- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2008


Petraeus arrives to talk with leaders

ISLAMABAD | Gen. David H. Petraeus, newly tasked with responsibility for the two U.S. wars, arrived in Pakistan on Sunday as part of his first international trip as head of the U.S. Central Command.

Gen. Petraeus’ trip signals Pakistan’s crucial role in the fight against terrorism, particularly the escalating war in neighboring Afghanistan.

But it also comes amid tensions over suspected American missile strikes in Pakistan, a U.S. ally threatened with financial ruin, torn by an Islamic insurgency and armed with nuclear weapons.

Acting embassy spokesman Wes Robertson declined to provide specifics of the schedule for the two Americans but said they would meet with government and military officials.

In Pakistan’s northwestern border region, a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle at a checkpoint on Sunday, killing eight troops just hours before Gen. Petraeus’ arrival.


Minister’s brother kidnapped in Pakistan

KABUL | Gunmen in Pakistan kidnapped the brother of Afghanistan’s finance minister while he was walking to his mother’s home after praying at a mosque, Afghan officials said Sunday.

Zia ul-Haq Ahadi was abducted in the city of Peshawar on Friday, said Haziz Shams, an Afghan Finance Ministry spokesman. The kidnapped man’s brother is Finance Minister Anwar ul-Haq Ahadim.

Mr. Shams said it wasn’t known who kidnapped Mr. Ahadi. No demands had been made and the kidnappers had not contacted officials or the Ahadi family, he said.

Mr. Ahadi is a businessman who lives in Afghanistan and was in Peshawar to visit his mother, who is ill, said Abdul Razaq, an assistant to the finance minister.

A police chief in Peshawar, Kashif Alam, said officials were investigating. “We have no clues so far,” he said.


Suspected leader of cartel arrested

MEXICO CITY | Police in Mexico have arrested a man they describe as the leader of the violent Gulf drug cartel in the border city of Reynosa, across from McAllen, Texas.

Federal police said in a statement Saturday that Antonio Galarza was arrested in the northern city of Monterrey on suspicion of weapons violations and money laundering.

Reynosa is a major shipping point for cocaine heading to the U.S. market, and is dominated by the violent hit squad known the Zetas.

Also Saturday, drug cartel messages were strung on banners along roadsides in the Pacific coast resorts of Acapulco and Zihuatanejo. The messages appeared to have been written by the Zetas and accused federal officials of protecting a rival cartel.


Flood continues to cover capital

HANOI | Much of Vietnam’s capital remained under water Sunday as the death toll from the city’s worst flooding in two decades climbed to 18, disaster officials and state media reported.

Floods caused by heavy rain have killed at least 50 people across northern and central Vietnam in the past week and sent food prices skyrocketing in Hanoi as much of the capital’s transportation system ground to a standstill.

Rain halted Sunday morning but resumed in the afternoon in Hanoi, where many streets remained submerged under up to 3 feet of water. More rain was expected in the city in the next few days, according to the national forecast center.

Officials warned that the flooding could worsen.


Dalai Lama doubts progress from China

TOKYO | The Dalai Lama said Sunday that the situation in his native Tibet is deteriorating and he has little faith that ongoing negotiations with the Chinese government will lead to greater autonomy for the region.

The exiled spiritual leader has followed a “middle way” approach with Beijing in which he seeks some form of autonomy that would allow Tibetans to freely practice their culture, language and religion.

But he has grown increasingly frustrated and vocal about the lack of progress, despite the departure of two of his envoys for new talks with China last week.

Tensions increased this year when demonstrations in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, turned violent and 22 people were killed, according to Beijing.

China responded with a massive crackdown in Tibet and the surrounding region in which exile groups say at least 140 people were killed and more than 1,000 were detained.


Sunni leader killed after backing U.S.

BAQOUBA | An Iraqi Sunni tribal chief who led a U.S.-financed militia battling al Qaeda militants was killed by a roadside bomb on Sunday along with his wife and their four children, police said.

The blast that killed Sheik Abbas al-Tami and his family near Buhriz, in the southern part of the city of Baqouba, the capital of the volatile province of Diyala, was the latest in a series of deadly attacks across Iraq.

Sheik al-Tami was the head of the Majmaa tribe and led a Sahwa, or Awakening group, that is paid by American forces to battle al Qaeda jihadists.

He was driving the family car when the attack took place, police said. Sahwa members are mostly former insurgents who fought U.S. and Iraqi forces after dictator Saddam Hussein’s fall in 2003, but helped to curb violence after they sided with the Americans and government in late 2006.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Staff and wire reports

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