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Friday, January 19

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Editor's Note: The CNN Wire is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents and producers, and The CNN Wire editors. "Posted" times are Eastern Standard.

Chavez: Castro 'fighting for his life'

RIO DE JANEIRO (CNN) -- Cuban leader Fidel Castro is "fighting for his life," Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Friday at a speech before the state legislature in Rio de Janeiro.

Chavez, who said he spoke to Castro a few days ago by telephone, compared Castro's battle against a serious intestinal illness to the Cuban leader's time in the Cuban mountains heading the revolution against the Fulgencio Batista government.

"Fidel is again in the Sierra Maestra again," Chavez said. "He's fighting for his life. We don't know, we want him to recover and he continues progressing although slowly."

Noting that Castro's age, Chavez said that "he said it himself: the machine that they have to fix is 80 years old."

Castro has not been seen in public since before July 31, when relinquished power to his brother Raul so that he could undergo surgery. The Cuban government has maintained secrecy about his condition, but others have speculated. (Posted 10:43 p.m.)

Bush to speak at House Democrats' retreat

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush has accepted an invitation to speak at House Democrats' annual retreat next month in Williamsburg, Va., Democratic and White House officials said Friday.

A senior White House official said Bush's acceptance was part of his effort to reach out to the new Congress.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, announced that Bush would join former President Bill Clinton and others as speakers at the Feb. 1-3 event. Bush will speak on Feb. 3.

The president will address the Republican retreat on next Friday in Cambridge, Md. (Posted 9:09 p.m.)

Carter, Mondale criticize Bush administration

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former President Jimmy Carter and ex-Vice President Walter "Fritz" Mondale sharply criticized the two men that currently hold the jobs they once did, in an exclusive interview with CNN Friday.

Carter, who was president from 1977 to 1981, said President Bush must address the "mistakes" he has made and specifically referenced the Bush administration's policy regarding domestic eavesdropping.

"Obviously what needs to be done is to reassess some of the mistakes that have been made that are patently obvious to everyone," Carter said on CNN's "The Situation Room." "The violation of basic law, some of which Fritz Mondale and I passed -- that is, the getting judicial approval before you start spying on American people."

The 39th president added that his predecessor would do well "to reassert America's status in the entire world as a champion of human rights instead of a foremost violator." (Posted 6:05 p.m.)

Johnson undergoing speech, physical therapy as recovery progresses

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson is participating in occupational, physical and speech therapy as he continues his recovery from a brain hemorrhage and resulting surgery last month, his office said Friday.

"Just yesterday, he had his tracheotomy removed," said a written statement. "Johnson is making consistent progress in his recovery; however, it is anticipated that his rehabilitation will take several months."

Johnson is working with parallel bars and naming objects as part of his therapy, the statement said. He was transferred out of the intensive care unit at George Washington University Hospital earlier this month. (Posted 5:39 p.m.)

Justice Dept. officials say DNA database awaits agency coordination

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Justice Department officials said Friday that plans to compile DNA data from thousands of detainees, including immigration violators, are proceeding but will not be finalized or implemented soon.

The plan calls for DNA samples from arrested criminal suspects and immigration detainees to be entered into an FBI-controlled database. Law enforcement authorities at all levels will then be able to access the data for identifying matches.

Supporters of the plan say it could help solve crimes committed by illegal immigrants and identify repeat offenders or individuals using aliases.

The ACLU has expressed fear the program could be used too broadly and would violate privacy rights. (Posted 5:04 p.m.)

U.S. Navy relieves submarine commander after 2 sailors die at sea

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Navy relieved a submarine commander of duty after two sailors died when waves swept them off the top of the USS Minneapolis-St. Paul last month.

A large wave knocked four sailors off the deck of the sub as it was leaving the port of Plymouth, England, on Dec. 29. Two of the sailors were rescued. The other two, Senior Chief Petty Officer Thomas Higgins of Paducah, Ky., and Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Holtz of Lakewood, Ohio, died.

The Navy, after determining that Cmdr. Edwin Ruff was responsible for them being on deck at the time of the accident, relieved him of command and transferred him to a duty assignment on shore. Such disciplinary actions typically end an officer's advancement in the Navy.

The Navy investigation determined that the incident was avoidable and due in part to a poor decision by the commander. --From CNN Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy (Posted 4:45 p.m.)

Collins, others prepare new Iraq resolution

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate may face dueling resolutions next week when senators who objected to language in a proposed resolution on President Bush's plan to increase troop numbers in Iraq present their own proposal.

An aide to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told CNN Friday that Collins, Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb. and others worked late into the night Thursday and agreed to language for the new resolution. The aide said, however, that the senators would not discuss the content until Monday, when they have scheduled a news conference.

Collins is one of several Republicans who oppose Bush's plan to send more than 21,000 additional troops to Iraq, but she and others objected to language in a resolution proposed by Sens. Joe Biden, D-Del., Carl Levin, D-Mich. and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.

In particular, Collins noted that the Biden-Levin-Hagel resolution discussed issues other than Iraq, such as North Korea, and used the word "escalating" to refer to the troop increase, a term she and other GOP senators considered partisan. (Posted 3:47 p.m.)

Mass. student dies after stabbing at high school

SUDBURY, Mass. (CNN) -- A 15-year-old high school freshman was stabbed to death Friday in an altercation at a suburban Boston high school, and a 16-year-old student was charged as an adult with first-degree murder in his death, authorities said.

James Alenson was pronounced dead at a hospital after the incident about 7:20 a.m. at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, said Middlesex District Attorney Gerard Leone Jr.

Alenson and the other student were involved in an argument that began in a bathroom and continued into a hallway, Leone said. Authorities believe it was "an isolated incident between two students," he said.

John Odgren, 16, was arraigned Friday in Framingham District Court. He is charged as an adult with first-degree murder and was being held without bail, according to Corey Welford, spokesman for Leone's office. (Posted 3:33 p.m.)

Martinez elected RNC general chairman

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Florida Sen. Mel Martinez was elected Friday as general chairman of the Republican National Party, taking the helm of a deeply divided party that suffered a beating in November's midterm elections, yet speaking of optimism, growth and renewal as his plan for the GOP's future.

"What I am going to do over the next two years is assist our party in a renewal of the principles that have made us great: Lower taxes, limited government, individual responsibility, freedom here and abroad and the power of faith," Martinez said in his address to RNC members during the party's winter meeting Friday.

"I am going to carry those principles to the American people, explaining why the Republican way of doing things is the best way to solve America's problems." (Posted 1:46 p.m.)

Casey: 'Late summer' time period might spawn results in Baghdad security efforts

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- The top-ranking U.S. military official in Iraq said Friday that late summer will be the time when clear results could emerge from the reworked security effort in Baghdad.

Gen. George Casey, who accompanied visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates during his trip to Iraq on Friday, had been asked questions about the new strategy to secure the volatile capital.

He said it is "probably going to be" late in the summer before Baghdad residents reach the point where they "feel safe in their neighborhoods."

Casey also said he thinks that "late summer" is the projection for how long the new troop U.S. deployment in Iraq will remain in effect. (Posted 1:19 p.m.)

Reid: 'We've changed the way Washington does business'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate were triumphant Friday, declaring success with initial goals for the new Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the Senate's passing of an ethics reform package Thursday its "first victory of this new congressional year."

And he praised House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for leading the Democrats through their "first 100 hours" plan to debate and pass numerous key pieces of legislation at the beginning of the congressional session.

"You've made history," he told Pelosi. (Posted 1:07 p.m.)

4 people killed in Baghdad attacks; 18 bodies found in city

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Attackers in Baghdad on Friday killed at least four people in several actions, and police discovered 18 slain bodies in the capital, an Interior Ministry official told CNN.

This comes at the end of a bloody week in Baghdad, punctuated by the attack on Tuesday at Mustansiriya University -- which killed 70 people.

Seventeen bodies of unidentified people -- thought to be victims of sectarian violence -- were found, with most showing signs of torture. Police also found the body of a Falluja tribal leader shot dead in Yarmouk in western Baghdad.

Mortar rounds in southern Baghdad's Dora neighborhood killed a woman and wounded three civilians, and mortar rounds in another southern Baghdad incident killed two civilians and wounded three. Gunmen also fired randomly at civilians, killing one of them and wounding three. --From CNN's Jomana Karadsheh (Posted 12:17 p.m.)

Reid: Bush shows more change in a few weeks than 6 years

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush has shown more willingness to change over the past few weeks than he did in his first six years in office, the top Democrat in the Senate said Friday.

"We found the president in his first six years to be pretty stubborn, and we found the last few weeks as much change as has been in the first six years," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

The transfer of power in both houses of Congress to the Democrats has changed the dynamics for the president.

Speaking to reporters at the National Press Club, Reid said Bush has "backed off from the domestic spying" and "acknowledged many mistakes in Iraq." And Reid referred to "rumblings from the White House" that Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday may include a dramatic new plan for energy independence and "even global warming." (Posted 12:14 p.m.)

House reforms page program in response to Foley scandal

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House passed a bipartisan resolution Friday to reform the board that oversees that chamber's page program, which was sullied when a representative sent sexually explicit instant messages to teenage congressional pages.

The vote was 416-0.

The changes were prompted after the messages sent by Rep. Mark Foley were discovered. Foley abruptly resigned in September.

The measure will change the board's membership by increasing the number of lawmakers, with a proviso that there be an equal number of Republicans and Democrats; and adding a former page and the parent of a current or former page. Regular meetings are required, and new rules were developed to increase oversight and protection for pages. (Posted 11:42 a.m.)

Blair adviser arrested in British bribe probe

LONDON (CNN) -- A senior political adviser to Tony Blair was arrested and questioned Friday morning by police investigating the cash-for-honors allegations, a Downing Street press spokesman told CNN.

Ruth Turner was arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice, questioned and later released on bail without charge. Police are investigating whether people have been nominated for honors after giving money to political parties.

So far, four people have have been arrested and released on bail. All of them deny any wrongdoing. --From CNN's Bridget Fallon (Posted 11:06 a.m.)

Former House Republican sentenced to 30 months in jail

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, who left office just before the midterm November elections for his role in a congressional bribery scandal, was sentenced Friday to 30 months in jail.

The judge said Ney's actions were a "significant, serious abuse of the public trust."

Prosecutors had said they would seek a prison term of up to 27 months and $60,000 in fines at sentencing; Ney's lawyers had asked U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle for no more than two years in prison for their client.

The Ohio Republican pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud, deprive his constituents of honest service and violate his former chief of staff's one-year lobbying ban; and a second count of making false statements to the House. (Posted 10:11 a.m.)

CNN Turk: Prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist shot killed in Istanbul

ISTANBUL (CNN) -- A prominent Turkish journalist of Armenian descent who spoke out against the killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire early in the last century was shot to death Friday, according to CNN Turk.

Hrant Dink, editor of the Armenian-Turkish-language weekly Agos newspaper, was killed in front of the building that houses the Istanbul publication.

The killing prompted swift denunciation by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said the attack was a "shock" and an "insult" to the Turkish nation and a "dark day" -- not only for Dink's family but for all of Turkey as well.

Dink, editor of the Armenian-Turkish language weekly Agos newspaper, was a "well-known commentator on Armenian affairs.," according to Pen American Center, a writers' group that promotes free expression. In 2005, he was "convicted to a six-month suspended sentence on charges of 'insult to the Turkish state,'" it said. (Posted 9:55 a.m.)

U.S., Iraqi forces lock up top Shiite cleric aide after targeted raid

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- In an overnight raid, Iraqi forces backed by U.S. troops captured a top aide to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in eastern Baghdad, a militia spokesman told CNN Friday.

The spokesman said Sheikh Abdul al-Hadi Darraji -- the director of Sadr's main offices in Sadr City -- was arrested at a mosque in the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of Belediyat, just outside Sadr City.

Al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia is part of a politically powerful Shiite movement thought to be in the middle of the Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence in Iraq.

A U.S. military statement Friday did not name Darraji specifically, but did announce U.S. and Iraqi forces had arrested a "high-level, illegal armed group leader" blamed for kidnapping, torturing and killing Iraqi civilians while heading an "illegal armed group punishment committee."

Mohammed al-Kaabi, another al-Sadr official, said members of the al-Sadr movement were in talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other government officials to secure Darraji's release. (Posted 8:13 a.m.)

U.S. defense secretary visits Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was visiting Iraq on Friday on an unannounced stop that is part of his current overseas trip.

He arrived in the southern city of Basra, where British forces are based. Later, he traveled to the Tallill Air Base, in Nasiriya in southern Iraq.

Gates -- who traveled to Iraq last month -- was meeting with U.S., British and other coalition officials.

His visit comes as U.S. and Iraqi officials are working on a new effort to restore law and order in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq.

Gates earlier this week visited Afghanistan, where he said he would consider sending more troops. U.S., NATO and Afghan soldiers have been fighting Taliban militants in that region. (Posted 6:20 a.m.)

Berlin rail station closed after winter storm rampages across Europe

BERLIN (CNN) -- Damage caused by a powerful winter storm left officials scrambling to repair Berlin's busiest rail station Friday after hurricane-force winds ripped steel girders from the station's facade a day earlier, a German police spokeswoman told CNN.

Because Berlin Station, Europe's largest railway terminal, was already closed by the bad weather, no one was injured or killed in the incident. However, the girders did damage a car and several bicycles.

Friday's closure affects thousands of travelers in Germany's capital and it is uncertain when service will resume, according to Deutsche Bahn, the German railway. (Posted 6:06 a.m.)

Israel transfers $100 million in tax collections to Abbas government

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel transferred $100 million in tax collections to the Palestinian Authority Friday, ending a 10-month freeze on the assets, a representative at the prime minister's office said.

The move came a day after Miri Eisin, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokeswoman, told CNN that Jerusalem would shift the funds once mechanisms were in place to make sure the money would not go to fund terror. Israel collects taxes on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

The payments were put on hold after the Islamic militant group Hamas came to power in March. The group's charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

An Israeli official told CNN that the money will be used for humanitarian purposes and to help strengthen the hand of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (Posted 3:48 a.m.)

U.S. soldier killed, 3 wounded in Baghdad roadside bomb

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A U.S. soldier was killed when a roadside bomb exploded during a patrol in a northwestern Baghdad neighborhood Thursday, the U.S. military announced Friday.

Three other Multi-National Division-Baghdad soldiers were wounded in the blast.

The number of U.S. military personnel who have died in Iraq stands at 3,028. There have been 24 deaths in January. (Posted 3:30 a.m.)

U.S. military, Iraqi forces lock-up top Shiite cleric aide after targeted raid

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- In an overnight raid, Iraqi forces backed by U.S. troops captured a top aide to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in eastern Baghdad, the militia's spokesman told CNN Friday.

The spokesman said Sheikh Abdul al-Hadi Darraji -- the director of Sadr's main offices in Sadr City -- was arrested at a mosque in the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of Belediyat, just outside Sadr City.

Al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia is part of a politically powerful Shiite movement thought to be in the middle of the Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence in Iraq. (Posted 2:54 a.m.)

State prosecutor offers plea deal to defendants in HP leak probe case

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- All five defendants in the Hewlett-Packard spy case, including ousted HP Chairwoman Patricia Dunn, were offered a plea deal reducing their felony charges to a misdemeanor in exchange for their guilty pleas, a defense attorney told CNN late Thursday.

Stephen Naritil, who represents defendant Bryan Wagner, said California Attorney General Bill Lockyer offered his client and the other four defendants the plea deal at the end of December. All five were charged with multiple felonies, including conspiracy. --By CNN's Katy Byron in New York (Posted 1:18 a.m.)

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