- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

IRAN
Khamenei criticizes councils before election
TEHRAN Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made an implicit criticism at reformist-led municipal councils yesterday, three days before local elections, slamming "machinations" by "certain political groups," which he said sapped public confidence in elected bodies.
This was a clear reference to the reformist Tehran City Council, which was dissolved in January after being paralyzed by factional infighting. The Ayatollah Khamenei called on voters to choose "men of faith" in Iran's second-ever local elections, the official IRNA news agency reported.

LEBANON
Syria pulls troops from Christian areas
BEIRUT Close to 4,000 Syrian troops have pulled out of some positions in northern Lebanon, a redeployment welcomed by the Christian-led opposition to Syrian forces in Lebanon, witnesses and security sources report.
A senior Lebanese army source said the pullout Monday from largely Christian areas north of Beirut reduced the number of Syrian troops in Lebanon to 16,000 or 17,000. Witnesses said they watched more than 100 trucks packed with Syrian soldiers cross Lebanon's borders since Syria began pulling back some troops a week ago, leaving only a few military positions manned in the area.
Syria poured thousands of troops into Lebanon early in the 1975-1990 civil war to save Christian militias from defeat by Muslim, leftist and Palestinian forces.

EGYPT
Surprise 'midnight vote' extends emergency law
CAIRO Late at night and unannounced by the media, parliament renewed for another three years Egypt's Emergency Law, which restricts freedoms and gives great leeway to security forces to arrest suspects.
The renewal Sunday of martial law, which has been in force since 1981, took democracy activists by surprise as they had expected the law to be renewed in May, when it was to expire. A lengthy campaign to limit the law's scope and duration had been planned.
The government said renewal of the law was needed to combat drug dealers and terrorists the same reason it has invoked for 22 years. Most political activists scoff at these claims, and blame the political life in Egypt on martial law.

Weekly notes
Lawyers for Abdullah Ocalan renewed yesterday protests against the prison conditions of the Kurdish rebel leader, who remains isolated as the sole inmate of a Turkish island jail. "Abdullah Ocalan, held in conditions of extreme isolation, has been kept from his lawyers and family for three months under pretext of adverse weather conditions," lawyer Ercan Kanar told reporters in Istanbul. … Algeria came to a standstill yesterday as a two-day general strike began to protest the government's privatization policy and to urge better pay and conditions for workers. Transportation, banking, health and educational sectors ground to a halt as workers heeded the strike call by the powerful Algerian General Workers Union.


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