- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 30, 2009

BRITAIN

Report: Lockerbie release tied to oil

LONDON | The British government decided two years ago it was “in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom” to make the Lockerbie bomber eligible for return to Libya, the Sunday Times newspaper reported.

Leaked letters show Justice Secretary Jack Straw informed his Scottish counterpart, Kenny MacAskill, of the decision to include Abdel Baset al-Megrahi in a prisoner-transfer agreement, the report said. Five months earlier, Mr. Straw had said he favored excluding al-Megrahi from the agreement.

The Sunday Times said Mr. Straw changed his position after discussions between Libya and BP over a massive oil-exploration deal had become bogged down, but they were resolved soon afterwards. Al-Megrahi was not eventually released under the prisoner-transfer agreement. Mr. MacAskill freed him from a Scottish prison this month on compassionate grounds because he has terminal cancer.

However, the disclosure of the letters will raise questions about Britain’s stance on the release of al-Megrahi, the only person convicted for killing 270 people when a Pan Am jet was blown up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988.

The British government has insisted the decision was made solely by the Scottish authorities and has disputed allegations that al-Megrahi was granted freedom as part of a deal to help facilitate contracts with oil-rich Libya.

GAZA STRIP

Israeli planes hit tunnel inlet

GAZA STRIP | Israeli aircraft bombed a building in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Sunday that the military said had been used by Palestinians to enter a tunnel and carry out cross-border attacks in Israel.

Hamas described the target of the Israeli air strike, in which no one was hurt, as “open ground,” but witnesses said it was a building with two rooms and a courtyard, which were ravaged by the attack.

“The building was located [about a mile] from the border and concealed a tunnel that was to have been used by terrorists to infiltrate Israel for an attack,” the Israeli military spokesman said.

IRAN

Prosecutor fired in opposition trial

TEHRAN | Iran’s new judiciary chief has fired the hard-line prosecutor involved in the mass trial of opposition activists charged with seeking to topple the ruling system through a “velvet revolution,” state media reported Saturday.

Saeed Mortazavi, the Tehran prosecutor, is detested by reformists because he was behind the closure of more than 120 newspapers and the imprisonment of dozens of journalists and political activists in the past decade.

His replacement signals a shift toward moderation within Iran’s judicial system, which is now under the control of a rival to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, the opposition trial will continue. More than 100 prominent opposition supporters have been on trial since Aug. 1 on accusations of plotting to overthrow the clerical leadership through the protests that followed Mr. Ahmadinejad’s disputed June 12 re-election.

IRAQ

Shoe thrower to be freed early

BAGHDAD | An Iraqi journalist imprisoned for hurling his shoes at then President George W. Bush will be released Sept. 14, three months early, after his sentence was reduced for good behavior, his attorney said Saturday.

Muntadhar al-Zeidi’s act of protest during Mr. Bush’s last visit to Iraq as president on Dec. 14 turned the 30-year-old reporter into a folk hero across the Arab world. He was initially sentenced to three years in prison after pleading not guilty to assaulting a foreign leader. The court reduced it to one year because he had no prior criminal history.

INDIA

Contact lost with lunar satellite

NEW DELHI | India’s national space agency said communications with the country’s only satellite orbiting the moon snapped Saturday and that its scientists were no longer controlling the spacecraft.

Radio contacts with Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft were abruptly lost Saturday, the Indian Space Research Organization said. The agency’s monitoring unit near the southern city of Bangalore is no longer receiving data from the spacecraft. The spacecraft, launched in October, had completed 312 days in orbit and orbited the moon more than 3,400 times.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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