- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 8, 2008

AFGHANISTAN

U.S. says Taliban hid in wedding party

KABUL | Taliban fighters held a wedding party captive and fired on U.S. forces in an attack designed to draw U.S. air strikes on civilians and stoke anti-American sentiment, a U.S. official said Friday, citing “firsthand” reports.

The official declined to give further details of the reported events leading to the U.S. bombing Monday in the southern Afghan village of Wech Baghtu, where dozens of civilians and insurgents were killed.

Afghan officials said a joint investigation found that 37 civilians and 26 insurgents were killed in Wech Baghtu, a village in Kandahar province, a Taliban stronghold. The U.S. official said the inquiry found that 20 civilians died.

MEXICO

Former top police official arrested

MEXICO CITY | Mexico detained a former senior police official Friday as it investigates purported high-level corruption within security forces battling powerful drug cartels.

Rodolfo de la Guardia Garcia, the No. 2 official in the Federal Agency of Investigation from 2003-2005, has been placed under house arrest for 40 days as investigators look into the possibility he leaked information to the Sinaloa cartel in return for monthly payments in dollars.

The announcement by the federal Attorney General’s office was part of the Mexican government’s “Operation Clean House,” which aims to weed out corruption that came to light after the January arrest of Alfredo Beltran Leyva, a reputed Sinaloa cartel lieutenant.

Former federal police commissioner Gerardo Garay and three other officials of the Public Safety Department were arrested earlier, though officials have not revealed the allegations against them.

SYRIA

Assad congratulates Obama, urges talks

DAMASCUS | Syrian President Bashar Assad congratulated U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on Friday and urged him to pursue dialogue in the Middle East, two weeks after U.S. aircraft raided Syria.

The state news agency said Mr. Assad sent a congratulatory telegram to Mr. Obama “expressing hope that dialogue would prevail to overcome the difficulties that have hindered real progress toward peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East.”

Relations between Washington and Damascus plummeted after U.S. helicopters raided a target in eastern Syria near the border with Iraq on Oct. 26. The raid killed Abu Ghadiya, a top smuggler of foreign fighters to al Qaeda in Iraq, a U.S. official said.

The Damascus government said the attack killed eight Syrian civilians and responded by shutting down an American school and a cultural center in Damascus.

Relations between Washington and Damascus already were strained by U.S. accusations that Syria was turning a blind eye to Islamist fighters infiltrating into Iraq.

TURKEY

Ruling party deputy leader quits

ANKARA | A powerful deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) resigned Friday, after months of pressure from the opposition accusing him of corruption and undermining the secular state.

Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat is the most senior member to leave the leadership of the party since the Islamist-rooted AKP won re-election in 2007.

A party member said Mr. Firat was leaving due to health problems, but his replacement could signal an expected move by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to move the AKP into the political center after the country’s Constitutional Court in July ruled against closing the party for Islamist activities but fined it instead.

NETHERLANDS

Huge ship named for Nazi fuels outcry

AMSTERDAM | It ought to be a proud milestone in the Dutch seafaring heritage - the construction of a new ship its owner claims will be the world’s largest. But there’s one problem: its name.

Edwin Heerema, founder of the company that has commissioned the $1.7 billion vessel, wants to name it the Pieter Schelte after his late father, Pieter Schelte Heerema, who was renowned as a maritime engineer but was condemned for his service in the murderous Nazi Waffen SS.

The choice of name has provoked outcry and has revived painful questions about Dutch collaboration with the country’s World War II occupiers.

JAPAN

Diamond phones sell out in 3 days

TOKYO | Recession may be looming large in Japan, but there are still some people willing to splash out on diamond-encrusted mobile telephones.

Japan’s Softbank Mobile said Friday that its eight limited-edition phones, each studded with 537 diamonds from Tiffany and Co., sold out in just three days.

“The phone, designed by the luxury New York jeweler, went on sale for about 13 million yen each ($134,000) on Nov. 1. All eight were sold by Nov. 3,” a Softbank spokesman said.

Japan is the world’s largest market for luxury goods. Earlier this year Softbank rival NTT DoCoMo Inc. launched a phone designed by Italian brand Prada. Gucci also started a Web site for items accessible only by Japanese mobile phones.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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