- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

RUSSIA

Putin visits Chechnya with election looming

VLADIKAVKAZ — President Vladimir Putin made an unannounced visit to Chechnya yesterday, laying flowers at the grave of the war-ravaged region’s assassinated president a week before elections for a new leader.

Mr. Putin arrived in slain President Akhmad Kadyrov’s home village of Tsentoroi early in the morning and visited his grave with the Kremlin’s favored candidate in the Aug. 29 election, Chechen Interior Minister Alu Alkhanov.

Mr. Putin rarely visits Chechnya, where rebels have shot down Russian military aircraft in the past, and his trips are not announced in advance.

NIGERIA

Delegations arrive for Sudan peace talks

ABUJA — Sudanese Darfur rebels arrived in Nigeria yesterday for peace talks today under the African Union to resolve a conflict that has killed up to 50,000 people and displaced more than a million.

The talks will come two days after the Sudanese government, under threat of sanctions by the United Nations, signed an agreement with the world body to help refugees return to their homes voluntarily and give Darfuris a greater say in local government.

FRANCE

Fire destroys Jewish center

PARIS — Arsonists destroyed a Jewish community center in eastern Paris before dawn yesterday, leaving red graffiti of swastikas and menacing anti-Semitic messages such as “Jews get out.”

An Arabic-language statement posted on an Islamic Web site said the attack was carried out by “a group of young mujahideen,” but the assertion could not be independently verified.

The center, which rescue workers said was gutted, was a meeting place for the elderly and disadvantaged on the ground floor of a six-story building.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and other top officials visited the center, the latest target in a multiyear wave of anti-Jewish attacks in France. President Jacques Chirac condemned the attack and pledged solidarity with the Jewish community.

VENEZUELA

25 killed as plane hits mountain

CARACAS — A military plane crashed into a mountain in central Venezuela, killing 25 persons, including five children, an air-force rescue team said yesterday.

The SD3-30 two-engine passenger and cargo plane took off from a military base in Orchila Island, 110 miles north of Caracas, on Saturday afternoon, and was headed toward an air force base in Maracay, 40 miles west of the capital, the team said.

All 25 persons on board, including three crew members, were confirmed dead. A 5-year-old boy, another boy and three girls, whose ages were not disclosed, were among the victims.

SINGAPORE

New prime minister eases speech rules

SINGAPORE — New Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outlined his vision for the city-state yesterday, promising to ease restrictions on free speech in the famously strait-laced country.

Mr. Lee, who was sworn in as Singapore’s leader on Aug. 12, said public speakers would no longer be required to get police permits to express themselves inside buildings, unless they wanted to talk about religion or race.

The elder son of Lee Kuan Yew, modern Singapore’s founding father, also said activists would be allowed to mount exhibitions at the country’s so-called Speakers’ Corner, a limited free-speech venue in a downtown park set up in 2000.


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