- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2010

TURKEY

Erdogan warns judges over reforms

ANKARA | Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkey’s judges Tuesday they had no right to oppose constitutional reform plans that pit him against a secular elite alarmed by what it sees as growing Islamist influence.

The proposed changes would give the president more control over appointment of judges to the Constitutional Court, make it harder to ban political parties, and make military personnel liable to prosecution in civil, rather than military courts.

Opponents accuse the ruling Justice and Development Party, which has a huge majority in parliament, of using liberal reform as a cover for efforts to consolidate its power and promote a secret Islamist agenda. They threaten to ask the Constitutional Court to block the package.

JORDAN

Envoy to Pakistan targeted by plot

AMMAN | Jordan’s ambassador to Pakistan was the target of a Taliban kidnap attempt foiled by authorities in Islamabad and is now safe, the Jordanian information minister said Tuesday.

The incident followed calls for attacks on the Jordanian government by an al Qaeda double agent who killed seven CIA operatives and a Jordanian agent in Afghanistan last December.

On Monday, Pakistani police announced the arrest of two highly experienced Taliban militants planning to attack top hotels and kidnap diplomats in Pakistan. The militants’ identities and their targets weren’t disclosed at the time.

Jordanian Information Minister Nabil Sharif said Ambassador Saleh al-Jawarneh was the target of the plot and was now safe in Jordan. He said Jordanian security was in contact with Pakistan for detailed information on the probe under way.

In a video message aired last month after his death in December, al Qaeda double agent Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, a Jordanian, called for attacks on members of Jordan’s intelligence agency and the need to overthrow its government, citing Jordan’s strong support for Washington.

LEBANON

Military court jails 20 al Qaeda suspects

BEIRUT | A Lebanese military court on Tuesday handed 20 people jail sentences of up to 15 years after convicting them on charges of belonging to al Qaeda and plotting “terrorist attacks,” a judicial source said.

Judge Nizar Khalil sentenced seven people, Palestinians and Syrians, to 15 years in prison in absentia. The 13 others, who had formed a separate cell, were in custody and received sentences of two to 10 years in prison. They include Saudi Arabian, Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese nationals.

Members of the 13-member cell also have been interrogated by a U.N. court investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a massive car bombing in Beirut in 2005.

YEMEN

Women rally in favor of child-marriage ban

SAN’A | Hundreds of women rallied outside Yemen’s parliament Tuesday in support of a law setting a minimum age for marriage in the country, two days after a larger protest opposing the law.

The demonstration was organized by the General Union of Yemeni Women and other women’s organizations, in response to a Sunday protest by thousands of women against the bill that was called by Islamists and conservatives.

Among the protesters Tuesday was Nojoud Mohammed Ali, who obtained a divorce two years ago after her father forced her to marry a man 20 years her senior when she was only eight.

The law, which fixes the age of marriage for girls at 17 and 18 for boys, was passed last year. But some lawmakers have submitted requests for the law’s review, prohibiting its enactment.

Some Muslims believe the minimum age of marriage need not be fixed since Islam did not do so, and that the Prophet Muhammad married his wife Aisha when she was nine years old.

YEMEN

Southern leader sentenced

SAN’A | A Yemeni court on Tuesday sentenced a leading member of a southern separatist movement to 10 years in prison, a move that could further heighten tensions between secessionists and the government.

Violence between Yemeni security forces and southern separatists protesting against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh worsened earlier this month.

The judge at a court in San’a said in his verdict that Ahmad Bamuallim, a former parliamentarian, had been calling for an “armed insurrection” and spreading “division and hatred.”

North and South Yemen united in 1990, but many in the south — home to most of Yemen’s oil industry — complain northerners have seized resources and discriminate against them.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Dubai to hunt for booze in food

DUBAI | Dubai inspectors are looking for illegal alcohol, but this time inside sauces, soups and desserts.

Media reports Monday said Dubai authorities plan to step up enforcement of a 2003 law prohibiting restaurants from using alcohol in food preparation.

Alcoholic drinks are widely available in Dubai and the 2003 law has been mostly disregarded.

But the latest move appears aimed at easing worries from Muslim restaurant goers that no wine or liquor are used in preparing their meals. Fines for violators can run nearly $5,500.

Several Dubai chefs have argued that strict enforcement of the ban would compromise their dishes. They are in talks with the municipality for less severe regulations.

IRAQ

Al Qaeda leader calls for jihad

CAIRO | The self-described leader of an al Qaeda front group has called for continued jihad against Iraq’s American “occupiers” after the March 7 election that he claims was boycotted by most Sunni Arabs.

In a 24-minute audio tape posted Tuesday on militant Web sites, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi said the parliamentary election and its results meant nothing for the mujahedeen, or holy fighters, and that the next government would be no different from the previous one.

Shi’ites have dominated governments in Iraq since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein, himself a Sunni.

Al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State of Iraq, had vowed to violently disrupt the vote and warned Sunnis not to take part. The turnout on March 7 was officially put at a respectable 62 percent.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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