- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 8, 2009

PORTUGAL

Lisbon will take 2 Gitmo detainees

LISBON | Portugal has agreed to take two Syrian detainees from Guantanamo on humanitarian grounds, the government said Friday — becoming the third European Union nation to accept inmates from the U.S. military prison.

The pair will be granted special visas under a law covering humanitarian concerns or national interest, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its Web site, without elaborating. It did not identify the detainees or say when they might arrive.

President Obama pledged to close the detention center by January and has asked European nations to accept some of the camp’s more than 200 detainees — some of whom cannot return safely to their homelands.

But within the European Union, which long argued for the prison’s closure, only Portugal, France and Ireland have committed to taking specific prisoners. Outside the bloc, a few former detainees have settled in Albania and Bermuda.

“We are encouraged that so may of our close friends and allies are also considering assisting us in our efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Friday, adding that details of the two detainees’ planned transfer to Portugal were still being worked out.

TONGA

66 feared dead in ferry disaster

NUKU’ALOFA | At least 66 people were feared dead Friday after a ferry disaster in Tonga that the prime minister described as “devastating” for the tiny Pacific kingdom.

As grieving relatives gathered at the wharf in the capital, Nuku’alofa, singing hymns for comfort and expressing anger the aging vessel was allowed to sail, Prime Minister Feleti Sevele said hope was fading for the missing.

Officials said only 53 survivors had been found from the 119 believed to have been on board the 34-year-old Princess Ashika when it turned over and sank overnight Wednesday.

Most on board were Tongans, but the incomplete passenger list also included British, German, French and Japanese nationals. Police said the lack of accurate records meant the number of missing could be higher.

ERITREA

Government denies aiding Somali militia

NAIROBI, Kenya | Eritrea brushed off a U.S. threat of sanctions Friday and said Washington is exacerbating the conflict in neighboring Somalia by providing the country’s government with tons of weapons and training.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday accused Eritrea, a tiny nation on the Red Sea, of aiding a Somali extremist group she said is trying to launch worldwide terrorist attacks from Somalia.

“That’s totally untrue, baseless,” Eritrea’s information minister, Ali Abdu, told the Associated Press when asked if his country is arming Somalia’s al-Shabab insurgent group, which has purported ties to al Qaeda.

SRI LANKA

Rebel leader’s arrest seen as major blow

COLOMBO | The arrest of the Tamil Tigers’ new leader has dealt a major blow to the rebels’ efforts to regroup and push on with their separatist struggle after being routed by Sri Lankan forces, the government said Friday.

It was also a major public relations coup for President Mahinda Rajapaksa ahead of elections Saturday in two northern towns that he billed as the first seeds of democracy along the former war zone.

Sri Lankan authorities on Friday were questioning Selvarasa Pathmanathan, the former chief arms smuggler for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and its new chief, after he was arrested in Southeast Asia and flown to Sri Lanka.

CHINA

Airport ex-boss executed

BEIJING | The former head of Beijing airport’s management company was executed Friday following his conviction on corruption charges, state media reported, making him the latest figure brought down in China’s battle against widespread graft.

An intermediate court found Li Peiying, 60, guilty in February of accepting almost $4 million in bribes and embezzling about $12 million in public money since 1995, the Xinhua News Agency said.

Li was executed after the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s rejection of his appeal, Xinhua said.

Reports said Li’s attorney had argued for leniency, saying his client had returned the stolen money.

Li’s execution came two days after word emerged that the head of China’s nuclear power program was under investigation for purported corruption. And just last month, the former chairman of China’s second-biggest oil company, Sinopec, was convicted of taking $29 million in bribes and given a suspended death sentence.

MYANMAR

American in trial of Suu Kyi ill

YANGON | An American on trial for entering the house of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi had three short epileptic fits Friday, police said, fueling concerns that his poor health could delay next week’s verdict.

National Police Chief Brig. Gen. Khin Yi, meanwhile, accused “external opposition groups and terrorists” of attempting to create “instability” and “carry out explosions” during Mrs. Suu Kyi’s trial.

John Yettaw, 53, was admitted to Yangon General Hospital on Monday after suffering a seizure in prison, Gen. Khin Yi said. Four truckloads of police were stationed around the building Friday.

Mr. Yettaw swam uninvited to Mrs. Suu Kyi’s home in May, prompting the government to accuse the 64-year-old Nobel Peace laureate of violating her house arrest and the American of helping her to do so. Both Mr. Yettaw and Mrs. Suu Kyi face five-year prison terms.

INDIA

Mumbai suspect pffers guilty plea

MUMBAI | The sole surviving gunman from last year’s Mumbai attacks, a Pakistani national, on Friday told a court that he wanted to plead guilty to all the charges against him.

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab made the request to Judge M.L. Tahaliyani as ballistics evidence was being heard at the special prison court in the city. Judge Tahaliyani told him to consult his lawyer.

Mr. Kasab is being tried on a string of charges, including waging war against India, murder and attempted murder. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

The 21-year-old had initially pleaded not guilty but then stunned the court last month with a detailed confession to his role in the attack.

The judge ruled that the confession amounted to only a “partial admission” of guilt to some of the charges and therefore continued the trial.

From staff reports and wire dispatches.

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