- - Thursday, July 14, 2011

ITALY

Senate passes key austerity package

MILAN — The Italian Senate on Thursday approved a crucial $99 billion austerity package aimed at convincing investors that the eurozone’s third-largest economy won’t be swept into the debt crisis.

The measures were passed 161-135 in a vote of confidence called by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government.

Italy fast-tracked approval of the package, which is due for a final vote in the lower house of parliament on Friday, and increased its size after markets plummeted this week on worries over the country’s financial stability.

The extent of investors’ fears was apparent in a debt auction on Thursday, when Italy saw its borrowing rates hit a record high in a sale of $7 billion in five- to 15-year bonds.

Italy is under pressure to show markets it can bring its accounts in order and promote growth, or risk being dragged into the debt crisis that has hit Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

PAKISTAN

Petraeus meets military leaders amid tensions

ISLAMABAD — Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the outgoing U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his soon-to-be successor met with top military leaders in Pakistan on Thursday as the two countries struggled to resolve tensions over the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The visit by Gen. Petraeus and Marine Lt. Gen. John R. Allen was part of a flurry over meetings between diplomats and military leaders of the two countries since the May 2 strike against the al Qaeda chief in the northwest Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad.

Pakistani civilian and military leaders are angry over the raid because the Americans did not warn them about it, although they insist they had no idea the terror leader was on their soil. In response, they have kicked out many U.S. military trainers and asked the Americans to reduce their footprint in the country.

The U.S. recently announced it was suspending some $800 million in military aid to Pakistan until the relationship improves.

SYRIA

Protesters focus on the economy

BEIRUT — Syrians held general strikes in cities and towns across the country Thursday, part of a strategy to squeeze the economy as President Bashar Assad tries to crush a 4-month-old revolt against his autocratic rule.

Security forces kept up their crackdown, and at least five people were killed.

The calls to strike have become a ritual every Thursday, a day before thousands take to the streets following Friday prayers. But activists said this week’s response was the most widespread so far, suggesting a new momentum to the uprising.

TURKEY

13 soldiers, 7 rebels killed in clash

ANKARA — A clash in a forest left 13 Turkish soldiers and seven Kurdish rebels dead Thursday in the country’s rugged southeast, the military said.

The rare daylight ambush was the deadliest attack on troops in more than three years.

The military said the battle erupted when the soldiers encountered the rebels near the village of Dolapdere in Turkey’s southeastern Diyarbakir province.

Seven soldiers also were wounded, with two of them in critical condition.

The violence Thursday prompted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to hold an emergency meeting in the Turkish capital of Ankara with top military and intelligence officials.

The military casualties were the highest since the rebels killed a dozen soldiers in an ambush along the Iraqi border in October 2007. That attack triggered a weeklong air-and-ground assault in early 2008 against Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq.

Kurdish rebels periodically cross the border to stage attacks in their war for autonomy for Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast. Nearly 40,000 people have died in the conflict since the rebels began attacks in 1984.

MEXICO

Soldiers find record marijuana plantation

SAN QUINTIN — Mexican soldiers discovered the biggest marijuana plantation ever found in the country in a remote desert surrounded by cactuses, a top army officer said Thursday.

Soldiers patrolling the area found 300 acres of marijuana plants being tended by dozens of men this week, said Gen. Alfonso Duarte.

He said the crop, which was found in the state of Baja California, about 200 miles south of San Diego, Calif., would have yielded about 120 tons and was worth about $160 million.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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