- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2009

ITALY

G-7 finance ministers back stimulus plans

ROME | The Group of Seven finance ministers pledged Saturday to avoid resorting to protectionism as they try to stimulate their economies in the face of the world’s worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

The meeting marked the international debut of Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who assured his counterparts that President Obama’s $787 billion plan to resuscitate the economy, approved Friday, would not violate in any way the United States’ commitment to free trade.

Mr. Geithner, who was among friends and colleagues he had worked with from his days at the Federal Bank, appealed to the “common imperative” to sustain open trade.

The meeting was largely an affirmation of actions already being taken - from the importance of stimulus packages to the need to isolate bad assets. The ministers hoped to make progress on drafting common principals of transparency within four months, in time for the Group of Eight summit in Sardinia in July.

LEBANON

Beirut rally marks Hariri assassination

BEIRUT | A massive crowd of flag-waving Lebanese filled Martyrs’ Square on Saturday to remember slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri - an occasion his supporters used to rally the public before parliamentary elections in which they are fighting to stay in power.

Lebanon remains deeply divided over whether to follow Mr. Hariri’s pro-Western path in June elections or give in to the more radical pull of groups with ties to Iran and Syria.

The rally in Martyrs’ Square, where Mr. Hariri is buried, was peaceful. Mr. Hariri’s Future TV and his political movement estimated the crowds in the hundreds of thousands. But stone-throwing and insults erupted between Hariri supporters leaving the rally and Hezbollah backers in several Muslim neighborhoods of Beirut. Troops intervened to restore order.

Mr. Hariri was killed in a truck bombing on Feb. 14, 2005. No one has been brought to justice for his assassination.

COLOMBIA

Volcano erupts; village evacuates

PASTO | The Galeras volcano in southern Colombia, near the border with Ecuador, began erupting late Saturday, and about 8,000 residents were ordered to evacuate, the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mines said.

A forceful eruption began at 7:10 p.m. and a “large amount of ash” was falling on the regional capital, Pasto, the provincial governor said.

The Civil Defense and Red Cross agencies began evacuation procedures to help people living on the slopes get off the volcano.

MADAGASCAR

President vows to complete term

ANTANANARIVO | President Marc Ravalomanana said Saturday that he intends to remain Madagascar’s leader, in his first public appearance since the eruption of a violent political crisis.

Speaking to at least 35,000 supporters in the municipal stadium in Antananarivo, Mr. Ravalomanana sought to draw a line under the challenge to his leadership by the capital’s former mayor, Andry Rajoelina.

Just a half-mile away, Mr. Rajoelina held a separate rally Saturday - one week to the day after security forces killed 28 protesters as they tried to march on the presidential office.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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