- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 2004

SUDAN

Darfur rebel group rejects return to talks

LONDON — A Darfur rebel group said yesterday that it refused to return to peace talks sponsored by the African Union and rejected the pan-African body as lead mediator to end the 22-month-old conflict in Sudan.

The leader of the Justice and Equality Movement, Khalil Ibrahim, told Reuters news agency that it would accept only the United Nations as principal mediator in any peace talks and wanted U.N. troops stationed in the Darfur region of western Sudan.

The other main rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, said it also was very unhappy with the African Union but had not decided whether to attend a new round of talks in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.

AUSTRALIA

Powerful quake hits southern ocean floor

SYDNEY — An extremely powerful earthquake struck the ocean floor between Australia and Antarctica early today, causing buildings to shake hundreds of miles away on the island of Tasmania, authorities said. There were no reports of damage or injuries.

The magnitude 8.1 quake hit 305 miles north of Macquarie Island just before 2 a.m., according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Web site. An earthquake of magnitude 8 is capable of doing tremendous damage if it occurs in an urban region.

The earthquake was felt throughout Australia’s southern island state of Tasmania, said Cvetan Sinadinovski of Geoscience Australia.

“If it happened underneath a population center in Australia, this would probably have destroyed a whole city,” Mr. Sinadinovski said.

BRITAIN

IRA denies role in bank heist

BELFAST — The Irish Republican Army yesterday denied it was behind a $43 million bank heist in Belfast earlier this week.

Earlier Ian Paisley Jr., the son of the hard-line leader of the province’s main Protestant party, said the robbery, which occurred in Belfast late on Monday, displayed all the hallmarks of the IRA.

A police spokeswoman repeated yesterday that paramilitary involvement had not been ruled out. The theft, one of the biggest in British history, occurred at the headquarters of Northern Bank after families of bank employees were taken hostage the previous evening.

RUSSIA

Qatar shifts agents in Chechen’s killing

MOSCOW — Two Russian intelligence agents convicted by a Qatar court of assassinating a Chechen rebel leader returned yesterday to Russia, where the Kremlin had requested they be allowed to serve their life sentences.

A government-chartered plane carrying the agents arrived at a Moscow airport yesterday evening, reported the ITAR-Tass and Interfax news agencies, citing unnamed sources in Kremlin.

Moscow had requested that the agents, who were convicted in June for killing Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, be allowed to serve their life sentences in Russia, an unnamed Foreign Ministry official told the official Qatar News Agency.

CUBA

Castro walks in public first time since fall

HAVANA — A smiling Fidel Castro walked in public yesterday for the first time since he fell two months ago, and lawmakers attending a year-end National Assembly meeting gave him a standing ovation.

Mr. Castro entered the room on the arm of a uniformed schoolgirl, then walked in front of the gathered lawmakers and up some steps before taking his seat on stage at Havana’s Convention Palace.

Mr. Castro, 78, made headlines worldwide when he stumbled and fell Oct. 20 in the central city of Santa Clara, shattering his left kneecap and breaking his right arm.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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