- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

IRAQ

Va. security firm replaces Blackwater

The State Department said Wednesday it has signed the Herndon-based private security firm Triple Canopy to take over protecting U.S. diplomats on the ground in Iraq from Blackwater Worldwide.

Blackwater, which earlier this year changed its name to Xe, had come under heavy criticism for its purported role in a fatal gunbattle in Iraq. The Iraqi government refused to renew the firm’s license to operate in the country.

State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said the government gave the job to Triple Canopy on Tuesday after a decision made in January not to renew Blackwater’s contract. He said the transition would begin immediately but that Xe’s contract does not expire until May.

Triple Canopy is one of three private companies, along with North Carolina-based Xe and Virginia-based DynCorp, that have handled security for U.S. diplomats in Iraq.

IRAN

Tehran downplays ‘talks’ with U.S. envoy

TEHRAN | Iran dismissed American government reports that senior U.S. and Iran envoys had a cordial - and promising - face-to-face exchange at an international conference, saying Wednesday that no “talks” took place.

Senior U.S. diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke met with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Mehdi Akhundzadeh during a conference on Afghanistan in The Hague on Tuesday. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton described the encounter as encouraging, but not “substantive.”

Iran did not deny the meeting took place, but said there were no official “talks.”

UKRAINE

Presidential vote set for Oct. 25

KIEV | Ukraine’s parliament on Wednesday called presidential elections for Oct. 25, but the beleaguered president said he would challenge that date because he wants the vote held later.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who courts both the West and Russia, and the Russian-friendly opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych are expected to be top contenders. The pro-Western incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko has not announced his plans, but has little chance at re-election: Polls show him with less than 5 percent support. He wants the vote to take place on Jan. 17. His office said he would challenge the date.

SWEDEN

Parliament approves gay marriage

STOCKHOLM | Sweden has become the fifth European country to allow gay marriage.

Parliament on Wednesday adopted a new law that gives same-sex couples the same marriage rights as heterosexuals. The law will take effect May 1.

The Netherlands, Norway, Belgium and Spain also allow gay marriages. Sweden has recognized civil unions between homosexual couples since 1994.

BRITAIN

Helicopter with 16 crashes in North Sea

EDINBURGH, Scotland | A helicopter returning from a North Sea oil platform went down off the northeast coast of Scotland on Wednesday with 16 people onboard, and police said at least eight were killed.

Scotland’s Grampian Police said eight bodies were recovered from the sea. Authorities searched for the eight remaining people, but the outlook was described as grim.

BP said the helicopter was returning to Britain from the company’s Miller oil field.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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