- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2008

SAUDI ARABIA

8 Bahrainis held are freed

RIYADH | Saudi Arabia has released eight Bahraini Shi’ite Muslims held without charge since February after entering a military zone, Saudi media said Tuesday.

Bahrain’s ambassador in Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Saleh al-Sheikh, told the al-Riyadh daily that 50 family members of the eight men arrived in Riyadh on Friday to take them home.

Saudi Arabia said in June it had detained the Bahrainis, who local media said were caught near a desert military installation in February and were suspected of spying. Saudi media said the men claimed they were tourists who had wandered off-road.

The small island state of Bahrain is joined to Saudi Arabia by a causeway, and the two states have close ties. But Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the leader of Sunni Islam, is wary of Bahrain’s large Shi’ite community, which shares its faith with non-Arab regional power Iran.

gaza strip

Blair puts off visit over threat

BEIT LAHIYA | Mideast envoy Tony Blair on Tuesday called off what would have been the first visit of a top Western diplomat to Hamas-ruled Gaza after Israel’s Shin Bet security service said he might come under attack there.

Mr. Blair told the Associated Press the threat was “specific” and “credible,” forcing him to call off the trip but he said it was a postponement, not a cancellation. “I intend to go to Gaza as soon as I can, and I will continue to press for help for the people there,” he said.

Mr. Blair’s visit Tuesday was to have included a tour of a Gaza waste water project and meetings with traders and U.N. officials, but not with leaders of Hamas, the Islamist militant group that seized Gaza by force more than a year ago.

Hamas made security arrangements for Mr. Blair, setting up checkpoints in areas he was expected to tour, banning cars from using roads and lining streets with black-clad policemen carrying AK-47s. A Hamas government spokesman denied there were any security threats against Mr. Blair.

iraq

Contest to design new national flag

BAGHDAD | Iraq has announced a competition to design a new national flag and is calling on Iraqis and artists and designers inside and outside of the country to take part.

Lawmaker Mufeed al-Jazairi announced the competition on Tuesday. He says interested people have until the end of September to submit their designs.

Mr. al-Jazairi says a committee will select three designs to be presented to parliament, which will vote on a new flag by the end of this year.

Earlier this year, Iraq’s parliament voted to strip the three green stars of Saddam Hussein’s toppled Ba’ath Party from the country’s flag. But parliament kept the script of “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is Great” in green.

TURKEY

22 Kurdish rebels killed in clashes

ANKARA | Turkey’s military says 22 Kurdish rebels have been killed in recent clashes in southeastern Turkey. The military says the clashes occurred in the rugged Sirnak province.

A statement on the military’s Web site says aircraft and artillery units shelled rebel positions in the area from Friday to Monday, killing 22 rebels.

It says the military units also destroyed rebel shelters in the region. The military does not cite any military casualties.

The rebels have been fighting for more than two decades for autonomy in southeastern Turkey. They use strongholds in northern Iraq for cross-border raids.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Dubai detains 79 for beach behavior

DUBAI | Westerners were getting too racy on the beaches of this Persian Gulf tourist haven, and a police crackdown on topless sunbathing, nudity and other indecent behavior has resulted in 79 arrests in recent days.

Undercover officers are strolling the sand while others stand guard in new watchtowers to enforce the social mores of this Muslim city-state, which is a booming business center that is attracting growing hordes of foreign tourists.

Authorities said they began the decency campaign after police detained a British man and a woman who were allegedly having sex on one of Dubai’s sprawling beaches earlier this month.

Over the past two weeks, police have detained a total of 79 people whose behavior was “disturbing families enjoying the beach,” Zuhair Haroun, a spokesman for Dubai’s Criminal Investigation Department, said Monday.

First-time offenders may be issued a warning, but if caught twice, tourists could be referred to the public prosecutor for possible criminal charges, authorities said.

Unlike elsewhere in the conservative Persian Gulf, tourists in Dubai are often seen wearing skimpy bikinis on public beaches and walk the city’s streets in shorts.

The city is installing signs warning tourists in Arabic, English and several other languages not to sunbathe topless or change clothes in public, said Abdullah Mohammed Rafia, an official with the Dubai Municipality whose office is overseeing the public awareness campaign.

The police campaign also will target people who harass beachgoers with acts “deemed offensive, immoral or disrespectful,” including loitering and voyeurism, said Dubai’s acting police chief, Maj. Gen. Khamis Mattar al-Mazeina.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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