HARI SREENIVASAN: Peace talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan were dealt a blow today when it emerged that a man representing the Taliban side is an impostor.
Unnamed Afghan insiders told various media outlets the man posing as Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour met with Afghan and NATO officials three times. He is one of the highest-ranking members of the Taliban Council.
But, in Kabul today, Afghan President Hamid Karzai quickly dismissed the reports, and said he never met the man.
HAMID KARZAI, president, Afghanistan (through translator): I didn't see anyone by the name of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour. And Akhtar Muhammad Mansour didn't come to Afghanistan. Don't accept this news from the foreign press regarding meetings with the elders of the Taliban, because most of them are propaganda.
HARI SREENIVASAN: General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, confirmed there has been outreach to the Taliban over the past six to eight months.
Speaking to reporters in Berlin, Petraeus said there had been long-held doubts about one of the alleged Taliban representatives.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, commander, International Security Assistance Force: Some of these have been recognized as being legitimate. All are very preliminary. And, in fact, as we have described them at most have been talks about talks or pre-preliminary, there was skepticism about one of these all along, and it may well be that that skepticism was well-founded.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The Taliban has denied talks are taking place at any level.
The death toll from a stampede in Cambodia rose to nearly 380 people today, as rescuers search for more victims. The disaster happened late yesterday in Phnom Penh during a festival celebrating the end of the rainy season. Thousands tried to flee over a narrow bridge. Many suffocated or were trampled in the frenzy. More than 750 people were injured, including some who reported being wedged in the crowd for hours.
Vatican officials signaled today the pope has made a shift on the church's teaching regarding condom use. The Roman Catholic Church opposes the use of contraception, but, over the weekend, Pope Benedict XVI suggested condom use was acceptable in preventing the spread of HIV.
Today, Vatican officials clarified the pope's statement.
REVEREND FEDERICO LOMBARDI, Vatican spokesman (through translator): It's the first step of taking responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk of the life of another person with whom you have a relationship. This is if you're a woman, a man, or a transsexual. We're at the same point. The point is, it's a first step of taking responsibility, of avoiding passing a grave risk on to another.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Thirty-three million people around the world are currently living with HIV.
In U.S. economic news, officials from the Federal Reserve lowered economic expectations for next year. The 18 top leaders of the central bank predicted the U.S. economy will grow at a 3 to 3.6 percent pace. That's down sharply from earlier projections. The minutes from their last closed-door meeting also show the policy-makers were divided over whether to launch a $600 billion program to shore up the economy.
The Fed news, combined with unease over North Korea and Europe's financial woes, brought stocks on Wall Street down today. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 142 points to close at 11036. The Nasdaq fell 37 points to close at 2495.
Those are some of the day's major stories.