- The Washington Times - Monday, January 18, 2010

IRAQ

‘Chemical Ali’ to hang for ‘88 gas attack

BAGHDAD | Saddam Hussein’s notorious cousin “Chemical Ali” was convicted Sunday and sentenced to hang for ordering the most infamous of his crimes, the 1988 attacks against the Kurdish town of Halabja that killed more than 5,000 people in clouds of poisonous gas.

This was the fourth death sentence against Ali Hassan al-Majid for crimes against humanity. His previous sentences have not been carried out in part because Halabja survivors wanted to have their case against him heard. Politics also plays a role, with a three-member presidential council representing Iraq’s leading factions of Shi’ites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds unable to agree to sign off on an earlier execution order.

Another senior figure in Saddam’s regime, former Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, suffered a severe stroke over the weekend and cannot speak, his son said Sunday from neighboring Jordan. Aziz was for years the chief diplomat of Saddam’s regime. He was convicted and sentenced to prison for his involvement in the forced displacement of Kurds in northern Iraq and the deaths of Baghdad merchants in the 1990s.

AFGHANISTAN

Holbrooke: Video shows militant links

KABUL | A video of a Pakistani Taliban leader with the bomber who killed CIA agents in Afghanistan could indicate cross-border links between Afghan, Pakistani and al Qaeda militants, the U.S. regional envoy said on Sunday.

Special Representative Richard Holbrooke told Reuters news agency in an interview in Kabul that “shadowy but unmistakable” links between groups exposed by the video helped explain why the United States and its allies were fighting in Afghanistan.

The video released this month showed the Jordanian suicide bomber posing with Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, before carrying out the Dec. 30 attack which killed seven CIA employees, the deadliest strike on the agency in decades.

INDIA

Gates visit to bolster ties

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates leaves for India Monday seeking to strengthen military ties with the rising Asian giant, even as Washington focuses on rival Pakistan as a top foreign policy priority.

The Jan. 19-21 visit includes talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has sought U.S. help getting Islamabad to crack down on Islamic extremists blamed for the attacks in Mumbai in 2008.

U.S. officials, briefing reporters ahead of the trip, acknowledged the meetings would likely touch on tensions between India and Pakistan as well as efforts by both U.S. and Indian militaries to work closer together, including counterterrorism efforts.

SOMALIA

Ransom paid for oil tanker

MOGADISHU | The largest ransom ever paid to Somali pirates was dropped Sunday onto a Greek-flagged oil tanker with 2 million barrels of oil on board, pirates and maritime officials said.

An aircraft dropped a ransom thought to be between $5.5 million and $7 million for the release of the tanker which was hijacked near the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Seychelles, the officials said.

The Maran Centaurus was seized on Nov. 29 with nine Greeks, two Ukrainians, one Romanian and 16 Filipinos on board and the ransom dwarfs amounts paid previously for vessels held captive by Somali sea gangs.

The tanker has yet to be freed as a dispute between rival pirate gangs over the spoils means the recipients are wary of returning to the coastal haven of Haradheere with their booty. A $3 million ransom was paid for the release of another oil tanker, the Sirius Star, in January 2009.

CHILE

Rightist billionaire wins presidential vote

SANTIAGO | Conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera won Chile’s presidential election Sunday, ending two decades of center-left rule in Latin America’s most stable economy.

With ballots counted at 60.3 percent of polling stations, Mr. Pinera had 51.87 percent of the vote and his leftist rival, former President Eduardo Frei, quickly conceded defeat.

The victory by Mr. Pinera, 60, a Harvard-educated airline magnate, marks a shift to the right in South America, a region dominated by leftist rulers from Venezuela to Argentina, although no major changes to economic policy are expected.

TURKEY

Israeli’s visit signals thaw in ties

ANKARA | Israel’s defense minister said Sunday that a daylong visit to Turkey had helped end an ugly diplomatic feud but analysts expressed skepticism that the trip would ease tensions rising since Israel’s Gaza war.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told reporters that the countries had moved beyond a disagreement that erupted after Israel’s deputy foreign minister deliberately humiliated the Turkish ambassador to express anger over an anti-Israeli show on Turkish television.

Israel apologized, and Mr. Barak said at a joint press conference with Turkey’s Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul that, “I believe it was a mistake, and the right step was taken according to the norms of diplomacy.”

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was satisfied with Mr. Barak’s description of the humiliation as a mistake and said Turkey would not pursue the issue further.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Israel sends official to conference

DUBAI | Israel for the first time sent a Cabinet minister to the United Arab Emirates, a small Gulf country with which it doesn’t have relations, to attend a conference on alternative energy.

National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau told the Associated Press Sunday he did not meet with any Emirati officials while attending a conference of the International Renewable Energy Agency, based in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi. The agency’s activities are open to Israel because it is a member state.

Mr. Landau said the Israeli delegation entered the country after “special arrangements” were made.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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