- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2007

SAUDI ARABIA

Putin breaks ground with visit to kingdom

RIYADH — Saudi King Abdullah gave a red-carpet welcome to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the first Russian leader ever to visit the kingdom, and urged him to help revive the Arab-Israeli peace process.

“There is no doubt that Russia has an important role in achieving peace,” the king said in an interview with Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency published in Saudi media.

Russia is a member the Quartet sponsoring Arab-Israeli peace, which also includes the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

SOMALIA

Gunmen fire rockets across capital city

MOGADISHU — Gunmen fired a barrage of rockets in several positions in the Somali capital, sparking artillery duels with government security forces, as guerrilla-style attacks continued to intensify, witnesses said.

Heavy shelling was reported near Villa Somalia, the residence of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, in the south of the capital, where artillery fire illuminated the night sky.

Witnesses said gunmen fired grenades into Madina police station, triggering a gunbattle.

IRAQ

More Iraqi forces to deploy in capital

BAGHDAD — Iraqi forces will step up their deployment on the streets of Baghdad this week as part of a U.S.-backed offensive against militants, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said yesterday.

The crackdown, which U.S. officials said began last week, is seen as a final attempt to prevent an all-out sectarian war between Iraq’s dominant Shi’ites and minority Sunni Arabs.

While saying the offensive would accelerate at a gradual pace, Mr. al-Maliki said “very soon, this week, will witness a heavy deployment of the security forces from [the Iraqi] police and the army.”

PORTUGAL

Abortion plan pushed despite ballot failure

LISBON — The ruling Socialists will use their majority in parliament to try to win approval for legalizing abortion even though a referendum on the issue yesterday failed because the turnout was too low to make it binding.

More than half of the traditionally Catholic country’s 8.7 million electorate abstained, but of those who voted, 59.3 percent voted to lift the abortion ban and 40.7 percent to keep it.

Prime Minister Jose Socrates said despite the turnout, the outcome was in favor of lifting the ban.

TURKMENISTAN

First contested ballot holds hope for future

ASHGABAT — Voters selected a new president yesterday in Turkmenistan’s first contested election, but one virtually certain to be won by acting President Gurnabguli Berdymukhamedov, an aide to the country’s former authoritarian leader who died in December.

A European parliamentarian who monitored proceedings said the vote was not free and fair, but echoed diplomats who said it might herald gradual change in the gas-rich Central Asian state.

Six candidates were officially vying to replace President Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled the former Soviet republic for two decades with an iron fist.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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