- - Thursday, January 19, 2012

PAKISTAN

Premier defends president at Supreme Court

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s prime minister struck a conciliatory tone in an appearance before the Supreme Court Thursday, trying to cool a political and legal crisis destabilizing the nuclear-armed country.

The unusual appearance by a head of government before a high court was the latest move in a high-stakes struggle between the civilian regime, the judges and Pakistan’s army generals, who have seized power three times since 1947.

Pakistan’s elected government is locked in a bitter conflict with the army over a secret memo asking for Washington’s help in curtailing the generals’ power.

The army was outraged by the memo, allegedly sent by the government, and pushed the Supreme Court to set up a commission to investigate. The government insists it did not send the memo.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court stepped into another part of the struggle, a decade-old Swiss corruption case involving President Asif Ali Zardari. Some think the military is maneuvering the court to depose Mr. Zardari and his government, while others point to bad blood between the president and the court’s chief justice.

Against that complicated and tense background, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani agreed to honor a summons to appear before the court to answer charges he was ignoring the judiciary.

MALDIVES

Government accused of intimidating reporters

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The Maldives government is threatening and harassing the media over their reporting of a political crisis and the military’s arrest of the nation’s top criminal court judge, a journalists group said Thursday.

The Maldives Journalists Association said in a statement that television stations are being penalized for airing opposition politicians’ comments that authorities perceive to be lies.

An independent regulator, the Maldives Broadcasting Commission, accused the communications minister of threatening to withdraw frequencies of television and radio stations after he accused the commission of failing to monitor media.

Communication Minister Adil Saleem denied the allegations of harassment but said he told the commission that he may have to withdraw media frequencies until the commission works out a mode for proper monitoring.

BANGLADESH

Military says it foiled coup plot

DHAKA — The Bangladeshi military said Thursday it foiled a plot by a group of hard-line officers, their retired colleagues and Bangladeshi conspirators living abroad to overthrow Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The coup attempt underscored tension between Mrs. Hasina’s government and elements of the military that has lingered since a 2009 mutiny.

Brig. Gen. Muhammad Masud Razzaq told a news conference the military has specific evidence that up to 16 current and former Bangladeshi military officers “with extreme religious views” were involved in the “heinous conspiracy.”

The plot was instigated by Bangladeshi conspirators living abroad, he added.

Two retired officers — Lt. Col. Ehsan Yusuf and Maj. Zakir — have been arrested, Gen. Razzaq said, but he did not say when. Authorities also are looking for another fugitive serving officer, Maj. Ziaul Haq.

Gen. Razzaq said Maj. Haq fled his post after the arrest of Col. Yusuf and Maj. Zakir.

AFGHANISTAN

Suicide attack kills seven at airport

KANDAHAR — A suicide bomber killed at least seven people and wounded eight Thursday in an attack at Kandahar international airport in war-torn southern Afghanistan, officials said.

Women and children were among the casualties, and pools of blood and body parts were scattered around the burned-out wreckage of six vehicles at the scene of the attack, an Agence France-Presse reporter said.

A spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force said there were no ISAF casualties and he had no information that military vehicles were involved.

The Taliban, the militia leading a 10-year insurgency against the Afghan government and tens of thousands of NATO troops, claimed responsibility. Spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP the target was “the bulletproof vehicles of foreign forces.”

• From wire dispatches and staff reports