Biden criticizes Russia's legal, political order
Vice President Joe Biden, who two years ago introduced the idea of a thaw between the United States and Russia, used a speech at Moscow State University to criticize Russia's legal and political systems, a move likely to irritate the country's leaders. Russians, he said, "want to be able to choose their national and local leaders in competitive elections. They want to assemble freely, and they want the media to be independent of the state. And they want to live in a country that fights corruption. … That's democracy," he said. "I urge all you students here: Don't compromise on the basic elements of democracy."
WHO response to swine flu criticized
A panel of independent experts has harshly reviewed the World Health Organization's handling of the 2009 epidemic of H1N1 swine flu, though it found no evidence supporting the most outlandish accusation made against the agency: that it exaggerated the alarm to help vaccine companies get rich. A draft of the report was posted on an obscure corner of the WHO's website on Thursday. Among the criticism was the agency's "needlessly complex" definition of a pandemic, which had six levels of alert, based on the virus' geographical spread, not its severity. And some advisers had done research for the vaccine industry, creating potential conflicts of interest.
Terror attack risk high, U.S. warns
The State Department warned of a possible imminent terrorist attack against U.S. interests, including the American embassy and American school, in the West African nation of Mali. The U.S. Embassy in the capital of Bamako said Thursday that it has "credible information of a possible attack in the immediate future" against the embassy and the school. In a security alert to U.S. citizens in Mali, the embassy also said it had "credible information of a possible kidnapping plot targeting Americans and other Westerners in Bamako." Americans were asked to increase their security precautions, but no details about the potential attacks were given. Al-Qaida affiliates have in the past carried out attacks in Mali.
Dissident, 9 others to be released
Cuban officials will free a political dissident from prison and let him stay on the island, while nine other inmates jailed for crimes against state security are being sent to Spain, the Roman Catholic Church said Thursday. The releases are being carried out under an agreement between the church and the government that has so far freed about 100 people, some who have served time for political activism and others for violent but politically motivated acts. The Archdiocese of Havana said the government planned to release Oscar Elias Biscet, who was arrested during an internationally criticized roundup of dissidents in 2003.
Indonesia: A powerful earthquake off Indonesia rattled the popular resort island of Bali early today, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries, officials said.
U.S. Virgin Islands: The State Department is urging the British Virgin Islands to solve the long-standing problem of foul-smelling smoke drifting from a trash incinerator, U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. John deJongh Jr. said Thursday.