- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2008

AFGHANISTAN

Taliban attack kills 16 police

KABUL — Taliban militants attacked a police checkpoint in the south and killed 16 officers, officials said yesterday. Seven Afghan police and soldiers were reported dead elsewhere as Afghanistan’s bloodiest year since the Taliban’s ouster drew to a close.

Violence in Afghanistan this year reached the highest level since the U.S. invasion toppled the Taliban militant movement in 2001. More than 6,500 people died in 2007, according to an Associated Press count and 110 U.S. troops were killed, the highest yearly total since the 2001 invasion.

BHUTAN

Democratic vote begins transition

SAMDRUP JONGKHAR — Thousands of Bhutanese went to the polls yesterday to elect a National Council, the final stage before democratic elections that will end nearly 100 years of absolute monarchy in the secluded Himalayan country.

The vote caps a whirlwind year of transformation for the tiny kingdom since the monarch declared in 2006 that he was abdicating in favor of his 26-year-old son and ushering in democracy.

EGYPT

Palestinian pilgrims riot at the border

EL-ARISH — Palestinian pilgrims broke windows and burned mattresses and blankets in temporary camps yesterday to protest Egypt’s refusal to let them return to Gaza through a crossing controlled by Hamas.

The Palestinians, who are returning from the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia and include some members of the militant Hamas group, have rejected Egypt’s demands that they enter Gaza through the Israeli-controlled Aouja border crossing.

SUDAN

AU-U.N. force begins Darfur mission

EL FASHER — A joint African Union-United Nations force took over peacekeeping duties in Darfur yesterday, a long-awaited change intended to be the strongest effort yet to solve the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Many were already warning, however, that its prospects are grim and that if it fails, it will only worsen the four-year-old conflict, which has killed more than 200,000 people and driven 2.5 million from their homes.

The force 9,000 soldiers and policemen is only a little larger than the beleaguered and ineffectual African Union peacekeeping mission that it replaces.

RUSSIA

Shoppers battle shortage of pet rats

MOSCOW — Moscow pet shops were reporting a run on rats, as keen astrologically minded Russians snapped them up ahead of the new year, which is the Chinese Year of the Rat, Interfax news agency reported yesterday.

Desperate shoppers were even resorting to buying mice, hamsters or gerbils in lieu of a real, domestic rat, according to one shop in the capital.

Chinese astrology is closely followed in Russia and where newspapers deliver daily horoscopes — and advice on how to care for pet rats.

SYRIA

State press calls on U.S. to negotiate

DAMASCUS — State-run press called yesterday on the United States to begin a direct dialogue with Syria, a day after an influential U.S. senator said Washington could “bridge the gap” between Israel and Syria.

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, held talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad on Sunday in Damascus and said the Arab leader was ready to make peace with Israel but needed Washington’s help.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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