- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2008

RUSSIA

Putin confers with French counterpart

SOCHI | The prime ministers of France and Russia sought Saturday to overcome tensions thrown up by the conflict in Georgia by focusing their attention on economic issues.

Meeting in this Black Sea resort of Sochi, near the frontier with the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said he hoped that talks on an EU-Russia strategic partnership would still go ahead in October.

At an emergency summit Sept. 1, leaders of the European Union put dialogue with Russia on political, economic and energy issues on ice in protest over Russia’s military thrust into Georgia in August.

France currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

Russia and Georgia blame each other for starting last month’s war, in which Georgian troops invaded its rebel province and Russia counterattacked, and then drove deep into Georgia proper.

BOLIVIA

Morales constitution to address autonomy

LA PAZ | President Evo Morales has offered to include eastern provinces’ autonomy demands in his proposed new constitution, raising hopes for a solution to Bolivia’s bloody political crisis.

But the leftist leader and his adversaries in the conservative lowlands have been battling over greater local self-rule since Mr. Morales took office in 2006, and it is far from clear whether the president’s offer will lead to an agreement.

On Friday, the two sides discussed the autonomy question - a hot-button issue in Bolivia, whose feeble but heavily centralized government struggles to contain the country’s deep racial, cultural and geographical divides.

Mr. Morales - riding high after winning 67 percent support in last month’s recall election, including surprising gains in the traditionally hostile lowland east - is now pushing for a national vote to approve a new constitution granting greater power to Bolivia’s long-oppressed indigenous majority.

Opposition leaders, meanwhile, note that Mr. Morales lost in three of four lowland provinces and say voters there back demands for regional autonomy left out of the draft constitution.

Deadly protests swept the east last week as anti-Morales groups blockaded highways, raided government offices and seized gas pipelines.

UNITED NATIONS

Starvation stalks Horn of Africa

UNITED NATIONS | Nearly 17 million people in the Horn of Africa urgently need food, up from 9 million in early 2008, as crippling drought, soaring food prices and conflict take an increasing toll on the region, the U.N. humanitarian chief says.

John Holmes said the humanitarian emergency hasn’t yet escalated to a famine, but he warned that if donors don’t provide $716 million very quickly the Horn could return to the famine situations of the 1980s and the 1990s.

“The overall food security situation in the Horn of Africa - which includes parts of Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya and Uganda - is getting even more serious than it was before because of the combined effects of drought and rising food prices, and in some places conflict,” he told a news conference.

Early this year, the United Nations estimated that 9 million people in the Horn of Africa were in urgent need of food.

Mr. Holmes said the Friday situation has worsened because the region is experiencing perhaps “the worst effects” of soaring food prices, a third year of drought and conflicts in Somalia, parts of Ethiopia and elsewhere.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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