Government seeks missile-strike halt
ISLAMABAD | Pakistan‘s government summoned the U.S. ambassador on Wednesday to urge an immediate halt to missile strikes on suspected militant hide-outs near the Afghan border.
Missile strikes have killed at least two senior al Qaeda commanders in Pakistan, putting some pressure on extremist groups accused of planning attacks in Afghanistan — and perhaps terror strikes in the West.
However, the increasing frequency of the strikes has strained America’s seven-year anti-terrorism alliance with Pakistan, where rising violence is exacerbating economic problems that threaten the nuclear-armed Islamic republic’s stability.
Having called in U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson on Wednesday, “a strong protest was lodged on the continued missile attacks by U.S. drones inside Pakistani territory,” the Foreign Ministry said.
In Washington, the State Department confirmed that Mrs. Patterson had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry, but refused to discuss details of the meeting.
Conviction tests anti-terror laws
TORONTO | A Canadian accused of plotting with a group of British Muslims to bomb buildings and natural-gas lines in the United Kingdom was convicted Wednesday of financing and facilitating terrorism.
Momim Khawaja was the first person charged under Canadian anti-terrorism laws passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. His case is considered to be the first major test of those laws.
A 29-year-old Canadian of Pakistani descent, Khawaja was accused of collaborating with a group of Britons of Pakistani descent in a thwarted 2004 plan to attack London’s Ministry of Sound nightclub, a shopping center and electrical and gas facilities in Britain. Prosecutors painted Khawaja as an extremist who, along with conspirators in Britain, was determined to sow havoc.
Though he pleaded not guilty to all charges, his attorney acknowledged that Khawaja created a remote-control device for setting off explosives. But the lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, insisted that it was meant for use against military targets in Afghanistan - not for a homemade fertilizer bomb being constructed by the plotters in London.
Jesuit priests killed; probe ordered
MOSCOW | Two Jesuit priests were killed in their apartment near Moscow’s police headquarters, officials said Wednesday, in an attack that one religious leader condemned as a brutal slaying.
As Russian officials launched an investigation, no information was immediately available about who had carried out the attack or what may have motivated it. Ties between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox patriarchy have long been strained in Russia, but officials said it did not appear the rift was behind the killings.
The Rev. Igor Kowalewski, the general secretary of the Catholic Russian Bishops Conference, said the priests’ bodies were found late Tuesday in an apartment on Petrovka Street in downtown Moscow.
“They were brutally murdered,” Father Kowalewski told the Associated Press.
Father Kowalewski said he was unaware of any threats against the priests: Otto Messmer, a Russian citizen, and Victor Betancourt, a national of Ecuador.
New talks planned with Dalai Lama aides
BEIJING | China’s government is planning a fresh round of talks with Dalai Lama’s envoys, state media said Wednesday, days after the spiritual leader expressed dismay over the prospects of progress for greater autonomy in Tibet.
The meeting between the two sides will take place “in the near future,” Xinhua news agency said, without giving a specific date.
Discussions had originally been scheduled for last October, but it was not clear whether they would move forward after the remarks by the Dalai Lama, who is often demonized by Beijing.
Thupten Samphel, spokesman for the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile in northern India’s Dharmsala, said he had no immediate comment.
Quoting an unnamed official, Xinhua said discussions will take place despite anti-government riots this spring in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa and “some serious disruptions and sabotages to the Beijing Olympic Games by a handful of ‘Tibet independence’ secessionists.”
Kim Jong-il suffers new health problem
SEOUL | New South Korean intelligence indicates that ailing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il suffered a serious setback in his recovery from a stroke and has been hospitalized, a newspaper reported Wednesday.
The report in the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper cited an unnamed government official in saying intelligence obtained Sunday suggested “a serious problem” with Mr. Kim’s health. The report did not elaborate, and South Korea’s National Intelligence Service and Unification Ministry said Wednesday that they could not confirm it.
Mr. Kim, 66, reportedly suffered a stroke and underwent brain surgery in August. A Japanese TV station says his eldest son went to Paris to recruit a neurosurgeon, who was flown back to Asia to treat Mr. Kim.
The chief of the National Intelligence Service had told lawmakers Tuesday that Mr. Kim was “not physically perfect,” but still able to rule the country.
North Korea denies Mr. Kim is ill.
Cooperation treat follows U.S. raid
DAMASCUS | Syria threatened Wednesday to stop cooperating with the U.S. and Baghdad on security along its Iraqi border if there are more American raids on Syrian territory like the weekend attack that killed eight people.
The government also demanded Washington apologize for Sunday’s cross-border helicopter strike by American special forces, which U.S. military officials said killed a top al Qaeda in Iraq operative who was about to conduct an attack in Iraq.
Syria’s earlier order for the closure of an American school and cultural center and an embassy warning to be vigilant raised concerns among Americans living in Damascus.
A huge protest against the raid was called for Thursday in Damascus. Although Americans have generally been welcomed in Syria, protests in the past have turned violent against U.S. and European targets.
From wire dispatches and staff reports