- The Washington Times - Friday, January 29, 2010

IRAN

2 hanged, 5 more activists sentenced

TEHRAN | Iran on Thursday executed two men accused of involvement in an armed anti-government group, as the public prosecutor announced that new death sentences have been issued against five more opposition activists involved in protests over June’s disputed presidential election.

The announcements marked an escalation by the courts enforcing the clerical leadership’s heavy, monthslong crackdown aimed at crushing the opposition challenge. The prosecutor also said a new group of protesters and others would soon be brought to trial.

The two men, who were hanged before dawn Thursday, had been arrested before the election and did not appear to be connected to the postelection protests. But they were put before the same mass trial as opposition leaders and activists arrested amid the crackdown, and state media Thursday depicted the two as part of the protest movement.

Tehran’s prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, announced that five people have been sentenced to death for involvement in the most recent major demonstration, on Dec. 27, when at least eight people were killed in clashes between police and protesters and hundreds arrested.

IRAQ

Key al Qaeda leader killed in raid

BAGHDAD | A key al Qaeda in Iraq figure involved in smuggling hundreds of suicide bombers across the border from Syria has been killed in a raid in northern Iraq, the U.S. military said Thursday.

The military called the death a blow to the insurgent organization in Iraq. The man was identified as Saad Uwayid Obeid Mijbil al-Shammari, also known as Abu Khalaf, the military said. It said it had confirmed the identity of the body through fingerprints and other means.

Abu Khalaf was killed Jan. 22 during a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid in the northern city of Mosul, some 60 miles from the Syrian border. He was killed after he broke free from his restraints and attacked his guard, the military said.

FRANCE

De Villepin acquitted in smear trial

PARIS | A court ruled Thursday that former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin did not take part in a smear campaign against President Nicolas Sarkozy, a verdict that means the two rivals may soon be sparring in the political arena again.

Mr. de Villepin, who served as French prime minister from 2005 to 2007 under President Jacques Chirac, quickly suggested his acquittal means he is setting his sights on the presidency.

VENEZUELA

Police fire tear gas at protesters

CARACAS | Police fired tear gas to disperse thousands of students demonstrating in Venezuela’s capital Thursday, a fifth day of protests against President Hugo Chavez for forcing an opposition TV channel off cable and satellite.

Some of the protesters threw rocks at police in riot gear when officers moved to break up the rally outside the offices of the state-run electricity company.

BRITAIN

Blair faces grilling on Iraq war choices

LONDON | Former Prime Minister Tony Blair faces harsh questioning Friday on the 2003 decision to invade Iraq - the fateful decision blamed by many for cutting short his political career.

Mr. Blair’s testimony is expected to provide the highlight of the Iraq Inquiry, a wide-ranging investigation of the behind-the-scenes machinations that brought Britain into a costly and unpopular war. The audience will include family members of soldiers and civilians killed or missing in Iraq.

Mr. Blair is expected to be questioned about charges that he and his inner circle were so determined to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein that they exaggerated intelligence reports about Iraqi weapons systems and pressured Britain’s attorney general to issue a ruling that the invasion would not be a violation of international law.

POLAND

Dog drifts 75 miles on ice, but rescued

WARSAW | A frightened, shivering dog was rescued after floating at least 75 miles on an ice floe down Poland’s Vistula River and into the Baltic Sea, officials said Thursday.

Now his rescuers just have to figure out who really owns him. Four people have already claimed him, but so far rescuers say there’s been no wagging tail of joy from the miracle dog they nicknamed “Baltic.”

The thick-furred male dog was found adrift Monday 15 miles out in the Baltic Sea by the crew of the Baltica, a Polish ship of ocean scientists carrying out research. Researcher Natalia Drgas said Thursday the rescue was difficult and at one point it seemed the dog had drowned.

A firefighter in Grudziadz, on the Vistula River 60 miles inland from the Bay of Gdansk, told the Associated Press the dog was spotted Saturday floating on ice through the city. Firefighters tried to save him, but could not approach the dog owing to shifting ice sheets.

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