- - Sunday, March 13, 2011

RUSSIA

Election seen as test for Putin

MOSCOW | Russians from the Bering Strait to the Baltic Sea voted in regional elections Sunday, the last big test for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s ruling party before December parliamentary polls and a presidential vote next March.

With critics at home and abroad accusing Mr. Putin of rolling back democracy and muzzling opponents, however, some analysts said the Kremlin wants a cleaner vote that would bolster the legitimacy of his “tandem” rule with President Dmitry Medvedev.

United Russia, which Mr. Putin uses as both a source and a instrument of power, is expected to maintain majorities in the 12 regional legislatures at stake, despite sagging support.

The Kremlin will use the elections to gauge the mood ahead of the parliamentary polls and the March 2012 presidential vote, in which Mr. Putin has suggested he will return to the Kremlin or endorse incumbent Mr. Medvedev for a new term.

UNITED KINGDOM

Secret cable shows details of arms deal

LONDON | British-based defense contractor BAE Systems PLC bribed Saudi officials in return for lucrative arms deals, according to a secret U.S. diplomatic cable.

BAE on Sunday said in a statement that no charges of bribery or corruption were brought up against the company, but the firm did not explicitly refute the contents of the cable released by the anti-secrecy website, WikiLeaks.

The cable from the U.S. Embassy in Paris said Britain’s anti-fraud agency told a private meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris in 2007 that investigators had evidence that BAE paid more than $113 million to a Saudi prince with influence over arms deal contracts.

The cable, dated March 2007, said other payments were made to an unnamed senior Saudi official and to overseas agents employed by the Saudi government.

Britain dropped an investigation into BAE’s overseas dealings in 2006 after Saudi objections.

VATICAN CITY

John Paul II gets Facebook page

The Vatican this week is expected to unveil the latest installment in its social media transformation, a Facebook page dedicated to the upcoming beatification of Pope John Paul II.

Vatican officials have told the Associated Press that the page, which will link to video highlights of John Paul’s 27-year papacy, is designed to promote the May 1 beatification. But it may well continue beyond given the global and enduring interest in the late pontiff.

The interactivity Facebook offers — and the potential it brings to the church’s evangelization mission — is behind the Vatican’s new social media push, the culmination of which will launched by Easter with a new Vatican information Web portal.

WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION

WTO rules for China in U.S. trade dispute

GENEVA | China is declaring victory after a World Trade Organization ruling Friday that the U.S. illegally imposed two classes of punitive duties on Chinese exports in 2007.

WTO judges said the U.S. could not apply anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties. The U.S. had imposed up to 20 percent tariffs on Chinese products, including tires and steel pipes.

China’s WTO mission in Geneva said it welcomed a decision that “strikes at the heart of how the United States has applied countervailing duties to Chinese products.”

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said he was “deeply troubled” by the trade body’s decision — which is precedent-setting by limiting the ability of Chinese trading partners to set punitive duties on the world’s biggest exporter.

Mr. Kirk called it “a clear case of overreaching” by the WTO.

From wire dispatches and staff reports