- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2009

AZERBAIJAN

Air force chief killed in shooting

BAKU | The air force chief of Azerbaijan, an oil producing state in the volatile southern Caucasus region, was shot dead outside his home Wednesday.

Lt. Gen. Rail Rzayev was the most senior official to have been killed since a series of assassinations in the 1990s that were blamed by authorities on organized crime or attempts to undermine the government.

Police and defense officials in Azerbaijan, a mainly Muslim country where Russia and the United States vie for influence, said it was not immediately clear what the motives for Gen. Rzayev’s killing were.

Nijmedin Sadykhov, head of the Azeri military general staff, told Azerbaijan’s private Lider television that security cameras in the vicinity might help the investigation.

IRAQ

Terrorists bomb Shi’ite pilgrims

BAGHDAD | Bombs struck Shi’ite pilgrims heading Wednesday to religious ceremonies, killing at least 12 people and wounding more than 40, officials said.

The deadliest blast occurred near a bus station and outdoor market in the southwestern Baghdad neighborhood of Bayaa, where pilgrims were preparing to board buses for annual Shi’ite rituals south of the capital. An Iraqi military spokesman said 10 people were killed and 32 wounded in the blast.

Hours earlier, a car bomb exploded near a minibus packed with Shi’ite pilgrims in an area of western Baghdad, killing two people and wounding 12, police said.

Hundreds of thousands of Shi’ite pilgrims are expected to gather Monday in Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, to mark the end of 40 days of mourning that follow Ashoura, the anniversary of the 17th-century death of the prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein.

AUSTRALIA

Two arrested in wildfire probe

MELBOURNE | Two people have been arrested in connection with Australia’s deadly wildfires after they were reported to have been behaving suspiciously, police said Thursday.

Police did not specify that the arrests were connected to arson, which has been blamed for at least one inferno that killed more than 20 people.

“The investigation is in its initial stages. Two people are assisting police with inquiries,” police said in a statement.

At least 181 people died as a swarm of wildfires raced across the southeast state of Victoria during a heat wave last weekend and the toll is expected to rise as more bodies are found in charred homes and villages.

VIETNAM

Vietnam, Vatican plan to form ties

HANOI | Communist-ruled Vietnam and the Vatican have agreed to hold their first meeting next week to discuss the establishment of diplomatic ties, Hanoi’s Foreign Ministry said.

A Vatican delegation headed by Undersecretary of State Monsignor Pietro Parolin would visit Hanoi for talks on Feb. 16-17, Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung said in a statement issued late on Wednesday.

They would meet with the Vietnamese delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Cuong, Mr. Dung said without giving any further details of the talks.

The ruling Communist Party has been suspicious of Catholics, particularly exiles in the U.S. and France.

BRITAIN

Officials seek release of Gitmo inmate

LONDON | British officials will travel to Guantanamo Bay to visit a hunger-striking detainee and prepare him for release, the foreign secretary said Wednesday.

David Miliband said the team, which will include a doctor from London’s police department, will check on the health of 30-year-old Binyam Mohamed, a former British resident who says he has been the victim of torture.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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