- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

LEBANON

Israeli planes hit Hezbollah bases

BEIRUT — Israel said its warplanes struck two Hezbollah bases in Lebanon yesterday in retaliation for a border attack by the Lebanese guerrilla group that killed an Israeli soldier a day earlier.

Israel held Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon, responsible for Monday’s incident. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell criticized the Hezbollah attack and warned Syria not to arm the militant group.

The Israeli army changed its account of Monday’s border incident and said the soldier killed by a Hezbollah antitank missile was several yards inside Lebanon, where a military bulldozer was clearing explosives planted by the group.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Arab states agree to waive Iraqi debt

ABU DHABI — The Persian Gulf states of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates said they would waive most of the more than $7 billion Iraq owes them after talks yesterday with Washington’s envoy on Iraqi debt, James A. Baker III.

The United Arab Emirates said it was prepared to start talks to write off most of Iraq’s debts, which a source said total more than $3.8 billion. A Qatari official said Iraq owes Doha about $4 billion that has accrued since the 1980s.

Iraq is estimated to owe Persian Gulf states $45 billion, mostly money given to Baghdad during its 1980-88 war with Iran. Iraq insists the money from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states was given as grants.

FRANCE

Official considers ban on beards

PARIS — France’s plan to bar religious symbols from state schools slid into confusion yesterday after Education Minister Luc Ferry said a proposed ban on Muslim veils also could outlaw beards if they are judged to be a sign of faith.

He made the statement in a National Assembly legal committee hearing about the draft law on the ban due to be debated next month.

Pious Muslim men wear beards in obedience to the Prophet Muhammad. Sikhs, of whom more than 5,000 reside in the Paris area, also wear beards because they do not cut their hair.

THAILAND

Officials eat chicken to calm disease fears

BANGKOK — Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra invited foreign reporters to join his Cabinet for a chicken lunch yesterday as he tried to calm public fears after an outbreak of poultry cholera.

Mr. Thaksin and his Cabinet ate a lunch of Hainanese chicken rice, roast chicken and spicy chicken soup as well as raw salmon and octopus.

Thailand insists it is free of the bird flu that has spread to humans in Vietnam and killed at least five persons there, but the cholera outbreak has dented confidence in a major export industry that raises 1 billion chickens per year.

PERU

Ex-spy chief begins trial on arms charge

LIMA — Former spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos went on trial yesterday on charges he directed a scheme to parachute-drop 10,000 assault rifles into the hands of Colombian guerrillas.

Montesinos, security adviser to President Alberto Fujimori through the 1990s, faces nearly 80 charges ranging from corruption to drug trafficking and authorizing murder.

This is his fifth trial. Montesinos already is serving nine years on minor corruption convictions.

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