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Briefly

- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 23, 2007

INDIA

Move boosts odds of female president

NEW DELHI — Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said yesterday he would not run for a second term, increasing the chances of the country getting its first-ever female head of state.

Mr. Kalam, 76, was appointed president in 2002 by the Hindu nationalist government. A presidential spokesman said he withdrew from the July 19 vote to avoid dragging the presidency into a "political process."

The ruling Congress party nominee and poll favorite is Pratibha Patil, 72, governor of the desert state of Rajasthan.

The president has limited authority over day-to-day affairs, but can play a crucial role in government formation at both the state and federal levels.

NEPAL

Maoists seen curbing political activity

KATMANDU — Nepal's Maoist former rebels and other armed groups are hindering political activity in the countryside, United Nations monitors warned yesterday, raising fears of disturbances ahead of this year's national elections.

Nepal is due to vote for a constituent assembly by the end of the year to decide the fate of the monarchy, as part of a peace deal with the Maoists that ended a decade-long civil war that killed thousands.

Several armed groups have attacked civilians and political activists since the signing of the peace deal in November, which saw the Maoists join the political mainstream after locking up their weapons under U.N. oversight.

AFGHANISTAN

Militants, civilians killed in air strike

KANDAHAR — An air strike by international security forces killed 25 civilians, including 12 members of a family, and 20 Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan, a police chief said yesterday.

Helmand provincial police Chief Hussein Andiwal said the raid took place Thursday night as part of an operation against Taliban fighters by U.S. and other foreign forces and Afghan troops.

A spokesman for the U.S. military had no immediate comment on the incident, but NATO — which runs a separate force under overall U.S. command — said it carried out the air strike after alliance forces came under attack by insurgents.

SRI LANKA

Group slams censoring of Web

COLOMBO — The international press-freedom group Reporters Without Borders has called on Sri Lanka's government to stop censoring a Web site closely tied to the rebel Tamil Tiger movement. Local access to the site has been blocked for days.

Sri Lanka's government and military Thursday both denied they had ordered Internet service providers to block the site, which officials widely dismiss as an outlet for pro-rebel propaganda.

But Sri Lanka's leading mobile operator, Dialog Telekom, said that it had blocked access to the site on the orders of the government.

BANGLADESH

Minister admits fraud with ex-premier

DHAKA — A former Bangladeshi health minister arrested as part of the government's graft crackdown has confessed to sharing extorted money with ex-Prime Minister Hasina Wazed, press reports said yesterday.

Fazlul Karim Selim told a Dhaka court in a statement that he gave a portion of $430,000 extorted from a power company to Mrs. Hasina during her 1996-2001 rule, the Daily Star newspaper said.

Mrs. Hasina, the head of the Awami League party, has denied any wrongdoing and vowed to clear her name.

From wire dispatches and staff reports