- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 8, 2010

RUSSIA

Russia to stay at South Ossetia base

MOSCOW | Russia on Wednesday formally assumed responsibility for the defense of Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetia region after signing an agreement that makes its military base there permanent.

Russian news agencies said the agreement was signed by Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and his South Ossetian counterpart, Yury Tanayev.

“From today, the status of our military base on the territory of South Ossetia changes, and the Russian Federation, by signing this agreement, obviously assumes full responsibility for the defense of South Ossetia,” Mr. Serdyukov said. The duration of the accord is 49 years.

Russia signed a similar deal with Georgia’s other separatist region, Abkhazia, on Feb. 17.

SRI LANKA

Vote set to solidify president’s hold

COLOMBO | Sri Lankans vote Thursday in parliamentary elections that are widely expected to see President Mahinda Rajapakse’s ruling party sweep to victory over the fractured opposition.

For many Sri Lankans, this will be the first parliamentary election in which they can vote without fear of Tamil Tiger violence and suicide attacks; the rebels were defeated last year after three decades of conflict.

Up until the eve of voting, opposition parties had accused the United People’s Freedom Alliance of violating campaign rules and warned that the vote would never be free and fair.

But the charges are unlikely to have any major impact on voter intentions, which show a clear preference for the ruling party still basking in the glow of Mr. Rajapakse’s victory over the Tigers last May.

CHILE

486 dead, 79 missing in latest quake toll

SANTIAGO | Chile’s government has raised the number of confirmed deaths from the Feb. 27 earthquake and tsunami to 486. A report last week listed 432 dead.

A report released Wednesday by the Interior Ministry also lowers the number of missing to 79 from 98.

The 8.8 magnitude quake devastated a vast area of south-central Chile, causing nearly $30 billion in damage, according to the government. In the first week after the quake, the estimated death toll rose above 800 because of double-counting among government agencies.

PHILIPPINES

Researchers confirm new giant lizard

MANILA | Researchers have concluded that a giant, golden-spotted monitor lizard discovered in the forested mountains of the Philippines six years ago is a new species, according to a new study.

The 6½-foot-long lizard was first spotted in 2004 in the Sierra Madre mountains on the main island of Luzon when local researchers saw local Agta tribesmen carrying one of the dead reptiles.

But it took until last year to determine that the animal was a new species. After capturing an adult, researchers from the University of Kansas and the National Museum of the Philippines obtained DNA samples that helped confirm the lizard was new to science.

The Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor Lizard or Varanus bitatawa eats fruits and snails rather than carcasses, unlike many monitors, including its larger relative, the Komodo dragon, according to American and Filipino researchers. They wrote about the discovery in Wednesday’s peer-reviewed Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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