U.S. Aid to Afghanistan

To Reach $5.5 Billion

KABUL, Afghanistan -- U.S. development assistance to Afghanistan is expected to reach $5.5 billion in the next five years, the Afghan finance minister said Thursday as the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on aid agreements.

The agreements set out plans for U.S. support to programs including education, health care, and economic and democratic development.

U.S. Ambassador Ronald Neumann said the programs would help Afghanistan build on its September parliamentary elections -- the final formal step on an internationally backed path toward democracy following decades of war and the defeat of the hard-line Taliban rulers in 2001.


* GAZIPUR, Bangladesh -- A bomb thrown by an Islamic militant disguised as a tea vendor exploded outside a government building in a town near Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, killing one person and wounding at least 29, authorities said. Bombings on Tuesday killed seven people in Gazipur and two people in Chittagong.

* SINGAPORE -- Singapore executed a 25-year-old Australian on Friday for drug trafficking, despite numerous appeals from the Australian government. Nguyen Tuong Van was hanged before dawn as a dozen friends and supporters kept an overnight vigil outside the maximum-security prison.

Nguyen received a mandatory death sentence after he was caught in 2002 at Singapore's airport on his way home to Melbourne carrying about 14 ounces of heroin. Singapore has executed more than 100 people for drug-related offenses since 1999.


* DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- The United Arab Emirates announced plans Thursday to hold a limited form of voting in which a government-selected group would choose half the members of the Federal National Council. The council is the closest body the country has to a parliament, but its role is purely to advise the leadership. The other half of the council's members will continue to be appointed.

* JERUSALEM -- Israeli forces have arrested a reporter for the Web site of the Arabic satellite television channel al-Jazeera in the West Bank town of Hebron. An army spokeswoman said Awad Rajoub, 29, was being held "for security reasons."


* KIEV, Ukraine -- The European Union agreed to declare Ukraine a free-market economy, handing President Viktor Yushchenko a major victory as he seeks a closer partnership with, and eventual membership in, the 25-nation bloc.

* PARIS -- A Paris court overturned pedophilia convictions against six people, including a priest, after the spectacular collapse of a case marked by a series of mistakes and long periods of detention for innocent people.

Justice Minister Pascal Clement took the unusual step of apologizing for the handling of the case and announced an inquiry into what he said was a "disaster." Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin promised compensation for those falsely accused.

* BRUSSELS -- Belgium moved closer to becoming the third European Union member state to grant gay couples equal rights in adoption when its lower house passed a controversial bill, 77 to 62, early Friday.


* HAVANA -- Cuban authorities freed dissident lawyer Mario Enrique Mayo, 41, on health parole Thursday after 32 months in jail, raising hopes that other dissidents in ill health could also soon be released, a rights group said.

* CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez blamed President Bush for a growing election boycott hours after all the country's major opposition parties joined the ballot protest.

* PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Gunmen hijacked a school bus carrying 14 children west of Port-au-Prince, and an American missionary, Phillip Snyder, was kidnapped while driving near the Haitian capital, police said.

-- From News Services