- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 27, 2010

KOREAS

North, South exchange artillery fire

SEOUL | The militaries of North and South Korea have exchanged artillery fire along their western sea border.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that the North fired several rounds of land-based artillery off the west coast Wednesday morning, two days after it designated two no-sail zones in South Korean-held waters, possibly indicating a planned missile test there.

“Our military immediately fired back in response,” a South Korean presidential official told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity.

The official told AFP the North’s artillery rounds landed north of the border, while Seoul’s forces fired at the shells while they were in the air. No one was injured, and no damage was caused. The official refused to say what types of weapons were used or how many rounds were exchanged.

Yonhap said the North’s shells landed near the South Korean-controlled island of Baengnyeong in the Yellow Sea.

FRANCE

Panel favors limits on Muslim face veil

PARIS | Mass transport, hospitals, post offices — these and all public services in France would be off-limits to Muslim women wearing face-covering veils if a parliamentary panel’s recommendations, released Tuesday, become law.

The panel’s No. 2 predicts such a ban by year’s end.

As envisaged by the 32-member multiparty panel, a woman seeking unemployment benefits or other state aid, for instance, would walk away empty-handed if she refused to uncover her face. She would also be denied entrance to the local town hall, the bus, the Metro and the university classroom.

One of the other recommendations: denying resident cards and citizenship to women who wear all-encompassing veils. However, the panel was bitterly divided over recommending a ban on face-covering veils on the street, and that was not among the 15 recommendations retained after a vote.

GUATEMALA

Ex-president wanted in U.S. arrested

GUATEMALA CITY | Police captured fugitive former President Alfonso Portillo in northern Guatemala on Tuesday, a day after U.S. prosecutors indicted him on charges of laundering money stolen from foreign donations meant to buy children’s books.

Dozens of agents raided a ranch in the province of Izabal to execute the arrest, Attorney General Amilcar Velasquez said.

An indictment unsealed Monday in federal court in New York claims that in a four-year scheme starting in 2000, Mr. Portillo embezzled $1.5 million in donations from Taiwan intended to buy school library books. Mr. Portillo, 58, served as president from 2000 to 2004 before fleeing to Mexico.

SRI LANKA

Wartime allies clash in presidential race

COLOMBO | Two former allies who led Sri Lanka to victory in a 25-year civil war dueled at the ballot box Tuesday after a bitter campaign for the country’s first peacetime presidential vote in nearly three decades.

In a voting day surprise, challenger Gen. Sarath Fonseka acknowledged that he was not registered to vote but the Elections Commission said that by itself did not affect his eligibility to stand for the election.

Gen. Fonseka has mounted a surprisingly strong challenge to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a close contest in which the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May has figured heavily in campaigning, with both claiming credit.

Counting, starting with postal ballots, began Tuesday, with the final result expected by midday on Wednesday. The earliest returns, just over 26,000 postal votes, showed Mr. Rajapaksa leading with 69 percent and Gen. Fonseka with about 30 percent.

SWITZERLAND

U.S. sends Uzbek from Guantanamo

An Uzbek detainee held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been sent to Switzerland for resettlement, the Justice Department said Tuesday.

The prisoner was the latest transferred from the facility as the Obama administration seeks to close the prison opened in 2002 to house foreign terrorism suspects.

Mr. Obama’s goal to close it within a year of taking office went unfulfilled last week. There are still 192 prisoners at the facility. Three detainees were sent to Slovakia on Sunday, two Algerians were sent home last week and 12 detainees were sent to Yemen, Afghanistan and Somaliland in late December.

NATO

Military ties resume with Russia

BRUSSELS | Russia and NATO formally resumed military ties Tuesday in the latest sign of improving relations between the Cold War rivals as they move to boost cooperation in the fight against insurgents in Afghanistan.

It was the first meeting between NATO and Russian military officials since relations broke down in the wake of Russia’s war with Georgia in August 2008.

Russian Chief of Staff Gen. Nikolai Makarov held talks with NATO’s top officer, Italian Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola, before a formal meeting with the defense chiefs of NATO’s 27 member states, said Col. Massimo Panizzi, spokesman for NATO’s military committee.

HONG KONG

Lawmakers resign to press for democracy

HONG KONG | Five Hong Kong opposition legislators resigned Tuesday to pressure Beijing for direct elections, in what some consider a desperate bid to revive the campaign for democracy in this semiautonomous former British colony.

Flashing victory signs, the lawmakers from the League of Social Democrats and Civic Party held up their resignation letters for photographers before handing them over to the secretary of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.

A British outpost for more than 150 years, this wealthy financial hub of 7 million people was returned to China’s communist regime 13 years ago under a special political status that promises Western-style government and civil liberties.

But Beijing has withheld democracy. The territory’s leader is chosen by an 800-member committee and its legislature is half elected, half chosen by interest groups. China ruled in 2007 that Hong Kong can’t elect its leader until 2017 and its entire legislature until 2010.

KENYA

U.S. suspends aid to education ministry

NAIROBI | The U.S. has suspended a five-year plan to fund Kenya’s education programs after allegations that more than $1 million in funds went missing at the Education Ministry, U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger said Tuesday.

The U.S. made the decision based on claims late last year that Education Ministry officials misappropriated $1.3 million of Kenyan government and donor funds to finance the country’s much-lauded free primary school education program, Mr. Ranneberger told a luncheon of the American Chamber of Commerce in Kenya.

The U.S. funding was to cost $7 million and begin this year, the ambassador said. Kenya’s Finance Ministry audited the program late last year and found the funds missing. Britain announced in December it was suspending its funding of the program.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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