- - Sunday, April 17, 2011

AFGHANISTAN

Day of attacks kills 8 NATO troops

KABUL | Insurgent attacks in Afghanistan killed eight NATO service members in one of the deadliest days for the military coalition this year, signaling the start of what many fear will be a particularly violent fighting season as President Obama looks to start drawing down troops, authorities said Sunday.

The spate of attacks happened Saturday, when two separate bomb blasts in the south killed three soldiers and a suicide bombing by a Taliban sleeper agent killed five NATO service members at a U.S. base in the east.

Fighting usually increases in Afghanistan as the weather warms and insurgents climb back over the mountainous border with Pakistan. This year, NATO has pushed further into Taliban strongholds in the south and has said the goal is to hold these areas so that militants cannot re-establish their dominance.

IRAN

March date set for parliamentary election

TEHRAN | Iran’s official news agency said parliamentary elections have been set for March.

The report Sunday by IRNA quoted Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar as saying the voting will take place March 2.

Plans for the election could be a springboard for protests by Iran’s opposition after facing a relentless crackdown since unrest following the disputed 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But it also may be a test of strength for Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has been challenged by the current parliament.

The last parliamentary election was in 2008, when conservatives won the majority of seats in the 275-seat chamber.

ISRAEL

2 Palestinians arrested in settler stabbings

JERUSALEM | Israel on Sunday announced the arrests of two Palestinian teenagers in the deadly stabbings of a West Bank settler family last month, capping a monthlong investigation that involved mass-arrest raids and the detentions of hundreds of Arab villagers.

The March 11 assault killed a married couple, Udi and Ruth Fogel, and three of their children as they were sleeping in their home in Itamar, a settlement deep inside the West Bank. Among the dead were a 4-year-old boy and his 3-month-old sister.

Grisly scenes from the attack, along with the ages of the young victims, shocked Israelis. The search for the killers focused on the neighboring Palestinian village of Awarta, which was put under curfew while residents were systematically arrested, interrogated, fingerprinted and forced to give DNA samples.

The two suspects, teenagers from Awarta, belonged to a small PLO faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, though it appeared they acted independently, said Col. Nimrod Aloni, a West Bank military commander.

NIGERIA

Presidential ballots tallied; bomb hurts 8

KADUNA | Preliminary election results released Sunday showed Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s party prevailing in several of its strongholds, as officials awaited figures from the north in order to determine whether he would meet the threshold to win outright in the first round.

Meanwhile, authorities in northern Nigeria said eight people had been wounded after a bomb exploded at a poor hotel hours after voters cast their ballots.

Mr. Jonathan, who became president after his predecessor died in office last year after a lengthy illness, is the presumed front-runner as his party has dominated Nigerian politics since the West African giant became a democracy 12 years ago.

But several other candidates drawing much of their support from Muslims in the north threaten to siphon off enough votes that it could go to a second round for the first time.

To win, Mr. Jonathan must receive a minimum level of support from across this enormous West African country of 150 million - a complicated formula somewhat similar to the American electoral college system. He cannot win the presidency outright unless he carries at least a quarter of the votes cast in at least two-thirds of states and the capital.

SWITZERLAND

Egypt, Tunisia stumble through legal hoops

BERN | The Swiss were among the first to freeze the assets of ousted presidents Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, and now the countries are finding it’s not so easy to get that money back.

Justice Ministry spokesman Folco Galli told the Associated Press on Sunday the Swiss government sent diplomatic cables in late March explaining to Egypt and Tunisia their requests to begin recovering the money were legally insufficient.

A Swiss official traveled to Tunisia in February and will go soon to Egypt to guide the governments through the Swiss legal process.

Mr. Galli said those governments must submit evidence of any criminal wrongdoing involving the money so Swiss authorities can decide “whether these offenses would also be punishable or not in Switzerland.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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