Philippine Cabinet Members Quit,
Asking President to Step Down Too
MANILA -- Ten members of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's cabinet demanded Friday morning that she resign, marking the latest blow to her efforts at retaining office following allegations that she was involved in rigging the outcome of national elections last year.
The joint announcement came hours after Arroyo went on national radio Thursday night to reject growing public demands that she step down, instead seeking to preempt a brewing mutiny in her cabinet by asking all members to tender their resignations. The president said she wanted to assemble a new team to help her overhaul the Philippine political system.
The rebel cabinet members, who include the finance, trade and budget secretaries as well as other senior economic advisers, agreed to step down. But they also urged that Arroyo be replaced by Vice President Noli de Castro, who had been a popular television news anchorman before entering politics four years ago.
Arroyo has been under fire since tapes surfaced a month ago of conversations she allegedly held with a national election commissioner, which appear to indicate they were involved in fixing the 2004 presidential vote. Arroyo has denied she cheated.
-- Alan Sipress
* KABUL, Afghanistan -- The last U.S. commando still missing in Afghanistan is being held by the Taliban and rebel leaders have decided to kill him, a purported spokesman for the group said.
The spokesman, Mullah Latif Hakimi, offered no proof to back up the claim, which he has made previously. A U.S. military spokeswoman, Lt. Cindy Moore, responded by saying: "We hope he is not in harm's way. We are making every effort to locate him."
The commando is the last of a four-member U.S. Navy SEAL team that went missing 10 days ago in Konar province, near the Pakistani border. One of the men was rescued, and two others were found dead.
About 300 troops and several aircraft are searching for the SEAL team member in the rugged mountains in eastern Afghanistan, Moore said.
* KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan announced the completion of the main drive to disarm tens of thousands of factional militiamen, but said it would press ahead with the collection of arms from illegal groups.
More than 60,000 militiamen have been disarmed since October 2003 under a program funded by foreign donors led by Japan, Defense Minister Rahim Wardak said at a ceremony marking the formal end of the drive.
* TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- Uzbekistan indicated that it was reconsidering the future of a U.S. air base it hosts, threatening a key support base for the U.S.-led efforts in neighboring Afghanistan.
The move throws into doubt the American military presence in the Central Asian nation. Relations between Washington and the authoritarian Uzbek leader Islam Karimov have become increasingly chilly since a government crackdown on protests in May.
The Foreign Ministry said the air base at Karshi-Khanabad was intended only for combat operations in Afghanistan during the overthrow of the Taliban regime after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"Any other prospects for a U.S. military presence in Uzbekistan were not considered by the Uzbek side," the ministry said in a statement.
On Tuesday, a regional alliance led by China and Russia and including Uzbekistan called for the United States and its coalition allies in Afghanistan to set a date for withdrawing from several states in Central Asia.
* TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- Authorities in Uzbekistan have filed criminal charges against a former director and another employee with a U.S.-based media watchdog group, the organization said.
Internews Network, which provides media training, said in a statement on its Web site that a former Uzbek director and an accountant were charged Monday with conspiracy to illegally produce videos and publish materials.
The charges follow a year of harassment and "fishing expeditions" by various branches of Uzbekistan's investigatory organs, the statement said.
The group said Uzbek authorities have stepped up pressure on international organizations since the May 13 massacre of unarmed demonstrators in the eastern city of Andijan. Uzbekistan was widely denounced abroad for the crackdown.
* SYDNEY -- Xanana Gusmao, president of the world's youngest nation, East Timor, said he would not seek office again in elections in 2007 and hoped his fledgling democracy would soon be able to stand on its own feet.
Gusmao, a guerrilla fighter during Indonesia's often bloody 24-year rule of the former Portuguese colony, said the 2007 parliamentary and presidential elections would be a good time for East Timor to assert itself as a democracy.
"I have to give an example that democracy is not that we get in power and try to be there for a long time," Gusmao said in Sydney on his first state visit since his election in 2002.
* MANILA -- The Philippines announced its first case of bird flu Friday on a duck farm north of Manila, but it did not appear to be the H5N1 strain deadly to humans, officials said. Still, the ducks will have to be culled. Samples taken from the birds are being sent to Australia for further examination.
THE MIDDLE EAST
* JERUSALEM -- Hundreds of Gaza Strip settlers handed in forms on the value of their property Thursday in a first step toward receiving government compensation for the upcoming evacuation of the coastal area, a settler leader said.
Until Thursday, only about 400 Gaza and West Bank families had requested government compensation, and an additional 400 families were in talks with the government on relocating. In total, about 1,800 families -- or about 9,000 people -- are to be evacuated from their homes beginning in mid-August.
Itzik Ilia, deputy head of the Gaza settler regional council, said the families were submitting the forms Thursday because that was the deadline the Supreme Court gave for requesting an assessment. But he insisted settlers would continue to fight the pullout.
* KHARTOUM, Sudan -- Sudan could begin peace talks with eastern rebels in August, the top U.N. envoy in the country said, adding that he hoped for a full peace deal by the end of the year between the government and rebels from the western region of Darfur.
But Jan Pronk said the declaration of principles signed between Darfur rebels and the government on Tuesday in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, needed to be translated into action on the ground.
He urged the rebel Sudan Liberation Army to release 10 aid workers held hostage, and told the government to reprimand a military commander who was firing mortar shells over an aid agency's headquarters in the tense region of Golo in central Darfur.
"Peace before the end of this year," he said of Darfur, "that's the objective."
Tens of thousands of people have died and more than 2 million driven from their homes in Darfur since rebels took up arms in 2003, accusing the government of neglect and of arming Arab militiamen to loot and burn non-Arab villages. Khartoum denies the claim.
* The U.N. World Food Program said it will need to feed 10 million people in six southern African countries in the next 12 months because a lack of rain and high fertilizer and seed prices have reduced crop yields.
The program needs $266 million immediately to feed people in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, it said in a statement. The number of people needing food aid was increased from a May estimate of 7 million people.
* VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican cited divorcees who remarry and Catholic politicians who support abortion in criticizing the faithful who continue to receive Holy Communion while in a state of mortal sin.
"Some receive Communion while denying the teachings of the church or publicly supporting immoral choices in life, such as abortion, without thinking that they are committing an act of grave personal dishonesty and causing scandal," it said.
The lament came in a new document on the Eucharist that details abuses of the sacrament and the need for better instruction to ensure it remains sacred. The 85-page text is the working draft of a final document that will be developed during the global synod, or meeting, of bishops Oct. 2-23 in Rome.
* CARACAS, Venezuela -- A Venezuelan opposition figure who met with President Bush will go on trial with three colleagues accused of conspiring to change the government using U.S. funds, a judge ruled.
Maria Corina Machado and three other members of Sumate, a group that helped organize a referendum against President Hugo Chavez nearly a year ago, are being charged with "conspiracy to change Venezuela's republican system."
The accused say Chavez's government has trumped up the charges against them in an attempt to intimidate critics who say his rule is becoming increasingly authoritarian.
Chavez called Machado a traitor after her group received funding from the U.S. Congress. Chavez won the August recall referendum, which Sumate said was plagued by irregularities and held under conditions that favored the president.
Machado met Bush at the White House on May 31.
* TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- As U.S. police looked on, hundreds of Honduran officers stormed neighborhoods of the capital in a move against youth gangs that have struck terror in the Central American country.
The raids followed the slaying of two undercover narcotics officers by suspected member of the maras street gangs this week.
President Ricardo Maduro, wearing a bulletproof vest, oversaw the crackdown in districts where the Mara Salvatrucha and M-18 gangs are active. He declared war on the gangs in 2003.
Thirty people were arrested.
Police from Indianapolis were in Honduras to learn more about the fight against the maras, which have spread to some U.S. cities, including Washington.
* VANCOUVER, B.C. -- A court ordered the extradition of suspected eco-terrorist Tre Arrow, one of the FBI's most-wanted fugitives, to face firebombing charges in the United States.
Arrow, born Michael Scarpitti, is accused of participating in the 2001 firebombing of logging and cement trucks in Oregon. The FBI says he is associated with the Earth Liberation Front, which has asserted responsibility for dozens of acts of destruction.
-- From News Services