- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Banned parties reject U.S. push for change

BEIRUT — A State Department reception granted to a small U.S.-based Syrian opposition group last week has divided Syrian dissidents, with some expressing concern that Washington is lining up their country as the next candidate for “regime change.”

The Reform Party of Syria issued a statement hailing its meeting Thursday with Elizabeth Cheney, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. “They realized that the call for democracy in Syria is a matter that is being taken seriously at the highest levels of the Bush administration,” the statement said.

But the National Democratic Rally, an alliance of five banned opposition groups, said it opposes “asking foreign parties to overthrow the regime,” adding: “Change is the responsibility of the national democratic opposition.”


Female legislator aspires to top job

TEHRAN — A female lawmaker said yesterday that she wants to run in the June presidential elections, even though no woman has been allowed to seek that office in this Islamic state.

The Guardian Council, a panel of hard-line clerics and jurists that vets the suitability of election candidates, restated in January its constitutional interpretation that only men can run for president. Reformist clerics and politicians repeatedly have challenged this opinion, but to no avail.

Rafat Bayat said she hopes the council will change its mind and allow her to compete in the June 17 vote. “Governing a country needs someone with revolutionary ideas based on Islamic laws and an understanding of people’s problems,” she told the semiofficial Fars news agency, adding: “These are qualities both men and women can have.”


GI critical of war guilty of disobedience

BERLIN — A U.S. soldier who criticized the invasion of Iraq after a tour of duty there has been found guilty by a military court of disobeying orders, an Army spokesman said yesterday.

Spc. Blake Lemoine, 23, of Moreauville, La., was demoted and sentenced by a U.S. military court in Darmstadt, Germany, to seven months’ confinement. He will be given a dishonorable discharge after serving his sentence.

Lemoine, who described the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq two years ago as an error and has said Iraqi civilians were mistreated, was charged with refusing to obey orders from Jan. 10 to Feb. 15. After returning to Germany from Iraq last May, he said his religious beliefs no longer allow him to serve in the military.

Weekly notes …

Four suspected Islamic radicals went on trial in a Paris court yesterday on charges of helping the men who killed Afghan resistance hero Ahmed Shah Masood two days before the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks against the United States. Two Tunisians traveling with fake Belgian passports and posing as journalists detonated a bomb hidden in a camera, killing the Northern Alliance leader who fought the Taliban, which was ruling Afghanistan at the time. Iran protested to Egypt yesterday the sentencing in absentia of a former Iranian diplomat to 35 years in prison for spying. The Foreign Ministry summoned the head of the Egyptian interest section in Tehran, Shawki Ismail, to protest the sentence of an Egyptian security court that found Mohammed Reza Dost, a former diplomat in Cairo, guilty of recruiting an Egyptian to spy for a foreign power.

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