- - Thursday, January 20, 2011

LEBANON

Turkey, Qatar suspend mediation efforts

The foreign ministers of Turkey and Qatar have left Lebanon and suspended efforts to resolve the country’s political crisis, according to a statement released Thursday.

The foreign ministers “decided to suspend their efforts in Lebanon for the time being and to leave Beirut in order to consult with their leadership,” the statement said.

Lebanon’s unity government was toppled last week after Hezbollah-aligned ministers withdrew in protest of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s refusal to disavow a U.N. tribunal that is widely expected to indict top Hezbollah officials for the 2005 murder of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

SOUTH KOREA

Seoul agrees to talks with Pyongyang

SEOUL | South Korea agreed Thursday to a North Korean offer of high-level military talks, a major breakthrough in the crisis on the peninsula that improves the prospect of renewed aid-for-disarmament negotiations.

Hours after President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao stood shoulder to shoulder in Washington decrying the North’s nuclear aspirations, Pyongyang bowed to Seoul’s demands for talks about two deadly attacks last year.

IVORY COAST

U.N.: Violence, rape spread in Ivory Coast

ABIDJAN | The United Nations warned Thursday that violence is spreading across Ivory Coast, citing nearly two dozen rapes in the country’s west and one case in which a political opponent was sexually tortured.

Local U.N. human rights chief Simon Munzu said Thursday that 23 women have been raped in the past week in western Ivory Coast, where 16,000 people have taken refuge since the disputed Nov. 28 presidential runoff vote. Another 29,000 people have fled across the border to Liberia.

In the almost two months since the presidential election, incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo has refused to cede power even though the international community says his rival, Alassane Ouattara, won the vote.

IRAQ

Bombs target Shiite pilgrims, kill 51

BAGHDAD | A pair of car bombs blasted through security checkpoints ringing the Iraqi holy city of Karbala on Thursday and killed at least 51 people, most of whom were Shiite pilgrims headed to observe yearly religious rituals.

It was the latest in a wave of attacks in recent days as insurgents test Iraqi security forces ahead of the planned U.S. withdrawal at the end of the year.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the bombings bore the hallmark of al Qaeda and other Sunni-dominated extremist groups.

AFGHANISTAN

Italian soldier killed by Afghan counterpart

KABUL | An Italian soldier who was killed this week in western Afghanistan was shot by an Afghan soldier, not by insurgents as originally reported, NATO said Thursday.

Italy’s defense minister said at the time that one Italian soldier was shot to death and another was wounded Tuesday in the Bala Murghab district of Badghis province. NATO called the incident an “insurgent attack.”

On Thursday, the coalition issued a new statement correcting the account, saying that the two soldiers were cleaning their weapons at a combat outpost when an Afghan soldier approached them with an M16 rifle and asked to use their equipment to clean his gun.

The Italians saw that the Afghan soldier’s rifle was loaded and asked him to unload it, at which point the Afghan soldier shot the two Italians and escaped from the base, NATO said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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