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White House declines to confirm death of Taliban chief in Pakistan

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File photo of Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud in 2004. The United States declined on Friday to confirm reports that Baitullah Mehsud, Taliban chief in Pakistan, has likely been killed along with his wife and bodyguards in a drone strike, Aug. 7, 2009.

White House declines to confirm death of Taliban chief in Pakistan

WASHINGTON, Aug. 7 (Xinhua) — The United States declined on Friday to confirm reports that Baitullah Mehsud, Taliban chief in Pakistan, has likely been killed along with his wife and bodyguards in a drone strike.

“The United States cannot confirm that he has been killed in a drone attack, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.

However, the spokesman said that “There seems to be a growing consensus among credible observers that he is indeed dead.”


1bFile photo of Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud in 2004. The United States declined on Friday to confirm reports that Baitullah Mehsud, Taliban chief in Pakistan, has likely been killed along with his wife and bodyguards in a drone strike, Aug. 7, 2009.

“Baitullah Mehsud is somebody who has well earned his label as a murderous thug. … He has killed scores of innocent men, women and children and is supposed to have plotted the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. If he is dead, without a doubt, the people of Pakistan will be safer as a result,” Gibbs said.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said in Islamabad on Thursday that the Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mahsud was killed in the missile attack on Wednesday. He said “We have some information, but they don’t have material evidence to confirm it.”

Mehsud has been the leader since 2007 of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, a coalition of Taliban factions loyal to Afghanistan’s Taliban leader, Mohammad Omar. An ally of al-Qaida, Mehsud commands as many as 20,000 fighters in Pakistan’s rugged northwestern frontier region and has directed or supported numerous suicide bombings in Pakistan, including a deadly attack in 2008 on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

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Vatican, White House: Abortion one topic of Obama-pope chat

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Vatican, White House: Abortion one topic of Obama-pope chat

U.S. President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI discussed current affairs, the Catholic Church’s teachings and abortion as they met for the first time Friday, according to the White House and the Vatican.

The president also handed the pontiff a letter from Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was diagnosed with brain cancer last year, and asked that the pontiff pray for the senator, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough said.

Kennedy, 77, a Democrat, received the diagnosis after suffering a seizure in May 2008.

Obama and the pope spent about a half-hour talking, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Obama told the pope he understands the church’s teachings and said, as he has before, that he would like to reduce the number of abortions in the United States, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told CNN.

He said his sense was that the two “discussed abortion and stem cells. They discussed a range of those issues.”

In a commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana, on May 17, the president urged a search for “common ground” on abortion.

No matter how much Americans “may want to fudge it … at some level the views of the two camps are irreconcilable,” Obama said.

He urged supporters and opponents of abortion rights to “work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term.”

The commencement ceremony was boycotted by a number of graduates dismayed by the Catholic university’s decision both to tap Obama as its commencement speaker and to give him an honorary degree.

The president and the pope also discussed the pontiff’s recent encyclical — which criticized the current practice of capitalism as being shortsighted and unethical — as well as the Middle East, Cuba and the situation in Honduras, McDonough said.

Obama had been in L’Aquila, Italy, for the G8 summit. He headed to Ghana after the meeting.

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