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World Briefs

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 8, 2010

AFGHANISTAN

Report: Corruption seen as Taliban aid

The Afghan government's failure to tackle rampant corruption is widely seen as providing impetus to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, according to a new report.

The survey by the anti-corruption charity Integrity Watch Afghanistan found that corruption has grown to epidemic proportions, with Afghans paying $1 billion in bribes in 2009. Half of the 6,500 Afghans surveyed said this fosters the growth of the Taliban.

"Taliban uses corruption in the government as a strategic political approach to delegitimize the government and gain greater support among the population," said Karolina Olofsson, head of advocacy and communications at Integrity Watch Afghanistan, in an e-mail interview from Kabul.

The survey found that corruption had doubled since 2006 and one in seven adults experienced direct bribery in 2009. Twenty-eight percent of Afghan households paid a bribe to obtain at least one public service.

UNITED NATIONS

Security Council meets on S. Korea ship sinking

The U.N. Security Council called a meeting late Thursday where diplomats say a draft statement on the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship was to be discussed.

South Korea sent a letter to the council on June 4 asking the U.N.'s most powerful body to respond to the March 26 sinking "in a manner appropriate to the gravity of North Korea's military provocation." A South Korean-led international investigation concluded that a North Korean torpedo sank the 1,200-ton Cheonan on March 26, killing 46 South Korean sailors.

North Korea, which has vehemently denied the accusations, has called for a new joint investigation by both Koreas "to verify objectively the truth of the incident." Pyongyang has warned that its military forces will respond if the Security Council questions or condemns the country over the sinking.

Since the council received the June 4 letter, the five permanent council members - the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France - have been discussing a possible response with Japan and South Korea.

NORWAY

Bomb arrests linked to U.S., British plots

OSLO | Three suspected al Qaeda members were arrested Thursday in a Norwegian bomb plot linked to the same terrorist planners behind thwarted schemes to blow up New York's subway and a British shopping mall.

The alleged Norwegian plot, underscoring changing al Qaeda tactics in the decade since the 9/11 attacks, was said to involve powerful peroxide bombs similar to ones aimed for detonation in New York and Manchester, England.

All three plans were organized by Saleh al-Somali, al Qaeda's former chief of external operations, who had been in charge of plotting attacks worldwide, Norwegian and U.S. officials believe. Al-Somali was killed in a CIA drone air strike last year, but officials say the three plots had already been set in motion by the time of his death.

EUROPEAN UNION

Parliament OKs financial data deal with U.S.

BRUSSELS | The European Parliament on Thursday approved a long-awaited deal to share financial data with the U.S. in suspected terrorist cases, after Washington agreed to major concessions to allay concerns over privacy.

The agreement allows U.S. officials to request financial data from European banks if they suspect accounts are being used by people with terrorist links. Officials must provide European authorities with reasons for their suspicions, rectify inaccurate data and grant legal redress in U.S. courts if information is abused.

The agreement, which passed 484-109, will take effect Aug. 1. There were 12 abstentions.

The accord is designed to head off disagreements between the U.S. and EU over where personal privacy takes precedence over security investigations. The European Parliament last year rejected extending an interim deal because it said there were not enough safeguards for civil liberties.

CUBA

Political inmates told to prepare for release

HAVANA | Cuba began making good Thursday on a deal to release its 52 most prominent political prisoners, with five told by the country's top clergyman that they could be released into exile at any time, and six others transferred to jails closer to their homes.

Under a landmark agreement between the government of President Raul Castro and the Catholic Church, brokered by visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, authorities promised to free five political prisoners as soon as possible and force them to head to Spain - then free 47 more in the next two or three months.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Archbishop of Havana, called Lester Gonzalez, who had been serving a 20-year sentence in the central city of Santa Clara, to say he should prepare to be released and leave the country. Also getting calls were Jose Luis Garcia, sentenced to 24 years in prison in Las Tunas province, and fellow prisoners of conscience Antonio Villarreal, Luis Milan and Pablo Pacheco.

It was not clear exactly when they would go free, but Cardinal Ortega indicated it would be in the coming days.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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