- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

PAKISTAN

Quake death toll said to top 73,000

MUZAFFARABAD — Pakistan yesterday dramatically increased the official death toll from the devastating earthquake that hit the north of the country last month to 73,276 and said it could rise further.

Federal Relief Commissioner Maj. Gen. Farooq Ahmed Khan said the sharp rise from a figure of 57,600 given a day earlier could be related to concerted efforts to clear debris since the Oct. 8 disaster.

“Unfortunately, the death toll has risen to 73,276 and the number of injured is over 69,000,” he told reporters at a press conference. “There is a likelihood of a further increase.”

Another 1,300 have been confirmed dead in Indian Kashmir.

BRITAIN

Cabinet minister quits for second time

LONDON — A scandal-prone British Cabinet minister was forced to resign yesterday for the second time in less than a year in a major embarrassment for Prime Minister Tony Blair.

David Blunkett acknowledged that his business dealings had breached ministerial guidelines and that his position as work and pensions secretary had become untenable.

Mr. Blunkett, Britain’s only blind legislator, was forced to quit as home secretary in December following revelations of an affair with a married woman after it was revealed he fast-tracked a visa for her nanny.

Also, parliamentarians had been poised to vote down a government plan to let police hold suspects for up to 90 days without charge, when Home Secretary Charles Clarke decided to seek a compromise.

GERMANY

Social Democrats tap new leader

BERLIN — Germany’s Social Democrats tapped a state prime minister from the former communist east to be party chief as the country’s top parties strove to keep fragile coalition talks on track.

After a hastily called Social Democratic Party (SPD) meeting Tuesday, the 51-year-old leader of the state of Brandenburg, Matthias Platzeck, said he would run for the post of chairman at a party congress later this month.

If confirmed, he would replace veteran Franz Muentefering, who shocked his center-left party Monday by announcing plans to step down, a move that threatened to disrupt efforts to form a government with the conservatives.

AZERBAIJAN

Officials confess coup plot on TV

BAKU — Azeribaijani ex-ministers and officials were paraded on television confessing their guilt in a coup plot, just days before a parliamentary election that is likely to be dominated by President Ilham Aliyev’s supporters.

The officials were arrested last month for backing exiled opposition leader Rasul Guliyev in a conspiracy to topple Mr. Aliyev, who succeeded his father as president.

A total of 12 persons have been arrested in the case, the National Security Ministry and law-enforcement agencies said, making it the biggest political crackdown in the Caspian Sea state in years.

ISRAEL

Doctors want end to sonic booms

JERUSALEM — Israeli and Palestinian medics filed a joint petition to Israel’s high court yesterday demanding the air force halt its sonic booms over Gaza because they were terrorizing the local population.

The petition by Palestinian mental health professionals and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR) said the repeated ear-splitting blasts, caused by an aircraft breaking the sound barrier, terrorize Gazans and cause intense stress.

The psychological damage caused by the sonic booms amounts to collective punishment and must be stopped, the petition said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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