The Baltimore Sun

Obama report to detail Blagojevich contacts

WASHINGTON: President-elect Barack Obama will offer details this week about his transition staff's contact with Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, who is facing federal charges of plotting to sell Obama's vacated Senate seat for cash or a job. One Democratic official said yesterday that an internal report Obama ordered would be released no later than tomorrow. The official, who requested anonymity because the report is not yet public, said transition aides were eager to make public their findings about discussions with Blagojevich's office and move past the distraction of the scandal. The report is expected to disclose details about contacts with Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Obama's incoming chief of staff, who Blagojevich aides have said spoke regularly to the Democratic governor.

President of Poland pays visit to synagogue

WARSAW, Poland: Poland's president observed the start of Hanukkah yesterday by visiting Warsaw's main synagogue, a gesture the city's Jewish community greeted as a historic step in its revival. Lech Kaczynski's visit marked the first time the head of state has attended a religious service at a synagogue in Poland, whose Jewish population was nearly wiped out in the Holocaust and later suffered from communist-era repression. The visit "means we're in a normal country ... a country that treasures that it has citizens of different religions and of different backgrounds," said Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich. As Kaczynski entered Warsaw's century-old Nozyk synagogue just after sundown, the congregation rose and a group of Jewish children sang Shalom Aleichem - "peace be upon you."

Pope notes UNESCO Year of Astronomy

VATICAN CITY: Pope Benedict XVI is marking the 400th anniversary of Galileo's use of a telescope. Benedict said yesterday that he wanted to salute all who are marking the 2009 anniversary and UNESCO's World Year of Astronomy. Speaking on the winter solstice, Benedict said understanding the laws of nature can stimulate understanding and appreciation of God's works. The Roman Catholic Church condemned Galileo in the 17th century for supporting Nicholas Copernicus' notion that the Earth revolved around the sun; church teaching at the time placed Earth at the center of the universe. In 1992, Pope John Paul II apologized, saying that the denunciation was a tragic error.

U.S. diplomat speaks out against Mugabe

PRETORIA, South Africa: The U.S. can no longer support a proposed Zimbabwean power-sharing deal that would leave Robert Mugabe, "a man who's lost it," as president, the top U.S. envoy for Africa told reporters yesterday. Jendayi Frazer, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, made the announcement in South Africa after spending the past several days explaining the U.S. shift to regional leaders. The new U.S. stance will put pressure on Zimbabwe's neighbors - South Africa in particular - to abandon Mugabe. But South Africa said its position was unchanged. The U.S., Frazer said, has become convinced Mugabe is incapable of sharing power. She noted political moves he has made since September without consulting the opposition, reports that his regime has continued to harass and arrest opposition and human rights activists, and the continued deterioration of Zimbabwe's humanitarian and economic situation. Particularly worrying, she said, was the rapid spread of cholera, an easily treatable and preventable disease that has killed at least 1,000 Zimbabweans since August.

Top U.S. general looks ahead in Iraq

BASRA, Iraq: The top U.S. general in Iraq said he will make a decision about the future role of American troops in early spring, to allow enough time to deal with any violence that might arise from January provincial elections. Gen. Ray Odierno said the two-month period after the election will enable U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces to ensure that those elected can take office. He said U.S. troops will move into southern Iraq early next year to replace departing British forces. "So we have to make sure in the election those who didn't win understand that, and we will be able to seat the new government properly," Odierno said late Saturday. Violence is dropping sharply throughout the country. An Iraqi military official said yesterday that murder rates have returned to pre-war levels. Military officials say Odierno has outlined for Pentagon leaders a withdrawal plan that would pull thousands of troops out of Iraq early next year but move more cautiously than the 16-month timetable pledged by President-elect Barack Obama.

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