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Saturday, December 23

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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.

Longtime rebel leader in Myanmar dies

BANGKOK (CNN) -- After battling an illness for three years the leader of the world's longest-running insurgency, General Bo Mya died late Saturday at age 79, a spokesman said.

Bo Mya, who led the Karen National Union for 30 years, died at a hospital in Mae Sot-on near Myanmar's border with Thailand.

The KNU has been fighting the central government -- seeking autonomy for the Karen minority in eastern Myanmar -- since that country gained independence from Britain in 1948.

-- CNN Producer Narunart Prapanya contributed to this report (Posted 1:12 a.m.)

Schwarzenegger fracture leg in skiing accident

SUN VALLEY, Idaho (CNN) -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger fractured his right leg Saturday while skiing in Idaho with his family, and will undergo surgery after Christmas, a statement from his office said.

The California Republican was taken to a hospital for X-rays of his femur, or upper leg, then returned to his home in Sun Valley.

"No one else was involved in the skiing accident," the statement said. (Posted 1:12 a.m.)

Roadside bomb, IED kill three soldiers

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Two Iraqi soldiers were killed and three others wounded Saturday night in a roadside bombing in Baghdad, an attack that set off battles between soldiers and gunmen, Interior Ministry officials said.

Also, an Interior Ministry official said 47 unidentified bullet-riddled bodies were found across the capital. The dead are thought to be victims of the Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence.

In an incident southwest of the capital, an improvised explosive device detonated near a Multinational Division patrol, killing one soldier, the military said. The patrol was on a combat resupply mission, delivering items to other military units. (Posted 10:13 p.m.)

Retailers vying for shoppers' Christmas dollars this weekend

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Retailers will pull out all the stops in the final make-or-break weekend of the 2006 holiday shopping season.

About 36 percent of consumers are expected to hit stores for holiday purchases, according to Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group.

The National Retail Federation says the Saturday before Christmas is typically the busiest shopping day of the year.

The NRF anticipates that total sales during November and December -- which account for as much as 50 percent of retailers profits and sales -- will rise 5 percent to $457.4 billion, which is slower than last year's 6.1 percent increase for the same period. (Posted 9:19 p.m.)

Israel agrees to transfer $100 million to Palestinians for humanitarian needs

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Saturday after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that Israel will transfer $100 million to Palestinians for medical and other needs, Olmert's spokeswoman said.

However, Miri Eisin said the money only will be released if a way is found to transfer the now-frozen funds directly to Palestinians -- without going through the Hamas-led government.

The $100 million is only part of the revenue from tax rebates and other sources that Israel froze after the Islamic militant group Hamas came to power in March.

Olmert also agreed to open some of the roadblocks in the West Bank that prevent Palestinians from entering Israel for jobs and other reasons, Eisin said.

Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat told reporters in Ramallah that Palestinians have agreed to form a joint committee with the Israelis to work out the details of a possible prisoner exchange. (Posted 5:35 p.m.)

Bush, Gates meet at Camp David

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Saturday met with new Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other top administration officials on Saturday, the White House said.

Others at the meeting were Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Hadley's deputy, J.D. Crouch, according to White House spokesman Blain Rethmeier.

The meeting at the Camp David presidential retreat followed Gates' three-day trip this week to Iraq as President Bush considers a new strategy in the Iraq war. Gates was expected to make recommendations on changes in U.S. policy.

One of the options that President Bush is considering the idea of a temporary short-term surge of U.S. forces into Baghdad.

The national security team will meet again with the president next week in Crawford, Texas, Rethmeier said. (Posted 2:03 p.m.)

Nigerian president looks for new vice president

ABUJA, Nigeria (CNN) -- Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar had "resigned," a government source said. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who must step down after the April election, is seeking a replacement, the source said.

Abubakar resigned from the ruling party, the Peoples' Democratic Party, or PDP, because he joined the opposition, the Action Congress, or AC party.

According to Nigerian law, if you are an official with the ruling party and join the opposition, you must resign from your position. Abubakar is expected to run for president in the April 7 election on the AC ticket. (Posted 1:37 p.m.)

Small quake recorded in San Francisco Bay area

BERKELEY, Calif. (CNN) -- A second minor earthquake in two days rattled the San Francisco Bay area on Saturday morning.

The quake, with a magnitude of 3.5, was centered four miles east southeast of Berkeley, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. It occurred at 9:21 a.m. (12:21 p.m. ET).

Another quake in the same general area, registering 3.7, was recorded at 10:49 p.m. (1:49 a.m. ET), The USGS reported. There were no reports of injuries or damage from either quake.

The strength and location of the two temblors were nearly identical to a quake that struck Wednesday evening, the survey reported. The quakes occurred on the Hayward Fault, which USGS geologists believe is due for a large quake in the potentially lethal 6.7 to 7.0 range. (Posted 1:16 p.m.)

U.N. Security Council imposes sanctions on Iran

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) --The U.N. Security Council on Saturday voted unanimously to impose sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program.

The vote was 15-0. The resolution orders all countries to ban the supply of materials and technology that could contribute to Iran's nuclear and missile programs. It also freezes assets of companies and individuals in the country's nuclear and missile programs named on a U.N. list.

The resolution is a reaction to Iran's failure to comply with an August 31 U.N. deadline to suspend uranium enrichment and resume negotiations. Iran says its nuclear program is aimed solely at the peaceful production of nuclear energy. (5:40 p.m.)

More Americans opt for artificial Christmas trees

(CNN) -- Most holiday traditions don't change much over the years, a poll shows. But there is one big cultural shift in the past decade -- a rise in the number of households using fake Christmas trees.

In 1996, just 39 percent of all American homes had an artificial Christmas tree. A decade later, a majority have a fake tree in their homes.

The number who have some sort of tree has remained fairly steady -- 75 percent now compared to 72 percent in 1996.

Three-quarters of all Americans also send out Christmas or holiday cards while 59 percent deck the halls by putting up lights or other outdoor decorations.

Overall, more than nine in ten Americans celebrate Christmas. Those findings from interviews with 1,019 adult Americans conducted by telephone on December 15-17 by Opinion Research Corporation. (Posted 11:56 a.m.)

Putin, Bush speak in phone call, discuss Iranian nuclear program

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday called President Bush to discuss Iran's nuclear program, an administration official said.

This comes as the U.N. Security Council on Saturday might vote on a resolution imposing sanctions on Iran's nuclear work. "President Putin called the president to discuss Iran," said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

"They agreed on the need to move forward with a resolution in the U.N. Security Council and stressed the importance of maintaining a unified position on Iran's nuclear program." (Posted 10:47 a.m.)

Iraqi Red Crescent Society: 13 still in captivity after mass abduction, 28 freed

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- An Iraqi Red Crescent Society official on Saturday said 13 of the 41 people abducted at and near one of the group's offices in Baghdad still remain in captivity.

Mazin Abdullah, secretary general of the group, said 41 employees, cleaners, visitors and two security guards from the nearby Dutch Embassy were seized on Sunday. He said 28 people have been released over the past week, found in different areas of Baghdad. Twelve Red Crescent employees and a Dutch Embassy guard are still in captivity.

Police said they had been snatched up by armed gunmen dressed in camouflage Iraqi commando uniforms. The Iraqi Red Crescent Society has suspended its operation in Baghdad in light of the incident and is calling on the kidnappers to release the remaining abductees.

The group has 40 offices in Baghdad with about 400 employees. They have a total of 1,000 employees in Iraq and thousands of volunteers. (Posted 8:56 a.m.)

Indian army officer killed during operation in Kashmir

SRINAGAR, Indian-administered Kashmir (CNN) -- A senior Indian army officer was killed on Saturday during a search for militants in a Kashmiri village , police told CNN.

The incident took place in Tilgam, which is 45 kilometers northwest of the capital Srinagar. Two of the officer's guards were seriously wounded, police said. The incident comes a day after militants in Sopore ambushed an Indian army convoy and killed two people.

On Saturday, security forces received information about the presence of militants in a house in Tilgam. Troops then moved in, cordoned off the village, and embarked on a search.

"As the troops led by their commandant tried to enter a house, the holed-up militants sprayed bullets at the raiding party," said Indian defense spokesman Col. Hemant Juneja.

"In the heavy firing exchanges the commandant, Col. G.S. Sarna was critically injured along with two of his body guards. The officer succumbed to his injuries in the hospital were he had been shifted for treatment," the spokesman told CNN.

More troops were deployed to the site, where a gunfight between security forces and militants ensued.

The dispute over Kashmir has spawned tensions between India and Pakistan -- South Asian neighbors and nuclear rivals. Militants fighting for Kashmir's separation from India have been carrying out attacks against the Indian security forces in Kashmir.

So far more than 50,000 lives have been lost in the ongoing 17-year long violence in the territory. A peace process between India and Pakistan has muted the hostility along their border when a bilateral cease-fire was announced in November 2003. But violence in the hinterland has persisted. (Posted 7:47 a.m.)

Bono -- rock star and humanitarian worker -- getting honorary British knighthood

LONDON (CNN) -- Bono -- the Irish rock star, anti-poverty campaigner, and philanthropist -- has been awarded an honorary British knighthood, the British Embassy in Dublin said on Saturday.

"The British Embassy in Dublin takes great pleasure in announcing that Her Majesty The Queen has appointed Bono to be an honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in recognition of his services to the music industry and for his humanitarian work," according to an embassy news release.

The British ambassador to Ireland, David Reddaway, is to give Bono -- a member of the rock group U2 -- an "insignia of this honorary award" after New Year's in a ceremony in the Irish capital. The embassy pointed out that titles such as "Sir" or "Dame" do not come with such honorary awards, "conferred on citizens of countries of which The Queen is not Head of State."

Bono is an Irish citizen. Bob Geldof, the Irish rock star who organized the Live Aid concerts, got the same award in 1986. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the award is well-deserved for Bono's "remarkable" humanitarian work and for his "outstanding contribution" to music with U2. (Posted 7:33 a.m.)

Heathrow optimistic more scheduled flights to get off ground following bad weather, major delays

LONDON (CNN) -- Relief was in sight for trapped passengers at Heathrow Saturday after dense, freezing fog led to more than 1,000 canceled flights at Europe's busiest airport.

Heathrow managing director Mark Bullock said travelers can expect about 74 canceled flights and delays Saturday but added "we're very optimistic that we'll have a better day today."

All canceled flights are either domestic or short-haul European destinations, a London Heathrow Airport statement said. Long-haul and overseas flights have not been affected.

--CNN's Alphonso Van Marsh contributed to this report (Posted 7:09 a.m.)

Coalition airstrike kills fugitive Taliban general near the Pakistani border in southern Afghanistan

KABUL (CNN) -- The U.S. military announced Saturday that a coalition airstrike in southern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border killed a senior Taliban military leader on the run since 2002 Tuesday.

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani was killed while driving in a deserted area north of the border in the southern part of Helmand province, the military said.

"We have various sources saying he was in fact killed in the attack," coalition spokesman Col. Tom Collins told CNN in an exclusive interview Saturday.

The death of Osmani, a top general and one of the most wanted Taliban members, comes more than four years after he was mistakenly released in 2002 by the military due to what the U.S. Military described then as "faulty information." (Posted 6:39 a.m.)

Police uncover body of slain Iraqi military intelligence officer

DIWANIYA, Iraq (CNN) -- Police uncovered the bullet-riddled body of an Iraqi military intelligence officer Saturday in the Iraqi town of Diwaniya a day after he had been kidnapped.

Local police identified the man as Hussein Jabr Hadwan, who was previously employed to protect Iraq's former interim defense minister Hazem al-Shaalan.

Police also said they found the body of a member of the government's facilities protection force. The body had multiple bullet wounds.

Diwaniya, located in Iraq's Qadisiya province, was the scene of fierce clashes in October between Shiite militias and the U.S. army.

-- From CNN's Sam Dagher in Baghdad (Posted 6:20 a.m.)

U.S. forces kill 1 'terrorist,' arrest 9 other suspected terrorists in raid

RAMADI, Iraq (CNN) -- In Ramadi, where U.S. and Iraqi troops have been fighting insurgents for many months, the U.S. military announced coalition forces have killed one terrorist and arrested nine insurgents in a raid targeting individuals linked with al Qaeda in Iraq on Saturday.

Ramadi is the capital of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province.

Earlier in the week the military said insurgents in Ramadi, the capital of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, used two rockets to attack a police station, killing "a civilian female" and wounding three other people. (Posted 6:02 a.m.)

Iraqi residents blame U.S. military for rocket attack on residential town, no claim of responsibility yet

BAQUBA, Iraq (CNN) -- Residents in an Iraqi town northeast of Baghdad blamed U.S. troops for a rocket attack on a residential neighborhood Friday that killed six people and wounded six others, including women and children, a Baquba joint coordination center official said Saturday.

The rocket leveled one of the houses and partially damaged several others.

The official said it is currently unknown who launched the attack in Baquba, which is about 37 miles northeast of Baghdad, and no one has claimed responsibility.

On Saturday the U.S. military declined to immediately comment but said it was investigating the incident.

--From CNN's Sam Dagher in Baghdad (Posted 4:14 a.m.)

White House officials meeting to prepare for post-Castro refugees

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Top Bush administration advisers held a 90-minute discussion Thursday on preparations for handling an expected influx of Cuban refugees following the death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, administration aides told CNN Friday.

The meeting was chaired by National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, White House counsel Harriet Miers, chief political advisor Karl Rove and other officials attended, the aides said. The possible Cuban exodus has been a concern of the administration for some time, as has a post-Castro Cuban regime.

National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe would not comment on the meeting except to say, "We're engaged in an interagency process that is focused on a successful transition to democracy for the people of Cuba." -- By CNN White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux (Posted 7:55 p.m.)



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