Monday, December 1, 2008


Chavez tries again to end term limits

CARACAS | President Hugo Chavez asked supporters to propose a constitutional reform that would allow him to seek indefinite re-election and govern through 2019, giving him more time to build a socialist economy in Venezuela.

“We are going to begin the national debate,” the former paratroops commander told a crowd of red-clad government supporters at a rally in Caracas on Sunday.

Mr. Chavez, who was first elected in 1998, is barred from running again when his term as president expires in 2013.

Venezuelan voters last year rejected a sweeping package of constitutional changes that would have ended presidential term limits, with many of Mr. Chavez’s opponents warning that he intends to be president for life.

Any new attempt at a reform, which must be approved in a nationwide referendum, would open a new front for tensions between government-backers and their political rivals.


Russia president praises Fidel

MOSCOW | Russia’s president paid tribute to Fidel Castro on Sunday after a meeting with the Cuban revolutionary icon.

Dmitry Medvedev said his conversation with Mr. Castro on Friday was “extremely interesting” and suggested the world should draw on the experience of such long-standing political figures when trying to tackle today’s problems.

Mr. Medvedev spoke in a video recording that was made on his plane as he returned from Cuba and posted on the Kremlin Web site.

Mr. Medvedev referred to the 82-year-old former president as “Cuban leader Fidel Castro” even though his younger brother Raul is now president. Mr. Medvedev also met extensively with Raul Castro.

Mr. Medvedev, 43, visited Cuba, Venezuela, Peru and Brazil in a trip designed to boost Russia’s influence in Latin America.


Rebel leader says no peace with ICC

NABANGA | Uganda’s fugitive rebel leader Joseph Kony told traditional elders he will not sign a final peace deal until an international arrest warrant for him is scrapped, the chief mediator said Sunday.

Riek Machar, the vice president of south Sudan, said Mr. Kony met about 20 religious and cultural dignitaries from Uganda who trekked deep into the Congolese forest to try to convince him to lay down his arms after two decades of war.

The war has killed tens of thousands of people, uprooted 2 million more in northern Uganda alone and driven others from their homes in neighboring parts of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and oil-producing south Sudan.

“Kony says he will not sign until the issue of the [International Criminal Court] is resolved, until the deferrals are made,” Mr. Machar told Reuters in a clearing in the remote south Sudanese border village of Nabanga.

Mr. Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army guerrillas, is wanted by prosecutors in The Hague for his role in a conflict that has destabilized a swath of central Africa.


Senior politician arrested in leaks

LONDON | The British interior minister Sunday defended the arrest of a senior opposition politician and said police should be allowed to complete their investigation into suspected leaking of information without interference.

Damian Green, 52, the Conservative Party’s immigration spokesman, was arrested Thursday as part of an inquiry into leaks of government material by an interior ministry official, which he then made public.

Mr. Green was questioned for nine hours at a London police station and counterterrorism police searched his parliamentary offices. He was released without charge.

Police said they acted after receiving a complaint from the government department in charge of the rules governing the conduct of government employees and ministers.


EU report urges close ties with East

BRUSSELS | The European Union must significantly boost relations with Ukraine and five other ex-Soviet republics and make easing Moscow’s sway over them a priority, a European Commission report says.

The report proposes to triple EU aid to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to about $1.9 million by 2020. It says the European Union must offer the nations free trade and economic integration because the European Union has a vital interest in stability on its borders in the light of Russia’s August war with Georgia.

The European Commission wants the European Union to sign association agreements providing for economic aid and security and defense consultations. It is silent on future EU membership, something Ukraine desires.

The report says stepping up relations is only possible once there is “sufficient” progress toward democracy, the rule of law and human rights. This is particularly relevant for Belarus, whose authoritarian regime is shunned by the European Union but has good relations with Moscow.

The report, a copy of which was obtained by the Associated Press, is to be made public Wednesday.


German diplomats targeted by bomb

KABUL | A suicide bomber hit a German Embassy vehicle in Kabul on Sunday, killing three Afghan civilians, said the government, an attack claimed by the Taliban that left six wounded.

Violence has escalated this year in Afghanistan, the bloodiest period since Taliban’s ouster in 2001, raising doubts about the prospects for stability despite increasing numbers of foreign troops in the country.

“It was a suicide attack on the German Embassy car,” Ali Shah Paktiawal, a senior Kabul police official told reporters near the scene.

The bomber was on foot when he attacked the embassy vehicle opposite a high school on the main road leading to the parliament building in the southwestern part of the city, he said.

The embassy had no immediate comment.


Pirates reach deal on Ukrainian ship

NAIROBI, Kenya | Somali pirates and owners of a Ukrainian ship carrying 33 tanks and other military hardware have reached a deal to release the vessel, a Kenyan maritime official said Sunday.

Gunmen captured the MV Faina on Sept. 24, with its cargo of T-72 tanks, grenade launchers and ammunition, and demanded $20 million in ransom.

“They have reached a deal but are still discussing the modalities of releasing the ship, crew and cargo,” said Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Program.

The 20 crew members aboard include 17 Ukrainians, Russians and Latvians.

A piracy wave in the Gulf of Aden has jacked up shipping insurance costs, sent foreign warships rushing to the area, and left about a dozen vessels with more than 200 hostages still in hijackers’ hands.

Pirates continue to hold the Saudi oil tanker Sirius Star, which they seized Nov. 15.


Pope pays tribute to Nazi-era pontiff

ROME | Pope Benedict XVI paid tribute Sunday to Nazi-era pontiff Pope Pius XII, who is at the center of a controversy with Jewish groups accusing him of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust.

The pope was celebrating Mass at Rome’s San Lorenzo Basilica, which was partly destroyed by massive Allied bombing on July 19, 1943, that killed at least 3,000 people across the neighborhood. He said Pius had rushed to the scene to assist the victims.

“The generous gesture on that occasion by my venerable predecessor, who immediately ran to help and comfort the stricken population in the smoldering rubble, cannot be erased from historical memories,” the pope said in his homily.

The Nazi-era pontiff, who ruled from 1939 until his death in 1958, has been accused by some Jews of inaction over the Holocaust during World War II, a charge his supporters and the Vatican deny.


Probe targets CIA flights

MADRID | Spain will investigate whether a previous government allowed Spanish territory to be used to transport captured terrorism suspects to Guantanamo Bay, the Foreign Ministry said Sunday.

The ministry said in a statement it had not been informed whether the government of Jose Maria Aznar, in power from 1996 to 2004, allowed CIA flights carrying captured foreigners to use Spanish air space or runways.

The newspaper El Pais said in a report Sunday that it had obtained a government document showing that a U.S. official asked the Foreign Ministry for such access in January 2002.

El Pais published the document - top secret - in its paper and Web site editions.

The request was communicated to Josep Pique, who was foreign minister, hours before a CIA flight landed at Moron air base in southwest Spain, the El Pais report said.

Spain agreed in 2007 to declassify documents on CIA flights to transport terror suspects to a U.S. base in Cuba for questioning.


Election jitters reflect economy

BUCHAREST | Anxiety over the global economic crisis loomed over Romanian parliamentary elections Sunday, with voters fearful of layoffs after years of prosperity.

Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu‘s center-right Liberal Party was in a battle with the leftist Social Democrats - a bloc of former communists whose leader pledged to spread the wealth.

Mr. Tariceanu recently declared the nation of 22 million people was virtually immune to the global economic meltdown.

But a string of grim economic news stories punctured that optimism, giving the Social Democrats their best chance in years. Mr. Tariceanu’s party has lagged in recent polls, with about 20 percent support.

For the first time, Romanians were choosing from among individual candidates instead of party lists as they filled seats in the 452-member Parliament.


Protesters back beaten journalist

MOSCOW | A few hundred people have demonstrated in the Russian capital to protest an attack on a crusading journalist.

Rights activists and opposition politicians joined colleagues and friends of Mikhail Beketov at Sunday’s protest.

Mr. Beketov is in a coma. He was found badly beaten near his home in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, where he edits a local newspaper. He has criticized local officials and investigated allegations of corrupt and illegal destruction of forests.

A similar protest was held in Khimki on Saturday.

Attacks on journalists who investigate purported wrongdoing by the authorities are common.


Former Muslim starts political party

ROME | An Egyptian-born writer who renounced Islam and was baptized by Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday that he has formed a political party that would enter candidates in next year’s EU elections.

Magdi Cristiano Allam said his “Protagonists for Christian Europe” party would work to defend Europe’s Christian values, which he sees threatened by secularism and moral relativism. He said his party would be open to people of all faiths and close to the conservative European People’s Party.

Mr. Allam built his career in Italy as a commentator and author attacking Islamic extremism and supporting Israel.

In March, Mr. Allam angered some in the Muslim world with a high-profile conversion during an Easter vigil service led by the pope in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Mr. Allam, who took the name Cristiano upon converting, has credited Benedict with being instrumental in his decision to become a Catholic and has said the pope had baptized him to support freedom of religion.


Camera collector in Guinness book

ATHENS | Last month, the movie camera collection of retired postman Dimitris Pistiolas made it into the Guinness World Records - for the eighth time.

Mr. Pistiolas owns the world’s largest private collection of movie cameras - 937 vintage models and projectors. They are neatly arranged, dusted and labeled in his tiny basement, where they cover every inch of wall.

Mr. Pistiolas, now 78, started buying cameras at age 15 and never stopped. Visits to the basement are by invitation only.

Ronald Grant, a director at the Cinema Museum in London, says it takes time and money to hunt such cameras down at fairs and auction rooms.

“There’s a lot of investment there in time, and knowledge, and of course memory. Once you have a few hundred, then you have to remember, ‘Have I got this one?’” Mr. Grant says. “You can’t just buy these in a shop.”

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