 million dollars.

"Michelangelo drawings are very rare. ... We have only between six and seven hundred drawings surviving," said William O'Reilly, the head of Christie's Old Master drawings department. "Part of the reason for that is that, as far as we know, he destroyed the vast majority of his working drawings."

Almost all of the surviving Michelangelo drawings are in museums, the majority in his former family home in Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance. Fewer than half a dozen are known to be in private hands, and they rarely are offered for sale. The auction record for one of his drawings is $12 million. --From CNN Senior Producer Phil Hirschkorn (Posted 11:20 a.m.)

Islamic Jihad bomber sets off blast at old Tel Aviv bus station, wounds at least 10

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A teen-age Islamic Jihad suicide bomber blew himself up in a food stand near the old central bus station in Tel Aviv Thursday.

Palestinian security sources identified him as Sami Abed al-Hamid, 18, a member of Islamic Jihad from the Nablus area.

Al-Hamid was the only person killed, Tel Aviv police said, but at least 10 other people were wounded, one of them seriously and four others moderately.

The Palestinian Authority quickly condemned the bombing, saying it was aimed at disrupting the approaching Palestinian elections. (Posted 10:45 a.m.)

At least 15 dead in almost simultaneous bomb attacks in Baghdad

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- At least 15 people were killed and 46 wounded Thursday when nearly simultaneous attacks from a car bomb and suicide bomber struck a busy commercial area in central Baghdad, an official with Baghdad emergency police told CNN.

The official said a car bomb targeting an Iraqi police patrol exploded first on Sadoon Street, followed almost immediately by an explosion in a crowded coffee shop when a suicide bomber blew himself up.

At least three Iraqi police officers were among the dead, the official said. (Posted 10 a.m.)

New Virginia governor to rebut Bush's State of the Union speech

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who successfully rode a message of traditional Democratic ideals and moral values to victory in November, will deliver his party's rebuttal to President Bush's State of the Union address later this month, Democratic sources said.

Kaine is expected to echo national Democratic charges that Republicans foster a culture of corruption at the highest levels of government, as well as speak about his party's efforts on behalf of the middle class, the sources told CNN. The official announcement is expected to be made this week.

Kaine is a rising star in Democratic politics, having won a hard-fought contest in a Southern red state on the eve of the national midterm elections. (Posted 9:43 a.m.)

Italy to withdraw all troops from Iraq

ROME (CNN) -- Less than three months before a decisive election, Italy's government announced Thursday it will withdraw all of its 2,900 troops from Iraq by the end of the year.

Defense Minister Antonio Martino told Italy's parliament Thursday that the troops will be replaced by a civil mission that will help with Iraq's reconstruction.

By the end of January, 300 Italian forces -- part of the country's mission in Iraq called "Ancient Babylon" -- will return home and another 1,000 will leave by June. The remaining 1,600 will be gradually withdrawn by December, Martino said.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- whose government faces a tough re-election battle on April 9 -- has been a staunch U.S. ally on the war with Iraq, despite opposition to the war by most Italians. (Posted 9:41 a.m.)

Kitchen fire prompts partial Pentagon evacuation

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Several thousand workers at the Pentagon were forced from their offices Thursday when a smoky kitchen fire prompted a partial evacuation of the massive building around breakfast time.

No one was hurt in what was described by Pentagon officials as "a fire in a kitchen vent" in the executive dining room on the third floor of the Pentagon's 10th corridor that broke out about 7:45 a.m. (Posted 9:39 a.m.)

International monitors in Iraq finds 'wide range of electoral violations' in Dec. 15 poll

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- An international team monitoring Iraq's elections found a "wide range of electoral violations and irregularities" in the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. The International Mission for Iraqi Elections issued its final report Thursday.

The report said the problems "include ballot box stuffing and theft; tally sheet tampering; intimidation; violence; voter list deficiencies; shortages of ballots; multiple voting; improper conduct of the police and Iraqi National Guard; voting by security forces who had previously voted on the special voting day; campaigning within polling centers; and non-observance of the silent day."

It said that complaints considered "most serious" by Iraq's electoral commission "were properly investigated and judiciously resolved."

Such violations led the IECI "to cancel the vote in 227 out of some 30,000 polling stations." "This has left void a great number of fraudulent ballots, but has simultaneously annulled the ballots of many Iraqis who had cast their ballots in a proper manner." (Posted 8:37 a.m.)

Mother of U.S. journalist abducted in Iraq urges captors to release her daughter

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Mary Beth Carroll, the mother of abducted journalist Jill Carroll, urged the woman's captors Thursday to release the reporter, saying "they've picked the wrong person."

"If they're looking for somebody who is an enemy of Iraq, Jill is just the opposite," she said during an exclusive interview with CNN's Soledad O'Brien. "Jill has always shown the highest respect for the Iraqi people and their customs. We hope that her captors will show Jill the same respect in return," she said in a statement during the interview.

Carroll elaborated that her daughter's "fairness in reporting and her genuine concern for the Iraqi people made her the invited and welcomed guest of many Iraq friends." She said a "video just released gives us hope that Jill is alive, but has also shaken us about her fate. So, I, her father, and her sister, are appealing directly to her captors to release this young woman who has worked so hard to show the suffering of Iraqis to the world."(Posted 8:08 a.m.)

Hospital comes under fire in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE (CNN) -- A Doctors Without Borders hospital in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince came under fire Wednesday night, with bullets narrowly missing a child in the facility's pediatric ward, officials said Thursday.

Two bullets struck the pediatric ward in the hospital's upper story, officials said. One of them passed only about 45 centimeters (about 18 inches) from a patient, but none of the 22 children housed in the ward were injured.

On Wednesday, Doctors Without Borders -- known overseas as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) -- called on all armed groups "to respect the safety of civilians and allow those wounded during clashes immediate access to emergency medical care" and also called for the safety of aid workers to be respected. In its statement, the group also noted a rise in violence -- and violence-related injuries. --Journalist Amy Bracken contributed to this report. (Posted 7:26 a.m.)

U.S. kills 3 seen 'emplacing' roadside bomb near Tal Afar

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Three "terrorists" were killed on Wednesday in a strike by coalition aircraft when troops saw them "emplacing" an improvised explosive device near Tal Afar, the U.S. military said Thursday.

"Soldiers from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, along with an explosive ordnance disposal team, safely destroyed the IED, which consisted of two artillery rounds," the military said in a statement. (Posted 7:23 a.m.)

Residents evacuated after collision between trains carrying hazardous materials

(CNN) -- Between 40 and 50 households in rural Talladega County in east Alabama were evacuated overnight after a collision between two trains -- at least one carrying hazardous materials -- officials said.

The evacuation order -- for a mile radius around the crash site -- remained in effect early Thursday, said Nelson Bates, director of the county Emergency Management Agency. The crash occurred about 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, when a train headed to Atlanta caught up with a second train headed for the same destination. The first train pulled onto a siding to allow the second train to pass, and the second train struck the rear of the first, said Susan Terpay, spokeswoman for Norfolk Southern.

Three crew members were taken to hospitals with what officials said were minor injuries. Monitoring teams were at the site overnight checking the air for any possible contamination.

The collision has also disrupted Amtrak's Crescent passenger service south of Atlanta at least until Friday, Amtrak said in a statement on its Web site. -- CNN Radio's Raul Bali contributed to this report. (Posted 7:22 a.m.)

Iranian president pays visit to Syria

(CNN) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday landed in Syria for an official two-day visit aimed at holding talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara welcomed Ahmadinejad at Damascus' airport, the news agency said, and Al-Assad was to host a welcome ceremony for Ahmadinejad at the Presidential Palace within hours.

"Tehran and Damascus have a common stance on Islamic and regional issues," Ahmadinejad told reporters before departing for Damascus, according to IRNA.

Relations between the two countries have improved, he said, following the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979.

Ahmadinejad said that during his visit, he and al-Assad will confer on "bilateral, regional and international issues," IRNA reported, and the two will sign documents for economic and cultural cooperation. (posted 5:25 a.m.)

Investigation into Internet company continues; executive found dead

TOKYO (CNN) -- A Japanese Internet company said Thursday it will continue operating normally despite being the target of an ongoing government fraud investigation that sparked a massive stock selloff on Wednesday, forcing the early closure of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

In a statement, said an internal investigation had found no illegal conduct. Prosecutors are investigating allegations of security trading violations involving the company.

Meanwhile, an executive of a company involved in a Livedoor takeover bid was found dead on Okinawa Wednesday.

Hideaki Noguchi was vice president of HS Securities. His company confirmed Noguchi had been called in for questioning Monday regarding the Livedoor matter.

Okinawa police said they suspect Noguchi committed suicide, but an autopsy was being conducted. (posted 1:00 a.m.)

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