- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

U.S. backs new round of U.N.-Iraq arms talks

NEW YORK Despite initial trepidation, the United States joined other U.N. Security Council members yesterday in supporting a second round of talks between the United Nations and Iraq on weapons inspections.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, hoping to avert any military confrontation between Washington and Baghdad, met a delegation led by Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri on Thursday and agreed to another session in mid-April.

Emphasizing he had council support, Mr. Annan said it was significant that the inspectors, who left Iraq in December 1998, were discussed at the talks, an indication the Iraqis were taking the issue seriously.

U.S. representative James Cunningham said the United States backed another round of talks in April.

Cuban opponents gather support for referendum

HAVANA Cuban dissidents said yesterday they have collected 10,000 signatures needed to force a referendum on overhauling the government, a move unprecedented in communist Cuba.

Miguel Saludes of Cuba's Christian Liberation Movement said activists were checking the signatures to verify their authenticity. The petition will then be delivered to Cuba's National Assembly, he said.

The proposed referendum, known as the Varela Project, appears to be the first signature-gathering effort to get this far under the government of Fidel Castro, in power for 43 years.

The referendum would ask voters whether they think guarantees are needed to assure the rights of free speech and association, among other things.

Mr. Castro's government has not commented publicly on the effort. Previous petition efforts have stalled in part because people were afraid to sign, but in the decade since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the government has shown slightly more tolerance for opposition groups.

Kohl wins case on Stasi files

BERLIN Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl won a court battle yesterday to block the release of 2,500 pages of East German secret police transcripts of his phone calls.

The Federal Administrative Court in Berlin ruled that Mr. Kohl, whose once towering reputation has been tarnished by a scandal over undeclared party donations, could stop the phone-tap files from becoming public.

The decision also will bar researchers from seeing unique files on hundreds of public figures spied on by the secret police, or Stasi, during the Cold War, and may bring to an end more than a decade of openness about the Stasi's murky dealings.

Bulgarian ruling party loses majority

SOFIA, Bulgaria Five Bulgarian deputies quit the ruling party of Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg and declared themselves independents yesterday, leaving the prime minister dependent on a minority coalition partner for his parliamentary majority.

The Movement for Simeon II coalition, named after Mr. Saxe-Coburg's former role as the king of Bulgaria, now holds 135 out of 240 parliamentary seats, including 20 seats held by the Turkish minority party Movement for Rights and Liberties.

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