- - Tuesday, August 23, 2011

FRANCE

Socialists hail demise of Strauss-Kahn case

PARISFrance’s Socialists are lauding a move by New York prosecutors to drop the attempted rape case against prominent party figure Dominique Strauss-Kahn, after a stormy two months for the ex-International Monetary Fund chief that upended the French presidential race.

A New York judge dismissed the U.S. case Tuesday at the request of prosecutors, who expressed concerns about the credibility of the hotel chambermaid who accused him.

But few expect Mr. Strauss-Kahn — once considered a leading contender for France’s top job — to jump back into politics very soon.

A civil case is still pending in New York, and investigators are probing another attempted rape accusation against him in France.

His own political allies and some French voters appeared eager Tuesday to move forward with the presidential campaign and let Mr. Strauss-Kahn recover from the last few months in peace.

French Socialist Party chief Martine Aubry called it “an immense relief” that the prosecutors are abandoning the case.

SYRIA

Opposition tries to unite; divisions remain

BEIRUT — Syria’s fragmented opposition took steps toward forming a national council Tuesday, but serious divisions and mistrust among the members prevented them from presenting a unified front against President Bashar Assad’s regime more than five months into the country’s uprising, participants said.

Syria’s opposition, fragmented by years of sectarian and ideological tensions, has made unprecedented gains against the regime, but there is no clear leadership or platform beyond the demands for more freedom and for Mr. Assad to step down.

With Mr. Assad’s forces cracking down on the protests, the overall death toll has reached 2,200, the United Nations said this week.

CHILE

Chile faces 2-day shutdown over ‘utopian’ demands

SANTIAGO — Chile is bracing for a nationwide, two-day shutdown as unions, students and a center-left coalition of political parties demand fundamental changes in society.

They want to replace Chile’s dictatorship-era constitution, which concentrates vast power in the presidency, with a new charter that enables popular referendums and makes free education a right for all citizens.

They also want pension reforms, a new labor code and more investments in health care.

Chile’s largest union coalition, representing about 13 percent of the workforce and many government employees, called the strike for Wednesday and Thursday to join forces with high school and university students who have boycotted classes for three months now.

The strike also is supported by the center-left coalition that governed Chile for 20 years before President Sebastian Pinera brought the right wing back into the presidential palace last year.

Public transportation workers and providers of state-run day care also said they would strike, stranding millions of other Chileans.

BRITAIN

BBC: Cameron aide took tabloid cash

LONDON — A former editor of the News of the World received payments and benefits from the newspaper while working as an aide to Conservative leader David Cameron, the BBC reported Tuesday.

Andy Coulson resigned from the now-defunct tabloid early in 2007 after a reporter and a private investigator were jailed for hacking into the voice mails of royal staff.

Six months later, he was hired as communications chief to Mr. Cameron, then Britain’s opposition leader. Mr. Cameron became prime minister in May 2010.

The BBC, without identifying its source, reported that Mr. Coulson continued to receive severance pay amounting to several hundred thousand dollars from the paper until the end of 2007, and also kept his health care plan and company car.

Mr. Coulson denied knowing about phone hacking, but resigned from Downing Street in January after police reopened their inquiry into wrongdoing at the paper.

Last month, he was arrested and questioned by detectives investigating allegations that the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper illegally eavesdropped on the voice-mail messages of celebrities, politicians and even murder victims.

From wire dispatches and staff reports