- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 2004

PAKISTAN

Peace talks with India begin

ISLAMABAD — The foreign secretaries of nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan began two-day talks yesterday that will include their first formal dialogue on the disputed Kashmir region since they launched a peace process a year ago, officials said.

Both countries claim the entire Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is divided between them. They have fought three wars over the area since their independence from Britain in 1947.

Pakistan’s Riaz Khokar and his Indian counterpart, Shyam Saran — the top officials in their respective ministries — are expected to set a calendar for the next round of talks by senior officials on issues including border disputes, the war on drugs and terrorism, economic cooperation and nuclear confidence-building.

FRANCE

Gas explosion kills 17, injures 15

MULHOUSE — A gas explosion tore through a five-story apartment building in eastern France, killing 17 persons and injuring 15, authorities said yesterday.

Rescue workers, who initially found two bodies in the wreckage of Sunday afternoon’s blast, discovered 15 more bodies early yesterday. Most of the deaths were caused by the collapse of three floors above where the explosion took place, officials said. The victims ranged in age from 15 to 60, they said.

UZBEKISTAN

Global observers criticize election

TASHKENT — Europe’s top election watchdog criticized Uzbekistan’s parliamentary election, in which opposition groups were barred from running, saying yesterday the vote fell significantly short of democratic standards.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which sent 21 observers to Uzbekistan for Sunday’s balloting, said voters in the former Soviet republic were deprived of a genuine choice.

None of Uzbekistan’s four small opposition groups could run in the election because they are not formally recognized. Authorities rejected their registration requests in the run-up to the vote.

AFGHANISTAN

Karzai holds first Cabinet meeting

KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai held his first Cabinet meeting yesterday, urging his ministers to avoid political intrigue and work together for the future of this war-battered country.

Mr. Karzai swore in the new Cabinet last week, brushing aside several warlords in favor of professionals with university degrees. He left Younus Qanooni, his prime opponent in October elections, out of the government, saying he did so in order to allow Mr. Qanooni to start an opposition party.

The president said he would support the creation of an opposition, saying it was in the interest of Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy. But yesterday he made it clear that no member of his government should wade into political waters.

JAPAN

Women could ascendto imperial throne

TOKYO — Japan will set up a task force to consider allowing a woman to ascend to the throne, an official said yesterday — the government’s first review of a post-World War II law that limits imperial succession to men.

Japanese law bans women from ascending to the Chrysanthemum Throne. But no boy has been born to the Japanese royal family since the 1960s, and government officials have been fretting about how to solve the royals’ most serious succession crisis in centuries.

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