- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2006

Concern for Sharon

Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said yesterday he had received hundreds of phone calls and e-mails from top administration officials, members of Congress and governors, expressing their concern for the health of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

“It was a sleepless night,” he told Embassy Row. “We so appreciate the outpouring of support and prayers from the American people, not only from Jews but from Christians and Muslims as well.”

Mr. Ayalon said a message of concern from President Bush and first lady Laura Bush “lifted the morale” of Israelis. Mr. Bush on Wednesday called Mr. Sharon a “man of courage and peace” and said he and Mrs. Bush were praying for his recovery.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice phoned the ambassador to express her concerns.

Mr. Ayalon said he had reassured many callers about Israel’s stability during Mr. Sharon’s health crisis.

“We are a strong democracy with longstanding traditions,” he said. “The transition of power, which we hope will be temporary, was seamless.”

Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert assumed Mr. Sharon’s duties immediately after Mr. Sharon was hospitalized Wednesday with a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Mr. Olmert can serve as acting prime minister until the March 28 Israeli parliamentary elections.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called the ambassador to say that he and his wife, Maria Shriver, were praying for Mr. Sharon. The governor met Mr. Sharon on a visit to Israel in April 2004.

“When I met the prime minister on my trip to Israel, I was struck by his great strength, courage and wisdom. I know these virtues are guiding him now. Californians are keeping him in our prayers,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said in a statement posted on the embassy’s Web site (www.israelemb.org).

Embassy spokesman David Siegel said diplomats at the mission in Northwest Washington were closely following news reports on Mr. Sharon’s condition.

“We are all hoping and praying for his health and following all the developments,” he said as a prayer vigil was held outside the embassy.

‘Dismal scenario’

The U.S. ambassador to Belarus warned the authoritarian government of President Alexander Lukashenko that it will never develop good relations with the United States until Belarus adopts fundamental democratic reforms.

The Belarus regime “knows it will not be able to enjoy a robust relationship with the United States and Europe if it maintains this kind of system,” Ambassador George Krol said at the State Department this week.

He said the government has created a “sense of insecurity and fear” among political opponents in the campaign for the March 19 presidential election, Associated Press correspondent Barry Schweid reported.

“If you say something [critical of the government], it will be seen as a criminal act,” Mr. Krol said.

Hong Kong No. 1

Hong Kong’s representative in Washington is elated that her special administrative region of China was recognized as the world’s freest economy for the 12th year in a row by two leading conservative voices in the United States.

The Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal this week released their annual “Index of Economic Freedom” and ranked Hong Kong first among 157 countries surveyed.

“I am delighted to hear that the prominent Heritage Foundation has once again found Hong Kong to be a model of economic freedom,” said Jacqueline Willis, Hong Kong’s commissioner to the United States.

“It is Hong Kong’s commitment to free-market principles and the rule of law, as well as our vibrant entrepreneurial spirit, which will ensure our prosperity in an increasingly competitive world.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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