- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2009

INDONESIA

Secular party leads in election

JAKARTA | The secular party of Indonesia’s president tripled its share of the vote in parliamentary elections as support for religious parties nosedived in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

After years of unpopular laws pushed through by religious hard-liners, regulating women’s dress and banning everything from smoking to yoga, even devout Muslims in Indonesia say they have had enough with religion in politics.

The election victory by the party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is expected to help him win a second term when a presidential vote is held in July. The former army general became the country’s first democratically elected leader in 2004.

Support for the main Islamist parties in last month’s parliamentary polls declined from 39 percent five years ago to just 24 percent, largely because modern, urban voters view them as intolerant.

CHINA

Swine flu arrives on the mainland

BEIJING | A Chinese man returning from studying at a U.S. university has become the first suspected case of swine flu in mainland China, the Health Ministry said Sunday.

The ministry identified the patient as a 30-year-old student surnamed Bao, but did not specify where he studied.

China has been accused in the past of not acting quickly enough to combat the spread of diseases, especially the 2003 global outbreak of SARS. Chastened by that experience and subsequent threats from avian flu, the government this time has acted quickly and decisively to block an outbreak, but some of its measures have been criticized as excessive.

The swine-flu-prevention measures include bans on imports of pork from Mexico, some U.S. states and Alberta province in Canada, even though health authorities say the flu is transmitted by humans and not pigs.

AFGHANISTAN

Suicide bombers attack police convoy

KANDAHAR | Suicide bombers killed at least seven people Sunday when they attacked a police convoy in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand, the interior ministry said.

Despite reinforcements for foreign forces, violence has surged to its worst level in the past year, the bloodiest period since U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban government more than seven years ago.

In the latest incident, two suicide bombers riding on motorcycles blew themselves up near a group of police who had just parked their vehicles in the Girishk district of Helmand, said Asadullah Sherzad, provincial police chief.

In Kabul, the interior ministry said seven people, including two police, two soldiers and three civilians, were killed. Another 20 people, 10 of them civilians, were wounded, it said.

SYRIA

Obama policies called ‘foolish’

DAMASCUS | Syria rejected the Obama administration’s decision to renew economic and diplomatic sanctions against Damascus and urged Washington to abandon “foolish policies,” a state-run newspaper reported Sunday.

The State Department announced Friday that President Obama felt compelled to renew the sanctions, which were first imposed by President George W. Bush’s administration four years ago as diplomatic contact dwindled. The decision came even as two U.S. envoys were in the Syrian capital exploring prospects for improved relations.

Syria’s Tishrin newspaper said U.S. policies of isolation, blockades and sanctions adopted by the former administration “have put the United States in an intractable impasse.” It said Washington could reverse this path if it stepped up its role in promoting peace, security and stability in the Middle East.

Mr. Obama, in a departure from the Bush administration, is seeking a diplomatic opening with Syria in hope that it could play a positive role not only in the Mideast peace process but also in neighboring Iraq.

SOMALIA

Gunbattles kill at least 20

MOGADISHU | Pro-government Islamist fighters clashed in Somalia’s capital with gunmen who want to topple the Western-backed government, and at least 20 people were killed, witnesses and hospital officials said Sunday.

It was some of the worst fighting in weeks in one of the most violent cities in the world, with both sides pounding the capital with mortars and machine-gunfire.

An Associated Press reporter counted at least 15 corpses in the streets of Mogadishu on Sunday after fighting started late Saturday. Hospital officials and witnesses in other parts of the city said another five people were killed - including six people from the same family.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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