- - Monday, May 23, 2011

EUROPEAN UNION

Support grows for Lagarde as IMF chief

PARIS — Momentum grew for French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde’s potential candidacy to the top job at the IMF, with the Netherlands becoming the latest European government to offer its support.

The Frenchwoman, however, kept silent about whether she even wants the job.

Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager said Ms. Lagarde is “outstandingly suitable” to succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who quit last week as leader of the global financial body after he was accused of attempting to rape a New York hotel maid.

Several other European governments — including Germany and Britain — have supported Ms. Lagarde, making her the front-runner for the job.

AFGHANISTAN

Taliban: Mullah Omar alive and in country

KABUL — The Taliban denied a report in the Afghan press that the insurgent group’s leader had been killed in neighboring Pakistan, saying Monday that Mullah Mohammed Omar is alive and in Afghanistan.

“This is absolutely wrong. It’s only propaganda and we completely deny these rumors,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told the Associated Press in a phone call. “He is inside Afghanistan, and he is busy directing military operations with his commanders.”

There has been much speculation that the U.S. might ramp up efforts to kill or capture the reclusive, one-eyed Taliban leader after the successful strike against Osama bin Laden. President Obama has said he would order another covert military raid if it was necessary to stop terrorist attacks.

Attacks have increased in Afghanistan since bin Laden’s death and since the start of the Taliban’s yearly spring offensive. On Monday, four NATO service members were killed in an explosion in the east, NATO said in a statement. The military alliance did not provide details on the attack or the nationalities of the dead.

CUBA

Shops freely selling building materials

HAVANA — More than 1,000 independent shops selling building materials have opened up around Cuba, official media said Monday, as the government looks to the private sector to fight corruption and the black market, eliminate expensive subsidies and help ease a severe housing crisis.

Communist Party newspaper Granma said Monday that the new shops give Cubans more access to supplies without having to navigate a Byzantine bureaucracy.

“Acquiring these products no longer means immersing oneself in the tangle of innumerable ‘legal’ documents that, in many cases, facilitated corruption and favoritism toward a ‘chosen’ few who were not always the most in need,” the paper said.

The government has long controlled all construction on the island. Cement and other building materials were in theory available in state-run stores at heavily subsidized prices, but demand greatly outstripped supply in part due to pilfering from state stocks.

PAKISTAN

Pakistani troops retake naval base from militants

KARACHI — Pakistani commandos regained control of a naval base Monday from a team of Taliban militants who attacked then occupied the high-security facility for 18 hours — an exceptionally audacious act of insurgent violence that dealt a humiliating blow to the military.

The attackers — who may have numbered no more than six — destroyed at least two U.S.-supplied surveillance planes and killed 12 security officers. At least four of the attackers were killed.

GEORGIA

Protesters rally for third day

TBILISI — More than 1,000 demonstrators in Georgia protested for a third consecutive day on Monday, calling for the ex-Soviet country’s Western-backed President Mikheil Saakashvili to resign.

Accusing Mr. Saakashvili of authoritarianism and failing to tackle widespread poverty, they maintained their round-the-clock rally outside the Georgian public television studios in the capital.

Former parliamentary-speaker-turned-opposition-leader Nino Burjanadze has said that a “revolution” has started in Georgia, while another leader has called for a “Day of Rage” on Wednesday, referring to uprisings in the Middle East.

From wire dispatches and staff reports