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Aug. 5, 2009

By United Press International   |   Aug. 5, 2009 at 8:53 AM
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Bill Clinton returns with journalists:

North Korean officials pardoned and released two journalists after a quick visit from former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who worked for former Vice President Al Gore's Current TV station, left Pyongyang with the former president on a plane bound for Burbank, Calif. They had been arrested March 17 near the North Korean border with China.

They were subsequently found guilty of illegal entry into North Korea and of hostile acts against the North Korean government and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor.

Clinton arrived in Pyongyang Tuesday and was back in the United States early Wednesday with the former prisoners. The pardons came after Clinton met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. North Korean officials had apparently told Ling and Lee they could be released if Clinton traveled to North Korea.

The White House said it had previously been agree that Clinton's trip would end with the journalists' release and an administration official said Tuesday that, contrary to North Korean state-run media, the former president didn't apologize for the alleged actions of Lee and Ling.


Ahmadinejad begins second term:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began his second term as president of Iran as protesters gathered outside the parliament building guarded by riot troops.

Ahmadinejad, 52, was sworn in Wednesday after being declared the winner of a disputed June 12 election. That announced result spawned a series of protests in which as many as 30 demonstrators were killed.

The protests have continued, although without their initial intensity. It will be watched closely to see whether Ahmadinejad's inauguration will quell them.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside parliament Wednesday but were dispersed by the riot police.

Ahmadinejad's speech focused on Iran's economic problems but he also blamed the West for the election protests and warned those who might continue demonstrations that he would "resist" interference.


Call for Afghan 'surge'?:

There is a move to convince U.S. President Barack Obama that Afghanistan's security forces need to be drastically enlarged.

Bloomberg News reported that a letter to Obama from Sens. Joe Lieberman, Ind-Conn., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the Afghan National Army and police personnel should total 400,000. Those combined groups are currently about 175,000 strong.

U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal is scheduled to deliver to U.S. and NATO officials a report on the situation in Afghanistan next week. Bloomberg said the general will call for quicker expansion of the Afghan forces.

The Pentagon has asked for $7.5 billion for next year's expenses of building up Afghan forces to a total of about 230,000, Bloomberg said. Thousands of additional foreign military trainers and billions of additional dollars would be needed to get that figure to 400,000.


The Russians are coming:

U.S. defense officials said two Russian submarines have been patrolling the U.S. Eastern Seaboard in recent days.

"Anytime the Russian Navy does something so out of the ordinary it is cause for worry," a Defense Department official told The New York Times.

Russian state media quoted an official in Moscow as saying the naval patrols are "within normal practice."

While the submarines are thought to have remained more than 200 miles off the U.S. coast, it is unusual for the Russian navy to send its ships on such a mission. Recent years of economic problems have forced Moscow to keep its ships relatively close to their home bases.


Abdul bids adieu to 'Idol':

Paula Abdul said she won't be returning for another season of the televised singing competition "American Idol."

The program is the most popular on U.S. television and was noted for sometimes harsh banter between the show's original judges -- Simon Crowell, Randy Jackson and Abdul. Producers added a fourth judge, Kara DioGuardi, last season. DioGuardi is returning as a judge for the next go-round.

On Tuesday, Abdul sent a message to her Twitter followers that "With sadness in my heart, I've decided not to return" to "Idol."

"American Idol" public relations types confirmed the move, saying in a statement, "Paula Abdul has been an important part of the 'American Idol' family over the last eight seasons and we are saddened that she has decided not to return to the show. While Paula will not be continuing with us, she's a tremendous talent and we wish her the best."

Given the often soap-opera-like twists the mark "American Idol," it is unlikely this is the last word on Abdul and "Idol."

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