- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2010

THAILAND

Thousands demand elections

BANGKOK | As many as 100,000 people demonstrated peacefully against Thailand’s government at a partylike rally Sunday, but the capital was being kept on edge by their threat to continue protesting until Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva calls new elections.

Loud pop music and rural delicacies such as spicy papaya salad competed with fiery rhetoric for the attention of the crowd, many of whom had come from provinces in the countryside. The festive tone was aided by hundreds of new arrivals disembarking from boats festooned with red banners on the Chao Phraya River.

The so-called Red Shirts — comprising followers of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and their allies — rallied along a boulevard that is a traditional venue for political protests.

The protesters are demanding Mr. Abhisit dissolve parliament and call new elections, which they believe will restore their political allies to power. The Red Shirts set a deadline of noon Monday for Mr. Abhisit to heed their call, or face disruptive street protests.

PAKISTAN

17 militants killed in air raids

PARACHINAR | Pakistani fighter jets pounded Taliban hide-outs near the Afghan border Sunday, killing 17 insurgents, local officials said.

The hide-outs were in the village of Mero Bak in the Taliban stronghold of the Lower Orakzai tribal region, said Rasheed Khan, an Orakzai official. The air attack killed nine militants, he added.

One of the bombed houses belonged to a local Taliban commander, Aslam Farooqi, but it was not clear if he was among those killed. Jabir Gul, another local official, said the bombing in neighboring Upper Orakzai killed eight more Taliban fighters.

Orakzai is the base of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, who officials believe was killed in a U.S. missile strike earlier this year. The group insists he is alive, but has not provided any evidence.

CANADA

2 snowmobilers killed in avalanche

REVELSTOKE, British Columbia | An avalanche that killed at least two people at an informal snowmobile rally in Canada’s Rocky Mountains may have been triggered by three daredevil sledders who apparently unleashed a deadly wall of snow on up to 200 people below, witnesses said Sunday.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said an even worse tragedy may have been averted because many of the snowmobilers had come equipped with avalanche recovery equipment and dug people out even before rescuers arrived at the scene.

Despite avalanche warnings, about 200 people had gathered on the mountain for the Big Iron Shoot Out, an annual unsanctioned event known for its party atmosphere and stunt riding that has become popular among people who enjoy snowmobiling in the deep snow of back country British Columbia.

IRAN

American scholar freed temporarily

TEHRAN | Iran has temporarily released an Iranian-American scholar serving prison time on an espionage conviction so he can spend the Iranian New Year holiday with his family, officials said Sunday.

Kian Tajbakhsh, a social scientist and urban planner, was the only American detained in the crackdown that crushed giant street protests by hundreds of thousands of people after June’s disputed presidential election.

Iran traditionally releases some prisoners during the New Year holiday. Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi said Mr. Tajbakhsh was released Saturday on $800,000 bail for 15 days, the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency reported. The terms of the release do not allow him to leave the country.

WEST BANK

Israel arrests top Hamas official

JERUSALEM | Israeli forces arrested a senior Hamas figure Sunday after a raid in the town of Ramallah, the seat of the West Bank-based Palestinian government, the Israeli military said.

A military statement described Maher Audi as a founder of Hamas in the West Bank and said he was responsible for the death of 10 Israelis. There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian Authority.

The islamist group Hamas controls the Gaza Strip coastal enclave that is blockaded by Israel. It is less dominant in the West Bank where the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas holds sway.

INDIA

Two arrested in Mumbai terror plot

MUMBAI | Indian police said Sunday they prevented a major terrorist strike in Mumbai by arresting two men who were preparing to attack several targets in the city, the country’s financial and entertainment hub.

K.P. Raghuvanshi, chief of Mumbai’s anti-terrorism squad, said the two Indian men — both residents of the city — had targeted a popular shopping mall, a market and a state-owned gas facility. He said Abdul Latif Rashid and Riyaz Ali were arrested late Saturday in Mumbai’s Matunga suburb.

Police said the men had links with terror groups in Pakistan and were acting on directions from handlers there.

India has blamed Pakistan-linked Islamist militant groups for a deadly November 2008 terror attack on Mumbai in which 166 people were killed. Last month, 16 people were killed in a bombing in a popular bakery in the nearby city of Pune.

EGYPT

Synagogue event canceled in protest

CAIRO | Egypt canceled the inauguration of a restored synagogue Sunday citing objections to Israel’s treatment of Muslims in the occupied territories as well as purported excesses during an earlier ceremony.

Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities spent seven months restoring the ruined Ben Maimon synagogue in Cairo’s ancient Jewish quarter and had been set to unveil it to the press Sunday, a week after its rededication in a private ceremony.

Council head Zahi Hawass called off Sunday’s event following criticism in the press of the synagogue’s rededication ceremony, which was attended by Israeli diplomats as well the American ambassador. The cancellation was largely symbolic as the restoration is complete and the synagogue has been reopened.

JAPAN

Strong earthquake rattles buildings

TOKYO | A strong magnitude-6.6 earthquake hit off the eastern coast of Japan Sunday, rattling buildings across a broad swath of the country, including the crowded capital.

There were no reports of casualties, with only light damage to structures near the epicenter, according to local officials.

The quake hit at 5:08 p.m. and was felt most strongly in central Fukushima prefecture about 130 miles northeast of Tokyo, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

The earthquake was centered about 50 miles off the eastern coast at a depth of about 25 miles, the meteorological agency said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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