- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2005

U.S. shuts consulate

The U.S. Consulate in a major Mexican border town will be closed all week after an “alarming” outbreak of violence between two drug gangs that battled each other with bazookas, hand grenades and machine guns, U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza announced.

Mr. Garza called for a “swift and certain response” from the Mexican government to the shootout last week in Nuevo Laredo, a city of 330,000 just across the border from Laredo, Texas.

“A violent battle involving unusually advanced weaponry took place between armed criminal factions [Thursday] night in Nuevo Laredo,” Mr. Garza said Friday.

“In light of the alarming incident and the continued violence along our border, I have decided to suspend all operations except for emergency services for American citizens for a one-week period at a consulate in Nuevo Laredo, effective Aug. 1.”

The battle involved about 30 masked men of rival gangs from the western state of Sinaloa and the local area near the Gulf of Mexico, but no one was killed. Dozens of people have been killed in earlier clashes between drug lords fighting for control of the city, which is a hub in the trafficking route to the United States for amphetamines, cocaine and marijuana.

The Mexican government, sensitive to U.S. criticism, complained that the United States has a shared responsibility to combat the drug trafficking.

Women not slaves

The sister of the newly appointed Saudi ambassador to the U.S. defended the status of women in her country and revealed that Saudis can view sexually suggestive television programs such as “Baywatch” in the privacy of their homes.

Princess Loulwa al-Faisal, on a visit to Washington last week, insisted that women are better off in her country than most outside observers think.

“We are always perceived as downtrodden slaves to men, which we are not at all,” she said at the Middle East Institute.

The State Department’s latest human rights report recognized many improvements in the status of women in Saudi Arabia. The report cited an increasing role for women in business and new citizenship rules. However, although women have the right to own property, they cannot drive. And they are still subject in many areas to the domination of their husbands.

Princess Loulwa, however, said many Saudi women drive cars in rural areas and wear the abaya, the black garment that covers the body, to protect themselves from the sun.

Princess Loulwa noted that satellite television has opened the world to Saudi viewers, who have access to programs that otherwise would be banned.

She said Saudis could watch programs such as “Baywatch,” in which buxom female lifeguards frolic on a California beach when not rescuing swimmers in trouble.

“We think ‘Baywatch’ is the devil’s work,” she said with a chuckle, “but it is all right since it is American.”

Her brother, Prince Turki al-Faisal, the current Saudi ambassador in London, will replace Prince Bandar bin Sultan in the fall.

Diplomatic traffic

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Today

• Hou Sheng-mou, health minister of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

• Sawako Takeuchi, Japan’s candidate for secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Wednesday

A delegation from Colombia with Rafael Pardo, a member of the Senate and a 2006 presidential candidate; Rafael Nieto, former vice minister of justice and the interior; Maria Emma Mejia, former foreign minister; Fernando Cepeda Ulloa of the University of the Andes; Rodrigo Pardo, editor of the Semana news magazine; and Juan Manuel Santos, president of the Foundation for Good Government. They participate in a forum sponsored by the Inter-American Dialogue.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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