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Protests at Bangkok Airports Threatening Thailand’s Economy

Anti-government protests that began in August and intensified last week with the takeover of the capital’s two airports have plunged Thailand into its worst national crisis in at least a decade, and might severely damage the country’s economy.

The blockades have stalled two of the country’s crucial industries, tourism and food exports, at a time when the Thai economy was already showing signs of a slowdown because of the global financial crisis.

With more than 2,000 security troops on standby around the main international airport, the standoff also raises the possibility of violence. The police, however, maintain that their first priority is negotiations. A police helicopter flew over the airport on Monday and dropped leaflets asking the thousands of protesters to “rally in peace and without weapons.”

Since Bangkok is also a major regional hub for passenger and cargo traffic, the repercussions are also spreading through Asia. Logistics companies and airlines are diverting business to competing hubs in Singapore; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Hong Kong.

Facebook Aims to Extend Its Reach Across the Web

Facebook, the Internet’s largest social network, wants to let you take your friends with you as you travel the Web. But having been burned by privacy concerns in the last year, it plans to keep close tabs on those outings.

Facebook Connect, as the company’s new feature is called, allows its members to log onto other Web sites using their Facebook identification and see their friends’ activities on those sites. Like Beacon, the controversial advertising program that Facebook introduced and then withdrew last year after it raised a hullabaloo over privacy, Connect also gives members the opportunity to broadcast their actions on those sites to their friends on Facebook.

In the next few weeks, a number of prominent Web sites will weave this service into their pages, including those of the Discovery Channel and The San Francisco Chronicle, the social news site Digg, the genealogy network Geni and the online video hub Hulu.

Facebook Connect is representative of some surprising new thinking in Silicon Valley. Instead of trying to hoard information about their users, the Internet giants have all announced plans to share at least some of that data so people do not have to enter the same identifying information again and again on different sites.

Supporters of this idea say such programs will help with the emergence of a new “social Web,” because chatter among friends will infiltrate even sites that have been entirely unsociable thus far.

Bombs Kill at Least 32 Iraqis in Baghdad and Mosul

Suicide bombings in Baghdad and Mosul took the lives of at least 32 Iraqis on Monday in carnage that recalled the levels of violence before the American troop buildup last year.

The Baghdad bombing occurred at a police training academy on the eastern side of the Tigris just as students were leaving their lectures for lunch. As they streamed out the gate, a car dropped off a young man — most witnesses say he looked to be 16 or 17 — who walked into the crowd and detonated his suicide vest, according to witnesses.

Moments later the car he had arrived in, which had been parked down the road, exploded. At least 15 people were killed in the explosions, the Iraqi Interior Ministry reported.

A witness who said he was about 300 feet away when the first bomb went off helped two men and a woman in one of the badly damaged cars near the gate of the academy. “They all had shrapnel in every part of their body, they were at their last breath,” said the man, who gave his name as Hossam.

For Clinton, Lots of Company At Center Stage

Presentations of presidential appointees can be important, but they are rarely interesting. Usually, the men and women chosen for top Cabinet roles are not well known to the public; if there is drama behind the scenes, most in the audience are blind to it.

That was hardly the case on Monday when President-elect Barack Obama introduced his national security team. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech was no ordinary public-service pledge; for plenty of viewers, it was the moment when Clinton finally conceded the election for real.

The occasion was solemn, but like a wedding where the parents are divorced, the ceremony was carefully choreographed to avert awkward moments and camouflage past unpleasantness.

When Obama unveiled his economic team last week, he alone made a speech. In this more delicate selection, it was decided that Clinton, his pick for secretary of state, should also speak. But that might look suspect — or too political — unless the five other appointees also said a word, and that, in turn, required a few words from Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who had yet to make public statements of any consequence since the election. (He spoke last, spiritedly, and at some length.)

Not all the staging was designed to address Clinton’s sensibilities. She and the five other appointees walked out on stage and stood in line, almost as if at attention, waiting for the president-elect to walk in. He did so briskly, with Biden at his heels.

Obama introduced his former rival as “my dear friend,” and promised that his new team would forge “a new dawn of American leadership.”