- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2004

AFGHANISTAN

Northern factions seek rival to Karzai

KABUL — Leaders of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance factions have been meeting to find a candidate to challenge President Hamid Karzai in coming elections, but have yet to find common ground, alliance members said this week.

The alliance helped U.S.-led forces topple the radical Taliban regime in 2001 and forms the backbone of Mr. Karzai’s government. But alliance members have been angered by Mr. Karzai’s efforts to limit their power in the past year and many have opposed the liberalization of Islamic law since he took office.

Alliance member Abdul Hafiz Mansoor said there had been a series of meetings to find a candidate to run against Mr. Karzai, widely expected to win the June election. Possible rivals include ex-President Burhanuddin Rabbani, warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, a military adviser to Mr. Karzai, Foreign Minister Abdullah, Education Minister Yunis Qanuni and Ismail Khan, governor of Herat.

SRI LANKA

President shuts units to weaken premier

COLOMBO — President Chandrika Kumaratunga has abolished 13 ministries ahead of next month’s parliamentary elections, say officials. Her office said Thursday the move was aimed at saving money spent on the upkeep of the ministries, whose political leaders she sacked last month in a power struggle.

She also dissolved the parliament led by her political archrival, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and called elections for April 2, nearly four years ahead of schedule. The ministries of science and technology and housing development were among the 13 sub-Cabinet ministries being scrapped completely.

Mrs. Kumaratunga acted against Mr. Wickremesinghe after accusing him of granting concessions to Tamil Tiger rebels during Norwegian-brokered peace talks aimed at ending decades of ethnic bloodshed.

NEPAL

Maoists propose U.N.-mediated talks

KATMANDU — The country’s Maoist rebels have offered to hold peace talks with the government under U.N. mediation to try to settle their revolt aimed at installing a communist republic.

“We can hold a dialogue with the government under U.N. mediation even in the midst of the People’s War,” Maoist chief Pushapa Kamal Dahal, known as “Prachanda,” said in a message this week on the rebels’ Web site.

The statement came after Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa rejected calls by human-rights groups for U.N. mediation, saying the government opposes foreign involvement.

Weekly notes …

Bangladesh says it has accepted a United Nations request to send peacekeeping troops to Ivory Coast, a West African state riven by civil war. With 5,000 troops participating in nine of 14 ongoing U.N. peace missions, Bangladesh is the largest contributor to U.N. peacekeeping forces. The Defense Ministry in Dhaka said 2,830 troops in three infantry battalions and engineering, medical and signal units will leave soon for Abidjan.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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