- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

SUDAN

Bashir praises Obama overtures

KHARTOUM - Sudan's leader welcomed Monday “positive signs” sent by President Obama to the Islamic world, striking a more conciliatory tone toward Washington, which as been perceived as an enemy of Khartoum in the past.

“We, our brothers and sisters, are seekers of peace and stability and we do not want our country to live under the shadows of swords and tension,” the country's president, Omar Bashir, said at the opening of the eighth session of parliament.

“We even welcome the positive signs sent by U.S. President Barack Obama to the Islamic world on more than one occasion,” Gen. Bashir said.

Washington has had tense relations with the Islamist government of Gen. Bashir, who came to power in Africa's largest country in a 1989 coup. The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for Gen. Bashir's arrest for suspected crimes against humanity in the war-torn Darfur region of his country.

GEORGIA

Opposition plans more protests

TBILISI | Georgian opposition leaders said Monday they would move daily street protests to President Mikhail Saakashvili's office as they fought to maintain momentum in a campaign to force his resignation.

About 20,000 people demonstrated Monday outside parliament in the former Soviet republic, the fifth day of their protest.

The opposition leaders said they would keep up continuous protests until Mr. Saakashvili quit over his record on democracy and last year's disastrous war with Russia.

Mr. Saakashvili insists he will serve out his term.

IRAN

Nuclear talks OK with key official

TEHRAN | Iran welcomes nuclear talks with the United States and other countries, Tehran's top nuclear negotiator said Monday.

The negotiator, Saeed Jalili, made the comments during a telephone call with the European Union's foreign policy chief, state television reported. During the conversation, Mr. Jalili said the talks should be aimed at “constructive cooperation” between countries.

Last week, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran was open to talks - but only if they were based on respect for Iran's rights, suggesting the West should not try to force Tehran to stop uranium enrichment. Mr. Jalili's comments appeared to be more of a definitive answer, but he stressed that Iran would issue an official response to the invitation soon, the TV reported. He did not elaborate.

CHINA

Legal protection promised to people

BEIJING | China has promised its citizens stronger legal protection, improved incomes and expanded channels to complain as part of its first “human rights action plan,” which casts the Communist Party government as guardian of rights.

The plan, issued by state media Monday, marks another step in the ruling party's efforts to seize the initiative against critics at home and abroad who accuse it of stifling free speech and jailing dissidents, especially in the sensitive 20th year since troops crushed pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing.

Chinese officials reject those criticisms and say their idea of human rights focuses on lifting living standards of hundreds of millions of people, many still stuck in poverty.

The plan and Beijing's other vows to improve human rights will make little difference as long as courts and media remain under party domination and citizens' rights to assemble and speak out remain strictly curtailed, said Teng Biao, a Beijing human rights lawyer who has been detained for his activities.

TURKEY

Authorities detain 21 in coup probe

ANKARA | Turkish police Monday detained 21 people, among them a university rector, in an investigation into a suspected plot to topple Turkey's Islamist-rooted government, the Anatolia news agency reported.

The detentions were the latest wave in the long-running probe into a nationalist-secularist group called Ergenekon, which reportedly planned to sow unrest and stage political killings to prompt a military coup against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The probe has fanned tensions between the AKP - suspected by some of harboring a secret Islamist agenda - and its hard-core secularist opponents.

The most prominent suspect detained Monday was professor Mehmet Haberal, the rector of the Baskent University in Ankara and the owner of the Kanal B television channel known for its defense of the country's strict secular order.

GAZA STRIP

Unmanned boat blows up

GAZA CITY | An unmanned Palestinian fishing boat laden with explosives blew up off the coast of the Gaza Strip on Monday in an apparent attempt to attack an Israeli navy patrol, Israel's military chief said.

No one was hurt in the explosion, which Palestinians said could be heard miles away. Local fishermen in the Hamas-controlled territory said the Israeli ship fired at the boat as it approached, causing the enormous blast.

The Israeli military said it had not shot at the vessel, which exploded about 600 yards from the naval patrol.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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