- - Sunday, January 15, 2012

PAKISTAN

Government faces critical day in court

ISLAMABAD | A political crisis gripping Pakistan could take a decisive turn Monday, when its embattled government appears before the Supreme Court, which is ordering it to reopen a stalled graft probe against the president or face dismissal.

The hearing represents one front in what amounts to an assault on the government by the military, opposition politicians and the Supreme Court.

The showdown has all but paralyzed decision-making in the nuclear-armed country, and it threatens fresh turmoil just as the U.S. wants Islamabad’s help in negotiating an end to the war with the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

The fault line is the same one that has plagued Pakistan since its creation in 1947: an army that can’t stomach taking orders from elected politicians and has seized power three times in coups.

President Asif Ali Zardari's government has given the generals control over foreign and security policy, but the civilian leadership and the top brass have never seen eye-to-eye since Mr. Zardari took office in 2008.

Tensions spiked last week over an unsigned memo delivered to Washington last year offering the U.S. a raft of favorable security policies in exchange for its help in thwarting a supposed army coup.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani criticized the army for cooperating with a Supreme Court probe into the affair, and has said the standoff is nothing less than a choice between “democracy and dictatorship.”

Mr. Gilani’s comments followed a warning from the generals of possible “grievous consequences” ahead.

EGYPT

Rare tomb of woman found in Valley of the Kings

CAIRO | In a rare find, Egyptian and Swiss archaeologists have unearthed a roughly 1,100-year-old tomb of a female singer in the Valley of the Kings, an antiquities official said Sunday.

It is the only tomb of a woman not related to the ancient Egyptian royal families ever found in the Valley of the Kings, said Mansour Boraiq, the top government official for the Antiquities’ Ministry in the city of Luxor.

The Valley of the Kings in Luxor is a major tourist attraction. In 1922, archaeologists there unearthed the gold funerary mask of Tutankhamun and other stunning items in the tomb of the king who ruled more than 3,000 years ago.

Mr. Boraiq said the coffin of the female singer is remarkably intact.

He said that when the coffin is opened this week, archaeologists likely will find a mummy and a cartonnage mask molded to her face and made from layers of linen and plaster.

The singer’s name, Nehmes Bastet, means she was believed to be protected by the feline deity Bastet.

KAZAKHSTAN

Oil-rich Kazakhstan votes in parliamentary polls

ASTANA | Voters went to polling stations in large numbers Sunday in the oil-rich Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan in elections that are expected to slightly broaden democratic representation in parliament’s rubber-stamp lower house.

The high turnout, easily exceedingly the 70 percent mark, is perhaps more an outcome of habit than hope, however, since the legislature will likely only undergo cosmetic changes.

All seats in the former Soviet nation’s parliament are currently occupied by President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan party.

A 2009 election law gives at least two seats to the party with the second-highest number of votes even if it does not receive the 7 percent share that is the threshold for proportional allotment of seats.

Opposition parties that were most likely to pose a robust challenge to Nur Otan, however, have been either disqualified from competing or rendered largely powerless.

IRAQ

Gunmen storm compound, kill 7 police officers

BAGHDAD | Iraqi security forces Sunday battled gunmen who detonated a car bomb before blasting their way into a government compound and killing seven police officers in a onetime Sunni insurgent hotbed, police and local government officials said.

The three-hour standoff between Shiite-dominated security forces and suspected Sunni insurgents in the Anbar province capital of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, marked the first serious gun battle for Iraqi forces against insurgents without American backup since the U.S. military completed its withdrawal last month.

Violence has surged since U.S. troops left. It has included sectarian attacks, such as a bombing Saturday that killed more than 50 pilgrims during a Shiite procession, and attacks against the government, such as the Sunday assault.

The violence has raised concerns Iraq will return to sectarian bloodshed that killed tens of thousands of civilians after the U.S.-led invasion and brought the country to the brink of civil war just a few years ago.

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