- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2002

Rebels take hostage a senator in Colombia

BOGOTA, Colombia In one of their most brazen attacks, Colombian rebels seized control of an airliner yesterday and forced it to land in a southern valley, taking a prominent senator hostage.

Camouflage-clad rebels met the plane as it landed on a narrow road near the town of Hobo, clipping small trees before it came to a stop.

The waiting rebels then whisked away the four armed hijackers and the senator.

The fleeing guerrillas blew up a bridge and planted land mines to prevent security forces from chasing them.

U.N. says U.S. blocks contracts to Iraq

NEW YORK The United Nations said yesterday that $5.32 billion worth of supplies to Baghdad had been blocked, mainly by the United States.

The contracts include $4.62 billion in humanitarian supplies and about $703 million for oil industry equipment, the U.N. Office of the Iraq Program said in its weekly report.

The United States has put "on hold" nearly all of the blocked contracts while Britain shares objections on about $500,000 worth of contracts under the U.N. oil-for-food program, the report says.

Anti-terror police nab Moroccans in Rome

ROME Italian authorities arrested four Moroccans in a raid on a Rome apartment where they found maps detailing the U.S. Embassy and a substance apparently containing small quantities of cyanide, officials said yesterday.

Chief Prosecutor Salvatore Vecchione said the substance was undergoing analysis and appeared to be potassium ferrocyanide a common industrial chemical used in the production of wine and ink dye, among other things. Small amounts of cyanide can be extracted from it, but with great difficulty.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher thanked the Italian government.

Union boss challenge sVenezuela's Chavez

CARACAS, Venezuela Venezuela's most powerful union boss yesterday announced anti-government workers' protests and a possible general strike, piling up pressure on President Hugo Chavez as he grappled with a sliding currency and dissent in the military.

"We have a totally explosive situation … either the president changes or we change him," Carlos Ortega, whose leadership of Venezuela's Workers' Confederation (CTV) is not recognized by Mr. Chavez, told local television,

Mr. Ortega, a sworn political enemy of the left-wing Venezuelan leader, said the nation's largest union group planned to stage a big protest march by public-sector employees in Caracas yesterday to demonstrate against government policies.

Russia disputes U.S. charges on Iran

MOSCOW Russia's space and aviation chief called on the United States yesterday to come up with hard evidence to back up its charges that Russia is cooperating with rogue states on military technology.

Yuri Koptev, who spoke with visiting U.S. arms negotiator John Bolton, said Washington had made more than a dozen complaints without providing any evidence.

Mr. Bolton said earlier this week Russia's cooperation with Iran on nuclear and missile technology could harm U.S.-Russian relations.

France's Jospin says he'll run for president

PARIS Premier Lionel Jospin yesterday announced his candidacy for president in spring elections.

Mr. Jospin's announcement had long been expected.

The Socialist prime minister's chief opponent will be President Jacques Chirac, a conservative, who announced his candidacy last week.

The first round of the presidential race takes place on April 21, followed by a second, deciding round on May 5.

Legislative elections are in June.

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