- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2007


Chavez struggles to form new party

CARACAS — President Hugo Chavez this week urged some of his political allies who are resisting his plan to form a single socialist party to leave his movement and go their own way, saying he hopes the split will be amicable even if they defect to the opposition.

Mr. Chavez aims to create the United Socialist Party of Venezuela to replace about two dozen smaller pro-government parties in the country, but the idea has faced resistance from the Podemos, Fatherland for All and Venezuelan Communist parties.

The three parties hold small minorities in the 167-seat National Assembly, which has been entirely filled with Mr. Chavez’s allies since major opposition parties boycotted 2005 elections.

Mr. Chavez, who has pledged a renewed push to transform Venezuela into a socialist state since he was re-elected in December, said he already considers the leaders of Podemos, including a few state governors and lawmakers, to be “almost in the opposition.”


Police seize 21 tons of cocaine

PANAMA CITY — Panamanian police seized a boat off the nation’s Pacific Coast carrying 21.4 tons of cocaine in one of the biggest maritime cocaine raids anywhere on record, officials said yesterday.

National police working with agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seized the boat on Sunday near the island of Coiba, said a police official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

Police arrested 12 men on the boat, including Mexicans and Panamanians, and an additional two suspects in Panama City in connection with the drugs, the official said.


Government presents pre-election budget

OTTAWA — Conservatives announced a new budget yesterday aimed at boosting the party’s popularity ahead of an anticipated election, with a variety of small tax breaks for middle-class households, extra cash for provinces and steps to fight pollution. The spending plan, which envisages a surplus for the 11th straight year and paying down a debt of $7.9 billion needs the support of at least one of the three opposition parties in order for the 14-month-old minority government to stay in power.

The Conservatives have 125 of the 308 seats in Parliament. The budget for the 2007-08 year is larded with extra money for the provinces, a key demand of the separatist Bloc Quebecois party, and would phase out tax incentives for big oil companies, a partial nod to the demands of the left-leaning New Democrats.

The Conservatives promise to transfer $3.5 billion in new money over the next two years to Quebec, where the federalist provincial government is facing a tight election on Monday.

Weekly notes …

A gravel company has rumbled toward a stone outcropping not far from the oil sands north of Fort McMurray in Alberta, where workers found a 9,000-year-old mine that the ancestors of today’s aboriginal people used to fashion stone tools. … Latin Americans working outside their countries are expected to send home more than $100 billion annually by 2010, despite U.S. efforts to slow illegal border crossings, an Inter-American Development Bank official said Sunday.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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