- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2008

SOUTH AFRICA

President’s ouster triggers meeting

CAPE TOWN | The South African government held an emergency session Sunday to try to limit the political and economic fallout from the ouster of President Thabo Mbeki.

Both Mr. Mbeki and African National Congress President Jacob Zuma, who engineered Mr. Mbeki’s dismissal, were scheduled to speak on state television after the Cabinet meeting.

Mr. Mbeki lost the final battle Saturday in a long power struggle with Mr. Zuma and agreed to an order from the ANC’s National Executive Committee that he quit as head of state before the end of his second term in office.

It was not clear how many Cabinet ministers would quit in solidarity with Mr. Mbeki. Finance Minister Trevor Manuel - key to investor confidence in South Africa - was expected to stay.

Parliament is expected to convene in the coming days to select an interim president before elections, which are scheduled for next year. Baleka Mbete, the speaker of the National Assembly and chairwoman of the ANC, is widely mentioned to take over.

Until then, Mr. Mbeki will remain in office. In a statement Saturday, he said he would stand down once “all constitutional requirements” were satisfied, prompting speculation that he might seek to drag out his departure.

IRAQ

U.S. arrests al Qaeda suspects

BAGHDAD | U.S.-led forces arrested 25 people during operations against al Qaeda in Iraq this weekend, the American military said Sunday. Suicide bombers struck police targets in northern Iraq, killing four people and injuring dozens in the latest sign that extremists, though weakened, are still capable of devastating attacks.

The U.S. military said those detained included suspected members of car bomb cells and financial networks, and a suspect who reportedly assisted in the movement of suicide bombers from Iran to Iraq. Most of the suspects were detained in Baghdad and the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, which remain volatile despite improvements in security in many parts of the country.

The U.S. military thinks al Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni extremist group, has received financial aid and weapons from sources in Shi’ite-dominated Iran, even though Sunni extremists view Shi’ites as renegade Muslims and much of Iraq’s violence has been sectarian.

U.S. officials have accused Tehran of supporting Shi’ite militias in Iraq as part of its power struggle with the United States for influence in the Middle East, though militia activity has dropped sharply. Some observers suspect links between Iran and Sunni extremists, seeking a common goal of undermining the United States despite their traditional animosity.

CUBA

Chavez begins world tour in Cuba

HAVANA | Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was to begin a world tour here Sunday with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro as the firebrand sets out for China, Russia, Belarus, Portugal and France.

In an article published Sunday in Cuba’s state-run press, Mr. Castro, 82, said the one-hour meeting with his close friend Mr. Chavez will be “a great honor for me.” The meeting follows a tete-a-tete between the two leftist leaders in June.

Mr. Chavez has said his travels hold “great strategic interest” for his country. Lawmakers in Venezuela approved this week’s tour, designed to “strengthen international relations with those countries and sign exchange and cooperation deals on economic, social and cultural matters.”

After his stop in Cuba, Mr. Chavez travels to China for talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the capitalization of a $6 billion bilateral investment fund, which he says Caracas will use for “socialist productive projects.”

China is contributing $4 billion and Venezuela $2 billion, said Mr. Chavez.

SUDAN

Islamists confess they killed American

KHARTOUM | Five Sudanese Islamists admitted in videotaped confessions their roles in killing a U.S. diplomat and his driver in the Sudanese capital on New Year’s Day, a court heard Sunday.

John Granville, 33, who worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and his 40-year-old Sudanese driver, Abdel Rahman Abbas, were fatally shot in their car before dawn in Khartoum on Jan. 1.

Confessions taped by police after the arrests of the five were shown to a crowded courtroom in Khartoum.

“The American car braked suddenly, and we stopped behind it,” one of the defendants, Mohammed Makawi, 23, said on the video. “Then I shot two bullets from a pistol.”

Abdelbaset al-Hajj al-Hassan, a 29-year-old merchant, then fired with an AK-47 assault rifle.

“We were looking for an American’s house, when at last we saw the American’s car,” Mr. Hassan said on the video.

“We fired at them, and I shot six bullets from a Kalashnikov rifle. … It took 10 or 15 seconds, then we left quickly.”

The defendants, wearing traditional white robes and religious caps, sat behind bars in a side gallery of the courtroom. Mr. Makawi called out that he was beaten and wounded on the head before he made the statement, while Mr. al-Hassan said he was injured on his hands.

FRANCE

Lawmakers debate troops in Afghanistan

PARIS | French lawmakers are to vote Monday on whether to keep French troops in Afghanistan after 10 soldiers were killed there, raising questions about France’s presence in the increasingly violent country.

Both houses of Parliament, dominated by President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, are expected to support maintaining the 2,600-strong contingent, one of the largest serving in NATO’s Afghanistan mission.

But a stormy debate was in store after Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper quoted a “secret” NATO report during the weekend saying Taliban fighters who ambushed the French soldiers on Aug. 18 were better armed than their enemy.

NATO and the French general staff denied that such a report existed.

The mountain ambush east of Kabul was the deadliest ground attack on international troops since they were sent to Afghanistan in 2001 to oust the hard-line Taliban regime.

According to the Globe and Mail, the 30 French paratroopers ran out of bullets and did not have proper communications equipment, forcing them to stop fighting after 90 minutes.

A poll published after last month’s ambush showed 55 percent of the French supported a withdrawal from Afghanistan.

IRAQ

Lawmaker risks seat with Israel trip

BAGHDAD | First his two sons were killed. Now he faces prosecution. The reason for Mithal al-Alusi’s troubles? Visiting Israel and advocating peace with the Jewish state - something Iraq’s leaders refuse to consider.

The Iraqi is at the center of a political storm after his fellow lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to strip him of his immunity and allow his prosecution for visiting Israel - a crime punishable by death under a 1950s-era law. Such a fate is unlikely for Mr. al-Alusi, though he may lose his party’s sole seat in parliament.

Because he had visited Israel, many Iraqis assume the maverick legislator was the real target of the assassins who killed his sons in 2005 while he escaped unharmed.

Now he is in trouble for again visiting Israel and attending a conference a week ago at the International Institute for Counterterrorism.

Mr. al-Alusi has a German passport, allowing him to travel without visa restrictions imposed on other Iraqis. Lawmakers accused him of humiliating the nation with a trip to the “enemy” state.

The uproar shows how far Iraq has moved from the early U.S. goal of creating a democracy that would make peace with Israel and remove a critical force from the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The U.S. Embassy declined to comment. Mr. al-Alusi said he went to Israel to seek international support for Iraq as it struggles against terrorism, and insisted that the outcry reflects Iranian meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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