- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2008

LIBYA

Bush calls Gadhafi on terror payment

President Bush called Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi to voice his satisfaction with a $1.5 billion payment that Tripoli made to settle a long-standing dispute over terrorist attacks, including the bombing a Pan Am jet over Scotland, the White House said Monday.

In their conversation, Mr. Bush and Col. Gadhafi “discussed that this agreement should help to bring a painful chapter in the history between our two countries closer to closure,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement.

Libya’s Oct. 31 payment cleared the last hurdle in restoration of full normalization of diplomatic relations between Washington and Tripoli.

The money will go into a $1.8 billion fund that will pay $1.5 billion in claims for the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1986 bombing of a German disco. Another $300 million will go to Libyan victims of U.S. air strikes ordered in retaliation for the disco bombing.

The developments capped a remarkable turnaround in U.S.-Libya relations that hit a low in the 1980s but began to improve after Col. Gadhafi - whom former President Ronald Reagan once famously called the “mad dog of the Middle East” - renounced weapons of mass destruction and terrorism in 2003.

FRANCE

Taliban threatens attacks in Paris

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates | The Taliban threatened to launch attacks in Paris unless France withdraws from Afghanistan, in a video aired by Al Arabiya television on Monday.

The video also claimed an ambush that killed 10 French troops in August was carried out by the Taliban. It was not clear when the recording was made.

“We have killed 10 French soldiers today as a message to the French so that they rectify their mistakes and withdraw from Afghanistan, and if they don’t they will hear our response in Paris,” said Mullah Farouq, identified as the commander of the unit that raided the French troops, on the video. His remarks were dubbed into Arabic by the station.

The video included footage of what appeared to be a French armored unit being stalked by Taliban fighters. Some insurgents were later shown wearing uniforms of the French soldiers they had killed.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Afghanistan to honor those killed and said French troops must stay in Afghanistan to fight terrorism.

He sent an extra 700 troops to Afghanistan this year, responding to U.S. pleas for its NATO allies to do more to help check the resurgent Taliban. That brought the number of French troops in Afghanistan to about 2,600.

PAKISTAN

U.S. supply trucks get armed escorts

KHYBER PASS | Pakistan sent troops armed with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns to escort trucks Monday along a major supply route for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, part of new security measures to combat militant attacks.

The paramilitary guards traveled in pickup trucks alongside convoys as they snaked their way up Pakistan’s Khyber Pass, an increasingly perilous 30-mile stretch.

Pakistan stopped container trucks and oil tankers from using the pass last week after dozens of suspected Taliban militants hijacked trucks carrying Humvees bound for the U.S.-led coalition.

SPAIN

Authorities arrest Basque rebel leader

MADRID | French and Spanish police arrested the reputed leader of ETA’s commando units on Monday - dealing a massive blow to the armed Basque separatist group, officials said.

Mikel de Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina, 35, is suspected of taking part in several killings, including the December shooting deaths of two Spanish guardsmen in France.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Mr. Aspiazu Rubina - known by the alias “Txeroki” - has been the operational chief of ETA’s hit squads and bombing units for several years.

The armed group has been fighting since the late 1960s to create an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwest France.

The violence has claimed more than 800 lives.

INDIA

Kashmiris vote in state election

BANDIPORA | With armed troops patrolling shuttered streets and separatist leaders locked up, Indian Kashmiris voted in a state election Monday, casting their ballots for better roads and civic amenities.

The turnout in three Kashmir constituencies was a little more than 52 percent, slightly less than in 2002 elections, with many Muslim Kashmiris voting for better local government even if they did not accept Indian rule in their troubled state.

Bandipora lies 35 miles north of Srinagar, the summer capital of Muslim-majority Kashmir and heart of the separatist rebellion. Srinagar will vote later in the seven-stage election.

RUSSIA

Reporter death trial opened to press

MOSCOW | A Russian court decided Monday not to ban reporters from the trial of three men accused in the killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya - paving the way for an open trial where details of the much-criticized investigation will be made public.

Ms. Politkovskaya, who was slain in her Moscow apartment building in 2006, reported on human rights abuses in Chechnya, embarrassing the Kremlin. Her killing sparked international outrage, and Western governments demanded an independent investigation.

The man accused of shooting Ms. Politkovskaya, Rustam Makhmudov, has fled the country, prosecutors say.

The suspects being tried on murder charges are Sergei Khadzhikurbanov - a former Moscow police officer - and Mr. Makhmudov’s brothers Ibragim and Dzhabrail.

AFGHANISTAN

Taliban refuse peace talks offer

KANDAHAR | Taliban militants rejected an offer of peace talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, saying Monday there would be no negotiations until foreign troops leave Afghanistan.

Mr. Karzai offered Sunday to provide security for reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar if he enters negotiations and said the U.S. and other Western nations could leave Afghanistan or oust him if they disagree.

But Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said there could be no talks while foreign troops are in the country.

The one-eyed Mullah Omar ruled Afghanistan until the Taliban was ousted by U.S. forces following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

COLOMBIA

Pyramid schemes lead to emergency

BOGOTA | Colombia declared a state of emergency Monday to crack down on illegal investment schemes that lured millions of people with promises of improbably high payouts, only to collapse amid rioting.

Government officials vowed to repay the poorest investors and sent police to shut down other purported pyramid scheme operations Monday, even though some loyal clients marched through the streets to defend companies that had offered interest rates as high as 150 percent a month.

Interior Minister Fabio Valencia announced the emergency measures, which include boosting prison terms for those who illegally collected money to 20 years from six, and giving mayors and governors police powers to shut down such businesses.

The emergency authority lasts 30 days, and could be extended for 30 more.

Millions of Colombians had invested cash with unlicensed companies, and panic set in last week when one company, Proyecciones DRFE, collapsed amid news that its owner had left the country - leaving about $270 million of investments in limbo.

Furious clients stormed and looted local branches in rioting that left 13 towns under police curfew and two men dead last week. Officials seized $42 million from 68 of the company’s offices and arrested 52 employees, police said.

Pyramid schemes can offer dramatically high returns by using later investors’ cash to pay off those who invest first. But they collapse when the flow of incoming money isn’t enough to pay the growing pool of investors.

On Monday, police occupied 59 offices of the largest such investment company, DMG, in 20 of Colombia’s 32 states, national police Gen. Orlando Paez said. Federal financial regulator Hernando Ruiz said his office had found irregularities in DMG’s balance sheets. But DMG investors took to the streets in downtown Bogota on Monday afternoon to defend the company and its owner David Murcia Guzman.

CANADA

7 killed in plane crash

VANCOUVER | A small plane crashed on a remote island off British Columbia’s southern coast Sunday, killing seven of the eight people on board. One survivor walked away, rescue officials said.

The Grumman Goose amphibious airplane operated by Pacific Coastal Airlines went down on Thormanby Island, off the coast north of Vancouver.

“The great news is, some guy … walked out and is alive and the Canadian Coast Guard found him on the beach” of Thormanby Island, said Lt. Margeurite Dodds-Lepinski of the Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Victoria.

Pacific Coastal Airlines Vice President Spencer Smith said the survivor was a passenger. He said the pilot, who was among the dead, was quite experienced.

COSTA RICA

China’s Hu arrives for free trade talks

SAN JOSE | China and Costa Rica were to launch free trade talks here Monday in a historic visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao, at the start of a Latin America tour that includes Cuba and Peru.

China has increased diplomacy and investment in the region in recent years, with an eye on natural resources and developing markets for manufactured goods and even weapons.

The Costa Rican capital, normally heaving with traffic, was partially closed for the highest-level visit by a Chinese official to the country, just over a year after it gave up six decades of ties with Taiwan.

Mr. Hu, who came with scores of businessmen and Communist Party officials, met early Monday with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. They were later due to announce the start of talks for a joint free trade deal.

They were also due to sign 11 cooperation deals, from building a joint oil refinery to setting up a Chinese language institute.

Costa Rica, a major exporter of computer components, has dismissed fears of an invasion of Chinese products into the country of some 4 million under the free trade deal, which could be signed in 2010, diplomats said.

Costa Rica would be the third Latin American country to negotiate a free trade deal with China, after Chile and Peru. Peru has not yet concluded its accord.

BRAZIL

Indonesian president to discuss alliance

SAO PAULO | Brazil and Indonesia are to sign a strategic partnership at the start of a three-day visit by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Tuesday, Brazil’s foreign ministry said.

The accord, to be inked in Brasilia, will open the way to joint actions in areas such as biogenetics, biofuels, the fight against hunger, and science and technology, the ministry said in a statement.

Mr. Yudhoyono was to be greeted by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Tuesday ahead of the signing ceremony.

On Wednesday, he was to travel to Sao Paulo to see a factory run by Embraer, Brazil’s plane maker, and a biofuel plant.

On Thursday, he was to be in Rio de Janeiro for a meeting with business leaders.

VENEZUELA

Chavez spies on opposition

CARACAS | Government wire-tapping of opposition leaders may conjure up images of Soviet-bloc police states, but in the Venezuela of President Hugo Chavez it’s the stuff of state TV commercials.

The Chavez government has turned a barrage of tapped conversations into tongue-in-cheek advertisements slamming the leftist leader’s rivals before tough regional elections Sunday in which a handful of his allies are likely to lose governorships.

One set of state TV spots features recordings of opposition leader Manuel Rosales discussing campaign finance or the purchase of expensive jewelry along with slapstick sound effects and pictures of rings and a Cartier watch.

Another state TV ad replays a conversation of Mr. Rosales negotiating the purchase of cattle to a backdrop of mooing sounds and cartoon pictures of coins.

“They use shameful systems to get information, but that’s their problem - I’m relaxed,” Mr. Rosales said.

Mr. Chavez, who calls ex-Cuban leader Fidel Castro his mentor and has supporters controlling Venezuela’s courts, Congress and the ubiquitous state oil company, has said he is determined to have “mafia boss” Mr. Rosales imprisoned.

MEXICO

Blasts outside newspaper offices

CULIACAN | A Mexican newspaper’s offices have been damaged by two grenades in the violence-plagued city of Culiacan in northwestern Mexico.

The director of El Debate de Culiacan says his newspaper won’t be deterred from coverage of drug cartels because of the pre-dawn attack Monday. Jose Isabel Ramos says no one was injured in the explosion.

Culiacan is the capital of Sinaloa, a state that has seen the rise of several major drug trafficking groups.

Mexico has become one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, and many newspapers have downplayed coverage of drug gangs.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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