- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2009

IRAQ

Baghdad blast walls to be removed

BAGHDAD | All blast walls designed to protect the streets of Baghdad will soon be taken off major thoroughfares, the Iraqi military said Wednesday, the latest in a government push to restore a sense of normalcy despite persistent bombings in the capital.

But security concerns remain amid continued violence.

Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta al-Moussawi, the spokesman for the city’s operations command center, said all blast walls on Baghdad’s main and secondary roads will be removed within 40 days.

“No exception will be made any place in Baghdad,” he said.

The walls, which weigh more than a ton apiece and stand about 12 feet tall, are designed to absorb the impact of bombings, rocket attacks and protect against gunfire.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army transferred control of two bases in the southern port city of Umm Qasr and town of al-Qurnah, both in Basra province, to local security forces, the U.S. military said.

AFGHANISTAN

Air strike rules seen cutting civilian deaths

KABUL | NATO’s new secretary-general said on his first trip to Afghanistan on Wednesday that new rules on Western air strikes and ground operations have sharply reduced civilian casualties. But he spoke just hours after outraged Afghan villagers said a pre-dawn air strike had killed three children and a man in a southern village.

An Associated Press reporter and photographer saw residents of Kowuk, 12 miles north of the provincial capital, Kandahar city, bring the bodies of three boys and a man to the guesthouse of the Kandahar governor from their village. The villagers shouted “Death to America! Death to infidels!” as they displayed the corpses in the back of a pickup truck.

The U.S. military said it had killed four insurgents on motorcycles in that area and could not confirm any civilian fatalities, although it was investigating.

President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly called on foreign troops to halt air strikes and raids in Afghan villages.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Kabul that since the new orders were issued there has been “a drastic decline in the number of civilian casualties,” although he provided no figures.

RUSSIA

Three face retrial in journalist’s slaying

MOSCOW | The retrial of three suspects in the slaying of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya began Wednesday, despite criticism from defense lawyers and concessions from the prosecution that the case as it stands is flawed.

Anna Stavitskaya, a lawyer representing the slain journalist’s family, said the retrial was unlikely to be an improvement over the previous one.

The defendants - two Chechen brothers and a Moscow policeman - are accused of playing minor roles in the 2006 shooting death of Mrs. Politkovskaya, whose reporting was harshly critical of the Kremlin.

A Moscow court acquitted them in February after what Mrs. Politkovskaya’s family said was a completely botched investigation. The Supreme Court overturned the acquittal and ordered a different judge and jury to hear the same case.

PHILIPPINES

Ex-president laid to rest

MANILA | Former Philippine President Corazon “Cory” Aquino was laid to rest Wednesday next to her assassinated husband after a funeral procession joined by hundreds of thousands of supporters who hailed her as an exemplar of moral leadership.

About 600 priests and nuns linked arms around the Aquino mausoleum at the Manila Memorial Park to keep back the crowd who followed the flatbed truck with her flag-draped coffin on its final, nine-hour journey through the rain-soaked streets of the capital.

The 14-mile procession route was jammed with Filipinos dressed in yellow - the signature color of the 1986 pro-democracy uprising led by Mrs. Aquino that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Mrs. Aquino died Saturday after a yearlong battle with colon cancer.

From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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