- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2000

U.S. closes embassies

The United States yesterday closed its embassies in Arab countries for up to five days to avoid being targeted for violent demonstrations in support of Palestinians fighting Israeli security forces.

The U.S. Embassy in Syria was attacked by stone-throwing mobs on Wednesday. No one at the embassy was injured.

The State Department said it is "concerned about the potential for further clashes and demonstrations."

The embassy in Israel and a consulate in Jerusalem will remain open only for "essential operations to monitor" the continuing unrest, a State Department spokesman said.

The State Department also warned Americans traveling in the Middle East to "maintain a high level of vigilance."

"All of our embassies and consulates in the region will be closed for public business from Thursday, Oct. 5, through the Columbus Day holiday, observed by some posts on Sunday, Oct. 8, and others on Monday, Oct. 9," the department said in a statement.

The department told embassy employees to keep their children out of school during that period.

"Americans should maintain a low profile, vary routes and times for all required travel and treat mail from unfamiliar sources with suspicion," the department added.

The United States, in a "worldwide caution" issued Wednesday, warned Americans in all countries to beware of possible violence in support of Palestinians.

Praising Albanian vote

The U.S. ambassador to Albania has put his seal of approval on this week's local elections, even though the opposition claims the vote was rigged.

Ambassador Joseph Limprecht, calling the elections free and fair, said: "We call on all parties to continue the cooperation demonstrated in hundreds of local commissions throughout the country and accept the ballot results."

In a statement released on Wednesday, he said the peaceful election is another sign that the country is committed to democracy and recovering from the chaos of 1997 when riots broke out over the collapse of a fraudulent investment scheme that nearly bankrupted the Balkan nation.

The ruling Socialist Party has claimed victory in the municipal elections, but Sali Berisha, former president and leader of the opposition Democratic Party, denounced the vote as "grossly manipulated."

New Laos policy urged

Philip Smith has been trying to press the Clinton administration into adopting a tougher policy against Laos and is hopeful that a senator blocking the appointment of a new U.S. ambassador to the isolated communist nation will help the cause.

Mr. Smith, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis, said he has no personal objections to the nominee, Douglas Alan Hartwick, a career Foreign Service officer.

"But we support the holding up of the nomination in the hope this will produce the necessary leverage for a comprehensive review of U.S. policy toward Laos," he said.

Mr. Smith said the administration has failed to support the political opposition in Laos and has made no effort to invite opposition leaders to the United States to meet with groups like the National Democratic Institute or International Republican Institute, which promote democracy in other countries.

Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican, is blocking Mr. Hartwick's nomination along with several other diplomatic appointments because of his concerns about lax security in the State Department and some U.S. embassies.

Mr. Smith, who is not related to Sen. Smith, is also organizing a congressional forum on Laos that will feature leading Laotian dissidents.

He has invited Laos' highest-ranking defector, Khamxay Souphanouvong, former finance minister and son of the founder of the current Pathet Lao movement that controls the country.

Bounthone Chanthavixay, another leading political exile, has also been invited to address the invited guests at the Oct. 19 forum.

"Laos has become increasingly and precariously unstable with an ongoing string of bombings and political violence seemingly spinning out of control," Mr. Smith said.

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