- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 10, 2009

COSTA RICA

Quake death toll rises to nine

SAN JOSE | Helicopters plucked tourists from destroyed mountaintop resorts as the death toll from Costa Rica’s magnitude-6.1 earthquake rose to at least nine victims, the Red Cross said Friday.

Dozens more remained missing as survivors reported seeing people buried by landslides.

The quake shook the Central American nation Thursday afternoon, collapsing homes, unleashing massive landslides and trapping hundreds of people in damaged mountain towns.

Red Cross spokeswoman Fiorella Vilca said the dead include 7- and 11-year-old sisters buried in a landslide, a 12-year-old girl whose home was crushed by falling earth, two men found dead in San Pedro de Poas, and three bodies found in a battered truck near the Angel waterfall popular with tourists. Another victim died of a heart attack in the capital, San Jose.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the temblor was centered 22 miles northwest of San Jose, near the Poas Volcano National Park.

SRI LANKA

Troops capture key rebel base

COLOMBO | Sri Lankan troops Friday captured Elephant Pass, the Tamil Tigers’ last stronghold on the Jaffna Peninsula, seizing control of a base and a major highway and isolating the retreating rebels in a shrinking slice of northeastern jungle.

The victory at Elephant Pass came exactly a week after the military seized the Tamil Tigers’ administrative capital of Kilinochchi and began racing deep into rebel-held territory.

The capture of Elephant Pass gives the government nearly full control of the northern peninsula - the Tamil’s cultural capital and the symbolic heart of the insurgency - for the first time in nine years. The rebels still control a small sliver of land in the east of the peninsula.

It also puts the A-9 road, Sri Lanka’s major north-south highway and a powerful symbol of national unity, completely under government control for the first time in 23 years.

AFGHANISTAN

Three U.S. troops among 15 killed

HERAT | A bomb killed three American soldiers in southern Afghanistan Friday, hours after a suicide bomber killed 10 Afghan civilians and two Afghan policemen in a separate attack in the south, officials said.

The attacks bring the toll of U.S. soldiers killed in southern Afghanistan to five in less than 24 hours. The American soldiers were killed when a homemade bomb exploded in the Tarnak va Jaldak district of Zabul province, which borders Kandahar province, where two American soldiers were killed Thursday, NATO said.

Earlier Friday, more than 10 civilians, one senior policeman and his bodyguard were killed and at least 20 civilians were wounded in a suicide bomb attack in a market in Nimroz province, also in south Afghanistan, the governor of Nimroz said.

PAKISTAN

5 small bombs explode in Lahore

LAHORE | Five small bombs exploded outside two theaters in a major eastern Pakistan city late Friday, but there were no casualties, police and other officials said.

The explosions spurred panic in Lahore, a cultural hub that has largely escaped the scores of suicide and other bomb attacks that have bedeviled Pakistan in the past two years.

A police investigator said religious extremists were behind these and other similar attacks.

SPAIN

Snow freezes Madrid travel

MADRID | One of the heaviest snowfalls in decades closed Madrid airport for only the second time in 80 years Friday and brought traffic in the Spanish capital to a standstill. Airports operator AENA diverted 57 flights hundreds of miles to the north, south and east after closing Barajas airport, Europe’s fourth busiest, for five hours.

Madrid’s regional government called a meeting of its crisis committee and raised its warning level to orange - the second highest - as snow fell throughout the morning and settled on the capital’s streets for the first time since February 2005.

PERU

Jailed American moved for treatment

LIMA | Peruvian authorities have moved jailed New Yorker Lori Berenson to a capital prison to treat a chronic back ailment that could complicate her 5-month-old pregnancy.

Prison spokeswoman Janet Sanchez says prison facilities and doctors in Lima are better equipped to treat herniated disks in Mrs. Berenson’s back. Her pregnancy is not in immediate danger.

Mrs. Berenson arrived at the Lima prison Friday after traveling by bus from the northern province of Cajamarca.

The 39-year-old American, who married a member of the Tupac Amaru guerrilla group whom she met in jail, is serving 20 years for collaborating with leftist rebels in the 1990s. She is scheduled for release in 2015.

INDIA

Strike causes fuel shortage

NEW DELHI | A 3-day-old strike by about 55,000 white-collar workers at state-run oil companies has caused a severe fuel shortage in India, leaving nearly 60 percent of gas pumps dry and delaying flights, officials and news reports said Friday.

Long lines of cars formed at gas stations as the fuel shortage worsened in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and other cities.

The office workers at the state-run oil companies, including Indian Oil Corp. and Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd., are demanding salary increases, the Press Trust of India news agency said. Many are in management and supervisory roles that keep the fuel supply chain running.

Without these staffers, output has dropped to about 40 percent of capacity at nearly a dozen state-run oil refineries across the country, the Financial Express reported.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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