- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2010

GEORGIA

Government ripped over TV ‘war’ hoax

TBILISI | Georgia’s opposition accused the government on Sunday of being behind a fake primetime news report that Russian tanks had entered the capital at the call of the opposition, causing widespread panic.

For many Saturday night viewers, the 20-minute report on pro-government Imedi TV thrust the country back to its five-day war with Russia in August 2008.

The report laid out a scenario in which opposition leaders called on Russian forces now stationed in South Ossetia to intervene in political unrest following mayoral elections in Tbilisi, which are due by the end of May.

Imedi, which is run by a close ally of President Mikhail Saakashvili, did not hide the fact the report was in response to two opposition leaders meeting separately with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin late last year and this month.

The aim, it said, was to demonstrate how events might unfold.

The opposition was furious, saying the stunt raised fresh questions over what international watchdogs say is state manipulation of news media under Mr. Saakashvili.

Government officials have denied involvement. Asked if Mr. Saakashvili was involved or aware of the report before it aired, his spokeswoman said she was unable to comment.

Introduced as a simulation of “the worst day in Georgian history,” the report then ran without a banner making clear it was not real. Mobile phone networks crashed and the emergency services reported a spike in calls.

Many Georgians rushed home, and some Russian media interrupted their regular programming.

Imedi, originally an opposition broadcaster until police stormed the studios in 2007 at the height of protests against Mr. Saakashvili, apologized for how the report was presented.

Mr. Saakashvili also criticized the panic it caused, but said the scenario was not unlikely.

CROATIA

Serb war crimes suspect held

ZAGREB | Police arrested an ethnic Serb suspected of taking part in the killing of dozens of Croat civilians at the start of Croatia’s 1991-1995 independence war, national television reported Sunday.

The 60-year-old man, wanted by Zagreb over his role in the killing of at least 56 civilians, was detained Saturday on a border crossing with Bosnia, it said.

In October 1991, civilians from villages in Croatia’s municipality of Hrvatska Dubica, near the central town of Sisak, were detained and fatally shot, and their bodies were buried in a mass grave. In 1997, the remains of 56 victims were exhumed while another 20 people from the area are still reported missing.

Local media identified the arrested man as Nikola Kovacevic and said 15 people were suspected of taking part in the crime. Mr. Kovacevic had been living in neighboring Serbia since the end of the war, the reports said.

Croatia’s proclamation of independence from the former Yugoslavia sparked the four-year war with rebel Serbs who opposed the move. The war claimed some 20,000 lives.

VATICAN CITY

Church denies celibacy led to scandal

VATICAN CITY | The Vatican on Sunday denied that its celibacy requirement for priests was the root cause of the clerical sex-abuse scandal convulsing the church in Europe and again defended the pope’s handling of the crisis.

Suggestions that the celibacy rule was in part responsible for the “deviant behavior” of sexually-abusive priests have swirled in recent days, with opinion pieces in German newspapers blaming it for fueling abuse and even Italian commentators questioning the rule.

Much of the furor was spurred by comments from one of the pope’s closest advisers, Vienna archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, who called last week for an honest examination of issues like celibacy and priestly education to root out the origins of sex abuse.

IRELAND

4 freed in plot to kill cartoonist

DUBLIN | Four people, including an American woman, arrested over a purported plot to assassinate Swedish artist Lars Vilks have been freed without charge, but three others remain in custody, Irish police said.

Seven people — three Algerians, a Libyan, a Palestinian and a Croat and the American woman, who is married to one of the Algerians — were arrested Tuesday in Ireland hours before U.S. authorities unveiled a terror indictment against a 46-year-old Philadelphia woman, Colleen LaRose.

In Leadville, Colo., a woman identified the American woman who was released as her daughter, 31-year-old Jamie Paulin-Ramirez. Christine Mott said she had been informed of Ms. Paulin-Ramirez’s arrest by the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies.

Ms. LaRose — who billed herself as “Jihad Jane” in a 2008 YouTube video — is accused of plotting with others to kill Mr. Vilks because of his sketch depicting the head of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad on a dog’s body.

Mrs. Mott said Ms. Paulin-Ramirez disappeared last September and later told her family she went to Ireland with her 6-year-old son and married an Algerian whom she met online.

BRITAIN

Terrorism suspect wanted by Spain held

LONDON | British police said Sunday they had arrested a 29-year-old man wanted by Spanish authorities for purported terrorism offenses.

British news reports said the man was suspected of being a member of Basque separatist group ETA but police could not confirm it.

Officers from the London police force’s extradition unit arrested Garikoitz Ibarlucea Murua in the Soho district of London, police said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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