- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2008

PAKISTAN

Suicide bomber strikes tribal region

KHAR | A suicide bomber attacked a gathering of anti-militant Pakistani tribesmen Thursday, killing 17 in a northwestern region where the military has clashed with insurgents for months, officials said.

A purported spokesman for a little-known Taliban-linked group claimed responsibility.

The attack in the Batmalai area of the Bajur tribal region was the latest to target tribal militias that have arisen - with government backing - to take on al Qaeda and Taliban fighters nested along the Afghan border.

Pakistan launched an offensive in Bajur three months ago to dismantle what it said was a virtual Taliban ministate from where militants were flowing into Afghanistan.

CONGO

Fighting threatens fragile cease-fire

KIWANJA | As fighting spread in eastern Congo and a fragile cease-fire appeared close to unraveling, more than a dozen bodies lay scattered Thursday inside the mud-walled homes of this rebel-occupied town.

Villagers who began trickling back to Kiwanja after two days of fighting said rebels had killed those suspected of supporting a local pro-government militia known as the Mai Mai. Rebels said the dead, mostly men in civilian clothes, were militia fighters who had been armed.

Dozens of militia groups operate in the remote terraced valleys and hills of eastern Congo, a lawless region that the government and a 17,000-strong peacekeeping mission have struggled to bring under control for years.

Among the armed groups are the Mai Mai and ethnic Hutu insurgents from Rwanda who fled to Congo after helping carry out Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda said he has expanded his mission from protecting the region’s minority Tutsis from Hutu militias to “liberating” Congo.

ROMANIA

Troops in Iraq prepare to leave

BUCHAREST | Romania’s defense minister says the country’s 501 peacekeepers in Iraq will all leave by the end of the year.

Teodor Melescanu said some Romanian military personnel will work in 2009 as counselors to local authorities and supporters of the civilian population. Speaking Thursday in the western city of Arad, Mr. Melescanu said he was awaiting clarification of that new role from the Iraqi government.

The moves must be formally approved by Romania’s Supreme Defense Council.

Neighboring Bulgaria said Thursday that it will withdraw its 155 troops at the end of the year.

RUSSIA

11 killed in bomb blast

VLADIKAVKAZ | An explosion killed 11 people outside a market on Thursday, prosecutors said, in one of the worst attacks in months to hit Russia’s turbulent North Caucasus region.

The bomb detonated as a minibus taxi pulled up outside the main market in the southern Russian city of Vladikavkaz, killing passengers and ripping the doors off one side of the vehicle. Prosecutors said they suspected a terrorist attack.

The attack was fresh evidence that despite largely quelling a separatist rebellion in nearby Chechnya, Russia is still struggling to contain violence in its southern regions that has fueled instability and killed thousands of people.

EGYPT

Protesters torch opposition office

CAIRO | Eyewitnesses said hundreds of protesters stormed the headquarters of Egypt’s most prominent opposition politician and set it on fire, injuring seven people.

Hussein Amin said the protesters used aerosol cans Thursday to spray flames at the headquarters of the al-Ghad party founded by Ayman Nour, who has been imprisoned since 2005 after running against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Pro-government politician Moussa Moustafa Moussa recently won a court order to take over the al-Ghad headquarters.

Mr. Nour’s wife, Gamila Ismail, who was inside the headquarters when it was attacked, accused Mr. Moussa’s supporters. Mr. Moussa could not be contacted for comment.

Police said the seven injured suffered from burns and smoke inhalation.

TAIWAN

President meets Chinese official

TAIPEI | Taiwan’s president and the most senior Communist Chinese official to ever visit the island held a brief but historic meeting Thursday, capping what the Taiwanese leader described as a successful trip even as anti-China demonstrators battled police outside.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and the Chinese envoy, Chen Yunlin, held the five-minute meeting two days after the rivals signed a landmark agreement that many think will ease tensions between Taiwan and China.

Mr. Chen did not address Mr. Ma by the title “president,” sticking to Beijing’s policy of avoiding any terms or symbols that suggest Taiwan is an independent country.

This angered many of the hundreds of protesters who gathered in the streets around the government guesthouse where the meeting was held.

p>CHINA

Tainted milk blamed on foreign products

BEIJING | China, embroiled in a tainted milk scandal that has made thousands of infants sick, has published a list of foreign companies that failed to meet quality standards for imported products ranging from milk powder to rosewater.

At least four children died and tens of thousands were made ill by drinking milk powder adulterated with melamine, prompting many worried parents to switch to foreign-made formula.

Melamine, a compound used in making plastic chairs among other uses, is added to food to cheat nutrition tests and has since been found in other dairy products, eggs and animal feed, prompting recalls of Chinese-made products around the world.

China’s quality watchdog intercepted 191 batches of problem foreign goods in July, including milk powder and other dairy products made by Australian and South Korean companies, the Beijing News said, citing the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

TIBET

Beijing warns against independence

BEIJING | China warned Tibetans on Thursday that the door to “Tibet independence” was firmly shut and would remain so, after a meeting with envoys from the Dalai Lama and ahead of a watershed gathering of leading Tibetan exiles.

The Tibetan delegation had visited for fence-mending talks days after the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, expressed dismay at China’s attitude. The comments to state news agency Xinhua by a top Chinese official were Beijing’s first public response to the discussions.

Du Qinglin, head of the United Front Work Department, which deals with ethnic minorities and religions, said China is sincere and generous but would not tolerate efforts to split the country under the guise of seeking “true ethnic autonomy.”

The Dalai Lama’s chief envoy, Kasur Lodi Gyari, also issued a statement from New Delhi after returning from Beijing.

“We presented a memorandum to the Chinese leadership on genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people,” he said of the talks.

But he said a meeting called by the Dalai Lama for later this month to discuss the future of his causes prevented him from saying more about the talks in Beijing.

BANGLADESH

Former leader Hasina returns

DHAKA | Former Prime Minister Sheik Hasina returned to Bangladesh on Thursday after receiving medical treatment in the United States, vowing to lead her party in parliamentary elections next month.

Authorities deployed elite forces, troops and hundreds of armed police at the airport for the arrival of Sheik Hasina, who has been granted bail in all five corruption cases the interim government had filed against her.

She was detained last year after the army-backed government took over, but released on medical parole in June.

She urged Bangladeshis to resist attempts to thwart the election, in an apparent reference to rival Begum Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which has yet to confirm its participation in the vote.

Sheik Hasina also said she would forge an alliance with other parties to win the election. The alliance could include former military ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad’s Jatiya Party, her colleagues said.

BURMA

Post-cyclone ban on rice export lifted

RANGOON | Authorities in Burma have lifted a ban on rice exports imposed after Cyclone Nargis devastated swathes of crucial agricultural land in the southwest delta, an official said Thursday.

Burma banned rice exports after the May 2-3 cyclone, which left about 138,000 dead or missing and wiped out 85 percent of rice seed stocks in the delta. More than 2.4 million people were affected by the storm.

Burma was not a major exporter of the staple grain, but the cyclone had a massive impact on fertile land crucial for domestic food stocks. In August, the United Nations said $51 million would be needed to rehabilitate rice paddies in the Irrawaddy Delta.

When rice prices soared earlier this year amid global supply concerns, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh clinched deals with the military government to buy Burma’s small surplus, but then the cyclone hit and exports were suspended.

Burma, officially known as Myanmar, has been ruled by the military since 1962 and is under U.S. and European sanctions because of human rights abuses and the long-running detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

PHILIPPINES

Ferry capsizes in storm; 8 killed

MANILA | A small ferry capsized during a storm in the central Philippines on Thursday, and at least eight passengers drowned in waters just 200 yards offshore, officials said.

It was the second deadly ferry accident this week in the Philippines, where accidents at sea are common because of tropical storms, badly maintained boats and weak enforcement of safety regulations.

The boat, a motorized outrigger, was nearing its destination at Bagongon islet when it sank, said Raul Banas, former mayor of Concepcion, the town in Iloilo province where the boat started its 7 1/2-mile journey.

The storm earlier forced the suspension of a search for eight people still missing from a ferry accident two days earlier off Masbate island northeast of Iloilo in which 42 drowned. There were 100 survivors.

INDIA

Tribals see hope in Obama victory

RANCHI | Hundreds of tribal people beat drums, fired crackers and distributed sweets in eastern India Thursday to celebrate Barack Obama’s election as the first black U.S. president.

Tribals are among the poorest and most backward sections of Indian society and say they suffer racial discrimination in a country enjoying an economic boom in some areas.

When news of Mr. Obama’s triumph reached the state capital of Jharkhand, hundreds in traditional tribal dress thronged to a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, dancing and shouting slogans of optimism.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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