- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2008

Rice urges Russia to repeal decree

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday called on Russia to repeal a Wednesday decree increasing official contacts with “separatist regimes” in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, without the approval of the Georgian government.

“The United States is absolutely committed to the territorial integrity of Georgia,” Miss Rice told reporters. “We believe that there should be an effort to carry out the plans that the Georgians have talked about to try and deal with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”

Georgian Vice Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze visited Brussels yesterday to seek European Union and NATO backing against Russia’s support for the breakaway regions.

“We request the international community’s support in order not to let Russia legalize the de facto annexation of these territories,” he said.

IRAQ

Troops, militia clash in Sadr City

BAGHDAD — Iraqi troops clashed with Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia yesterday in what was described as some of the heaviest fighting in Baghdad in weeks.

Amid blinding dust storms, Sheik al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army fighters attacked Iraqi army positions in east Baghdad’s Sadr City slum, but U.S. forces said Iraqi troops stood their ground.

In the southern city of Basra, where the government launched a botched crackdown on Sheik al-Sadr’s militia in March, government troops surrounded the office of the cleric’s followers and prevented them from attending weekly prayers.

PAKISTAN

Taliban commander reported killed

PESHAWAR — A Taliban commander blamed for the deadliest attack on U.S. troops since they entered Afghanistan in 2001 has been killed in a shootout with security forces in Pakistan, American and Pakistani officials said.

Police killed Ahmad Shah, also known as Mullah Ismail, at a roadblock near the northwestern city of Peshawar. U.S. and Afghan officials have described Shah as the leader of Taliban militants who ambushed a group of U.S. commandos in June 2005 and shot down a Chinook helicopter sent to rescue them. Sixteen American Special Forces members died on the helicopter.

The commander’s death was first reported by CBS News on Wednesday.

JAPAN

Temple refuses to host Olympic torch

TOKYO — A major Japanese Buddhist temple withdrew yesterday from a plan to host the Beijing Olympics torch relay, citing safety concerns and sympathy among its monks and worshippers for Tibetan protesters facing a Chinese crackdown.

Zenkoji Temple declined to serve as the starting point for the April 26 relay, said Kunihiko Shinohara, secretary-general of the Nagano city organizing committee for the event. The relay has drawn protests around the world against China’s handling of Tibetan demonstrators.

ITALY

Putin denies plans to marry gymnast

PORTO ROTONDO — President Vladimir Putin yesterday denied he planned to divorce his 50-year-old wife Lyudmila to marry an Olympic champion gymnast, telling journalists to keep their “snotty noses” out of his private life.

A Russian newspaper had reported that Mr. Putin, 55, had secretly divorced Lyudmila in February and would marry Alina Kabayeva, a 24-year-old Russian Olympic gold medalist in rhythmic gymnastics, in the summer.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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