World News Brief, Tuesday August 18

Abdullah rally shows Afghani race is tightening (+ analysis); Adviser demands more troops in Afghanistan; Japan emerges from recession; Two Koreas agree family reunions; and more

Top of the Agenda: Afghanistan Preps for Election

Ahead of Thursday's presidential polls in Afghanistan, top opposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah held a campaign rally (Reuters) in Kabul's National Olympic Stadium for thousands of his supporters today, underscoring his recent momentum in the campaign. Incumbent President Hamid Karzai is leading in the polls, but not by enough to avoid a run-off against Abdullah, who has strong support among the country's ethnic Tajiks.

Abdullah failed to appear the night before at a two-hour presidential debate (Guardian) between Karzai and two other leading opposition candidates. In the debate, Karzai emphasized his accomplishments in office, especially infrastructure construction.

Separately, the United Nations and the United States expressed concern over the return of exiled warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. Dostum, who has been widely characterized as a "kingmaker" in the election (Quqnoos), returned to Afghanistan with approval from the government after his supporters threatened to withdraw their electoral support for Karzai.

The New York Times says the Taliban campaign to disrupt the elections may hurt Karzai.

The Wall Street Journal looks at Karzai's failure to complete the construction of the so-called "ring road," a highway meant to connect Afghanistan's cities. The project has been plagued by insurgent attacks. U.S. officials in the country say the Afghan government must be able to show it can "have a road network and can keep it open."

Fred Kagan, a member of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's Initial Assessment Group, says the United States must send more troops (WashPost) to Afghanistan if the military operation there is to be effective.

CFR's Stephen Biddle, also part of McChrystal's panel, says victory in Afghanistan will be dependent on improving the Afghan government's capabilities.

The BBC has a Q&A on the Afghan vote.

Reuters has a Factbox on Dostum.


PACIFIC RIM: Koreas Reach Agreement

North and South Korea agreed to ease some border restrictions (Yonhap), including allowing cross-border tours for South Koreans and more family reunions. The agreement came after talks in Pyongyang between North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and Hyun Jung-eun, chairwoman of South Korea's Hyundai Group.

Burma: Burma freed a U.S. citizen (WSJ) who was recently sentenced to seven years in jail for breaking the terms of Burma pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) met with Burma's Senior General Than Shwe to request John Yettaw's release. Webb also urged Shwe to overturn the government's decision to add eighteen months to Suu Kyi's house arrest for Yettaw's visit.

Japan: Japan's economy has emerged from recession (AP), growing for the first time in five quarters.



Iran releases French detainee on bail.

Six hundred arrested in Nigerian police raid.

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