- The Washington Times - Monday, April 12, 2004

RUSSIA

Two-year abduction ends for Dutchman

MOSCOW — A Dutch aid worker kidnapped by gunmen nearly two years ago near the rebel Russian region of Chechnya was freed in a nighttime transfer yesterday.

Officials denied a ransom had been paid for Arjan Erkel, former head of operations in southern Russia for the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, who was bundled into a car in August 2002 in the lawless region of Dagestan.

Mr. Erkel, 34, was flown to Moscow, and officials said he would leave for the Netherlands by the end of the day. “I feel fantastic,” he told reporters on the steps of the Dutch Embassy.



NORTH KOREA

Kim plans trip to China

SEOUL — North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is planning a trip to Beijing, perhaps as early as next month, in a signal of progress in efforts to end a standoff over his country’s nuclear drive, a South Korean newspaper reported today.

Citing senior South Korean officials and diplomatic sources, the JoongAng Daily said China and North Korea agreed on the visit and were working to nail down the date.

The visit was proposed by Mr. Kim and arranged during diplomatic exchanges between China and its communist neighbor in recent months, including a visit last month to Pyongyang by Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, a foreign ministry official was quoted as saying.

CHINA

Protest takes aim at Beijing’s decision

HONG KONG — Thousands of residents demanded full democracy and called on their unpopular leader to quit as they marched yesterday past Beijing’s representative office in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong residents are clamoring for the right to elect their chief executive and lawmakers, and many were upset last week when China’s most powerful legislative committee said any political reforms here must be approved by Beijing.

After a brief standoff with police, the demonstrators were allowed to file past the rear entrance of the Chinese government’s liaison office, dropping off boxes of letters that urged Beijing to reverse its ruling and allow universal suffrage.

UZBEKISTAN

Islamist group claims string of attacks

TASHKENT — A previously unknown Islamist group claimed responsibility yesterday for a recent string of bombings and shootings that killed at least 47 persons in Uzbekistan.

In a statement posted on at least three militant Web sites, the Jihad Islamic Group said the attacks were conducted in retaliation for the secular Uzbek regime’s oppression of devout Muslims.

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