- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2008

GAZA STRIP

Israel blocks Libyan aid ship

GAZA CITY | An eclectic group, from Hamas officials to a flag-waving scout troop, showed up to greet a Libyan ship planning to flout an Israeli blockade and deliver 3,000 tons of aid to this impoverished seaside strip. But they met only disappointment.

The freighter was turned back Monday by the Israeli navy, ending the first high-profile attempt by an Arab country to break the blockade of Gaza.

The Al Marwa was approaching the Gaza coast when it was stopped by an Israeli navy vessel. The navy vessel ordered the ship by radio to turn back, and it complied, said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, adding that no force was used.

Israel views control of access to Gaza as a vital security interest, and officials are concerned that shipments could include weapons, not just food and medicine.

Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas, which is violently anti-Israel, seized power last year. The barrier was tightened in recent weeks when Gaza militants resumed firing rockets at Israel.

RUSSIA

Military plans missile upgrade

MOSCOW | Russia’s military is planning to upgrade its missiles to allow them to evade American weapons in space and penetrate any prospective missile shield, a Russian general said Monday.

In comments to the Interfax news agency, Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces chief, Col.-Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, was quoted as saying that Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missiles will be modernized to protect them from space-based components of the U.S. missile-defense system.

The upgrade will make the missiles’ warheads capable of flying “outside the range” of the space-based system, Gen. Solovtsov was quoted as saying. He also reportedly said the military will commission new RS-24 missiles equipped with state-of-the-art systems to help penetrate a missile shield.

IRAN

Air chief claims radar-evading plane

TEHRAN | Iran has designed a radar-evading aircraft, the head of its air force said Monday, the Islamic republic’s latest announcement of progress on military hardware amid persistent tension with the West over its nuclear plans.

Brig. Gen. Hassan Shahsafi was also quoted as saying the air force had test-fired a new, Iranian-made air-to-air heat-seeking missile with a range of 25 miles, saying it could be extended to 60 miles.

Iran often says it has made advances in its arms, but Western analysts say it is tough to assess the claims as few details are usually released.

PAKISTAN

NATO trucks hit; bomber kills 8

PESHAWAR | Militants in northwestern Pakistan attacked trucks ferrying supplies to NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan on Monday, killing two people and destroying a dozen vehicles, witnesses and police said.

Meanwhile, a suicide bomber killed eight people and wounded 40 others at a military checkpoint in the region’s Swat Valley, police said.

KUWAIT

Emir accepts Cabinet resignation

KUWAIT CITY | Kuwait’s ruler has accepted the resignation of the government in a bid to end a crisis with parliament, but reappointed his nephew as prime minister, the speaker of the assembly said Monday.

Last week, the Cabinet quit over a request by three Sunni Islamist lawmakers to question the prime minister over a controversial visit by an Iranian Shi’ite cleric, but the emir, who has the last say in politics, did not immediately accept it.

The new Cabinet will be the fourth in the Gulf Arab state since March 2007 after previous lineups resigned, or the ruler, Sheik Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, reshuffled Cabinets to resolve similar standoffs. He dissolved parliament in March to end a protracted row with lawmakers.

ROMANIA

Election close; coalition likely

BUCHAREST | A leftist party and a centrist group were running neck-and-neck Monday after most votes had been counted from a parliamentary election in Romania, making lengthy coalition talks and a fragile government likely.

The leftist Social Democrats, heirs to communist leaders overthrown in 1989, and centrist Democrat-Liberal Party had both won about 34 percent of votes cast Sunday for the Senate, results from nearly 100 percent of polling stations showed.

The leftists had 33 percent of votes for the lower house, marginally higher than the centrists’ 32.3 percent.

The ruling Liberal Party trailed with 19 percent after the unusually close election, which underscored divisions in the poor European Union member state of 22 million people.

BRAZIL

Target pledged to protect Amazon

BRASILIA | Brazil announced Monday a plan to cut destruction of its Amazon rain forest by more than half over the next 10 years, the first time it has set a deforestation target as it seeks to address climate change.

A government official said Brazil will aim to reduce deforestation of the world’s largest forest by 70 percent by 2018.

Last week, the government said Amazon deforestation increased 3.8 percent from a year earlier to nearly 4,633 square miles - roughly equal to Connecticut - as high commodity prices encouraged farmers and ranchers to slash more trees.

The announcement of the new plan coincided with the opening of a U.N. climate conference in Poznan, Poland.

Burning of the Amazon makes Brazil one of the world’s top emitters of carbon dioxide, which is considered to be a greenhouse gas. Every time a tree dies, its carbon is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

Brazil previously refused to adopt targets until rich countries, which cause most carbon emissions, offered more help to protect tropical forests in developing countries.

Norway gave Brazil an unprecedented vote of confidence this year by pledging $1 billion to the new fund over seven years.

GUATEMALA

Shootout kills 17 at horse race

GUATEMALA CITY | A shootout between inebriated rival drug traffickers who disagreed over the winner of a horse race in Guatemala left at least 17 dead, police said Monday.

The shooting took place Sunday in the northwestern Guatemalan town of Santa Ana Huista, about 12 miles from the Mexican border, and some 100 soldiers were deployed to the area to restore calm, a police spokesman said.

Eleven of the dead had been identified and included both Guatemalans and Mexicans, some with previous convictions for drug trafficking. One suspected gunman, of Mexican nationality, was arrested, an army spokesman said.

Guatemala, a key transit point for South American cocaine being smuggled into Mexico and the United States, has been hit by growing violence between drug gangs fighting over turf.

MEXICO

Anti-crime drive lifts Calderon ratings

MEXICO CITY | A jump in support for Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s crackdown on crime and drug cartels helped lift his approval rating in a newspaper poll published Monday, despite worries about the economy.

A poll in the Reforma daily gave Mr. Calderon an overall approval rating of 64 percent, up two percentage points from the newspaper’s September survey, as most respondents backed his handling of drug gang violence and the economy.

Mr. Calderon’s army-led crackdown on drug cartels has become the main thrust of his presidency, but a spurt in violence between rival gangs and security forces has killed more than 4,300 people this year and alarmed the general public.

At least 40 percent of those surveyed in the Reforma poll said Mr. Calderon was doing a good job fighting crime and drug gangs, up from about one-third in the September survey.

The poll found 85 percent of Mexicans are worried about the global financial crisis and 44 percent think Mexico’s economy has worsened in the past 12 months, but more than half think Mr. Calderon is taking the right measures to deal with it.

HAITI

Gay marchers debut at AIDS rally

ST. MARC | A dozen men in T-shirts declaring “I am gay” and “I am living with HIV/AIDS” marched with hundreds of other demonstrators through a Haitian city Sunday in what organizers called the Caribbean nation’s first openly gay march.

The march, held a day ahead of World AIDS Day in the western city of St. Marc, called for better prevention and treatment in a country long plagued by the virus.

Organizers said they hoped the march will break barriers to reach more HIV-positive people and gay men with programs that have helped decrease the country’s infection rate by two-thirds in the past decade.

The nation of 9 million remains the most affected by HIV in the Caribbean.

From staff and wire reports

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