- - Thursday, March 3, 2011

UNITED NATIONS

Food prices hit record high in February

ROME | Global food prices have reached their highest point in 20 years and could increase further because of rising oil prices stemming from the unrest in Libya and the Mideast, a U.N. agency warned Thursday.

Skyrocketing food prices have been among the triggers for protests in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere and raised fears of a repeat of the food-price crises in 2007 and 2008.

Some experts point to key differences compared with those years: for one, the price of rice, an important food-security commodity, is much lower today. Still, Oxfam called the increase “deeply worrying.”

The Food and Agriculture Organization said in a statement that its food-price index was up 2.2 percent last month, the highest record in both real, inflation-corrected terms and nominal terms since the agency started monitoring prices two decades ago.

It also was the eighth consecutive month that food prices had risen, the Rome-based agency said. In January, the index already had registered a record peak.

UNITED STATES

FBI agent missing in Iran still alive

WASHINGTON | Four years after a retired FBI agent mysteriously vanished inside Iran, U.S. officials have received proof he is alive, a remarkable development that has dramatically intensified secret negotiations to bring him home, the Associated Press has learned.

The U.S. had lacked reliable information about whether Robert Levinson was alive or dead since he disappeared in March 2007 from the Iranian island of Kish. It remains unclear who exactly is holding Mr. Levinson or where he is, but the proof that he is alive is a rare hopeful sign in a case that had seemingly gone cold.

EGYPT

Mubarak-appointed leader resigns from junta

CAIRO | The prime minister appointed by ousted President Hosni Mubarak has resigned, Egypt’s military rulers said Thursday, meeting a key demand of the opposition protest movement.

In a failed attempt to quiet the anti-government protests, Mr. Mubarak named former air force officer Ahmed Shafiq to be prime minister shortly after the unrest began on Jan. 25.

Mr. Mubarak stepped down Feb. 11 and the military took control of the country, but Mr. Shafiq remained in office at the head of a caretaker government.

A brief statement posted on the military’s official website said it had chosen former Transport Minister Essam Sharaf as the new prime minister and asked him to form a new caretaker Cabinet.

PAKISTAN

Court orders American to stand trial

LAHORE | A Pakistani court said Thursday it would proceed with the trial of an American CIA contractor arrested in connection with the fatal shootings of two Pakistanis, attorneys for both sides said.

The court also said there is no evidence that Raymond Allen Davis has diplomatic immunity as his attorneys and Washington insist, they said.

The decision was a blow to Washington, which says Mr. Davis has diplomatic immunity from criminal prosecution. The immunity issue, however, is still being considered by the Lahore High Court, which could override Thursday’s finding by the trial court.

VENEZUELA

Union leader released from jail

CARACAS | A union organizer was freed from jail Thursday, just three days after he was sentenced to more than seven years in prison in a case that sparked protests by human rights and labor groups.

Ruben Gonzalez told state television he had been granted parole and would be required to appear before authorities every 15 days. He said he was pleased with his conditional release, but insisted he had committed no crime.

The activist was sentenced Monday for leading a strike that temporarily paralyzed the state-run iron-mining company.

From wire dispatches and staff reports