- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2004

CHAD

43 Islamist militants killed in clash

N’DJAMENA — Chad’s army has killed 43 Islamist militants during two days of heavy fighting near the border with Niger. The government said those killed belonged to the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, a hard-line Algerian group that recently pledged its allegiance to al Qaeda.

U.S. military experts recently began training soldiers in Mali and Algeria to counter the threat of Islamist militants believed to be roaming ancient trade routes across the Sahara Desert.

Chad said among the dead were nine Algerians and citizens of Niger, Nigeria and Mali — all countries where the United States fears al Qaeda is recruiting militants and setting up cells.

BRITAIN

Straw defends U.S. for holding Britons

LONDON — British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw yesterday denied the United States was wrong to detain five Britons for two years at its Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba, even though the men were freed without charge after being repatriated.

Mr. Straw also said that the British authorities did not know whether the five — who had been held by the United States as suspected al Qaeda and Taliban fighters — were innocent.

“The American government, as far as they were concerned, had good reason for detaining these individuals,” Mr. Straw told Britain’s independent Channel 4 News.

GERMANY

Minister calls for military reforms

BERLIN — German Defense Minister Peter Struck called on the Bundestag yesterday to support massive military reforms.

Calling the German military “Germany’s largest peace movement,” Mr. Struck told the parliamentarians that German troops should be ready for quick deployment around the globe on international peace missions, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports.

“It’s not about … as many mistakenly fear, meddling in the affairs of other nations when it is not necessary,” Mr. Struck said. He added that Germany must be ready to work with its allies to bring peace where intervention is necessary.

Mr. Struck’s plans including reducing Germany’s fighting force by 35,000 soldiers to 250,000 by 2010 and completely reorganizing the remaining troops.

CHILE

Divorce legalized at long last

SANTIAGO — Chile yesterday became the last country in the Western world to legalize divorce. Lawmakers voted in its favor following years of bitter debate in the staunchly Roman Catholic country.

The divorce bill, passed by Chile’s Senate last August, was approved yesterday by its Lower House, and is expected to be signed into law by President Ricardo Lagos, nine years after debate on it officially began.

One of the law’s provisions requires a yearlong waiting period if both parties want a divorce, and three years when only one person files for divorce.

Chile’s move to legalize divorce comes eight years after majority-Catholic Ireland became the last European nation to let married couples legally split following a referendum.

RUSSIA

Swiss banks freeze tycoon’s accounts

MOSCOW — Swiss banks have frozen $5 billion in accounts belonging to Russia’s richest man and his associates as part of Moscow’s probe into accusations of money laundering at the nation’s largest oil company, an official said yesterday.

The banks froze the accounts of 20 Russians — including Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of the Yukos oil company — at the request of the Russian Prosecutor General’s office, spokeswoman Natalya Vishnyakova told Russian media.

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