- - Tuesday, February 7, 2012

GERMANY

Police arrest two men for spying on Syrian dissidents

BERLIN — German police Tuesday arrested two men on allegations they were spying on Syrian opposition groups in Germany, prosecutors said.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he summoned the Syrian ambassador to tell him Germany cannot tolerate such activities “against Syrian opposition figures.”

Some 70 police officers searched the suspects’ apartments and those of six alleged accomplices who are also under investigation, the Federal Prosecutors’ Office said

The 34-year-old Syrian, identified only as Mahmoud El A., and a 47-year-old German-Lebanese double national, Akram O., are suspected of “having spied over several years on Syrian opposition figures in Germany,” according to prosecutors.

ROMANIA

New prime minister forming government

BUCHAREST — Romania’s incoming prime minister, spy chief Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, held talks Tuesday to form a new government, a day after the dramatic resignation of his predecessor amid anger at austerity cuts.

Mr. Ungureanu, who has been head of Romania’s foreign intelligence service for the past four years, met leaders of the ruling coalition parties in Bucharest to thrash out details of the cabinet lineup and its economic program.

The 43-year-old prime minister is expected to name new, younger figures to head such crucial ministries as finance and regional development, local media said.

State Secretary Bogdan Dragoi is seen as the front-runner to take over the finance portfolio from Gheorghe Ialomitianu, while former government adviser Andreea Paul Vass is likely to replace Ion Ariton as economy minister.

ECUADOR

Judge orders reporters to pay president $2 million

QUITO — An Ecuadorean court has ordered two journalists to pay $1 million each to President Rafael Correa, after finding them guilty of defamation for reporting on contracts the president’s brother allegedly had with the state.

Quito Judge Mercedes Portilla levied the fines against Juan Carlos Calderon and Cristian Zurita in a case Mr. Correa brought over their 2010 book “The Big Brother.” It says he suffered “moral damage” for the way they described $600 million in contracts with companies linked to the president’s older brother, Fabricio.

Mr. Correa ended all such contracts in 2009 after the journalists first reported them.

Press freedom advocates have accused the leftist president of trying to silence critics.

THE MALDIVES

First elected president resigns after coup

MALE — The Maldives’ first freely elected president resigned Tuesday after what his party called a “coup d’etat” orchestrated by opposition leaders with the backing of security forces in the holiday paradise.

Within hours of President Mohamed Nasheed stepping down, his deputy, who is from a different party, was sworn in to replace him, promising to uphold the “rule of law”.

“It will be better for the country in the current situation if I resign,” Mr. Nasheed had told a televised news conference. “I don’t want to run the country with an iron fist.”

His announcement followed a police mutiny that capped three weeks of anti-government demonstrations in the Indian Ocean island nation against what activists saw as Mr. Nasheed’s “unconstitutional” arrest of a senior judge.

UNITED KINGDOM

Liz Taylor’s art snags $22 million at auction

LONDON — Christie’s says three top works from the late Hollywood star Elizabeth Taylor’s art collection have sold at auction in London for nearly $22 million.

The auctioneer said Tuesday that Van Gogh’s “Vue de l’asile de la Chapelle de Remy,” which had hung in the living room of Taylor’s Bel Air home, fetched nearly $16 million. A self-portrait by Edgar Degas and a landscape by Claude Pissarro also sold.

Marc Porter, chairman of Christie’s Americas, called the works the “crown jewel” of the showbiz legend’s collection.

The screen and stage icon died in March at age 79.

From wire dispatches and staff reports