- - Thursday, September 8, 2011

CUBA

Hopes rise for release of jailed American

HAVANA — A surprise visit by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has revived hope that Cuba may soon free a U.S. government subcontractor whose imprisonment has snarled efforts to improve relations between the two countries.

An attorney for Alan Gross, who is serving 15 years for illegally bringing communications equipment to the island nation, said Mr. Richardson came at Havana’s invitation.

Mr. Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has a long history of winning the release of prisoners and a working relationship with Cuba’s leaders.

WEST BANK

Palestinians launch statehood campaign

RAMALLAH — The Palestinians on Thursday officially launched their campaign to join the United Nations as a full member state, saying they would stage a series of peaceful events in the run-up to the annual gathering of the General Assembly later this month.

Some 100 Palestinian officials and activists gathered at U.N. offices in Ramallah for a short ceremony, where they announced their plans in a letter addressed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

RUSSIA

President demands better aviation safety

YAROSLAVL — President Dmitry Medvedev called for immediate changes in Russia’s troubled aviation industry Thursday - including sharply reducing the number of airlines - as the country mourned a crash that killed 43 people and devastated a top ice hockey team.

The crash Wednesday killed 36 players, coaches and staff of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team, including European and former NHL players, drawing new attention to Russia’s poor air-safety record.

Experts blame the problems on an aging fleet, weak government controls, poor pilot training and a cost-cutting mentality.

SYRIA

Russian envoy to meet both sides in conflict

YAROSLAVL, Russia — A Russian envoy said Thursday he is to meet with representatives of both sides in the Syrian conflict to help broker a political settlement that would keep President Bashar Assad in power.

Mikhael Margelov, a Russian presidential envoy to the region, told journalists on the sidelines of an international policy forum in Yaroslavl that Moscow has been trying to convince both sides that the chance for dialogue is not yet lost.

He made it clear that Moscow continues to support Mr. Assad, despite the Syrian government’s violent crackdown on the opposition, and warned the West that the ouster of another secular leader in the Middle East could lead to unintended consequences.

Mr. Assad “is young, he is well-educated, he is broad-minded and we think that he has a chance for modernization in his country if the ruling class of Syria becomes more open-minded, more receptive to new ideas,” Mr. Margelov said.

He said he will meet with representatives of Syria’s opposition Friday in Moscow, and then on Monday with Assad adviser Buthaina Shaaban.

Russia opposes a draft U.N. Security Council resolution backed by European nations and the United States that would impose an arms embargo and other sanctions on Syria. Moscow has introduced a rival resolution calling for the Assad government to halt its violence against protesters and expedite reforms.

GERMANY

Police detain two suspects, search Islamic center

BERLIN — Berlin police on Thursday detained two men suspected of obtaining ingredients for a bomb after foreign intelligence agencies tipped off German authorities to a potential threat, officials said.

The men were detained three days before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and followed a weekend statement by the interior minister that threats to Germany remained “real and intensive.”

Officers searched an Islamic center in Berlin where the pair had spent time and the apartments of the two suspects, a 24-year-old German of Lebanese descent and a 28-year-old from Gaza, a police spokesman said.

The men, who were not otherwise identified, are suspected of working together to plan “a violent criminal act,” and police had watched them for several months, the spokesman said.

A high-ranking security official told the Associated Press that foreign intelligence agencies informed German authorities in late June that the pair posed a potential threat.

FRANCE

Court convicts Galliano in anti-Semitism case

PARIS — A Paris court convicted former Christian Dior designer John Galliano on Thursday for making anti-Semitic insults in a bar but gave him only a suspended sentence, taking into account his apology to the victims.

Mr. Galliano, who didn’t attend the announcement of the verdict, was given no prison time. He was given a suspended $8,400 fine, which means it goes on his criminal record but he does not have to pay it.