Soldiers responded to the latest antigovernment demonstration in Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar), Thursday by firing automatic weapons into the ranks of an estimated 10,000 protesters. Nine people were killed and 11 others were wounded, state TV reported, claiming that some demonstrators had tried to take away soldiers' guns. Among the dead: a Japanese photographer. The military government had warned that protesters would be given 10 minutes to clear the streets or be shot.
Iraq's Sunni vice president presented his 25-point proposal for political reform to senior Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani Thursday and the latter "generally blessed it." At a meeting in Najaf, Tariq al-Hashemi said Sistani appeared politically neutral and eager to promote national unity. Among other points, Hashemi's blueprint calls for keeping the military and police above politics, filling government jobs on merit, sanctity for places of worship, and pardons for Iraqis who've fought the government in exchange for surrendering their weapons.
Israeli airstrikes killed at least 11 Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip Wednesday and early Thursday in retaliation for the latest barrage of rocket attacks. The Army said 11 rockets and 20 mortar shells fell on Israeli territory, damaging one house but causing no injuries. Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Wednesday that a "broad and complex operation" in Gaza was impending.
Four employees of the Red Cross seized by the Taliban in southern Afghanistan will be released "soon," a spokesman said Thursday. The four reportedly refused the offer of an armed escort on a mission to Wardak Province and did not make a planned return trip to Kabul, the capital.The Taliban "detained" them because "our mujahideen" did not realize they were with the humanitarian agency, its spokesman said. But provincial police said the staffers were traveling in a marked vehicle.
Hundreds of foreign-owned companies operating in Zimbabwe were considering their next move Thursday after parliament passed a new law forcing them to give up majority control. It wasn't immediately clear how the measure will be implemented, although President Robert Mugabe's government has said the process would be gradual, beginning at perhaps a 20 percent takeover, depending on the nature of the business. Some foreign-owned companies already have scaled down their involvement in anticipation of the new law, analysts said.
China's massive Three Gorges Dam (below) threatens to become an "environmental catastrophe" unless its mounting problems are dealt with urgently, the Xinhua news agency reported. The $25 billion hydropower project, the world's largest, displaced 1.4 million people during construction. Now, hundreds of thousands more may have to be relocated, officials warned, because of erosion, landslides that have caused waves as high as 165 feet, collapsing shoreline, and deterioration of drinking water quality and fish stocks.
A 5.5 percent tax increase on gasoline and electricity that was to have begun next month will be postponed to avoid burdening the poor, President Felipe Calderón said Wednesday. The hike was passed by Congress two weeks ago, with revenues to be distributed to state governments. Opponents in Congress had demanded that he intervene to stop rising commodity prices, citing especially for milk, bread, sugar, and tortillas.
Former President Nelson Mandela cut a gold ribbon Thursday, opening an $86 million shopping mall in Soweto, South Africa's best-known black township. The project, built by Soweto native Richard Maponya, is seen as the latest step in the transformation of a community envisioned by the architects of apartheid as a place where Johannesburg's black workers would live.