- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2008


Quake kills 1; buildings collapse

JAKARTA | A powerful earthquake jolted eastern Indonesia on Monday, killing at least one person, crumpling homes and briefly triggering a regionwide tsunami warning, officials said as they surveyed the damage.

The magnitude-7.5 quake struck off the coast of Sulawesi island in the middle of the night, sending thousands fleeing homes, hotels and even hospitals.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake struck 54 miles from the nearest city, Gorontalo, on Sulawesi island. It was centered 13 miles beneath the sea and was followed by two strong aftershocks.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially warned that the temblor had the potential to generate a destructive tsunami along coasts within 600 miles. But even after local officials lifted the tsunami alert, frightened Sulawesi residents refused to go back indoors.

In December 2004, a massive earthquake off Indonesia’s Sumatra island triggered a tsunami that battered much of the Indian Ocean coastline and killed more than 230,000 people - 131,000 of them in Indonesia’s Aceh province alone. A tsunami off Java island last year killed nearly 5,000.


Survivors sought in subway collapse

BEIJING | Rescuers searched Monday for 17 workers missing after a subway tunnel that they were building in eastern China caved in, killing at least four people, the state news agency said.

A 250-foot-wide section of road over the construction site collapsed in the eastern city of Hangzhou on Saturday, trapping workers and creating a huge crater into which at least 11 vehicles plunged.

The official Xinhua News Agency said rescuers were pumping out water that had seeped into the tunnel from a nearby river and stood at 10 feet deep.

Four bodies had been recovered as of late Sunday. Those missing were thought to be construction workers, Xinhua said.


Authorities to help angry investors

BOGOTA | Colombia’s government readied emergency measures Sunday to appease irate investors who lost tens of millions of dollars in the collapse of pyramid schemes that caused riots, scores of arrests and two deaths.

President Alvaro Uribe vowed to help poor investors regain their savings but said Saturday that wealthier clients should have known better and will “have to take some blows to the chest.” He said the government could also boost prison time for people who collect deposits without authorization, a crime now punishable with six years in jail.

Thousands of Colombians, many of them poor people who do not have accounts at formal banks, had invested with unlicensed companies that offered monthly returns as high as 150 percent.


Olmert threatens Gaza retaliation

GAZA | An Israeli air strike killed four militants in the Gaza Strip on Sunday and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he had commissioned a plan for military action in the Hamas-run territory if rocket attacks on Israel persist.

“I ordered security chiefs to present their proposals to me as soon as possible so that an orderly plan of action could, if necessary, be brought to the decision-makers in the government for approval,” Mr. Olmert told his Cabinet, in broadcast remarks.

Mr. Olmert said Israel could not tolerate rocket salvos during a “so-called calm.”

He stopped short of declaring dead an Egypt-brokered cease-fire with Hamas that has been tested by a flare-up of violence over the past two weeks.

Hamas leaders accused Israel of violating a truce that had largely held since mid-June.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said: “We have the right to respond to Zionist attacks. The Israeli government wrecked the truce and failed to meet any of its understandings.”


Government trades charges with rebels

EL FASHER | Sudanese and rebel forces traded accusations Sunday that the other is initiating a new wave of fighting in the ravaged Darfur region just days after the government offered a cease-fire.

Several Darfur rebel factions described government attacks, including aerial bombardments and militia raids, while the government said rebels had just attacked a government convoy.

The deputy head of mission for theUnited Nations-African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, Henry Anyidoho, told the Associated Press his forces are investigating the claims, and he urged the armed forces to make good on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s cease-fire announcement last week - and for the rebels to accept with it.

The exchange of accusations after Wednesday’s cease-fire offer by the government highlights the volatility and complexity of the situation in Darfur, where many cease-fires have been announced only to quickly fail.


Juveniles freed from U.S. custody

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico | The U.S. has revised its count of juveniles ever held at Guantanamo Bay to 12, up from the eight it reported in May to the United Nations, a Pentagon spokesman said Sunday.

The government has provided a corrected report to the U.N. committee on child rights, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon said. He said the U.S. did not intentionally misrepresent the number of detainees taken to the isolated Navy base in southeast Cuba before turning 18.

A study released last week by the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas concluded the U.S. has held at least a dozen juveniles at Guantanamo, including a Saudi who committed suicide in 2006.

Rights groups say it is important for the U.S. military to know the real age of those it detains because juveniles are entitled to special protection under international laws recognized by the United States.


Jailed ex-president taken to hospital

TAIPEI | Former Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian was taken from his jail cell to a hospital Sunday after a five-day hunger strike, when a doctor found an irregular heartbeat, a prison official said.

A prison doctor recommended Mr. Chen’s hospitalization, said Lee Ta-chu, an official at Tucheng Jail where Mr. Chen had been held since Wednesday during an investigation of graft allegations.

Earlier Sunday, Mr. Chen rejected repeated pleas to end the hunger strike he launched to protest what he called his politically motivated arrest. He spent time reading legal documents about his case in solitary confinement, Mr. Lee said.

Mr. Chen, an ardent supporter of Taiwan’s formal independence from rival China, has denied any wrongdoing and said he is being persecuted by his successor, Ma Ying-jeou.


Livni expects global support

JERUSALEM | Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Sunday told her visiting British counterpart David Miliband that she expected the international community to support the Jewish state’s tough stand in Gaza.

“Israel can not just watch its citizens being attacked. … The international community can not turn a blind eye,” Mrs. Livni said during talks with Mr. Miliband.

The British foreign secretary arrived in the region on Sunday for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders amid renewed violence in and around the Gaza Strip that threatened to end a 5-month-old calm in the area.

Palestinian militants in the Hamas-controlled territory continued to fire rockets against southern Israel on Sunday, wounding one person after four militants were killed in an Israeli air strike.

Mr. Miliband, who will tour the rocket-battered Israeli town of Sderot together with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday, said he was “looking forward to showing solidarity in my visit tomorrow.”

He did not echo calls from the United Nations and the European Union for Israel to ease its crippling blockade on the Gaza Strip that has deprived the densely populated area of vital foodstuff and goods.

Mr. Miliband earlier met outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to discuss efforts to launch direct Israeli-Syrian peace talks, ahead of the foreign secretary’s visit to Damascus this week, a British embassy spokeswoman told Agence France-Presse.

Last month, Mr. Olmert asked the Turkish government to present the Syrians with a proposal to resume indirect talks, which were put on hold after the prime minister announced on July 30 that he would step down over a corruption scandal.


Peace talks hit impasse

NICOSIA | Initial hopes that one of the world’s most intractable disputes might finally be solved have dissipated as peace talks enter their third month.

The now-weekly discussions between Greek-Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat have yielded the sobering realization that a tough slog still lies ahead of any breakthrough, despite the exuberance that greeted the resumption of negotiations in September after a four-year stalemate.

The two are to meet again Monday.

“It’s a long-standing problem, it has many different facets and you wouldn’t expect it to be solved overnight,” said Alexander Downer, the former Australian foreign minister who is the U.N. special envoy to the talks.

Cyprus was ethnically split in 1974 when Turkey invaded in response to a coup by Athens-backed supporters of uniting the island with Greece. Since then, numerous attempts to reach a deal have failed.

Mr. Christofias’ February election, which ousted a hard-liner, boosted hopes for peace, and both leaders moved quickly to restart the peace process. In April, they reopened a busy shopping street in the heart of the divided capital, removing barricades that symbolized the estrangement of the two communities.

But the talks have not lived up to hopes of a swift agreement as both leaders confront the complexities of issues such as security guarantees and the thorny issue of property rights.


Socialists fail to elect leader

REIMS | France’s main opposition party failed to select a new leader and promote a platform at an annual convention Sunday, plunging the party into disarray as it seeks to challenge President Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 election.

The Socialists will now put the matter to a vote among party members Thursday, and again Friday if a runoff is necessary. It will be the first time a Socialist leader is chosen by the rank and file without the backing of the party leadership.

The candidates to replace outgoing party chief Francois Hollande are former presidential candidate Segolene Royal, former Labor Minister Martine Aubry and Benoit Hamon.

Ms. Royal was defeated by the conservative Mr. Sarkozy in the 2007 election, and Mr. Aubry gave France the 35-hour work week that Mr. Sarkozy is undoing. Mr. Hamon represents a far-left faction of the party.

Governing party officials mocked the Socialists for their failure to select a leader at the 75th annual convention held in Reims, the gateway to Champagne country. “Is there still a Socialist Party?” Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie asked ironically in an interview on Radio J.

Ms. Royal, 55, appealed in vain for unity behind her candidacy. She had won a pre-convention ballot with 29 percent of the vote and appealed to Mr. Hollande, her ex-companion and father of her four children, to back her candidacy.


Bad weather hurts wine price

BEAUNE | Battered by storm damage and the weak global economy, French Burgundy wine prices fell at an annual charity auction held Sunday.

The Beaune Hospices auction, which features the 200-year-old tradition of bidding for the final lot until two candles flicker out, traditionally sets the price for the latest vintage.

Edinburgh hotel and restaurant owner James Thomson, wearing a kilt, placed the successful bid of 50,000 euros (about $63,000) for the final exhibit, a 228-liter oak barrel of Pommard Premier Cru red wine.


EU peacekeepers come under fire

TBILISI | European Union cease-fire monitors in Georgia said Sunday that they had come under fire near the rebel region of Abkhazia while investigating the killing of a police officer.

The European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) said in a statement that “heavy shooting erupted and some bullets fell close to the mission personnel” while monitors were investigating the killing of a Georgian police officer Saturday near the border with Abkhazia.

“It was not clear whether they were aimed at [EU monitors] intentionally, but this action is unacceptable, the EUMM is an unarmed civilian mission,” the statement said.

No one was injured in the attack.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another Georgian separatist province, were the scene of a brief war between Russia and Georgia in August that was sparked by an attempt by Georgia to retake control of South Ossetia.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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