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Wednesday, December 13

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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.

Police: Islamic seperatists kill 2 Thai government engineers

From CNN's Narunart Prapanya in Bangkok

BANGKOK (CNN) -- Muslim seperatist insurgents raided a local government administration office in southern Thailand and shot to death two male engineers and wounded a female clerk Wednesday, police said.

The attack by about six armed men took place in the Krong Penang office in Yala province, about 600 miles south of Bangkok, in a building recently constructed to replace one burned down last year by insurgnets, police said. The engineers and clerk worked for the local government, police said.

The Yala province is one of the three southern-most Thai provinces in which Muslim seperatists are attempting to create a separate Islamic state in predominately Buddhist society of Thailand. Since the violence which re-ignited in January 2004, it has been reported that more than 1,700 people have been killed. (Posted 1:47 a.m.)

Sources: S.D. senator undergoing surgery at Washington hospital

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota was undergoing brain surgery Wednesday night at George Washington University Hospital after being hospitalized earlier in the day due to stroke-like symptoms, two Democratic sources familiar with his condition told CNN.

Johnson, 59, was taken to the hospital Wednesday morning after he appeared to suffer stroke-like symptoms, although a spokeswoman for the senator said subsequent evaluation showed he did not suffer a stroke or a heart attack. Staffers told CNN Johnson was conscious when he was transported to the hospital.

Johnson spokeswoman Julianne Fisher said the senator was in the Capitol Wednesday morning conducting a conference call with South Dakota reporters when "his speech pattern slipped off."

Fisher said the senator was able to walk back to his office in the Hart Senate Office Building, then began having problems with his right arm. He thought he was all right, she said, and went to his desk, but came out a few minutes later and "it was apparent he needed help." (Posted 11:13 p.m.)

Coast Guard ready for Cuba exodus following training exercise

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CNN) -- Federal and Florida officials said Wednesday they are ready for a mass exodus from Cuba to the United States -- a possibility in the event of Cuban leader Fidel Castro's death -- after conducting a two-day exercise focused on that scenario.

The exercise, called Operation Vigilant Sentry, was planned before Castro fell ill and temporarily handed power over to his brother, Raul, in July, said Coast Guard Rear Adm. David Kunkel, the head of a Department of Homeland Security task force studying the possibility of a large-scale migration. However, he said, the threat gained urgency following Castro's hospitalization.

The exercise involved more than 500 people from 75 different federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. It focused on government roles and communication during a mass migration. It also highlighted potential problems that agencies with different communication systems and databases need to overcome, Kunkel said.

Officials realize Castro's death alone may not immediately trigger a migration, Kunkel said. -- From CNN's Patrick Oppmann (Posted 10:20 p.m.)

Astronauts wrestle with space station's solar array

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Texas (CNN) -- Astronauts and flight controllers spent a long, frustrating day Wednesday attempting to retract a balky solar array on the International Space Station.

In its fully extended configuration, that array -- known as P-6 -- was preventing a new solar array -- P-5 -- from spinning on a massive rotary joint to track the sun. NASA engineers had hoped that one of P-6's two wings, made of flexible, solar panel material designed to fold and unfold like an accordion, could be fully retracted out of the way.

But the retraction process did not go smoothly, with the solar panel material bunching and buckling as astronauts attempted to fold it back up. In the end, they got it partially retracted, pulling it in far enough to provide adequate clearance for the new array to start spinning. (Posted 9:12 p.m.)

N.Korean offiicials to meet with N.M. governor

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two North Korean officials planned to travel to New Mexico Friday for a meeting with Gov. Bill Richardson, a former congressman, energy secretary and ambassador to the United Nations who has traveled to North Korea several times. A State Department official told CNN that the department had waived a rule requiring members of the North Korean mission to the United Nations to stay within 25 miles of the United Nations.

The North Koreans, Minister Kim Myong Gil and First Secretary Song Se Il, asked for the meeting, Richardson's office said.

"While I will not be acting as an official representative of the administration, I am pleased to do whatever I can to help increase understanding between our two countries and help move the 6-party talks forward," the governor said in a written statement. "I believe we have an opportunity to use diplomacy to end this crisis and bring stability to the Korean Peninsula. I will press the North Koreans to start dismantling their nuclear weapons." (Posted 8:41 p.m.)

U.S. envoy to North Korea talks sees potential for progress

From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. envoy for the North Korea talks said Wednesday that there were signs North Korea is ready to discuss specific steps toward ending its nuclear program.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill declined to elaborate on what specific steps were being discussed but said the United States was looking for progress in the upcoming six-party talks between North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States this weekend.

The talks would be the first round since North Korea's Oct. 9 nuclear test, which sparked international outrage, and the first since Pyongyang walked away from the negotiating table last year. (Posted 7:40 p.m.)

Leahy promises tough oversight of Justice Department, return to 'old rules' on judicial nominations

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The incoming Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday vowed tough oversight of the Justice Department, threatened to issue subpoenas, and angered conservatives by announcing rules changes that could block Bush administration judicial nominees.

In a stinging criticism of the administration, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., revealed that he has already informed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales he will be called in the "near future" to testify on the National Security Agency surveillance program and other controversial issues about which Democrats are seeking more information.

"I'm not prepared to accept answers of 'I can't talk about that,' or 'we'll get back to you,' because, of course, they never get back to us," Leahy said in a speech to students and faculty at the Georgetown University Law Center.

In response to a question, Leahy announced that he will "reimpose much of the old rules" for judicial nominees, which allowed home state senators to block judicial nominations. --From Justice Producer Terry Frieden (Posted 5:50 p.m.)

CDC: Lettuce 'most likely' source in E. coli outbreak

(CNN) -- Lettuce is the likely culprit for an E. coli outbreak that forced the temporary closures of more than 90 Taco Bell restaurants and sickened 71 people, an epidemiologist from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

The epidemiologist said that the CDC investigation into the outbreak -- initially thought to have been caused by tainted green onions -- had narrowed the list of possible sources to lettuce, cheese or ground beef. But, he said, after further investigation they "feel lettuce is the most likely food source in this outbreak." (Posted 5:27 p.m.)

Assisted suicide advocate Kevorkian to be paroled in June

LANSING, Mich. (CNN) -- Assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian will be paroled from prison in Michigan in June, the state's parole board voted Wednesday.

Kevorkian, 78, has been serving a 10- to 25-year sentence at a maximum-security prison in Jackson, Mich., after being convicted of second-degree murder in the 1998 death of Thomas Youk, 52, of Waterford Township, Mich., who suffered from ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

A videotape showing Kevorkian administering a lethal injection to Youk was aired on the CBS program "60 Minutes" and was also shown to a jury during his trial. (Posted 3:43 p.m.)

ACLU asks court to quash grand jury subpoena

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The American Civil Liberties Union is asking a federal judge to quash a grand jury subpoena in which the Justice Department is seeking all copies of a December 2005 government document the group possesses.

The subpoena, served Nov. 20, seeks "any and all copies" of the specific document, which was marked "Secret" with the heading "Information Paper." The ACLU says it received the three-and-a-half page document, unsolicited, on Oct. 23.

"Since the subpoena has no investigatory purpose but only a confiscatory and information-suppressing one, and the subpoena does not extend to confiscating 'any and all' copies of such documents, it should be quashed under long-standing law," states an ACLU brief filed with the U.S. District Court in New York on Monday. The court unsealed the legal documents Wednesday.

In the court filing, the ACLU says the government document concerns subjects of public interest that "relate to issues of long-standing concern to the ACLU and on which the ACLU is actively engaged in ongoing public advocacy." --From CNN Senior Producer Kevin Bohn (Posted 3:29 p.m.)

Bush, Pentagon officials meet on Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Wednesday he will not be rushed into a decision on "a new way forward in Iraq," but pledged that his new strategy will give troops there all the tools they need to "complete their mission."

Bush made remarks after a meeting with top Pentagon officials to hear their views as he seeks a new strategy for Iraq. He met with Vice President Dick Cheney, outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"I am listening to a lot of advice to develop a strategy to help you succeed, a lot of consultations," he said in a message meant for the troops serving in Iraq. "I will be delivering my plans after a long deliberation, after steady deliberation. I'm not going to be rushed into making a decision."

The president said he wanted incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who will be sworn in Monday, "to have time to evaluate the situation" and come up with his own ideas on how to proceed in the "war that we now find ourselves in."

Bush also said that his new strategy would be much more than a military one, that it would include political elements and economic elements as well. (Posted 3:20 p.m.)

Palestinian killed near Karni crossing in Gaza

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli forces fired at and hit a Palestinian armed with hand grenades and a rifle approaching the border fence just north of Karni crossing in eastern Gaza on Wednesday, Israeli military sources said.

According to Palestinian security sources, one Palestinian was killed near Nahal Oz just north of Karni crossing. (Posted 1:50 p.m.)

Trials show male circumcision reduces risk of HIV

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two trials studying the connection of male circumcision to prevention of HIV will be stopped early because an interim review of the data shows the procedure reduces the risk of HIV by about 50 percent, according to the National Institutes of Health.

"Adult male circumcision is effective at reducing HIV transmission by 48-53 percent in these studies in Uganda and Kenya," said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health. "Based on these data we have decided to end both trials early and offer circumcision to all participants."

One study in Kenya of 2,784 HIV-negative men showed a 53 percent reduction in the risk of getting HIV; another in Uganda of 4,996 HIV-negative men found male circumcision reduced the risk by 48 percent.

The findings confirm a previous study in South Africa that found male circumcision reduced the risk of HIV infection by 60 percent. (Posted 1:41 p.m.)

Priest found guilty of genocide in Rwanda

ARUSHA, Tanzania (CNN) -- A Roman Catholic priest accused of helping Hutu militias 12 years ago has been found guilty of genocide in Rwanda.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on Wednesday found Athanase Seromba, former priest of Nyange Parish, "guilty of genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity."

Seromba was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with credit for time already served.

Around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred by Hutus in the 1994 genocide in the African nation of Rwanda.

The prosecution said Seromba encouraged the demolition of a church where Tutsis had taken refuge as they fought off Hutu militia attackers. (Posted 1:07 p.m.)

Violence among Palestinians at Hamas rally in Gaza; 4 injured

NUSSEIRAT REFUGEE CAMP, Gaza (CNN) -- Palestinians taking part in a Hamas rally in this refugee camp in central Gaza on Wednesday threw a hand grenade at a house of a Fatah supporter, prompting gunfire from people inside the house, injuring four demonstrators, Palestinian security sources said.

The violence happened around 7 p.m. (noon ET).

It is the latest instance of civil unrest among Palestinians in Gaza,

Earlier in the day, a professor who was a member of the Hamas military wing was fatally shot as he drove to work at a university in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, Palestinian security sources said.

Gunmen fired from a passing car, killing Bassam al-Fara, the sources said.

The violence came two days after three young sons of a senior intelligence officer with the rival Fatah movement were shot to death as they arrived at their school in Gaza City. (Posted 12:50 p.m.)

Bad weather again the nemesis for Oregon searchers

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNN) -- Freezing rain, sleet and wind gusts up to 69 mph were preventing rescuers Wednesday from reaching the higher elevations of Mount Hood, where one of three missing climbers is believed to be holed up in a snow cave, said a spokesman for the Oregon Army National Guard.

Therefore, the searchers planned to focus on lower elevations, where the other two men may be located, said Capt. Chris Bernard of the 304th Rescue Squadron." Mount Hood, 11,239 feet high, is Oregon's highest mountain.

Asked how long the men could survive on the volcanic mountain, Gerry Tiffany said, "If they have the ability to heat some water, stay warm and dry. Yes, they can do it. They can last quite a few days."

The 21 searchers, who were to be joined by a team from Eugene, had another tactic Wednesday -- an unmanned, heat-seeking aircraft from Colorado that might be able to detect heat from the men's bodies. (Posted 12:01 p.m.)

Chertoff: Tuesday's meat-packing raids net 1,282 arrests for immigration violations

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal agents arrested 1,282 workers on charges of immigration violations after raiding six meat-packing facilities Tuesday as part of an investigation into an identity theft scheme, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said Wednesday.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid targeted suspected illegal workers believed to have been involved in procuring false documents that allowed them to work at the facilities run by Swift & Company.

Of those arrested, 65 were also charged with identity theft or similar charges, Chertoff said.

The raids were carried out at processing facilities in Greeley, Colo. -- where Swift & Co. is based; Grand Island, Neb.; Cactus, Texas; Hyrum, Utah; Marshalltown, Iowa; and Worthington, Minn. (Posted 11 a.m.)

Bush, Iraqi president speak

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani spoke on the phone Wednesday about the way forward in Iraq.

The conversation was confirmed by White House spokesman Tony Snow and Talabani's office.

Bush called Talabani and the two spoke for about 15 minutes.

Snow said they spoke about the ongoing review of strategy in Iraq and Bush sought Talabani's advice on the way ahead.

Both leaders spoke of a shared vision in Iraq, Snow said. (Posted 10:48 p.m.)

Bush, Pentagon officials meeting on Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush meets Wednesday with top Pentagon officials to hear their views on the way forward in Iraq.

He is sitting down with incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates, outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

A major question is whether Bush should dispatch more troops to Iraq to try to restore order and help push forward political amity. That would go against the advice of the Iraq Study Group, which opposed deploying more troops.

Bush is studying the group's report and gathering the analysis of others in the government before he decides on what to do next in Iraq. (Posted 10:33 a.m.)

Saudis warn U.S. they would support Sunnis if U.S. leaves, Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis fight

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah warned Vice President Cheney that if the United States pulled out of Iraq then Saudi Arabia would back the Sunnis, according to a source.

A senior American official says that Abdullah read the "riot act" about the deteriorating situation in Iraq to the vice president when the two met a Nov. 25 in Riyadh and said that Abdullah was very tough on Cheney.

Abdullah, according to the source, told Cheney that the Arabian Kingdom would be forced to step in and support "like-minded Sunni Arabs" if the situation in Iraq fell apart and the Sunni minority's safety in Iraq was in jeopardy.

But Abdullah did not mean to imply Saudi Arabia would support al Qaeda in Iraq, according to the source, but rather tribal groups. However, some of these tribal groups overlap with insurgents who are fighting Americans, the source conceded.

Lee Anne McBride, Cheney's spokeswoman, said, "The conversation with King Abdullah was confidential. The vice president briefed the president in detail upon his return. The reporting on the substance of the meeting is speculation." --From State Department producer Elise Labott (Posted 9:55 a.m.)

U.S. congressional delegation visits Iraq; al-Maliki says country moving ahead

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Iraq's prime minister and a U.S. congressional delegation met Wednesday in Baghdad.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki received the delegation, which included Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and four others.

The prime minister's office said the lawmakers are renewing their support of Iraq's political process and the government's efforts to establish security and stability.

Al-Maliki said the government is moving ahead with the process of national reconciliation, reconstruction plans, and expanding its political base. (Posted 9:35 a.m.)

Suffolk police investigate links between the killings of five suspected prostitutes

IPSWICH, England (CNN) -- Suffolk police Wednesday are combing through rural areas outide this town in eastern England hoping to find out who is behind the suspected killings of five women -- all believed to be prostitutes -- that may be the work of a lone serial killer.

Police are warning prostitutes to stay off the streets, fearing the killer or killers could strike again.

Investigators looking into the murders of three female prostitutes whose bodies were found outside Ipswich in recent weeks, found two more bodies on Tuesday.

While the two bodies have not be identified pending autopsies, police fear they may be Paula Clennell, 24, and Annette Nicholls, 29, two missing prostitutes, Gull said.

The other three victims have been identified as Gemma Adams, 25; Tania Nicol, 19 and Anneli Alderton, 24, British media reported. All three women were sex workers, media reports said. (Posted 7:40 a.m.)

Iraqis intend to assume primary responsibility for security in Baghdad soon

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- The Iraq government has come up with a plan for Baghdad that would put its security forces in the lead and place coalition forces at the edges of the war-torn capital, a government official told CNN.

National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie, who discussed the plan in a New York Times interview, then elaborated on it with CNN Wednesday.

"The idea is for the Iraqi security forces in Baghdad to assume more responsibilities," he said. "We need to be able to be given a chance of proving ourselves. Even if we make a mistake, this is going to be an Iraqi mistake and we will learn from our mistakes."

Under the plan, coalition forces would still be very much involved. They would provide logistical and intelligence support, and coalition troops would be embedded within the Iraqi security forces "to make sure they're doing their job properly," al-Rubaie said. (Posted 6:55 a.m.)

Anti-terror court throws out charges against alleged suspect in British bombing plot

ISLAMMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- An anti-terrorism court Wednesday threw out all charges against Rashid Rauf, including a charge of abetting a plan to bring down flights from London to the United States.

According to a verdict handed down by a judge, the charges against Rauf were "flimsy" and had "no substance."

However, the judge left open the possiblity that new charges may be filed against Rauf in the regular court system.

Rauf was arrested by Pakistani authorities in August. They accused Rauf, who is from Birmingham in England, of being in contact with the al Qaeda terror network and knowing about the plot to blow up airliners.

Britain has asked for the extradition of Rauf but he remains in Pakistani custody. -- From CNN's Syed Mohsin Naqvi in Lahore (Posted 6:54 a.m.)

Vehicle bombs kill 17, wound 36 in Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Vehicle bombs exploded in Iraq Wednesday morning, killing at least 17 people and wounding 36, Iraqi officials said.

A car bomb exploded in busy outdoor market in eastern Baghdad, killing at least 10 people and wounded 26, an official with Iraq's interior ministry said. The bomb blast happened about 9 a.m. in the Kamaliya neighborhood, a mostly Shiite area, near where poor day laborers were gathered waiting to be offered jobs, the official said. The site of the blast is also near a Shiite mosque, the official said.

Another attack involved two vehicle-borne bombs that exploded in northern Iraq, killing seven Iraqi soldiers and wounding 10, police said. The drivers of two trucks loaded with explosives crashed through into the gate of the Iraqi Army base in the town of Riyahd, which is 25 miles west of Kirkuk, at about 11 a.m. Wednesday, police said. --CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report. (Posted 5:20 a.m.)


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