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Friday, January 5

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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.

Army apologizes for urging dead and wounded officers to return to service

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Army is apologizing to families of about 275 dead and wounded officers that it said received a letter urging them to consider returning to military service.

The Army made the announcement Friday in a news release.

The letters were sent late last month to more than 5,100 officers, the statement said, but the database used to mail them still contained the names and addresses of 75 dead and 200 wounded officers. (Posted 9:17 p.m.)

Brownback ready to announce run for GOP nomination

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., plans to formally announce his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination on Jan. 20 in Topeka, Kan., an aide told CNN Friday.

Brownback filed papers in December to form an exploratory committee. He is expected to make the announcement and then return to Washington for the annual March for Life.

Brownback is an anti-abortion rights lawmaker who has also led the fight against human cloning. The Kansas Republican has also been a leading voice against the genocide in Sudan. Brownback, who often speaks about Ronald Reagan ideals, is expected to try to appeal to social conservatives in his party. (Posted 6:18 p.m.)

Biden says he'll form exploratory committee near end of January

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware said Friday that he expects to form a presidential exploratory committee around the end of January, the first formal step in a bid for the 2008 Democratic nomination.

"It is my intention to run. I've been very straightforward about that for the past six or eight months," Biden told CNN's "The Situation Room." "We haven't picked the exact date."

Biden, 64, is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the newly Democrat-controlled Senate. He has represented the Blue Hen State in the Senate since 1972, making him the chamber's sixth longest-serving member. He has previously served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. (Posted at 6:09 p.m.)

NTSB, FAA investigating near-collision of planes at Denver airport

DENVER (CNN) -- Federal authorities are investigating a near collision Thursday at Denver International Airport, where a commuter plane and an airliner came within 50 feet of each other while the airliner was attempting to land, officials said.

The incident occurred about 7:30 a.m. as Frontier Airlines Flight 297 was about to land, the National Transportation Safety Board said. As it came out of low clouds, "the Frontier flight crew saw a Swearingen Metroliner, Key Lime Air Flight 4216, which had inadvertently entered the runway."

The Frontier flight executed a "missed approach" and climbed, said the NTSB, which is investigating along with the Federal Aviation Administration. (Posted 5:32 p.m.)

Rice to testify on Iraq before Senate committee Thursday

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will go to Capitol Hill next Thursday to discuss the Bush administration's new strategy for Iraq with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The committee's new Democratic chairman, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, and ranking Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, announced a tentative schedule Friday for four weeks of hearings on Iraq, including the appearance by Rice.

In a statement announcing the hearings, Biden, an outspoken critic of the administration's Iraq policy, said their purpose is "not to revisit the past, but to help build a consensus behind a new course."

"The purpose of these hearings will be to seek an answer to the question currently dominating the national debate -- what options remain to secure America's interests in Iraq? Where do we go from here?" Biden said. (Posted 5:15 p.m.)

Gates shakes up U.S. command in Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon shook up the ranks of U.S. commanders in Iraq on Friday, acting to bring home the top American general there and replace him with a general who has served there twice before.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the changes Friday afternoon as recommendations to President Bush. All will require Senate confirmation.

Under the proposal, Gen. George Casey, the commander of U.S. and allied troops in Iraq, would return to Washington to serve as chief of staff of the Army, Gates said. Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the former head of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, would be promoted to four-star rank and replace Casey at the U.S. command in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, Adm. William Fallon, now head of the U.S. Pacific Command, would replace the retiring Gen. John Abizaid as the chief of Central Command -- the headquarters of American forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Posted 4:05 p.m.)

DHS retools grant process in effort to avoid repeat of last year's public relations disaster

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Hellbent on avoiding the public relations disaster that accompanied the awarding of homeland security grants last year, Secretary Michael Chertoff on Friday announced that this year's grants -- totalling $1.7 billion -- will be awarded to cities and states using a process he described as more refined, simplified and transparent.

The department will engage in more "back and forth" discussions with grant applicants, high-risk cities will be allowed to propose spending some of the money on salaries, and the list of what are called "critical infrastructure" sites -- which ballooned to 200,000 sites, including many of dubious value -- has been honed to about 2,100.

"This does not include popcorn factories or hotdog stands or any of the stuff which came in for ridicule over the last year," Chertoff told reporters. The new list includes major power plants, dams and other sites that, while confidential, few would be surprised to see included, he said.

The biggest grant program -- the Urban Areas Security Initiative, or UASI, grants program -- faces some of the biggest changes. As before, about 45 cities will be eligible to compete for $747 million (up from $711 million last year), but this year the cities will be divided in two tiers, with six "most threatened" metropolitan areas set apart to compete for the lion's share of the money. --From CNN Producer Mike M. Ahlers (Posted 3:41 p.m.)

Lawmakers say Bush should resist urge to surge

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The new leaders of Congress on Friday urged President Bush not to pour more U.S. troops into the war in Iraq, calling the idea "a strategy that you have already tried and that has already failed."

"Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain. And it would undermine our efforts to get the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future," wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "We are well past the point of more troops for Iraq."

Bush has said he will announce a new war strategy next week, and sources with knowledge of the president's deliberations have told CNN that he is likely to order a "surge" of 20,000 to 40,000 U.S. troops to Iraq to bolster the roughly 140,000 now there.

But the Democratic leaders who took control of Congress on Thursday oppose the idea, and many of Bush's fellow Republicans have expressed skepticism as well. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M, said Friday that the U.S. military's recent effort to crack down on the sectarian killings that plague Iraq have failed "because I believe we were trying to do for the Iraqis what they must do for themselves." (Posted 1:26 p.m.)

GOP lawmaker: U.S. released half the top al Qaeda targets in Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. military is operating a "catch-and-release" program with al Qaeda in Iraq, a Republican lawmaker said Friday, charging it has previously caught and released half the major terrorist figures it is now seeking.

Speaking to the National Press Club, Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., said, "There is an infuriating fact that is seldom discussed: Fully half of the high-value al Qaeda targets in Iraq have been captured and released before.

"As one senior official that I talked to put it, 'I have great photographs of half of the people we're hunting. They're wearing orange jumpsuits in the mug shots we took of them when we captured them the first time.'"

She added, "We are operating a catch-and-release program for al Qaeda in Iraq. This is inexcusable and frustrating as all get out for the young men and women in the military who are in the fight." (Posted 11:49 a.m.)

Job growth picked up in December, still down for 2006

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Recent concerns about a weakening U.S. economy took a step back Friday morning as the closely watched December employment report showed much stronger job and wage growth than had been expected.

Employers added 167,000 jobs to U.S. payrolls in December, up from 154,000 in November, which was revised higher, the Labor Department reported. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had forecast only a 100,000 rise in payrolls in December.

The unemployment rate stayed at 4.5 percent, in line with economists' forecasts.

The average hourly wage jumped 8 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $17.04, versus forecasts for a 0.3 percent increase. The November wage gain was also revised higher. --From CNNMoney.com's Chris Isidore (Posted 11:29 p.m.)

6 die from bus explosion in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- The Sri Lankan army blamed Tamil Tiger rebels Friday for a bus bombing that killed six passengers near the country's capital, Colombo, police said.

Four people died at the scene, and two died at a hospital, police said. They said the bomb was stashed on the bus, across from the driver's seat.

At least 51 people were injured, and nine were in critical condition, authorities said.

The bus was traveling from Colombo to the hill capital of Kandi, and was about midway -- at the town of Nittambuwa -- when the blast hit. (Posted 11:18 p.m.)

Baghdad gunmen kill agriculture minister's driver

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- The driver for Iraqi Minister of Agriculture Yaarub Nadhim al-Aboudi was shot to death Friday in the Dora district of southern Baghdad, an Interior Ministry source told CNN. Al-Aboudi, a Shiite, is a follower of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

In other Iraq violence Friday:

-- One policeman died and another was wounded after being attacked by unidentified gunmen in Baghdad's western Adel neighborhood.

-- Four mortar rounds fell on a market and apartment complex in Zafaraniya in eastern Baghdad, killing four people and wounding 12.

-- An Interior Ministry source said that an American, his Iraqi interpreter and driver were ambushed by gunmen while traveling in their car near an Iraqi police checkpoint on the northern outskirts of Basra. No injuries were reported. -- CNN's Sam Dagger and Joanna Karadsheh contributed to this report. (Posted 10:36 a.m.)

Basque police find more bomb-making materials

MADRID (CNN) - Police found bomb-making components Friday near where they seized a vehicle and explosives a day earlier that were ready for "immediate" use as a car bomb, apparently by the Basque separatist group ETA, a Basque regional government official told CNN.

Basque police on Friday discovered detonators and ammonium nitrate in a plastic container that could be used to make a bomb. The finding was near the Basque village of Atxondo, where on Thursday the police seized a car and 100 kilos, or 220 pounds, of explosives, the official told CNN.

ETA exploded a massive car bomb at Madrid's airport last Saturday, killing at least one person, and abruptly ending a nine-month cease-fire that ETA had promised would be permanent.

Hopes for an end to nearly 40 years of ETA attacks, blamed for more than 800 deaths and thousands of injuries, vanished with the bomb in the parking garage of the Madrid airport's newest terminal. --From CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman (Posted 9:56 a.m.)

Top U.S. commanders changing in Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush has tapped two military leaders to take over top posts overseeing the Iraq war, military sources said Friday.

Vice Adm. William Fallon, who oversees U.S. forces in the Pacific, has been tapped to replace Gen. John Abizaid as head of U.S. Central Command, a high-ranking military source told CNN.

Lt. Gen. David Petraeus has been tapped to replace Gen. George Casey as the chief commander in Iraq, another senior U.S. mlitary source said.

Both positions require Senate confirmation. --CNN's Kyra Phillips and Mike Mount contributed to this report. (Posted 9:51 a.m.)

Bush nominates new spy chief

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush announced Friday he is nominating retired Adm. Mike McConnell to replace John Negroponte as director of National Intelligence.

Bush also named Negroponte to the post of deputy secretary of state. (Posted 9:50 a.m.)

Gunmen kill driver for Iraqi agriculture minister

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- The driver for Minister of Agriculture Yaarub Nadhim Al-Aboudi was gunned down in the Dora district in southern Baghdad Friday, an Interior Ministry source told CNN.

Aboudi is a Shiite and a member of the bloc of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Also, a policeman was gunned down and another wounded in an attack by unidentified gunmen in Baghdad's western Adel neighborhood.

In addition, a mortar attack on Zaafaraniya killed five Iraqis and wounded 15.

And four mortar rounds fell on a market and apartment complex in Zafaraniyah in eastern Baghdad killing four people and wounding 12. -- From CNN's Sam Dagher and Jomana Karadsheh (Posted 9:25 a.m.)

Gunmen fatally shoot religious leader in Gaza

GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Adel Nassar, a religious leader in Gaza, was shot dead Friday in the area of Maghazi in central Gaza, according to Palestinian security sources.

Gunmen in a car fired on Nassar near a mosque, the sources said.(Posted 9:17 a.m.)

Protests in northern India, Kashmir turn violent after video of Hussein's execution shown

(CNN) -- Police in northern India and Indian-controlled Kashmir fought to control violent protests against the execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein Thursday and Friday, officials said.

In the Kashmiri capital Srinagar, police resorted to using tear gas and batons to control the violence when hundreds of Muslim protesters began pelting Indian police and paramilitary troops with heavy stones after Friday prayers.

The protests, ongoing for the past four days, escalated in India's only majority Muslim state when a cell phone video showing Hussein being taunted by the Shiite guards overseeing his execution was leaked to the media Tuesday.

By Friday demonstrators were chanting anti-U.S. slogans and torching effigies of President Bush, journalist Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar reported.

Since Saddam's execution last Saturday police said there have been at least two incidents involving protesters stoning tourists in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, a heavily visited attraction. --From Journalists Seth Doane and Mukhtar Ahmad (Posted 8:01 a.m.)

2nd body found in rubble of Madrid airport parking garage

MADRID (CNN) -- Rescue workers in the Spanish capital Friday found a second body in the rubble of a Madrid airport parking garage -- the site of a bombing last week by the Basque separatist group ETA.

According to an emergency services source, "all indications" are that the person inside the vehicle is missing 19-year-old Ecuadorean immigrant Diego Armando Estacio. Estacio was reported missing by family members hours after Saturday's car bombing.

Estacio's car was found in the garage late Thursday and, by early Friday, rescue workers were able get a tiny camera near the crushed vehicle and saw a person's arm inside. (Posted 7:29 a.m.)

American sailor stranded hundreds of miles off cost of Chile saved by rescue ship

SANTIAGO, Chile (CNN) -- An American sailor adrift hundreds of miles off the tip of South America for three days was rescued by a fishing boat early Friday despite bad weather conditions and was found to be in good health, according to the Chilean director of maritime security and operations.

The Polar Pesca 1, a private Chilean fishing vessel, came to the aid of California native Ken Barnes, 47, at 1:48 a.m. (4:48 a.m. ET) Friday at the request of the Chilean navy, who picked up distress signals from Barnes' beacon Tuesday.

"Mr. Barnes was in good health despite the distress he experienced," Juan Carlos Munita told CNN. "(He) had an injury on his right leg but it's under control now." --CNN's Leslie Wiggins contributed to this report (Posted 7:28 a.m.)

Iraqi special forces arrest four suspects of a terrorist cell in Sadr City raids

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Iraqi special forces netted four suspected leaders of a kidnapping-and-murder cell during a raid in Baghdad's Sadr City Wednesday with the aid of coalition advisors, the U.S. military said Friday.

The military said the men arrested were targeted for suspected involvement in the kidnapping and murder of innocent civilians.

"They are also suspected of organizing and directing sectarian-based mortar attacks on neighborhoods surrounding Sadr City," a military statement said.

Sadr City is a stronghold of the Medhi Army, a Shiite militia. (Posted 4:58 a.m.)

Haniya, Abbas call for end to violence between Fatah, Hamas

GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya and President Mahmoud Abbas agreed early Friday to withdraw armed militants from the streets and appealed for calm to end a cycle of violent clashes between the Hamas faction, led by Haniya, and Abbas' Fatah faction.

Haniya made the announcement at a news conference after meeting with Abbas, who did not attend the conference.

Haniya listed several points of agreement between the two men, including "rejecting the use of violence in resolving our internal issues and condemning anyone who advocates violence" and "withdrawing all militants from the streets and dispatching the police force in order to maintain order and security." (Posted 1:35 a.m.)


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