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IRAN

Official: No ban on Russian missiles

DAMASCUS, Syria | A senior Iranian official said Thursday that new U.N. sanctions do not ban Russia from delivering sophisticated air-defense missiles to Iran as agreed under a 2007 contract, countering the Russian stance.

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said the contract for delivery of the powerful S-300 air-defense missiles to Iran was concluded before the U.N. Security Council approved new sanctions last month.

“The contract for Russian S-300 missiles was concluded before last U.N. Security Council [resolution]. It is an old contract; therefore, it has nothing to do with the … [new] resolution. Moreover, it is a defensive weapon,” Mr. Larijani told reporters on a visit to Damascus.

Last month, the Russian government said the new U.N. sanctions prevent Russia from delivering S-300 missiles to Iran.

ISRAEL

Abbas gives interview to Israeli media

JERUSALEM | Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made a fresh bid to win over public opinion in Israel by giving a rare interview to Israeli journalists in which he cast himself as a serious partner for peace talks.

The interview, reported in major Israeli newspapers on Thursday, came as Washington’s special Mideast envoy, George J. Mitchell, was visiting the region trying to find enough common ground between the two sides to allow direct talks to resume.

Also Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he has accepted a German mediator’s proposal to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a captive Israeli soldier held by Hamas militants in Gaza for four years. But he said the most dangerous prisoners would not be allowed to return to their homes, and “mass murderers” would not be freed.

KENYA

East African nations create common market

NAIROBI | Five nations in East Africa implemented new economic rules Thursday to boost cross-border employment and trade.

The new steps push forward a larger plan to integrate the economies of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, which together form the East African Community.

When most African countries gained independence from European colonial powers in the 1950s and 1960s, Africa’s founding fathers wanted the entire continent to become one economy as a way of achieving self-reliance and better negotiating power in international markets.

The East African Community’s one set of regulations, called the Common Market Protocol, officially came into effect Thursday, but each country still has to change a wide range of national laws including labor, taxation and immigration to conform to the protocol.

NIGERIA

Sect leader threatens retaliation

LAGOS | A leader of a radical Muslim sect that started a rampage that left 700 people dead in Nigeria is said to have issued a videotaped threat calling for new violence as the one-year anniversary of their attack nears.

Imam Abubakar Shekau, a sect deputy whom police claimed to have killed during the July 2009 violence, told a Nigerian journalist that he had taken over as leader of the Boko Haram sect. Mr. Shekau told the reporter that he suffered a gunshot wound to the thigh during the fighting, but had been rescued by “fellow believers and protected by Allah.”

“I have the intention to retaliate,” Mr. Shekau said in the local Hausa language.

The Associated Press could not immediately verify the authenticity of the recording seen by Nigeria’s Daily Trust newspaper Thursday. Borno state police commander Ibrahim Abdu dismissed the videotape, but said security officials would take precautions as the anniversary of last year’s violence draws near.

EGYPT

New tobacco tax aims to curb smoking

CAIRO | Egyptian smokers saw prices surge Thursday by as much as 100 percent as the government slapped new taxes on tobacco products in a bid to curb smoking and raise money for public health programs in the Arab world’s most populous nation.

As part of a new law passed in May, but only being implemented now, the taxes raise the price of cigarettes by as much as 40 percent, while the tobacco used in Egypt’s ubquitous water pipes, known locally as shisha, now costs twice as much.

The law is part of government efforts to curb smoking, which many Egyptians maintain is one of the few remaining affordable pleasures in a country where rising prices have sparked protests over the past few months.

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