President Bush kicked off the NATO summit with an appeal to fellow alliance members for more support in the anti-Taliban mission in Afghanistan. "We expect our ... allies to shoulder the burden necessary to succeed," he said as leaders of the bloc gathered in Romania. The US alone contributes almost 35,000 troops to the Afghanistan mission, and Bush said while he understands the reluctance of other members to send soldiers to the front lines, the outcome there is too important to turn away.
In a show of force, Iraqi Army troops traveled through a Mahdi militia stronghold in Basra Wednesday, firing into the air in an apparent test of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's order to his followers to stay off the streets. A Mahdi spokesman said the convoy was being tolerated but that any attempt by the soldiers to resume raids or make arrests without warrants would bring new fighting.
Addressing tens of thousands of supporters, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez blasted the nation's striking farmers and complained that she'd never seen "so many insults" against the government. The turnout Tuesday in Buenos Aires was her first major public show of support since her election in December. But an equally angry strike organizer fired back, saying, "We are not coup plotters." The farmers were to announce Wednesday whether they'll extend their three-week strike against an unpopular set of tax increases on their produce.
Breaking its silence, the opposition National League for Democracy in Burma (Myanmar) urged a massive turnout at the national referendum scheduled for next month on the proposed new constitution. But Burmese should "decisively cast a 'no' vote," it said, because the charter was drafted by hand-picked representatives of the military junta and does not guarantee "the democratic and human rights strongly desired by the people." A specific date for the referendum hasn't been announced.
A giant transport plane landed in Belgrade Wednesday, bringing the first in a series of aid shipments from Russia for ethnic Serbs living in Kosovo. The plane carried 140 tons of flour, sugar, canned meat, and other items, with three more shipments expected by late next week. Distribution has not been coordinated with Kosovo's Albanian-led government or with the UN, which administers the province. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also vowed that his government would use its veto in the Security Council to deny Kosovo membership in the UN.
A medical mission was standing by for takeoff from France to try to reach high-profile political hostage Ingrid Betancourt in the jungles of Colombia, where she reportedly is gravely ill. Betancourt, who holds dual nationality, was campaigning for Colombia's presidency in 2002 when guerrillas of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) seized her. FARC has sought to trade her and other hostages for hundreds of its members in prisons. Colombia has agreed to suspend military operations against FARC while the doctors treat her. Pressure from family members has made her case a cause célèbre in France.
In yet another move to liberalize Cuban society under new leader Raul Castro, the communist government is transferring fallow agricultural acreage to private farmers, state TV reported Tuesday. It was not clear how much acreage has been made available or under what terms, but the report said 51 percent of arable land is underutilized. The chief of the national farmers' association said the policy included higher prices for such commodities as potatoes, coffee, and tobacco.