- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2004

FRANCE

Lawmakers approve head-scarf ban

PARIS — France took a decisive step yesterday toward banning Islamic head scarves in public schools, with lawmakers overwhelmingly backing the government’s drive to preserve French secular traditions from Muslim fundamentalism.

The ban on religious attire in classrooms, which also includes Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses, was approved 494-36 despite protests and criticism from around the world. The measure goes early next month to the Senate, where there is little opposition.

The ban was expected to take effect in September. It would not apply to private schools.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Iranian plane crashes; 43 killed

SHARJAH — An Iranian plane carrying mainly Asians and Iranians crashed yesterday as it approached Sharjah International Airport, killing 43 persons aboard, officials said. Three survivors were hospitalized.

The Kish Air Fokker-50, flying to Sharjah from the Iranian island of Kish in the Persian Gulf, crashed on a road near an upper-class residential neighborhood. No one on the ground was hurt.

CHINA

Beijing vows to leaveTaiwan elections alone

BEIJING — China will not meddle in Taiwan’s presidential elections next month and does not care who wins, a government spokesman said early today.

“We don’t care who wins the election. What we care about is the winner’s attitude toward cross-straits ties and national unification,” Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Zhang Mingqing told a news conference.

He dismissed media speculation that the arrest of Taiwanese “spies” was aimed at discrediting Chen Shui-bian, leader of the Republic of China (Taiwan), ahead of the polls.

IRAQ

U.N. food-for-oil chief denies taking bribes

NEW YORK — The head of the United Nations’ food-for-oil program denied yesterday that he had taken bribes from Saddam Hussein’s government.

Benon Sevan was named in a list published by the Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada late last month of 270 former officials, politicians and journalists from more than 46 countries who purportedly received bribes in exchange for supporting Saddam’s regime.

A U.N. spokesman said the head of the world body’s oversight services office will ask the Iraqi Governing Council and the U.S.-led coalition for documents that support the contention.

COLOMBIA

EU lawmakers protest Uribe’s security law

BRUSSELS — About a dozen European lawmakers walked out of a speech yesterday by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to protest a new law granting sweeping powers to his country’s armed forces.

Mr. Uribe shrugged off the critics after addressing the European Union assembly in Strasbourg, France, saying the legislation was necessary to bring peace to the country.

ECUADOR

Gunmen target TV head, kill driver

QUITO — Gunmen attacked the president of an Ecuadorian television network and killed his driver in the latest of a series of assaults on prominent leaders that have gripped the nation, officials reported yesterday.

Carlos Munoz Insua, head of Guayaquil-based television network Telesistema, was on his way home late Monday from the station when gunmen opened fire, killing his driver. Mr. Insua was not hurt, a network official said.

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