- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for Jan. 6 …

Al Qaida is back on the warpath against secular Arab regimes. Algeria is telling Western diplomats that Saturday's attack that killed 45 Algerian troops and militia outside Batna in the remote Aures mountains, 250 southeast of Algiers, was the work of the Salafist Brigade for Combat and Preaching, al Qaida's Algerian arm. An army convoy was ambushed by the detonation of roadside bombs, followed by thermite grenades and machine guns. The attack, the worst outbreak of violence since President Abdelaziz Bouteflika came to power in 1999 promising to end the country's long civil war with Islamic militants, coincided with a slaughter of 13 people in Zabana, a village near Algiers. This second attack is believed to be the work of the Armed Islamic Group. Algerian intelligence officials — who are credited by U.S. and French counterparts with one of the best intelligence-sharing records in the Arab world — now fear that the two groups are now coordinating their strikes.

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Overheard at a Washington party at the weekend. A European put the following question to an official from President Bush's national security council: "Assume you are waist-deep in Iraq. Then you get knee-deep in Korea at the same time. Have you thought what to do if Beijing seizes the opportunity to take Taiwan?" Came the reply — "We don't think about that more than twice a week."

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The Saudi government has triggered a major row between Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud and Prime Minister Rafik Hariri that threatens to derail the country's budget process this week and bring government to a standstill. Hariri took advantage of the president's absence from the country to order the satellite transmissions of Beirut's New TV to be cut, rather than offend the Saudis with a broadcast of "Bila Raqib," a talkshow that featured Saudi opposition figures. On Lahoud's orders, Telecommunications Minister Jean-Louis Qordahi Saturday directed a reopening of NTV's satellite broadcasts — taking a tit-for-tat advantage of the prime minister's absence in France. Hariri claims NTV had broken its licensing agreement and the satellite broadcast law, which bans "material that damage relations with friendly countries." An attempt to resolve the row with an emergency cabinet meeting Sunday failed, and sources in Beirut say that the row is now so serious they doubt whether Thursday's scheduled Cabinet session will take place.

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Greece's opposition leader, Costas Karamanlis of the New Democracy party, has found a cunning new way to undermine the left-of-center Greek government's so far successful strategy of easing relations with traditional rival Turkey. Having secured an invitation to celebrate Epiphany with the Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos in the Turkish city of Istanbul, Karamanlis went via the Patriarchate's closed theological seminary on the island of Halki in the Sea of Marmara, just down the straits from Istanbul. The Turks closed the seminary in 1971 and Karamanlis — demanding that the Greek Orthodox seminary be reopened — has targeted a highly sensitive issue for the new moderate Islamist AK government in Turkey.

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You have to hand it to the French. As British, Dutch, Spanish and Danish fishermen howl with outrage at the EU's new ban on fishing endangered cod stocks, French President Jacques Chirac has quietly negotiated an exemption for the eastern Channel area. This means that Boulogne, France's biggest fishing port, will not be affected by the new EU rules that keep other countries' boats in harbor for 15 days a month and cuts fishing quotas by 45 percent. Even smarter, Chirac has secured his private deal before Thursday's tricky talks open with Iceland and Norway on their access to the EU's single market — in which fisheries and tariff-free access to the EU's fish markets will loom large.

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