- - Thursday, March 29, 2012

TUNISIA

The United States said Thursday it would grant $100 million to Tunisia to pay its debts, hoping to let the government focus on the economy and show a success in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. also is negotiating a separate package in which Washington would offer loan guarantees to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for Tunisia.

Mrs. Clinton, who spoke by telephone Wednesday with Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, said the aid would let Tunisia pare down debts to the World Bank and African Development Bank left over from dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s 23-year regime.

The $100 million transfer will allow Tunisia “to instead use this money for its priority programs, accelerating economic growth and job creation,” Mrs. Clinton said.

FRANCE

Muslim clerics barred from entering France

PARIS France has barred a group of Muslim clerics, including one of the most prominent voices in Sunni Islam, from entering the country to attend a conference.

France’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday the clerics were invited by the French Islamic Union to speak at a congress in Le Bourget near Paris from April 6 to 9.

One of those barred, the Egyptian-born Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, says he refuses to come to France.

The ban also includes other high-profile Muslim clerics of Palestinian, Egyptian and Saudi origin.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “these people call for hatred and violence and seriously violate the principles of the Republic, and in the current context, seriously risk disrupting public order.”

President Nicolas Sarkozy said earlier this week that these figures would not be “welcome” as their views are incompatible with French values.

VENEZUELA

Poll finds Chavez ahead of rival

CARACAS A new poll in Venezuela has found that more than 44 percent of respondents say they would vote to re-elect President Hugo Chavez, giving him a 13-point lead ahead of his opposition rival.

The survey was released Thursday by Caracas polling firm Datanalisis.

It found that about 25 percent of respondents either didn’t know which candidate they would choose in the Oct. 7 presidential election or didn’t answer. About 31 percent said they would vote for the challenger, Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles.

Luis Vicente Leon is the firm’s president, and said the survey questioned about 1,300 people in Venezuela between Feb. 29 and March 7. He said the poll had a margin of error of less than 3 percentage points.

EGYPT

Al-Azhar withdraws from constitution panel

CAIRO Al-Azhar University and Mosque, Sunni Islam’s highest authority, said Thursday it was withdrawing from a disputed panel dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood to draft a new constitution, following the example of liberals.

Al-Azhar said in a statement that it was underrepresented in the constituent assembly which the Islamist-majority parliament appointed to draft the new charter.

The Coptic Christian Church also is considering pulling out, according to press reports.

The constitution is to replace the one suspended by the military when it took power following President Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow last year in a popular uprising.

Members of the panel elected the Islamist speaker of parliament Saad al-Katatni as its head Wednesday, intensifying a standoff with secularists over the nature of the charter.

Mr. Katatni belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, which dominated parliamentary elections after Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.

RUSSIA

Police torture causes public outrage

MOSCOW Russia’s top investigative agency filed new charges Thursday against police officers accused of torturing detainees amid growing public outrage over police brutality.

The Investigative Committee said it had charged four officers in the Siberian city of Novokuznetsk in the torture death of a detainee.

It also leveled new accusations against a police officer in the Volga River city of Kazan who is already in custody on charges of torturing a man to death.

Victims and human rights activists say Russian police routinely use torture to extract false confessions from those they have arbitrarily rounded up.

They say police reforms undertaken by President Dmitry Medvedev have failed to stop or even contain police crimes and achieved little beyond changing the force’s name.

Kazan resident Sergei Nazarov died earlier this month of injuries suffered when police officers allegedly sodomized him with a champagne bottle. His case has caused outrage across Russia and drawn calls for an urgent overhaul of a force long accused of corruption and brutality.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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