KABUL, Afghanistan

Karzai criticizes U.S. plan to withdraw troops in July

President Hamid Karzai on Thursday criticized the U.S. plan to begin withdrawing troops starting next July and said the war on terror cannot succeed as long as the Taliban and their allies maintain sanctuaries in Pakistan.

Karzai’s statements were made during a meeting with visiting U.S. congressmen and come at a time when the Obama administration is ratcheting up pressure on the Afghan leader to do more to stamp out corruption. The Afghan government maintains that the U.S. should be doing more on other fronts, including pressuring Pakistan to shut down the insurgent sanctuaries.

A statement by Karzai’s office said the Afghan leader told the U.S. delegation that significant progress had been made in rebuilding the country after decades of war.

But he said the campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaida had faltered because of ongoing civilian casualties during NATO military operations and a lack of focus on “destroying the terrorists’ refuge” across the border. Karzai also said President Barack Obama’s announcement that he would begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan in July 2011 has given “the enemy a morale boost” because they believe they can simply hold out until the Americans leave.

SAN’A, Yemen

Ex-bodyguard to Osama sees al-Qaida strengthening

A former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden warned of an escalation in fighting between al-Qaida and Yemeni authorities and predicted the government would need outside intervention to stay in power.

Nasser Ahmed al-Bahri told the Associated Press late Wednesday that recent attacks by al-Qaida in southern Yemen was an indication of its increasing strength.

U.S. officials have said that the CIA now sees al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen as a greater threat to the United States than its parent organization hiding out in Pakistan.

“I expect that the confrontations will escalate and will reach an open war between the government and al-Qaida fighters,” he said, adding that U.S. forces may have to intervene to keep the terror network from triumphing. The U.S. is already spending tens of millions of dollars to help the Yemeni government fight al-Qaida and on Wednesday U.S. officials said the CIA’s deadly Predator drones may be added to the fight.

LA PAZ, Bolivia

Bolivia confiscates more land for distribution to poor

Bolivia has confiscated 280,000 more acres of allegedly fallow or ill-gotten land as part of President Evo Morales’ drive to redistribute land to the poor, the government announced Thursday.

The seizure includes 51,000 acres from the ranching company of prominent opposition figure Osvaldo Monasterio, land reform agency chief Juan Carlos Rojas told reporters. Four other haciendas were targeted.

Rojas said the government determined the holdings in eastern Bolivia are under used or have fraudulent deeds – reasons cited in the past for denying compensation to owners of seized land.

CARACAS, Venezuela

Officials seize cocaine after jet intercepts drug plane

Authorities seized more than 4.4 tons of cocaine at a ranch Thursday after F-16 fighter jets intercepted a plane that was flying to pick up the load, Venezuela’s top security official said.

Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami called the drug seizure a significant blow to drug traffickers using Venezuela as a transshipment point for Colombian cocaine destined for the United States, Europe and the Caribbean.

“This is the biggest haul in recent years,” he said

Soldiers are searching the area surrounding the ranch located in central Guarico state for more cocaine, El Aissami said. “We believe there could be more buried stashes.”

Police arrested one suspect at the ranch, but officials did not identify the detainee or provide additional details regarding the arrest.

The cocaine, which was found buried at the ranch, was discovered a day after two Venezuelan air force F-16s intercepted a King-200 commercial aircraft and forced it to land in Guarico.

BANGKOK

603-pound woman gets out for first time in three years

A 603-pound woman believed to be the heaviest in Thailand left her apartment for the first time in three years Thursday with the help of Bangkok city hall and a forklift.

Neighbors of 40-year-old Umnuayporn Tongprapai contacted the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority when they learned she needed medical attention to remove a tumor in her right leg.

Bangkok’s media-savvy governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra summoned camera crews to document the event, which involved engineers, demolition crews, rescue workers, doctors and nurses.

Seated on the floor of her modest third-floor apartment on the outskirts of Bangkok, Umnuayporn told reporters she could only walk a few feet (meters) on her own and was confined to her studio apartment where she ran a laundry service with the help of her two adopted sons.

“I’ve been living in this room and have not gone outside for three years,” she said

Umnuayporn walked slowly to a trolley aided by her son. She was rolled down the corridor to a nearby empty apartment where workers had demolished a section of the building’s facade to take her outside.