- The Washington Times - Friday, January 15, 2010

PAKISTAN

Taliban chief survives U.S. raid

ISLAMABAD | The leader of the Pakistani Taliban was apparently targeted in a U.S. missile strike on a meeting of militant commanders close to the Afghan border Thursday, but he escaped unhurt, Pakistani officials and militants said. Twelve insurgents were believed killed.

The death of Hakimullah Mehsud would be a major victory for both Washington and Islamabad in their fight against Islamist militants. Mehsud appeared on a video released last week sitting next to the Jordanian militant who killed seven CIA employees in a suicide attack in December in Afghanistan.

Mehsud’s Tehrik-e-Taliban movement, which is linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban across the border in Afghanistan, has also claimed responsibility for scores of bloody suicide bombings in Pakistan in recent months against military, civilian and government targets.

The U.S. missile strike was the eighth such attack in two weeks in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region.

One or more unmanned U.S. spy planes fired at least two missiles into a large complex that had been used as a religious school in the past in the Pasalkot area close to the border with South Waziristan soon after dawn broke, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The dead militants included two foreigners, while at least eight others were wounded, said the officials.

Richard Holbrooke, the visiting U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, said that he had no information on the strike but that Mehsud’s death would be a good thing.

VENEZUELA

Chavez suspends rolling blackouts

CARACAS | President Hugo Chavez suspended rolling blackouts in Venezuela’s capital a day after they began and sacked his electricity minister, saying government officials imposed a rationing plan riddled with mistakes.

Mr. Chavez’s announcement late Wednesday was a significant shift in his attempts to avoid a widespread power collapse in the coming months through rolling blackouts of up to four hours a day throughout the country. Other rationing measures are to remain in place, including outages in other areas.

“I have ordered the electrical outages to be suspended, only in Caracas,” Mr. Chavez said on state television, “because this government has to be capable of recognizing mistakes made and fixing them in time.”

JORDAN

Attack targets Israeli diplomats

NAOUR | A roadside bomb exploded Thursday near a convoy of Israeli diplomats traveling through Jordan on their way home for the weekend, but no one was hurt, officials in both countries said.

Ambassador Daniel Nevo was not in the convoy, Israeli officials in Jerusalem said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

It was the first time a roadside bomb was used in an attack in Jordan, where suicide bombings and shootings have targeted foreigners in recent years. The sundown attack also exposed a security breach for Israeli diplomats, who are usually escorted by security personnel from both countries and use different routes and departure times during their occasional travels in Jordan.

The explosion ripped through the right side of a curvy road cutting through hilly villages on the western outskirts of the capital, Amman. The blast left a large hole about 3 feet deep and damaged a highway guardrail.

CZECH REPUBLIC

U.S.-funded radio broadcasts to Pakistan

PRAGUE | U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said it will start broadcasting to the tribal areas of Pakistan on Friday to provide an alternative to Islamic extremist stations.

The broadcaster said its new Radio Mashaal will broadcast in the local Pashto dialect into Pakistan’s border region with Afghanistan.

The network said Thursday that Mashaal, or Torch in Pashto, will broadcast from its headquarters in Prague while its reporters operate from a new bureau in Pakistan.

IRAQ

11 sentenced in bombings

BAGHDAD | An Iraqi court Thursday sentenced 11 people to death by hanging after convicting them of carrying out the August bombings of two government ministries that killed more than 100 people in the heart of Baghdad.

The attacks - the deadliest to that point in more than a year and a half - raised questions about the ability of Iraqi forces to protect the country. They came less than two months after the U.S. handed over control of the country’s cities to local security forces.

Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council spokesman Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar said a criminal court in Baghdad’s eastern Rusafah district found the 11 defendants guilty of financing, planning and participating in the Aug. 19 bombings that devastated the foreign and finance ministries.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s electoral commission barred 500 candidates from running in March’s parliamentary election, including a prominent Sunni lawmaker, in a decision that is sure to deepen Iraq’s sectarian divides.

Hamdia al-Hussaini, a commissioner on the Independent High Electoral Commission, said the commission made the decision after receiving the list from a parliament committee that vets candidates for ties to Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Ba’ath Party.

AUSTRIA

Protests stop tests burying pigs in snow

VIENNA | Vehement protests by animal rights activists prompted scientists on Thursday to temporarily stop an avalanche experiment that involved burying pigs in snow and monitoring their deaths.

The two-week experiment - taking place in the Western Austrian Alps - was trying to determine what factors make it possible for humans to survive an avalanche in an air pocket until rescued without suffering permanent brain damage.

Hermann Brugger, co-director of the experiment led by the Institute of Mountain Emergency Medicine in Bolzano, Italy, and the Medical University of Innsbruck, Austria, asserted the pigs didn’t suffer because they were sedated and given an anesthetic beforehand.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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