- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

SPAIN

Catalans approve greater autonomy

BARCELONA — The wealthy semiautonomous Catalonia region gained sweeping new powers to run its own affairs yesterday, as voters overwhelmingly approved a blueprint that some fear could leave Spain’s government cash-strapped and powerless.

Nearly three out of four voters said “yes” to the plan in a binding referendum that culminated more than two years of heated debate.

At stake in the voting in this region, which considers itself a nation within a nation, were a much bigger slice of tax revenues collected in Catalonia, a say in the appointment of judges and prosecutors to courts run from Madrid and, critically, an indirect proclamation of Catalonia as a “nation.”

The referendum is binding, and the results are final because the blueprint has been passed by the Spanish parliament.

NIGERIA

National Geographic journalist arrested

LAGOS — The Nigerian navy has detained an American journalist for taking photographs of an oil facility operated by the local unit of Italy’s Agip, a rights group said yesterday.

Ed Kashi of the National Geographic was photographing gas flares at the Obama flow station in Bayelsa state when he was arrested on Friday, said Dimieari Von Kemedi of Our Niger Delta.

“They said he did not obtain permission to take pictures of the facility and that the area is volatile and he could have been kidnapped,” Mr. Kemedi told Reuters.

AFGHANISTAN

British commanders tout progress

KABUL — British commanders declared for the first time yesterday that their troops were enjoying success in the the restive south of Afghanistan after pushing faster than expected into rebel territory.

The operation in Helmand province, backed by attack helicopters, has claimed the lives of dozens of Taliban fighters, they said.

And, although there were many obstacles ahead, commanders predicted that the fight to bring governance and development to the area was “winnable.”

BELGIUM

Police search for missing girls

LIEGE — Belgian authorities were still hopeful yesterday of finding alive two schoolgirls missing for over a week as police continued their search.

Stacy Lemmens, 7, and Nathalie Mahy, 10, disappeared on the night of June 9 while they were playing at a street fair in the eastern city of Liege. Their parents were in a nearby bar.

The case has gripped the nation and revived painful memories of a notorious pedophile case in the 1990s.

Police interrogated Abdellah Ait Oud, who is being held on suspicion of “kidnapping” and “sequestration,” according to Belgian media.

JAPAN

Pro-whaling nations lose early votes

FRIGATE BAY, St Kitts and Nevis — Japan has come within a hair’s breadth of winning key votes at the June 16-20 meeting of the International Whaling Commission, (IWC) in St Kitts and Nevis, but failed in the first two days to secure a pro-whaling majority.

The first vote, proposed by Japan, was to prevent the IWC from discussing the fate of dolphins, porpoises, small whales and great whales. Japan lost 32-30, with one abstention.

The second vote, also proposed by Japan, was to introduce secret balloting. It lost that vote 33-30, also with one abstention.

The third vote, which would have allowed Japanese coastal communities to hunt a limited number of whales — effectively circumventing the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling — was lost by 31 votes to 30, with four abstentions.

Based on wire service and staff reports

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