- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 23, 2009

CUBA

Fidel says Obama misinterpreted Raul

HAVANA | Fidel Castro said President Obama “misinterpreted” his brother Raul’s remarks regarding the United States and bristled at the suggestion that Cuba should free political prisoners or cut taxes on dollars that people send to the island.

Raul Castro touched off a whirlwind of speculation last week that the U.S. and Cuba could be headed toward a thaw after nearly a half-century of chilly relations. The speculation began when the Cuban president said leaders would be willing to sit down with their U.S. counterparts and discuss “everything, everything, everything,” including human rights, freedom of the press and expression, and political prisoners.

Mr. Obama responded at the Summit of the Americas by saying Washington seeks a new beginning with Cuba. But as he prepared to leave the summit Sunday, Mr. Obama also called on Cuba to release political prisoners and reduce taxes on remittances from the U.S.

That appeared to enrage Fidel Castro, 82, who wrote in an essay published Wednesday that Mr. Obama “without a doubt misinterpreted Raul’s declarations.”

The former president appeared to be throwing a dose of cold water on growing expectations for improved bilateral relations - suggesting that Mr. Obama had no right to dare suggest that Cuba make even small concessions. He also seemed to suggest too much was being made of Raul Castro’s comments about discussing “everything” with U.S. authorities.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, said that although Fidel Castro had “contradicted” his brother’s statements about Cuba’s willingness to discuss a range of issues with the U.S., it shows “there is beginning to be a debate” inside Cuba about how to move forward with U.S. relations.

SRI LANKA

2 rebels surrender to advancing troops

COLOMBO | Two Tamil Tiger officials surrendered to the Sri Lankan army Wednesday, and thousands of refugees joined a stream of more than 80,000 people who the government says have fled a war zone that appeared to shrink by the hour.

The sandy beaches north of the tiny combat zone - which now measures just five miles long - were filled with people carrying their belongings on their backs or in bundles on their heads, according to photos released by the military.

In a sign that the rebel leadership has begun to feel the military pressure, the rebels’ former media spokesman Velayutham Dayanithi, whose nom de guerre is Daya Master, and an interpreter for group’s political wing, known only as George, turned themselves over to government forces Wednesday.

VENEZUELA

Court orders arrest of Chavez foe

LIMA, Peru | A Venezuelan court has ordered the arrest of a key opponent of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who has fled to Peru seeking political asylum, prosecutors said Wednesday.

In Lima, Venezuelan opposition leader Manuel Rosales made his first public appearance in three weeks to call the charges against him trumped up and heaped ridicule on Mr. Chavez, his political rival in 2006 presidential elections.

Venezuelan prosecutors said a court ordered Mr. Rosales’ arrest and sent requests to Venezuelan police and Interpol asking them to detain him.

IRAQ

U.N. presents report on Kirkuk’s status

BAGHDAD | The United Nations handed the Iraqi government a report Wednesday that it hopes will help end decades of deadlock over Kirkuk, an ethnically mixed region that sits on as much as 4 percent of the world’s oil supply.

Staffan de Mistura, who heads the U.N. mission in Iraq, presented the report to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraqi Kurdish President Massoud Barzani.

The report, a year in the making, contains four options to overcome disputes over control of Kirkuk and recommendations on 14 other contested areas in northern Iraq. The options, all of which treat the province as a single unit, were not made public.

LESOTHO

Prime minister survives attack

MASERU | Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili has survived an assassination attempt by attackers who planned to seize power, the government said Wednesday.

Communications Minister Mothetjoa Metsing said gunmen opened fire on the prime minister’s house in an attack overnight in the capital of the mountain kingdom of about 2 million, which is surrounded by South Africa and has an unstable political past. One of the suspects in the shooting was killed and two were arrested in clashes with security forces.

Mr. Mosisili’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy scored a landslide win in a parliamentary election in February 2007 and has ruled for 12 years but has been accused increasingly of failing to deliver on promises of economic growth and jobs.

BRITAIN

12 suspects from raids freed

LONDON | British police released the last of 12 suspects rounded up in a series of dramatic counterterrorism raids earlier this month, after failing to charge any of the men, authorities said Wednesday.

The news was an embarrassment for British authorities, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who claimed at the time of the arrests that police had disrupted “a very big terrorist plot” that had been monitored “for some time.”

The arrests were rushed in part because a police commissioner inadvertently exposed details of the operation to a photographer outside the prime minister’s office. Police had to scramble to catch the suspects before they learned of the leak, forgoing their usual dawn raids for a dramatic series of daytime operations across northern England on April 8.

AFGHANISTAN

Deep-blue lakes become first park

KABUL | A cascading collection of deep-blue high-mountain lakes became Afghanistan’s first provisional national park Wednesday, as the violence-plagued nation took a big first step toward protecting one of its finest natural treasures.

Band-e-Amir National Park, encompassing six mountain-fed lakes held back by natural calcified dams, is located in Bamiyan province in the country’s peaceful central highlands.

The capital of Bamiyan is where Taliban fighters in spring 2001 blasted away two towering ancient Buddha statues carved into the region’s red cliffs. Officials say that Band-e-Amir and the remnants of the statues can combine for a powerful tourist attraction.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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