- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2008

ZIMBABWE

Inflation rate to 2.2 million percent

HARARE | Official inflation soared to 2.2 million percent in Zimbabwe - by far the highest in the world - and has shot as high as 70 million percent in the past year for some basic goods sold on the black market, the state central bank said Thursday.

Worsening shortages of basic goods, and the deadly political and economic turmoil surrounding the national elections March 29 and a disputed presidential runoff vote June 27, helped spur the spike in inflation in recent months.

The last announcement of official annual inflation, in February, put the rate at 165,000 percent.

ARGENTINA

Senate rejects export tax raise

BUENOS AIRES | Argentine President Cristina Fernandez suffered a stunning defeat Thursday when the Senate rejected a tax increase on soy exports that sparked months of anti-government protests.

In a cliffhanger vote, Mrs. Fernandez’s own vice president, Julio Cobos, broke ranks and cast the deciding ballot against the government after nearly 18 hours of debate in the upper house, where the ruling party’s majority evaporated.

Mr. Cobos is a member of a bloc from the opposition Radical party, which backs the ruling Peronist party. Mrs. Fernandez tapped him as her running mate last year in a bid to demonstrate broad political support for her candidacy.

The center-left president asked Congress to approve the tax system she put in place in March, raising levies on shipments of soy, the top national crop. The lower house of Congress narrowly approved the measure, but Peronist senators from rural provinces rebelled as farm groups persuaded them it would hurt the agricultural sector.

RUSSIA

Officials urged to learn computers

MOSCOW | Russia’s new 42-year-old president showed frustration with government officials who do not know how to use a computer and warned Thursday that they could soon be out of a job.

“They either should learn or, as they say, goodbye,” President Dmitry Medvedev said. “We don’t hire people who can’t read and write. Computer literacy today is the same.”

Internet penetration in Russia is among the lowest in Europe, with only 12 percent of people 15 or older online, according to a 2007 study by Internet research company comScore. But Russia also has the fastest growing Internet population in Europe, the study showed.

IRAQ

Kuwait names ambassador

BAGHDAD | Kuwait on Thursday named its first ambassador to Iraq since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in a major step toward healing the two countries’ painful past and boosting regional ties with Baghdad’s postwar government.

Kuwait’s official news agency quoted the country’s foreign minister as saying retired Lt. Gen. Ali al-Momen, a former military chief of staff, will take the ambassador post.

The country closed its embassy in Iraq in 1990 after Saddam Hussein invaded the tiny, oil-rich neighbor. The attack spurred the 1991 U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam’s forces. The two neighbors resumed ties after 2003, and an Iraqi Embassy reopened in Kuwait. Kuwait had held back from reopening its embassy in Baghdad, however, citing security concerns.

ISRAEL

Olmert attorneys question American

JERUSALEM | Lawyers defending Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert against a web of corruption allegations launched their cross examination of a key witness Thursday by painting him as a lying, litigious businessman with an unsavory reputation and a faulty memory.

American businessman Morris Talansky claimed last month that Mr. Olmert accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. According to the original accusations, Mr. Olmert received the cash as bribes or illegal campaign financing, and used it in part to fund his high living.

The outrage provoked by Mr. Talansky’s testimony in May seriously damaged Mr. Olmert’s credibility and prompted his Kadima Party to set new leadership elections, to be held by Sept. 25. Mr. Olmert has denied wrongdoing but promised to resign if indicted.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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