- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 21, 2010

AFGHANISTAN

Security force to get big boost

KABUL | The Afghan government and its international partners agreed Wednesday to significantly increase the country’s security forces and outlined plans to ure Taliban militants from the fight in a bid to turn the tide of the war.

A joint panel of officials from Afghanistan, the U.N. and troop-contributing nations approved plans to train more than 100,000 more security forces by the end of next year.

The decision comes ahead of a Jan. 28 conference in London, which is aimed at boosting international support for Afghanistan in the face of a resurgent Taliban and complaints about runaway corruption in President Hamid Karzai’s government.

The London conference will endorse the decisions and solicit international funding for the programs, U.N. spokesman Aleem Siddique said.

IRAN

Domestic satellites to be unveiled

TEHRAN | Iran will unveil three new satellites in February, a report said Wednesday, amid Western concerns that Tehran is using its nuclear and space industries to develop atomic and ballistic weapons.

Iranian Students’ News Agency quoted Communications Minister Reza Taghipour as saying that one of the three domestically built communications satellites is still under construction.

Mr. Taghipour named the three satellites as Toloo (Dawn), Ya Mahdi and Mesbah-2, but did not elaborate on exactly when they would be launched. Ya Mahdi, he said, was an “experimental satellite” and the launch would be for testing camera and telecommunications equipment. Mesbah-2, which is under construction, “is a low-orbit telecommunication satellite for storing and sending messages,” he said.

Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said Wednesday that Toloo is a “reconnaissance satellite,” the news agency reported.

Iran’s first domestically built satellite, the Omid (Hope), was launched last February to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

SOUTH KOREA

Defense chief backs pre-emptive hit on North

SEOUL | South Korea’s defense chief called Wednesday for a pre-emptive strike on North Korea if there is a clear indication the country is preparing a nuclear attack.

Defense Minister Kim Tae-young was speaking at a seminar in Seoul. He made similar remarks in 2008 when he was chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Meanwhile, a state-run think tank predicted a military coup, popular uprising, a massacre or mass defections after North Korean leader Kim Jong-il dies. Mr. Kim, who turns 68 next month, is thought to have suffered a stroke in 2008.

Unrest in North Korea is a distinct possibility in coming years, the Korea Institute for National Unification said in a report posted on its Web site late Tuesday.

YEMEN

U.S.-born cleric refuses to surrender

SAN’A | Fugitive radical U.S.-Yemeni imam Anwar al-Awlaki, suspected by Washington to be linked to a failed attack on a U.S. airliner, has said he has no intention of surrendering to Yemeni authorities, according to a Yemeni journalist close to him.

Abdullah Shaea told Agence France-Presse on Wednesday that the cleric had made that declaration to him recently and had also denied Yemeni government claims that negotiations were under way aiming at a surrender.

“Anwar al-Awlaki told me that no one contacted him and that nothing has been negotiated. He has no intention of giving himself up.”

Mr. Shaea is considered in Yemen to be one of the country’s most knowledgeable journalists on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which Washington on Tuesday formally listed as a terrorist group.

RUSSIA

Group says rights deteriorated in 2009

MOSCOW | Russia suffered a severe deterioration in human rights in 2009 despite pledges of reform from President Dmitry Medvedev, Human Rights Watch said in an annual report released Wednesday.

Killings of activists had a chilling effect on the work of rights advocates, while atrocities continued in Chechnya despite the official end of Moscow’s decade-long antiterrorism operation there, the New York-based group said.

The report singled out the killings of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and reporter Anastasia Baburova, fatally shot in Moscow in January 2009, and the abduction and killing of prominent rights activist Natalya Estemirova in Chechnya in July.

Two nationalists were arrested in November for the Markelov and Baburova killings. Estemirova’s killing remains unsolved, though rights activists have blamed the Moscow-backed Chechen authorities.

VIETNAM

Four activists jailed for subversion

HO CHI MINH CITY | A Vietnamese court on Wednesday sentenced four democracy activists to jail for subversion, drawing fire from Western diplomats who called for their release.

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, an Internet entrepreneur, was given 16 years in jail, activist Nguyen Tien Trung got seven years, Le Thang Long, a colleague of Thuc’s, was handed five years, and U.S.-trained lawyer Le Cong Dinh, the best known of the defendants, also got five years.

The case has attracted attention abroad in part because of the involvement of Dinh, a U.S.-trained lawyer who had defended democracy activists, and Trung, who had met President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The charge of subversion under Article 79 of Vietnam’s penal code carries a maximum penalty of death.

UNITED NATIONS

Himalayan glaciers warning not backed up

GENEVA | A U.N. warning that Himalayan glaciers were melting faster than any other place in the world and may be gone by 2035 was not backed up by science, U.N. climate experts said Wednesday — an admission that could energize climate-change critics.

In a 2007 report, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the Himalayan glaciers are very likely to disappear within three decades if the current melting rate continues. But a statement from the panel now says there is not enough scientific evidence to back up those claims.

The warning in the report “refers to poorly substantiated estimates of rate of recession and date for the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers,” the IPCC said. “In drafting the paragraph in question, the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedures, were not applied properly.”

The Himalayan glacier claim, made in the group’s voluminous, Nobel-winning report, was little noticed until the London Sunday Times said the projection seemed to be based on a news report.

SYRIA

U.S. envoy: Syria key to Mideast peace

DAMASCUS | U.S. Middle East envoy George J. Mitchell said Wednesday that Syria and Lebanon were key to achieving peace in the Middle East.

Mr. Mitchell was in Beirut on Tuesday and Wednesday and traveled to neighboring Damascus at the start of a regional tour aimed at restarting Middle East peace talks.

The visit is part of a U.S. effort to end Israel’s conflicts with the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon and, more broadly, normalize Israel’s ties with the rest of the Arab world.

MEXICO

Prison brawl leaves 23 dead

MEXICO CITY | Twenty-three inmates were killed and several others injured during a prison brawl Wednesday morning at a northern Mexico penitentiary, prison officials said.

The fight broke out between inmates at the state prison in the city of Durango that houses 2,025 inmates.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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