- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

VENEZUELA
Chavez demands prison for strike leaders
CARACAS President Hugo Chavez demanded 20-year prison terms yesterday for two prominent opponents who directed a nationwide strike that devastated Venezuela's oil-based economy.
Carlos Fernandez, head of Venezuela's largest business chamber, and Carlos Ortega, leader of its biggest labor confederation, are charged with treason and other crimes for the two-month strike, which cost more than $4 billion.
Mr. Fernandez was arrested by secret police Wednesday and hauled into court yesterday. Mr. Ortega went into hiding when a judge issued an arrest warrant. The treason charge carries a 20- to 26-year prison term.
"These oligarchs believed that they were untouchable. There are no untouchables in Venezuela. A criminal is a criminal," Mr. Chavez thundered during a ceremony in Trujillo state.

AFGHANISTAN
U.S. forces expand hunt for Taliban
KABUL The U.S. military said yesterday that it has expanded operations in southern Afghanistan in the past week in an area where fugitive leaders of the ousted Taliban regime could be hiding.
U.S. military spokesman Col. Roger King said troops primarily from the U.S. 82nd Airborne division began Operation Viper several days ago in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold until the fundamentalist movement was thrown out of power by a U.S.-led coalition in late 2001.
He said seven suspected Taliban members had been detained in the operation in the past 24 hours. He was not specific when asked were the operations intended to capture fugitive Taliban leaders, including the group's chief, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

RUSSIA
Dates set for elections to Kremlin, Duma
MOSCOW Russians will vote in a presidential election March 14, 2004, after voting in a parliamentary election Dec. 14, the country's top electoral official said yesterday.
Alexander Veshnyakov, at a news conference in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, said he expected four or five candidates to participate in the presidential election.

KENYA
Chief justice suspended; graft probe ordered
NAIROBI Kenya's chief justice was suspended yesterday, and a tribunal was appointed to investigate charges of corruption and torture against him, which is seen as a key test of President Mwai Kibaki's crusade against graft.
Mr. Kibaki, who led the opposition to power in December after 24 years of rule by Daniel arap Moi, has promised to rid Kenya of the corruption blamed for ruining one of Africa's most promising economies.
The government's decision to suspend Chief Justice Bernard Chunga until the tribunal's decision came three days after Mr. Kibaki promised fundamental reform of the judiciary.

SOUTH AFRICA
Icon of theater says he is HIV-positive
JOHANNESBURG One of South Africa's best-known playwrights, Gibson Kente, 69, confirmed yesterday that he is HIV-positive, becoming one of a few celebrities to go public about AIDS in the country worst hit by the disease. He said he was coming forward to fight the stigma associated with AIDS.
An estimated one in five South Africans, or 4.7 million people, are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

IRAN
Plane-crash death toll lowered to 276
TEHRAN Iranian authorities revised down the death toll yesterday from a military plane crash, to 276 from 302, state television said.
Search teams said they found more than 50 bodies near the peak of the mountain where the Ilyushin-76 troop carrier crashed in southeastern Iran on Wednesday.


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