- - Sunday, December 19, 2010

BELARUS

Thousands try to storm government building

MINSK | Thousands of opposition supporters in Belarus tried to storm the main government building to protest what the opposition claims was large-scale vote-rigging in Sunday’s presidential election.

Dozens of protesters were injured in clashes with riot police, left bruised and bloody after being beaten with clubs.

Protesters broke windows and glass doors, but were pushed back by riot police waiting inside the building, which also houses the Central Election Commission. Hundreds more riot police then arrived in trucks.

About 40,000 opposition activists rallied in central Minsk to call for longtime authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko to step down. It was the largest opposition rally since 1996.

Leading opposition candidate Vladimir Neklyayev was beaten by riot police while leading a few hundred of his supporters to the demonstration and was taken by ambulance to a hospital, according to his wife.

FRANCE

Europe’s snow cancels flights

PARIS | Heavy snow on Sunday shut down European airport runways, forced fast trains to slow down and left cars skidding through icy, slushy streets on a weekend where many people were trying to head home for Christmas.

Travelers camped out at airports overnight. London’s Heathrow Airport stopped accepting arrivals Sunday, causing havoc at the start of the Christmas travel rush. About 40 percent of flights were canceled at Frankfurt airport and Paris’ Charles de Gaulle.

In the French capital, where snow quickly turned to slush and big trucks were banned from roads, a Lady Gaga concert was canceled because trucks carrying sets for the pop diva’s extravagant show couldn’t get to Bercy stadium. The show was likely to be rescheduled for Tuesday.

Many airplane passengers slept in makeshift dormitories at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle, at Amsterdam’s airport and at Heathrow, Europe’s busiest hub for air passengers.

ITALY

Italy deports Algerian linked to al Qaeda

ROME | An Algerian national and bomb-making expert has been deported from Italy to Algeria after he was sentenced to prison for belonging to an extremist cell linked to al Qaeda, the Interior Ministry said Sunday.

Border police put Khaled Serai, who nearly three years ago was sentenced to a six-year prison term by a Naples court for his links with a “terrorist” cell, on a flight from Rome to Algiers late Saturday.

Serai, who also was charged with encouraging illegal immigration, had his sentenced confirmed on appeal on Oct. 27.

The ministry said the Algerian was deported “for public order and security reasons.”

Serai was described as a bomb-making expert who had set up “a terrorist cell” with other Muslim extremists active in Salerno, Naples, Brescia and Vicenza with the aim of providing logistical support to members of al Qaeda’s branch in North Africa.

Cell members had planned to carry out attacks in Italy against Western targets, including by exploding large ships, “which could have caused the deaths of thousands of people,” the ministry said.

SWITZERLAND

Assange sought as guest at Davos forum

GENEVA | The head of the Davos economic forum said Sunday he would have liked WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to attend next month’s summit of world political and business elites in the Swiss ski resort.

“I should invite him,” Klaus Schwab, head of the World Economic Forum (WEF), told Sunday newspaper SonntagsZeitung. “But it is not possible, as he is not allowed to leave Britain.”

Mr. Assange spent Sunday, his third full day under “mansion arrest,” at a friend’s house in Britain while he fights extradition to Sweden to face questioning in connection of allegations of sexual assault against two women.

“I will wait until Swedish justice clears him,” Mr. Schwab said.

The 39-year-old Australian denies the charges against him and has vowed that his whistleblowing website will continue to publish secret U.S. diplomatic cables, thousands of which it has already released.