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Friday, April 21

Editor's Note: The CNN Wire is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents and producers, and The CNN Wire editors. "Posted" times are Eastern Daylight.

Source: Defense attorneys questioning alleged victim's ID of suspects

DURHAM, N.C. (CNN) -- Defense attorneys representing two Duke University lacrosse players charged with raping a woman hired to dance at a team party in March are questioning the process by which the alleged victim identified her attackers, a source close to the defense told CNN Friday.

The source said the alleged victim was shown images of the 46 white players on the team and was told beforehand that she would be looking at people police had reason to believe attended the party. The defense will likely file a motion to suppress the identification because no pictures of non-team members were included in the presentation, the source said.

District Attorney Mike Nifong did not return a call seeking comment on the identification procedure. However, legal experts have told CNN that authorities would not necessarily be required to show pictures of unrelated people along with pictures of the lacrosse players. -- From CNN Correspondent Jason Carroll (Posted 11:00 p.m.)

Queen Elizabeth II feted by subjects, saluted by son on 80th birthday

LONDON (CNN) -- As a smiling Queen Elizabeth II looked on, surrounded by her family, fireworks lit up the skies over London Friday night, culminating a day of salutes and well wishes for the British monarch on her milestone 80th birthday.

Earlier, the queen's oldest son and heir, Prince Charles, offered a touching tribute to "my darling Mama" in a television broadcast, in which he lauded her as an example of "service, duty and devotion" in a fast-changing world.

"My sentiments today are those of a proud and loving son, who hopes that you will join with me in wishing the queen the happiest of happy birthdays, together with the fervent prayer that there will be countless memorable returns of the day," the prince said. (Posted 9:07 p.m.)

Nagin, throng of challengers, vie to lead New Orleans in mayoral vote

NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- New Orleans residents will take a time out Saturday from their struggles to rebuild and reclaim their lives to vote in one of the oddest mayoral elections in American history -- a watershed event where they will pick the person who will oversee the Crescent City's comeback fight.

Incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin, whose performance before, during and after Hurricane Katrina has been endlessly dissected, discussed and critiqued, faces an astounding 20 challengers in his bid for re-election, which was postponed nearly three months to give election officials in the storm-ravaged city more time to prepare.

His strongest rivals are expected to be Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, scion of a New Orleans political dynasty, and Ron Forman, a first-time office seeker with strong ties to the city's business community who has raised more than $1.6 million since jumping into the race in mid-February.

Polls open Saturday at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. (7 a.m.-9 p.m. ET.) If no candidate wins a majority, a runoff election will be held May 20 between the top two finishers. (Posted 9:05 p.m.)

Aide: Frist will bring immigration bill back to Senate floor by Memorial Day

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will bring a stalled immigration reform bill back to the Senate floor by Memorial Day, a Republican leadership aide confirmed to CNN Friday.

Frist will also propose adding $2 billion in border security funding to the measure, in what the aide said was a "bow" to conservative critics of the legislation. After the measure stalled in the Senate two weeks ago, Frist said he planned to bring it back up but made no commitments.

GOP congressional aides and White House officials have been working to revive the legislation, in an effort to show that Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, can get something done on what has become a hot-button election year issue. --From CNN Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash (Posted 9:04 p.m.)

Australian soldier dies in Iraq

(CNN) -- An Australian soldier serving in Iraq died Friday from a single, non-combat-related gunshot wound, according to an Australian Department of Defense spokesman.

The soldier was assigned to the Operations Catalyst Security Detachment in Baghdad, the spokesman said. He was transported to a U.S. hospital in Iraq, but later died. No one else was injured in the incident, which was not related to combat action, the spokesman said. No further details were released pending an investigation.

The soldier is the first Australian Defense Force soldier to die in Iraq since the war began. (Updated 8:27 p.m.)

Suicide rate for U.S. Army soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan up in 2005

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In 2005, 25 active duty U.S. Army soldiers committed suicide while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan -- nearly twice as many as the year before, when 14 took their own lives, according to the latest Army statistics.

But, three years into the war in Iraq, military research doesn't indicate that combat in itself is the sole cause. "The nemesis, in many cases, is failed relationships, financial problems -- perhaps it's substance abuse and other factors that are out there," said Army spokesman Col. Joseph Curtin.

During the war, the Army has sent more than 230 mental health counselors into some front-line areas, and commanders are trained to look for signs of depression in the ranks. -- From CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr (Posted 8:10 p.m.)

Document: DHS to share airline passenger information in bird flu outbreak

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In the event of an Avian flu pandemic, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would share airline passenger information with the Centers for Disease Control, which would use it track down passengers who might have been exposed on flights, according to a government document obtained by CNN.

The 13-page Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security says airline passenger information would be shared with the Centers for Disease Control if the CDC Director determines that notification of passengers, crews, or their contacts "are reasonably necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of disease from a foreign country into the United States or from one state or possession to another."

A DHS official says the data, likely only a name and phone number, would be used to track down airline passengers who might have been exposed to a highly contagious illness on a flight so they could be given appropriate medical evaluation and treatment. -- From CNN Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve (Posted 7:55 p.m.)

House ethics committee's top Democrat steps aside amid probe of finances

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The ranking Democrat on the House ethics committee agreed Friday to temporarily step aside, amid an investigation into his personal finances triggered by a complaint from a conservative group.

Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., said that while the charges are "frivolous," responding to them "will require my time and attention."

"I have reluctantly concluded that the interests of both the committee and my constituents would be served by temporarily stepping aside as ranking member while I deal with this attack," Mollohan said in a letter to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Pelosi announced Mollohan will be replaced as ranking member by Rep. Howard Berman, a California Democrat who has previously served on the ethics panel. (Posted 5:22 p.m.)

Federal charges filed against woman who heckled Hu

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal charges were filed Friday against a heckler who interrupted an otherwise highly scripted ceremony welcoming Chinese President Hu Jintao to the White House a day earlier, berating him for the persecution of the Chinese religious sect Falun Gong.

Wen Yi Wang, 47, was charged with harassing a foreign official -- a federal misdemeanor punishable upon conviction by up to six months in prison and a fine of $5,000.

Wang appeared Friday before Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson in Washington, and a preliminary hearing in the case was set for May 3. She was freed on her own recognizance, but ordered to stay away from the White House.

After her court appearance, Wang, a physician and a Falun Gong practitioner, said she had not committed a crime, but an act of "civil disobedience." The real crime, she told a group of applauding supporters, is being committed by China's Communist government, which she said harvests organs from living Falun Gong followers in hospitals, labor camps and detention centers before throwing their bodies into incinerators. (Posted 7:02 p.m.)

Web forum threat leads TSA to issue advisory to airport managers, aircraft owners

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Transportation Security Administration has sent an advisory to aircraft owners and operators as well as airport managers urging them to review security measures in light of a threat posted on a Web forum.

The advisory quotes the April 13 Web posting as saying, "We call upon all Muslims to follow and identify private civilian American aircrafts in all airports of the world. ... It is the duty of Muslims to destroy all types of private American aircrafts."

The advisory says the message told readers how to identify an American aircraft and provided the tail number of a private aircraft allegedly used by the CIA.

TSA spokeswoman Amy von Walter said there is no corroborating intelligence or information relating to the message and "there is no specific credible threat," but the advisory was sent out of an abundance of caution. --From Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve (Posted 5:07 p.m.)

Merck found liable in latest Vioxx verdict

( -- A jury in a Texas border town found drug maker Merck liable Friday in the death of a former Vioxx patient.

The jury in Rio Grande City held Merck responsible for $32 million in damages, according to a clerk at the 229th Judicial District Court of Texas. The damages included $25 million in punitive and $7 million in compensatory damages.

The family of Leonel Garza, 71, sued Merck, blaming Vioxx for Garza's fatal heart attack in 2001.

Some 11,000 lawsuits have been filed against Merck since the withdrawal of Vioxx, an arthritis painkiller, from the market in 2004 after a study showed it increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes. In 2003, its last full year on the market, Vioxx sales totaled more than $2 billion. (Posted 3:58 p.m.)

CIA: Agency officer fired in leak of classified information

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A CIA officer has been fired from the agency for leaking classified information to an unauthorized person, a CIA spokeswoman said Friday.

The officer admitted to "unauthorized discussions with the media in which the officer knowingly and willfully shared classified intelligence including operational information," said spokeswoman Michelle Neff.

A U.S. official said the person's name has been turned over to the Justice Department, where a determination will be made whether to file criminal charges.

The Justice Department is conducting its own investigations into a number of recent leaks of classified information, including ones about the CIA's secret prisons and the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program. (Posted 3:54 p.m.)

CNN producer removed from Hu photo-op after asking question

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CNN) -- A CNN producer was removed from covering a private meeting Friday at Yale University after calling out a question about whether Chinese President Hu Jintao had seen protesters lined up outside.

The producer, Joe Vaccarello, directed his question to Yale President Richard Levin because Hu does not speak English.

Vaccarello was told he had broken a rule against asking questions at the "photo op," during which Hu and Levin exchanged gifts and Hu met with four students. Vaccarello was escorted from the building.

He said he had not been told he could not ask questions at the event.

"Every other reporter knew the ground rules" of the photo op, Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky told CNN. "This was a very intimate event -- it wasn't the speech."

She said two CNN employees had been told the event was only a photo op, but was unsure if they were told no questions would be allowed. She argued that was "obvious."

It is not unusual for journalists to ask questions at designated photo ops. Often, the questions are ignored. (Posted 3:23 p.m.)

U.S. calls on Russia to freeze arms sales to Iran

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is urging Russia and other countries to stop the sale of arms and other sensitive technology to Iran in an effort to pressure Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

"It's time for countries to use their leverage against Iran," Undersecretary Nicholas Burns said Friday. "We think it's very important that countries like Russia freeze any arms sales planned for Iran."

In recent weeks the United States has stepped up its pressure on Moscow to stop its planned sale of Tor surface-to-air missiles to Iran.

"We hope and we trust that that deal will not go forward," said Burns, who just returned from Moscow, where he met this week with officials from Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany to coordinate a diplomatic strategy for dealing with Iran. --From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott (Posted 2:41 p.m.)

Shiite bloc in Iraq picks new PM candidate, breaking impasse in government formation process

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Shiite lawmakers in Iraq have selected a prime minister candidate to replace Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a move that is expected to jump-start the stalled political process in the nation, according to two members of a top Shiite party.

He is Jawad al-Maliki, a member of parliament from Iraq's Dawa Party. The choice was made during a meeting of the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite-led coalition that won the Dec. 15 parliamentary election.

Two representatives of a group in the alliance, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, confirmed the development.

The choice received the endorsement from a top Sunni Arab leader. Tariq al-Hashimi -- secretary general of the Iraqi Islamic Party -- said he thinks the choice is a good and is looking forward to working with al-Maliki. (Posted 1:34 p.m.)

U.S. Marine killed in Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A U.S. Marine died Thursday in Iraq's Anbar province, the U.S. military said in a statement issued Friday.

The service member was assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7 and "died due to enemy action."

The number of U.S. troops and military civilians killed in the Iraq war now stands at 2,381. (Posted 1:05 p.m.)

Gas prices soar amid reports of shortages

NEW YORK ( -- Gasoline prices popped above $3 a gallon in more parts of the United States this week, amid reports of spot shortages in some markets.

Gas prices shot up three cents on average Friday, to $2.855 for a gallon of regular, according to the motorist organization AAA, which says the average is above $3 a gallon in California, Washington D.C., Hawaii and New York.

But although there were widespread media reports of shortages, experts say any disruptions are normal, as gas stations make the switch to cleaner-burning summer fuel.

AAA said Friday it had received reports of shortages at eight service stations, all in the Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del., area. (Posted 12:58 p.m.)

FBI alleges terror suspects part of international plan to attack U.S. targets

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Two Atlanta-area men now in federal custody as part of a terrorism investigation discussed locations for a terrorist attack in the United States, according to newly unsealed court documents.

Syed Ahmed, 21, was arrested last month in Atlanta and pleaded not guilty earlier this week to charges of material support for terrorism. Ehsanul Sadequee, 19, was arrested earlier this week in Bangladesh and handed over to the FBI, which was flying him back to New York. He is expected to be arraigned in federal court in Brooklyn on a charge of making false statements during an interview with an FBI agent last August.

An affidavit from FBI agent Michael Scherck details the case against the two men, saying they traveled together from Atlanta to Canada in March 2005 where, according to Ahmed, they met with three men who are the subject of an FBI international terrorism investigation.

"Ahmed further explained that, during some of these meetings, he, Sadequee and the others discussed strategic locations in the United States suitable for a terrorist strike, to include oil refineries and military bases," the affidavit says. --From CNN's Henry Schuster (Posted 12:38 p.m.)

Abbas cancels appointment of Palestinian militant to head new security force

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday canceled the appointment of a Gaza militant to head a new security branch.

In a separate development Friday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak invited Interim Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to make an official visit to Egypt.

In addition to revoking the appointment of Abu Samhadana to head the new force, Abbas also canceled the formation of the unit, which was announced Thursday by Said Siam, the Palestinian interior minister in the Hamas-led government.

In announcing the new security force, Siam said it would help the government deal with the problem of armed men in Gaza.

Samhadana is the founder and head of the Popular Resistance Committees, an umbrella organization for several militant groups.

The Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz quoted Samhadana Friday as saying his first goal would be to unite Palestinian militant groups.

Israel said Friday it will continue pursuing Samhadana regardless of the appointment, the newspaper reported.

Sources in Abbas' office said Abbas will travel to Jordan Friday in an attempt to repair damage in the Palestinian Authority's relationship with Jordan.

Earlier this week, Jordanian officials put off a visit by Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Al-Zahhar after announcing they had found Syrian supplied weapons that Hamas had smuggled into Jordan.

Hamas denied having smuggled the weapons into Jordan. (Posted 9:31 a.m.)

Nepal's king vows return of political power to the Nepalese people in effort to end unrest

KATHMANDU, Nepal (CNN) -- Nepal's King Gyanendra on Friday vowed to return political power to the people of Nepal.

The move aimed to stem the nationwide unrest that has paralyzed the tiny Himalayan kingdom.

He called upon the striking seven-party alliance to come up with the name of a prime minister candidate.

The move, made by the king on national television, comes after two weeks of massive pro-democracy protests and street violence that led to 14 deaths. (Posted 9:29 a.m.)

U.S. military: Insurgent killed in fighting near Iraq city of Baquba

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- An insurgent was killed and two others were wounded in fighting between U.S. troops and suspected militants late Thursday near Baquba, the U.S. military said Friday.

Task Force Band of Brothers had been patrolling south of the Diyala province city "when they observed several individuals flee as they approached."

The soldiers searched the area and discovered a small cache of weapons and stolen Iraqi uniforms. The troops engaged the insurgents as they returned to remove the cache, killing one and wounding two others."

The weapons cache included AK-47 assault rifles, hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenade warheads and were to be disposed at a coalition base. (Posted 8:13 a.m.)

Queen Elizabeth II is 80: 'Happy birthday, your majesty'

WINDSOR, England (CNN) -- To the tune of a brass band playing "Happy Birthday," Queen Elizabeth II joined throngs of loyal subjects at Britain's Windsor Castle on Friday to celebrate her 80th birthday.

Dressed in a red outfit and matching hat, the queen embarked on a public walkabout outside the castle, west of London, accepting flowers and best wishes from thousands of supporters lining the streets.

The swell of support for the monarch -- 10 years away from rivaling Queen Victoria's record 64-years on the throne -- is likely to improve the profile of the British royal family at a time when its relevance is frequently called into question.

In an interview ahead of her birthday, a close friend of the queen, whose duties are largely ceremonial, said she has ruled out the prospect of abdication, and despite her age, she has showed no signs of slowing down. (Posted 7:39 a.m.)

Shiite coalition in Iraq meeting to choose new prime minister candidate

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Iraq's Shiite-led parliamentary coalition began meeting on Friday to reconsider its prime minister nomination, a choice expected to break the country's grinding political paralysis.

An aide to transitional Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari told CNN that the grouping is considering three people for the all-important prime minister's job.

They are al-Jaafari, as well as parliament members Jawad al-Maliki and Ali al-Adeeb -- all of whom are from the Dawa Party, the large Shiite political movement.

The coalition -- which intends to select only Dawa members for the prime minister position -- hopes to choose a candidate by the time parliament convenes on Saturday.

Iraqi politicians on Thursday said a plan is in the works to present to parliament candidates for speaker, president and prime minister.

Iraq's political logjam has revolved around al-Jaafari, who had been the prime minister during the transitional government period that began early last year. --From CNN Producer Auday Sadek (Posted 7:38 a.m.)

U.S. service member killed in Afghan fighting

(CNN) -- A U.S. service member in Afghanistan was killed on Friday in an attack, the coalition command said in a statement.

Attackers wielding small arms struck a patrol investigating a cache near Deh Rawod in Uruzgan province, in the southern part of the country.

An Afghan National Army soldier was wounded and then evacuated to Kandahar for treatment. This brings the number of U.S. deaths in Operation Enduring Freedom to 281. (Posted 6:35 a.m.)

Nagin, throng of challengers, vie to lead New Orleans in mayoral vote

NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- New Orleans residents will take a time out Saturday from their struggles to rebuild their lives to vote in one of the oddest mayoral elections in American history -- a watershed event where they will pick the person who will oversee the Crescent City's comeback fight.

Incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin, whose performance before, during and after Hurricane Katrina has been endlessly critiqued, drew an astounding 22 challengers in his bid for re-election, which was postponed nearly three months to give city election officials more time to prepare.

His strongest rivals are expected to be Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, scion of a New Orleans political dynasty, and Ron Forman, a first-time office seeker with strong ties to the city's business community.

Polls open Saturday at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. (7 a.m.-9 p.m. ET.) If no candidate wins a majority, a runoff election will be held May 20 between the top two finishers. (posted 5:38 a.m.)

Anti-king protests resume in Nepal after curfew lifted

KATHMANDU, Nepal (CNN) -- Opponents of Nepal's king resumed protests in Kathmandu Friday shortly after a curfew expired, burning a motorcycle to express their anger.

About 200 demonstrators turned out Friday morning in the Kalanki neighborhood, a center of protests.

"It's clear that (the protests) will continue today as well," said Ian Martin, a spokesman for the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. "We're already getting reports of numbers of people gathering at some of the same places as yesterday."

A government-imposed curfew was lifted Friday at 3 a.m., but resumed again at 9 a.m. and extended until 8 p.m.

That left residents little time to stock up on supplies. They could be seen going from shop to shop, but staples like milk and foodstuffs were scarce. (posted 4 a.m.)

Magnitude 7.7 quake jolts northeastern Russia

(CNN) -- An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.7 jolted a sparsely populated area of Russia's Kamchatka peninsula Friday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

A duty officer at the Koryakia division of the Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations confirmed the quake, and said there are reports of injuries but no fatalities.

The quake's epicenter, the officer said, was not far from the village of Telichiki, which has a population of about 2,000. No damage to the village was reported, except for partial damage of an airstrip at the local airport, the officer said. (Updated 10:32 p.m.)

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