- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

ISRAEL

U.S. envoy meets Palestinian official

JERUSALEM — A senior U.S. diplomat met yesterday with the Palestinian finance minister in the first American contact with the new coalition government and a sign of a break in policy between Israel and its closest ally.

Israel has said it will not have contact with any member of the new Hamas-Fatah coalition. The United States, however, has indicated it would maintain contact with moderates such as Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad. Mr. Fayyad said he met with Jacob Walles, the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Meanwhile, Norway’s visiting deputy foreign minister, Raymond Johansen, said Israeli officials canceled planned meetings with him after he met with Palestinian government leaders from Hamas.

EGYPT

Mubarak calls for referendum

CAIRO — President Hosni Mubarak yesterday scheduled a referendum for Monday on constitutional amendments that would limit the country’s largest opposition movement, drawing accusations that the government was speeding up the process to avoid debate.

The government says the changes will help increase democracy in a country where Mr. Mubarak has ruled unchallenged for a quarter-century. Opponents say the amendments are part of a plan to ensure the 78-year-old president’s son succeeds him in a future election.

IRAQ

Hanged deputy buried near Saddam, sons

BAGHDAD — Hundreds of chanting mourners buried Saddam Hussein’s former vice president near the ousted dictator, his sons and two other executed deputies yesterday in a spot that has become the graveyard of the ousted regime.

Taha Yassin Ramadan’s body, which was covered with the Iraqi flag, was interred in a building courtyard in the Tigris River village of Ouja hours after he was hanged for his part in the killings of 148 Shi’ite Muslims after a 1982 assassination attempt on Saddam.

CUBA

Castro seen edging toward resuming rule

HAVANA — Cuba’s convalescing leader, Fidel Castro, is recovering well from his July surgery and could soon take a more active role in running the country, a government minister said yesterday.

“We think that, as has been said, our leader is recovering, is advancing in the process of recovery, and I would say that he is already within the leadership from the point of view that he is sharing in the country’s principal political and economic decisions,” said Yadira Garcia, minister for basic industries.

“The expectation we all have is that, yes, we will soon have him with us in a more active way,” she told a press conference at an oil and geology event.

ECUADOR

Congress replaces fired lawmakers

QUITO — Ecuador’s Congress replaced fired lawmakers and convened yesterday in an apparent victory for President Rafael Correa over opposition legislators resisting his plans to curb their influence.

Mr. Correa, a left-winger elected in November, has been locked in a power struggle with lawmakers since March 7, when a court ousted 57 of them from the 100-member chamber for obstructing his plans for a referendum on rewriting the constitution.

The fired lawmakers have been trying to take their seats in the building, which is ringed by police. Congress President Jorge Cevallos yesterday swore in 21 substitutes and allowed the legislature to hold a session without the fired lawmakers.

RUSSIA

Fires kills 62 at nursing home

KAMYSHEVATSKAYA — Flames engulfed a nursing home in this village without a fire station yesterday, killing 62 frail and elderly residents after the night watchman ignored two alarms and emergency teams took nearly an hour to arrive. At least 30 persons were injured.

Occurring a day after a gas explosion that killed more than 100 coal miners in Siberia, the fire could undermine Kremlin contentions that conditions are improving in newly prosperous Russia.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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