- - Sunday, July 4, 2010

MEXICO

Drug killings weigh as Mexicans vote

MEXICO CITY | Mexicans voted for new governors and mayors across a third of the country Sunday in an election soured by drug-gang killings and intimidation and expected to hand the main opposition party sweeping gains.

With the ruling conservatives dogged by a feeble economy and raging drug violence, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, is pegged to win most of the 12 gubernatorial elections, keeping many of the nine states it controls and pushing out rivals in some of the other three.

A big PRI victory could set the stage for a 2012 presidential bid by the party’s rising star, Enrique Pena Nieto, governor of the state of Mexico, next to Mexico City.

With Mexico’s left divided and President Felipe Calderon sinking in opinion polls, the PRI is pushing for a comeback after a 2000 election win by the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, ended its 71-year rule.

More than 26,000 people have been killed during Mr. Calderon’s 3½ years in office, mostly traffickers and police, but also civilian bystanders. Human heads and mutilated bodies are often dumped in public as gangs fight over turf.

LEBANON

Lebanese ayatollah dies at 74

BEIRUT | Lebanese Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, one of Shi’ite Islam’s highest religious authorities and an early mentor of the militant group Hezbollah, died in a Beirut hospital on Sunday.

Political leaders and clerics from Iran, Bahrain and Iraq paid tribute to Ayatollah Fadlallah, reflecting the loyalty he enjoyed from Shi’ites as far away as the Persian Gulf and Central Asia.

Ayathollah Fadlallah, who was 74, had been too frail to deliver his regular Friday prayers sermon for several weeks, and had been in the hospital since Friday suffering from internal bleeding.

Crowds gathered to pay condolences at the Hassanein mosque in southern Beirut, where he preached, and Hezbollah said it would mark his death with three days of mourning. Ayatollah Fadlallah’s office said he would be buried at the mosque on Tuesday.

Ayatollah Fadlallah was a supporter of Iran’s Islamic Revolution and one of the first backers of the Iraqi Dawa Party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He was also the spiritual leader and mentor of the Shi’ite guerrilla group Hezbollah when it was formed after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, though he later distanced himself from its ties with Iran.

A fierce critic of the United States, which formally designated him a terrorist, Ayatollah Fadlallah used many of his Friday prayer sermons to denounce U.S. policies in the Middle East, particularly its alliance with Israel.

Ayatollah Fadlallah survived several assassination attempts, including a 1985 car bomb that killed 80 people in south Beirut. U.S. news reports said the attack was carried out by a U.S.-trained Lebanese unit after attacks on U.S. targets in Lebanon.

JAPAN

Japan asked to pay more for Marine move

TOKYO | The United States has asked Japan to help shoulder hundreds of millions of dollars in additional fees to transfer Marines from a controversial base on Okinawa island to Guam, Kyodo News reported.

The extra money — needed to help pay for electricity, water and sewerage facilities at the new site — could add further uncertainty to the future of the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, which has strained the security alliance that Japan and the U.S. sealed 50 years ago.

Debate over a relocation plan for the base, which currently sits in the middle of a city in Okinawa, led to repeated mass protests and was a major factor in Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s resignation last month. Under the existing deal, 8,000 Marines and their dependents will move to the U.S. territory of Guam, and some facilities will shift to a less-populated part of the Japanese island.

Japan agreed in 2006 to pay more than $6 billion of the $10 billion the move was expected to cost.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates asked Tokyo last month to help pick up the tab for the higher-than-expected infrastructure costs at the new base, Kyodo News said, citing unnamed diplomatic sources.

Kyodo said that would likely cost Japan an additional hundreds of millions of dollars. The country’s massive debt and struggling economy are a major issue in national elections set for this month, and any additional financial burden for the already sensitive Okinawa base issue would draw strong criticism at home.

NIGERIA

Pirates release 12 foreign sailors

LAGOS | Twelve foreign sailors taken hostage off Nigeria’s oil-rich and restive southern delta were safely released Sunday, a Nigerian naval spokesman said.

Commodore David Nabaida told the Associated Press that all the men were in good condition after pirates dropped them onto a fishing trawler off the coast of the Niger Delta. The captain of the trawler then informed naval authorities of their release.

The Seafarers Union of Russia said the crew aboard the BBC Palonia consisted of seven Russians, two Germans, and a Latvian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian.

Commodore Nabaida said that the men will be interviewed, but all appeared to be in good health. He said he had no information on whether a ransom had been paid to secure the men’s release. Most hostages are released unharmed in these types of kidnappings after some sort of a ransom is paid.

The German Foreign Ministry Sunday confirmed the two Germans were safe.

Pirates boarded the German-flagged cargo ship BBC Palonia Friday night off the coast of the Niger Delta. A struggle broke out during the attack, and pirates shot one crew member in the leg during the fight, Commodore Nabaida said.

Commodore Nabaida said the Nigerian navy escorted the ship to safe waters and transported the wounded Ukrainian sailor to a local hospital.

“We are working on how to arrest them [pirates],” he said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports