- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2008

RUSSIA

Medvedev hosts Azeri-Armenian talks

MEIENDORF CASTLE | President Dmitry Medvedev sought to underline Russia’s influence in the Caucasus on Sunday by bringing together the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia for talks on the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s mostly ethnic Armenian population broke away from Azerbaijan in a war in the early 1990s as the Soviet Union collapsed. It now runs its own affairs, with support from Armenia.

Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, hastily shook hands before Mr. Medvedev opened talks at the Meiendorf Castle official residence outside Moscow.

After the talks, all three presidents signed a declaration pledging to continue working on a political resolution to the conflict.

Fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the area ended in 1994 when a cease-fire was signed. The two sides are still technically at war because no peace treaty has been signed.

SWEDEN

Syrian singer held on drug charges

STOCKHOLM | Syrian-Lebanese crooner George Wassouf was arrested in Sweden at the weekend on drug charges just hours before he was due to perform a concert, police told Agence France-Presse on Sunday.

Mr. Wassouf “has been held in police custody since [Saturday] on drug charges,” a police officer in the western Stockholm district, Martin Holm, told Agence France-Presse.

He was arrested after a police raid at a hotel in the Swedish capital, Mr. Holm said.

According to the online version of daily Aftonbladet, Wassouf, 46, was in possession of 30 grams of cocaine when he was arrested.

Mr. Holm would not comment on the report. No formal charges have been pressed against Wassouf yet, and a prosecutor was to ask a Stockholm court to remand him in custody on Monday pending an investigation, Mr. Holm said.

SPAIN

Queen celebrates 70th birthday

MADRID | Spain’s Queen Sofia celebrated her 70th birthday Sunday with a private family gathering as a controversy continued to swirl in the press over a new biography that quotes her as criticizing gay marriage.

Top-selling daily newspaper El Pais said the Greek-born monarch, a cousin of Britain’s Prince Philip, was “very upset” over the flap over her statements and “the birthday dinner which her family planned for today will be really sad.”

In excerpts of the new biography, “The Queen Up Close,” published Thursday in the left-leaning newspaper, Queen Sofia was quoted as opposing the word marriage to describe same-sex unions and criticizing gay pride marches.

The Royal Palace did not deny that the encounters took place but issued a statement deploring “the inexactitude” of the remarks attributed to the queen, which it said were made in private.

A Barcelona-based gay rights group demanded Sunday that the book be removed from bookshelves. In 2005, Spain became only the third member of the European Union, after Belgium and the Netherlands, to allow same-sex marriages giving couples the same rights as married heterosexuals.

VATICAN

Pope to host talks with Muslims

VATICAN CITY | Two years after Pope Benedict XVI sparked controversy during a speech on Islam in Bavaria, the Vatican prepares to host the first Catholic-Muslim forum to improve dialogue between the two religions.

About 50 Catholic and Muslim figures will participate in a private three-day seminar entitled “Love of God, Love of Neighbor,” that includes women from both faiths according to the Catholic News Service (CNS).

The forum’s schedule has not been made public, but the participants will examine the positions of the Roman Catholic Church and Islam on spiritual love and charity and issues of “human dignity” and “mutual respect,” CNS reported.

Benedict is expected to give a speech before the seminar ends Thursday, during which he may attempt to draw a line under controversial remarks he made in 2006.

The pope caused a stir when he quoted a Byzantine emperor who equated Islam with violence in a speech at Regensburg University. Benedict later apologized by claiming that he had been misunderstood.

From wire dispatches and staff reports


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