- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2009

THAILAND

Fireworks blamed for nightclub fire

BANGKOK | It was billed as a New Year’s Eve blowout and a last-night celebration of the wildly popular, classy nightclub before it moved to a new location. “Goodbye Santika,” the promotion poster read.

Before the revelry was over, at least 61 people were dead and more than 200 injured when they tried to flee what swiftly became a charred, gutted ruin in a glitzy Bangkok entertainment area.

Several witnesses said a fireworks display during the New Year’s countdown ignited the blaze. But one foreigner said he saw no pyrotechnics at the club, and a video shot by a guest showed many inside the club waving sparklers shortly before the fire erupted.

Among the casualties were a Singaporean who died and at least 35 foreigners who were injured, including citizens of Australia, Belgium, Britain, France, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and the United States, according to officials and reporters.

SRI LANKA

Troops claim capture of rebel crossroads

COLOMBO | Sri Lankan forces captured a key crossroads from Tamil Tiger rebels in the north Thursday and will seize the guerrillas’ de facto capital within two days, the military said.

The fall of Kilinochchi would be devastating to the separatist group, which has been forced out of much of its territory in the north of the Indian Ocean island nation amid a renewed government offensive in recent months.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has promised to crush the rebel group and end the nation’s 25-year-old civil war this year.

Senior officials have said repeatedly over the past two months that Kilinochchi would fall soon, but troops became bogged down by heavy rains and fierce rebel resistance. The town has been in rebel hands for about a decade.

PAKISTAN

Missile strike hits militants

DERA ISMAIL KHAN | A suspected U.S. missile strike by a drone aircraft destroyed a vehicle in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least three foreign militants, said intelligence officials.

At least one local militant was wounded in the attack in the South Waziristan tribal region near the Afghan border, said the two officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The U.S. has launched dozens of similar attacks in recent years in Pakistan’s tribal areas, where al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have sought sanctuary to stage attacks across the border into Afghanistan and in Pakistan.

The strikes have provoked protests from Pakistani officials and residents in the tribal areas saying the attacks are a violation of the country’s sovereignty.

INDIA

Blasts in northeast kill 5, wound 50

GAUHATI - Three bombs exploded in India’s restive northeast Thursday, killing at least five people and wounding 50, about an hour before the nation’s top security official arrived in the area.

Senior police official P. Saloi said authorities suspected that the militant separatist group the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was behind the attacks in Gauhati, capital of Assam state. ULFA wants an independent state for the region’s ethnic Assamese and is the largest of the northeast’s many militant groups.

No group claimed responsibility.

The blasts went off in crowded areas of Gauhati just hours before Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram arrived in the city.

CHINA

U.S. cooperation sought on economy

BEIJING | China and the United States should take their cooperation to new levels to tackle the ongoing global financial crisis, state media said Thursday, the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two sides.

Because they are the world’s major economic players, they cannot escape being hit by the meltdown and should work together, the official Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary marking the establishment of ties in 1979.

They should “promote their bilateral ties onto a new level, further strengthen high-level exchanges, step up cooperation in various fields, and enhance coordination in macroeconomic and financial policies,” Xinhua said.

The uncertainties now afflicting the global economy have begun haunting China as well. Economic growth has slowed and factories have closed, with job losses threatening to fuel political unrest.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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