Tuesday, December 16, 2008

UGANDA

3 armies strike at rebels in Congo

KAMPALA | Three African armies have launched an offensive against Ugandan rebels based in eastern Congo in an attempt to end one of the continent’s longest and most brutal wars, military officials said Monday.

Uganda, southern Sudan and Congo attacked the Lord’s Resistance Army bases Sunday and wiped out the main camp used by the rebels’ elusive leader, Joseph Kony, in Congo, said Col. Leon-Richard Kasonga, a spokesman for Congo’s army.

Lambert Mende, a spokesman for the government of Congo, said he could not confirm whether Kony was there at the time of the attack.



The Lord’s Resistance Army has been waging one of Africa’s longest and most brutal rebellions for 20 years, drawing in northern Uganda, eastern Congo and southern Sudan. The rebels are notorious for raping children and using them as soldiers.

U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Washington had military-to-military relationships with all three countries but had not been involved in any combat operations.

TURKEY

Intellectuals say sorry to Armenians

ANKARA | A group of about 200 Turkish intellectuals on Monday issued an apology on the Internet for the World War I-era massacres of Armenians in Turkey.

The group of prominent academics, journalists, writers and artists avoided using the contentious term “genocide” in the apology, using the less explosive “Great Catastrophe” instead.

But the apology is a sign that many in Turkey are ready to break a long-held taboo against acknowledging Turkish culpability for the deaths.

Historians estimate that, in the last days of the Ottoman Empire, up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks in what is widely regarded as the first genocide of the 20th century. While Turkey does not deny that many died in that era, the country has rejected the term genocide.

SOMALIA

Parliament backs fired prime minister

MOGADISHU | Somalia’s parliament gave the prime minister a resounding vote of confidence Monday, a day after the president fired him as the country struggles with a deadly insurgency, rampant piracy and political infighting.

Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein received a vote of 143-20, with seven abstentions. The vote proceeded even though President Abdullahi Yusuf fired Mr. Hussein on Sunday, accusing him of paralyzing a government plagued by “corruption, inefficiency and treason.”

Mr. Hussein says the president lacks the authority to fire him without parliament’s approval.

RUSSIA

Skinheads jailed in racist killing spree

MOSCOW | A Moscow court jailed a group of skinheads on Monday in the deaths of 20 migrants in a racist killing spree, part of a wave of violence against immigrants.

Attacks on migrant workers have risen this year, and political analysts fear that the global economic crisis, which is hitting Russia hard, may aggravate the problem.

Led by a student of religious icon painting, the seven teenage skinheads killed the migrants and tried to kill 12 others between August 2006 and October 2007.

ECUADOR

Former president dies at 77

QUITO | Former President Leon Febres Cordero, the colorful, right-wing leader who dominated Ecuadorean politics for almost two decades and was dubbed the “owner” of the nation by his opponents, died Monday. He was 77.

Close friend and political confidant Alfonso Harb said Mr. Febres Cordero - who survived five heart bypass operations, two bouts with cancer and three bullet wounds - died of complications from pulmonary emphysema caused by a lifetime of chain-smoking.

Sporting a mane of white hair and a cigarette hanging from his lip, the leader known simply as “Leon” or “Lion,” was an old-fashioned, bare-knuckled Latin American strongman who towered over Ecuador‘s right for half a century.

Mr. Febres Cordero - who was president of Ecuador from 1984 to 1988 - was a bitter enemy of current leftist President Rafael Correa.

But Mr. Correa put aside their differences Monday and declared three days of national mourning for his old adversary.

After his term ended in 1988, Mr. Febres Cordero dominated Ecuador’s Congress and courts as head of the conservative Social Christian Party until his failing health forced his withdrawal from politics in 2002.

IRELAND

Robbers take minister hostage

DUBLIN | Ireland’s Minister for European Affairs Dick Roche was among several people taken hostage by armed robbers at a hotel near Dublin, but the incident ended with no injuries, police said Monday.

Mr. Roche, a high-profile junior minister, was among staff and guests caught up in the robbery at Druids Glen Marriott Hotel.

Three men wearing balaclavas and wielding a sawed-off shotgun took the hostages to the manager’s office, where they stole cash, then went to the strong room, where they locked up their captives and stole more money before fleeing in a car, police said.

MEXICO

U.S. anti-kidnap expert kidnapped

MONTERREY | Mexican gunmen kidnapped a U.S. security consultant who negotiated the release of dozens of kidnap victims in Latin America.

Gunmen abducted Felix Batista outside a restaurant last Wednesday in the relatively safe northern industrial city of Saltillo in Coahuila state, Mexican authorities and his employer, security consultancy ASI Global, said Monday.

Mr. Batista, a Miami-based Cuban American credited with negotiating the release of victims abducted by Colombian rebels, was snatched after he stepped outside the restaurant while answering a call on his cellular phone, Mexican media said.

Mr. Batista’s Houston-based employer denied Mexican media reports that he was a former FBI agent and said he was on a private trip in Coahuila state near Texas, giving seminars on security.

Hundreds of people are kidnapped in Mexico every year and the number of victims has increased sharply as drug gangs, under pressure from President Felipe Calderon’s army-backed crackdown, seek new revenues to fund their operations.

More than 5,300 people have been killed in drug violence across Mexico this year as cartels fight each other over smuggling routes to the United States and clash with security forces seeking to restore security.

On Sunday night, gunmen staged four attacks on police within a half-hour, killing four officers in the border city of Ciudad Juarez overrun by drug violence, an official said Monday.

Dozens of Ciudad Juarez police have been killed this year in attacks blamed on drug gangs trying to consolidate territory. Many officers have quit out of fear for their lives, often after their names have appeared on hit lists left in public.

Another such list naming 26 officers was found early Monday at a dog racing track above the bodies of four civilian men gunned down there, officials said. One of the four had been decapitated, and a Santa Claus hat had been placed on his head. A fifth man who survived was left bound and gagged next to the bodies.

CUBA

Russian warships to visit island

MOSCOW | Russian warships will visit Cuba for the first time since the Soviet era, the navy said Monday.

The destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and two support ships from a squadron that has been on a lengthy visit to Latin America will put in at Havana on Friday for a five-day stay, spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo said.

It will be the first visit by Russian warships to the Communist-led island just 90 miles from the United States since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

The Admiral Chabanenko, the nuclear-powered cruiser Peter the Great and support ships arrived in the Caribbean last month in a deployment also unprecedented since Soviet times. The voyage is widely seen as a show of force close to U.S. shores and a response to the U.S. use of warships to deliver humanitarian aid to Russia’s neighbor Georgia after their war in August.

The ships’ visit coincided with a Latin American tour by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who met with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

The Russian ships in Latin America now have held joint exercises with the navy of Venezuela, whose President Hugo Chavez is a fierce U.S. critic, and the Admiral Chabanenko was the first Russian warship to sail through the Panama Canal since World War II.

PERU

3 tons of cocaine seized with guano

LIMA | Drug agents in Peru seized 3 tons of cocaine mixed into a shipment of guano bound for Barcelona, Spain.

A four-month investigation led to the seizure at a warehouse in the capital, anti-drug police Col. Cesar Cortijo said Monday.

Col. Cortijo said the drugs belonged to a trafficking ring that smuggled cocaine out of the country mixed with other products. Four Peruvians and a Colombian were arrested.

Police delayed announcing the Dec. 4 raid because it was initially impossible to calculate how much cocaine was mixed with the guano, the nitrogen- and phosphate-rich droppings of birds and bats.

Peru is the world’s largest producer of coca and cocaine after Colombia, and it is also a major source of guano, harvested from islands off its southern coast. Most is used as fertilizer in Peru’s fields, but some is shipped overseas, where it is a favorite of organic gardeners.

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