- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 20, 2009

SYRIA

Lebanon’s Hariri makes first visit

DAMASCUS | Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who has blamed neighboring Syria for the assassination of his father, visited Damascus on Saturday for the first time since the 2005 killing - a trip that a close associate said was extremely difficult for him to make.

Despite the unresolved issue of his father’s slaying in a massive truck bombing in Beirut, Mr. Hariri’s visit potentially opens the way for a new era in the two countries’ relations, which have been characterized for decades by upheaval and suspicion.

Mr. Hariri, 39, was greeted warmly by Syrian President Bashar Assad upon his arrival at the presidential palace at the start of his two-day visit, and Lebanese media said he would attend a dinner banquet hosted by Mr. Assad.

Syria directly dominated Lebanon for nearly 30 years and kept tens of thousands of troops on its soil. After the killing of Mr. Hariri’s father, Rafik, Syria came under intense pressure from its opponents in Lebanon and from the West, forcing it to withdraw its troops from Lebanon. Syria repeatedly denied involvement in the assassination.

NIGERIA

Militants attack oil pipeline

LAGOS | Militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta said they launched a boat-borne assault on an oil pipeline Saturday, breaking a tenuous cease-fire with the government to raise concerns about the nation’s ailing and absent president.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said a team of fighters attacked a major pipeline west of Port Harcourt that belonged to either Chevron Corp. or Royal Dutch Shell PLC. A statement from MEND, the main militant group operating in the delta, said it would consider its Oct. 25 unconditional cease-fire with the Nigerian government void for the next 30 days.

BRAZIL

Ritual needles in toddler removed

RIO DE JANEIRO | A Brazilian toddler was awake and breathing on his own Saturday after doctors removed four life-threatening sewing needles from around one of his lungs and his heart, but he was likely to face more surgery in the coming days, a hospital director said.

The 2-year-old boy - who police said had dozens of the needles stuck deep into his body by his stepfather in a bizarre ritual - remained in intensive care after his Friday surgery and the next two days are critical to his recovery, Roque Aras, medical director of the Ana Nery Hospital, told reporters in the northeastern city of Salvador.

Police said bricklayer Roberto Carlos Magalhaes, 30, confessed to pushing the metal sewing needles into the child because, he said, his lover told him to while in trances. The rituals, performed over a month, were supposedly aimed at keeping the couple together.

BRITAIN

Paris-London trains held up in tunnel

LONDON | Four passenger trains broke down in the Channel Tunnel between France and Britain, stranding more than 2,000 passengers for hours Saturday, many without heating, light or water.

Eurostar executives suspended service, blaming the breakdowns in the trains from Paris on wintry weather conditions on the French side of the English Channel.

Fatigued passengers arrived in London 10 hours late after a long night trapped on trains, where they said some people suffered panic attacks because of lack of air in dark, unheated cars short of water and supplies.

EUROPEAN UNION

Border opened to western Baltics

BELGRADE, Serbia | The European Union on Saturday opened its borders unrestricted to more than 10 million Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians after nearly 20 years, a major boost for the troubled region’s hopes for closer ties with the 27-nation bloc.

The three western Balkan nations celebrated the lifting of visas with fireworks, concerts and all-night festivities, marking a significant milestone for citizens who have long felt shunned by the rest of Europe.

The citizens of the former Yugoslavia had enjoyed free travel in the past, but visa requirements were introduced as the federation was breaking up in 1991 in a series of conflicts that lasted until 1999.

VATICAN

Order regulates use of papal image

VATICAN CITY | The Vatican is cracking down on the unauthorized use of the pope’s image.

The Vatican issued a declaration Saturday saying that anyone who wants to use the pope’s name, photo or coat of arms, or the title “pontifical,” must first obtain authorization from the Holy See.

The declaration says that occasional attempts have been made in recent years to “attribute credibility and authority” to initiatives that have little or nothing to do with the Catholic Church.

It didn’t give examples, but noted an increase in efforts to use the pope’s name for schools, universities and cultural institutions. The Vatican in 2006 began enforcing copyrights on papal writings.

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