- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 1, 2003

ISRAEL

Sharon fires official in payoff scandal

JERUSALEM Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, trying to contain a vote-buying scandal that has hurt his Likud Party before a January general election, fired a deputy Cabinet minister yesterday, officials said.

Mr. Sharon sent a letter to Deputy National Infrastructure Minister Naomi Blumenthal dismissing her from his right-wing government after she refused to answer police questions about purported fraud surrounding a recent party ballot.

Mr. Sharon had vowed publicly to expel any party members tainted by a scandal swirling around Likud's selection of its list of top candidates for the Jan. 28 parliamentary election.


PHILIPPINES

Grenade attack kills at least 6 in south

COTABATO A grenade killed at least six persons and injured more than 30 in the insurgency-plagued southern Philippines yesterday, officials said.

An unidentified man hurled the grenade at vendors selling firecrackers near Tacurong city in the southwestern part of Mindanao island, a region where Muslim guerrillas are active.

The street market was bustling with last-minute shoppers buying firecrackers for New Year's celebrations, witnesses said.


VENEZUELA

Chavez foes threaten march on palace

CARACAS Foes of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, fighting to sustain a monthlong strike that has choked vital oil exports, said yesterday that they would carry their protest campaign into the new year, possibly marching on the presidential palace.

The strike, in its fifth week, has throttled oil output, gasoline supplies and crude-oil shipments by the world's No. 5 oil exporter, pushing world prices near two-year highs. Venezuela supplies more than 13 percent of U.S. oil imports.

The shutdown has caused alarm abroad and turmoil in Venezuela by disrupting fuel and food deliveries over Christmas.


CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

Regional security force replaces Libyan troops

BANGUI Members of a regional security force patrolled the capital of this Central African country yesterday, after Libyan soldiers ended a yearlong deployment to protect the government against a string of coup attempts.

The last Libyan forces boarded a plane for home Saturday, state radio reported over the weekend.

The Libyan troops sent by Moammar Gadhafi in May 2001 helped President Ange-Felix Patasse's government put down three coup attempts.


CHILE

Seven hikers die on glacier in storm

SANTIAGO Seven Chilean trekkers died during an expedition on a glacier in Patagonia after being trapped in an ice storm, rescue officials said yesterday.

Rescuers found four of the dead hikers frozen on the ice Monday and two more early yesterday. The last missing person, the only woman on the trek, was found a few hours later. Three other members of the excursion survived by hiding in a crevice in the glacier until the storm blew over and made their way to a nearby town to get help.


GERMANY

Schroeder fights media over marital rumors

BERLIN Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who won a legal ruling to silence speculation that he dyes his hair, is set for a new court clash with German media this time over the state of his marriage.

Two regional newspapers seek to challenge injunctions Mr. Schroeder obtained in mid-December banning them from reporting rumors of problems between the chancellor and his fourth wife, Doris Schroeder-Koepf.

Earlier this year, Mr. Schroeder, anxious to defend his credibility in a difficult campaign for re-election, sued a German news agency after it quoted a self-styled image expert as saying the chancellor would be more convincing "if he didn't dye the gray from his temples."


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