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The Buzz

The latest on this week's biggest stories

Issue: "Bird flu," June 10, 2006

AFGHANISTAN It's a war zone. But that didn't stop Afghanistan's parliament from calling for the prosecution of U.S. military personnel involved in a road crash that killed five Afghan civilians and sparked two days of anti-U.S. riots in Kabul, in which at least 20 Afghans died. President Bush spoke May 31 with Afghan president Hamad Karzai and pledged a full investigation of the accident involving a U.S. truck that plowed into a line of cars, apparently after brake failure. Taliban militants used the unrest to step up provincial attacks, overrunning one district police headquarters, killing a dozen police and abducting up to 40 more.

IRAN The United States announced that it would enter direct talks with Iran-a first since diplomatic ties were severed 27 years ago-if the Islamic regime suspends all nuclear enrichment activities. In a major shift in Bush administration policy toward Iran, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced May 31 that U.S. officials "will come to the table with our European colleagues and meet with Iranian leaders." Ms. Rice told reporters she believed direct U.S. participation removes "the last excuse" by Iran to halt what had been a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

But the secretary stopped short of charting a course toward resuming diplomatic relations with Iran, which broke off after Islamic radicals occupied the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, asserting that Iran's nuclear program is not the only obstacle. "The Iranian government supports terror and is involved in the insurgency in Iraq," she said.

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IRAQ U.S. commanders launched an investigation into the alleged killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha by Marines last November after viewing a videotape that reportedly shows members of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, on a rampage in the insurgent stronghold, where the company was hit by an improvised explosive device and one of its Marines killed. War critics like Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) accused the Bush administration of covering up the incident. But such a coverup would have to have a different source: Journalists for Time magazine shot the footage said to show the incident.

INDONESIA Following the deaths of seven people from the same family in Sumatra, Indonesia, last month, health officials warned that authorities in avian flu--infected countries are underreporting the virus. Rural fears of losing infected poultry to eradication programs slow many farmers in China, Indonesia, and Africa from reporting the disease. While U.S. officials refine a national strategy announced last month to deal with a potential bird-flu pandemic, health officials continue to investigate the possibility that bird flu spread human-to-human in Sumatra. The World Health Organization found no sign of diseased poultry in the immediate area.

TREASURY President Bush picked Henry Paulson, chairman of Goldman Sachs, to replace John Snow as secretary of the Treasury. At $38 million Wall Street's highest-paid executive last year, according to Bloomberg News, the 60-year-old investment banker is the president's third treasury secretary but the first from the financial services sector. If global markets showed their support for the choice, so, too, remarkably, did Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), usually a high hurdle in Senate confirmation tests.

HURRICANES With the official start of a new hurricane season June 1, a mammoth report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to shed light on what happened when Hurricane Katrina breached levees and flood walls in New Orleans. The 6,000-page report gives details about design and engineering failures leading to citywide flooding that killed over 1,500 people.

But local officials in towns along the Gulf Coast aren't waiting for a federal mandate to prepare for coming storms. Mayor Guy Goodson of Beaumont, Texas, where Hurricane Rita struck last fall, says he is advising local officials not to count on the state or federal government to be there directly after a disaster. "Communities need to save money and have a rainy-day fund," Mr. Goodson said.

POLITICS Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) formally opened her Senate reelection campaign May 31 after winning unanimous backing from the party for another term. But the former first lady and leading contender for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination quickly went national with a call to "take our country back" from the current Republican leadership. With her husband by her side at the Democratic state convention in Buffalo, Mrs. Clinton told delegates, "I believe that we need a fundamentally new direction. . . . We are better than what is happening in America today."

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