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World Scene

- - Thursday, January 12, 2012

MYANMAR

Myanmar signs cease-fire with Karen rebels

PA-AN | Myanmar's government signed a cease-fire agreement Thursday with ethnic Karen rebels in a major step toward ending one of the world's longest-running insurgencies and meeting a key condition for better ties with the West.

The talks between officials and Karen National Union leaders were part of efforts by Myanmar's new, nominally civilian government to seek international legitimacy through democratic reforms after years of military repression.

The Karen group has been fighting for greater autonomy for more than 60 years in a guerrilla campaign in eastern jungles that precedes Myanmar's independence from Britain.

It had been the only one of Myanmar's major ethnic groups never to have reached a peace agreement with the government.

Bringing a lasting halt to all of the country's long-running ethnic conflicts has been a crucial demand of Western governments as well as the Myanmar's pro-democracy icon and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

UNITED KINGDOM

British spies will face inquiry over Libya

LONDON | Britain's spy agencies will face a criminal investigation into claims that intelligence shared with Moammar Gadhafi's regime led to the torture or rendition of two Libyan men and their families, authorities announced Thursday.

A criminal inquiry was launched in 2008 when a former Guantanamo Bay detainee alleged intelligence agencies were complicit in his torture.

The inquiry later expanded to include claims by two Libyans who accused intelligence agents of sharing sensitive information with Gadhafi's regime.

Tripoli's military council commander Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, a former fighter in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group that had opposed Gadhafi and had asylum in the U.K., claims both British and U.S. intelligence may have played a role in his 2004 detention in Thailand's capital Bangkok and transfer to Tripoli.

NIGERIA

Union threatens oil production in strikes

LAGOS | A major union promised Thursday to stop the beating heart of Nigeria's economy - crude oil production - as part of a nationwide strike and protests gripping Africa's most populous nation.

The union's ability to enforce the shutdown Sunday across the swamps of Nigeria's southern delta to massive offshore oil fields remains in question, though the threat of a strike could sway global oil prices with traders worldwide concerned about supply.

Nigeria, home to more than 160 million people, has been paralyzed by a national strike that began Monday after the country's government abandoned subsidies that kept domestic gasoline prices low. Overnight, prices at the pump more than doubled, from $1.70 per gallon to at least $3.50 per gallon. The costs of food and transportation also doubled.

Popular anger over losing one of the few benefits average Nigerians see from being an oil-rich nation, as well as disgust over government corruption, has led to demonstrations nationwide and related violence that has killed at least 12 people.

SYRIA

Government promises probe into death of French reporter

DAMASCUS | Syria on Thursday said it will probe the death of a French reporter, as the opposition accused it of "liquidating" journalists to hush up its deadly 10-month crackdown on dissent.

Gilles Jacquier, 43, was the first Western reporter to die in Syria since anti-regime protests erupted in March. He was killed when a shell exploded among some 15 journalists covering demonstrations in Homs.

The opposition Syrian National Council denounced the "murder," saying it was a "dangerous sign that the authorities have decided to physically liquidate journalists in an attempt to silence neutral and independent media."

RUSSIA

Putin opens website, Russians say, 'Dont' run'

MOSCOW | Prime Minister Vladimir Putin launched the website for his presidential campaign Thursday, only to see it flooded with comments from detractors demanding he not run.

The negative responses, which were followed by a freezing of the site that saw many of those critical comments vanish, illustrated the growing sense of discontent with Mr. Putin, whose centralized, autocratic rule already has faced historic street protests in recent weeks.

Shortly after the launch of the website, several visitors said it was time for Mr. Putin to get out of politics altogether.

"I strongly urge you to remove your candidacy from the presidential election," wrote a user who identified himself as Arkady Vishnev. "This step will be the most useful thing you can do for the country."