The Iraqi parliament picked Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as the country's new interim president Wednesday, reaching out to the nation's long-repressed Kurdish minority and bringing the country closer to its first democratically elected government in 50 years.
Ousted members of the country's former regime — including toppled leader Saddam Hussein — watched the event on television in their prison cells, Human Rights Minister Bakhtiyar Amin told Al-Arabiya television.
The announcement that Talabani won drew applause in the National Assembly. In the north, Kurds danced in the streets upon hearing the news.
"Today Jalal Talabani made it to the seat of power, while Saddam Hussein is sitting in jail," said Mohammed Saleh, a 42-year-old Kurd in Kirkuk. "Who would have thought."
From Afghanistan:(hat tip: Chrenkoff)
Sitting behind the steering wheel of her red 4x4 Toyota, Sina Shireen gets a kick out of being one of the first women in this western Afghan city to throw off her burqa and learn how to drive.
The diminutive 22-year-old may be hard to see behind the tinted windows of the massive car but three years ago she had to be completely shrouded in an all-encompassing blue burqa even to leave the house.
“The most joyful moments of my life are when I’m driving -- I love it,” Shireen says, the excitement visible on her face as she finally gets to do what the country’s male motorists take for granted.
High school student Shireen is taking part at the first ever-driving course in Herat, Afghanistan’s most prosperous city, which was launched in early February by the traffic department, under the auspices of the new governor.
From Washington D.C. via the Ukraine:
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has addressed a joint meeting of both houses of the US Congress, an honour awarded to Washington's closest allies.
Mr Yushchenko - who has been hailed as a hero throughout a four-day visit to the US -received a rapturous welcome on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Members of Congress cheered and chanted his name as he walked to the platform.
The Ukrainian leader thanked US support for democracy, and urged Washington to lift trade restrictions.
In his speech, he echoed the language of President George W Bush, with whom he had previously held talks. The US condemned fraud and upheld Ukrainians' right to freely elect their government
Mr Yushchenko spoke of the importance of liberty and said his goal was to "place Ukraine among prosperous democracies".
And last, but not least, From Lebanon:
Syria's pledge to withdraw all its troops from Lebanon by April 30 and end a 29-year military presence there will meet U.N. Security Council demands, a U.N. envoy said Monday as Beirut agreed to allow a U.N. team to verify the withdrawal of Syrian forces.
Syrian President Bashar Assad told U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen on Sunday his country's remaining 8,000 soldiers and intelligence agents will all leave Lebanon by the end of the month. Syria's official SANA news agency reported Monday that the final phase of the ongoing withdrawal will begin Thursday.
About 6,000 Syrian troops have already left the country since March.
U.N. and U.S. demands on Syrian forces to leave Lebanon intensified following the Feb. 14 assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri. In September, Security Council resolution 1559 called for an end to Syrian interference in its smaller neighbor.
Washington demands a full Syrian withdrawal before parliamentary elections, which should be held before the May 31 expiration of the Lebanese legislature's mandate.
Four short years ago, who indeed would have thought that such profound changes would sweep across the world under the banner of Liberty? Incredible.
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