- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2007


Official predicts Castro return

PANAMA CITY — Cuba’s Fidel Castro is recovering well from a stomach illness and could return to lead his country, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said yesterday.

“He is recovering noticeably,” Mr. Perez Roque told reporters on a visit to Panama. “We are optimistic he will return to work at the appropriate moment.”

When asked if Mr. Castro would take up his presidential duties again, Mr. Perez Roque replied, “Yes,” but said he was unable to give a time frame for any return to office.

Mr. Castro, 80, handed over power to his brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro, in July after undergoing emergency intestinal surgery and has not been seen in public since, fueling speculation he was dying from cancer. But in a surprise live radio appearance earlier this week with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Mr. Castro said he was recovering and feeling stronger.


Autonomy plan set for Western Sahara

RABAT — Morocco will present an autonomy plan for Western Sahara to the United Nations next month in hopes of ending a three-decade conflict that has stranded 160,000 refugees in the Sahara, a top Moroccan official said yesterday.

The plan would give the disputed region a parliament, a chief of state, Cabinet ministries and a judiciary that would oversee day-to-day life, said Khalihenna Ould Errachid, King Mohamed VI’s chief adviser on the territory.

Morocco, which took control of Western Sahara in the 1970s after Spain pulled out, says autonomy is the only way to end a conflict with the Polisario Front, an Algerian-backed independence movement. It first proposed autonomy in 2000.


Chechen parliament approves president

GROZNY — Chechnya’s parliament approved a widely feared former security chief as president of the war-battered Russian republic in a nearly unanimous vote yesterday, a day after President Vladimir Putin nominated him.

The confirmation of Ramzan Kadyrov, which had been seen as a foregone conclusion, cements his rise to power. His nomination won 56 votes in the 58-member, two-chamber legislature, with two ballots ruled invalid.

Human rights groups say security forces under Mr. Kadyrov’s control abduct and torture civilians suspected of ties to Chechnya’s separatist rebels. Some observers suggest he was involved in last year’s murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist who had reported extensively on Chechnya’s wars and sufferings. Mr. Kadyrov has denied any involvement.


Prodi reconfirmed as prime minister

ROME — Italian center-left leader Romano Prodi was reconfirmed as prime minister yesterday when he won a second and final confidence vote in parliament, ending a political crisis and ensuring there will be no snap election.

He won by 342 votes to 198 with two abstentions in the lower house, a much wider margin than Wednesday’s vote in the Senate, where he remains vulnerable to further defections by allies such as the one that forced him to resign temporarily last week.

Mr. Prodi stepped down after splits in his center-left coalition lost him a foreign policy vote. He was then instructed by President Giorgio Napolitano to test his majority in parliament to see if he had the support to return to power.


Al Fayed to get jury at Diana inquest

LONDON — Mohamed al Fayed won a court battle yesterday to have a jury take part in the British inquest into the deaths of Princess Diana and his son, Dodi Fayed.

Three senior judges at London’s High Court overturned a decision by the deputy royal coroner that she would sit alone — without a jury — in determining what caused the deaths of the pair in a car crash in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997.

Mr. al Fayed’s legal team had pressed the judge to call a jury, saying it was the only way the public would be satisfied that proper care was taken over the issues surrounding the crash.


Troops wander into Liechtenstein

ZURICH — What began as a routine training exercise almost ended in an embarrassing diplomatic incident after a company of Swiss soldiers got lost at night and marched into neighboring Liechtenstein.

According to the Swiss daily Blick, the 170 infantry soldiers from the neutral country wandered more than a mile across an unmarked border into the tiny principality early Thursday before realizing their mistake and turning back.

A spokesman for the Swiss army confirmed the story, but said it was unlikely there would be any serious repercussions for the mistaken invasion.


U.S. set to approve release of accounts

The United States will soon recommend releasing a significant amount of frozen North Korean bank accounts, officials say, which diplomats hope will keep North Korea from reneging on its pledge to scrap nuclear weapons.

The Treasury Department could announce as soon as next week that several million dollars connected to North Korea are not tainted by links to rogue nuclear proliferation or accusations of counterfeiting, smuggling and other crimes.

The U.S. move is expected to prompt overseas bank regulators to unfreeze between $8 million and $12 million from about $24 million in blocked assets, one official said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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