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Castro Steps Down as Cuban Leader

Fidel Castro has announced he’s stepping down as Cuban president, nearly half a century after leading the successful overthrow of a U.S.-backed dictatorship. Castro temporarily handed off power to his brother Raul Castro in July 2006 for health reasons. In a statement, Castro said: “It would betray my conscience to occupy a responsibility that requires mobility and the total commitment that I am not in the physical condition to offer.” He went on to say he will remain in public life as a writer and “soldier in the battle of ideas.” Castro has continued to pen regular columns during his illness. Cuba’s National Assembly is expected to nominate Raul Castro as a successor.

Musharraf’s Party Loses Seats in Pakistani Elections

In Pakistan, the party of President Pervez Musharraf appears to have suffered a major defeat in parliamentary elections. Initial results show several Musharraf allies have lost their seats. The Pakistan Peoples Party, led by the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto until her murder late last year, came in first with 110 seats. Final results aren’t expected until later this week. We’ll have more on Pakistan later in the broadcast.

U.S. Recognizes Independent Kosovo

The U.S. has recognized Kosovo’s declaration of independence. U.S. mission chief Tina Kaidanov made the announcement in Kosovo.

Tina Kaidanov: “Today, the United States recognized Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state. President Bush has responded affirmatively to a request from Kosovo to establish diplomatic relations between our two
countries."

The Serbian government, meanwhile, has condemned any international recognition of Kosovo and recalled its ambassador to the United States. Serbia told a Security Council emergency meeting Monday Kosovo’s independence violates international law. We’ll have more on Kosovo later in the broadcast.

36 Die in Afghan Suicide Bombing

In Afghanistan, at least thirty-six civilians were killed and forty wounded in a suicide attack aimed at a NATO convoy. Four Canadian soldiers were injured. Most of the victims were street vendors selling fruit and other goods on a crowded road. It was the second major bombing to hit southern Afghanistan in as many days. More than one hundred people were killed in a suicide attack on Sunday in the worst known atrocity since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Wisconsin, Hawaii Hold Primaries

On the campaign trail, voters head to the polls in Wisconsin and Hawaii today. Wisconsin is expected to be the tightest contest in the Democratic race since Super Tuesday. Senator Hillary Clinton is hoping to end Barack Obama’s string of eight victories over the past two weeks. The race has heated up with negative ads and a charge of plagiarism from the Clinton camp against Obama. Obama has admitted to borrowing language from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick for a recent speech but says the plagiarism accusation is an act of desperation. Patrick says he supports Obama and that the two have exchanged ideas for a while. Meanwhile, on the Republican side, frontrunner Senator John McCain has picked up an endorsement from former President George H.W. Bush. The elder Bush appeared with McCain Monday in Houston.

George H.W. Bush: “His commitment to America is beyond any doubt, but most importantly he has the right values and experience to guide our nation forward at this historic moment, and so I am very proud to endorse John McCain for the presidency of the United States of America. Few men walking among us have sacrificed so much in the cause of human freedom, and I am happy to help this remarkable patriot carry our party’s banner forward."

Bush: No Link Between Economy, Iraq War

President Bush says he sees no link between the struggling U.S. economy and the Iraq war. Bush was asked about the relation between the two on NBC’s Today Show.

Ann Curry: “You don’t agree with that? It has nothing do with the economy, the war — spending on the war?”

President Bush: “I don’t think so. I think actually the spending in the war might help with jobs…because we’re buying equipment, and people are working. I think this economy is down because we built too many houses and the economy’s adjusting.”

Bush was interviewed in Africa, where he continues his five-nation tour.

“Dossier” Author: Britain Was “Wrong” on Iraq

The British government has released an early version of the so-called intelligence "dossier" that made the case for attacking Iraq. The document contains no mention of the central claim often made by then British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Saddam Hussein could launch chemical or biological weapons within forty minutes. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the early draft wasn’t used as a basis for the final document. He also criticized a judicial decision to enforce the release after a Freedom of Information Act request. As the draft was released, its author, former Blair aide John Williams, said those in Blair’s cabinet who had resigned in protest of the war were “right.” He added: “Those of us who carried on working for the government were wrong.”

U.S. to Keep AFRICOM in Germany

The Pentagon has announced it plans to keep the headquarters of its Africa Command, AFRICOM, in Germany. Only one African nation, Liberia, had offered to host it. President Bush’s trip to Africa was seen by some as an attempt to shore up support for AFRICOM on the continent.

St. Paul Orders Taser Weapons Ahead of RNC

Back in the United States, the city of St. Paul, Minnesota has ordered taser weapons for its entire police force in advance of the upcoming Republican National Convention. All 375 police officers are set to receive the tasers shortly before St. Paul hosts the RNC in early September. Tasers remain in use despite causing a number of deaths over the last decade.

U.S. Court Shuts Down Whistleblower Site

And a U.S. court has shut down a popular website known as an online whistleblower on key political issues. A Swiss bank won an order to close WikiLeaks.org after the site published hundreds of documents detailing the bank’s offshore activities. WikiLeaks has brought to light several revelatory documents, including the U.S. military manual at Guantanamo Bay and its rules of engagement for U.S. forces in Iraq.

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