- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2009

AFGHANISTAN

U.S. investigates civilian deaths

KABUL | The U.S. military said Wednesday it was investigating claims an operation killed two dozen Afghan civilians - an announcement that seemed aimed at addressing concerns of President Hamid Karzai.

But Afghan officials said a government inquiry found only militants were killed in the Tuesday raid in the Tagab Valley, a region just 30 miles north of the Afghan capital, Kabul, where insurgents have a strong presence.

Afghan news agency Pajhwok quoted villagers as saying 25 civilians died in the raid.

The U.S. announcement came just a day after Mr. Karzai made his latest plea to U.S. and NATO troops to avoid killing civilians.

Col. Greg Julian, the top U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, said the investigation announcement was not related to Mr. Karzai’s request, and that the military was doing all it could to avoid civilian deaths because they harm counterinsurgency operations.

ISRAEL

Court overturns ban on two Arab parties

JERUSALEM | Israel’s top court overruled on Wednesday a parliamentary panel which had barred two Arab parties from running in next month’s election.

The Central Elections Committee voted to disqualify the Balad and Raam-Taal parties on Jan. 12 after hearing arguments that they identified with the Jewish state’s enemies and campaigned against Zionism.

Saying the ban was undemocratic and racist, Arab lawmakers appealed to the High Court of Justice, which found in their favor.

The court did not immediately publish details on its ruling.

Muslim and Christian Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel’s 7.4 million citizens. There are 10 Arab lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament.

NETHERLANDS

Court recommends hate-speech trial

THE HAGUE | A right-wing lawmaker should be prosecuted for inciting racial hatred with anti-Islamic statements that include calling the Koran a “fascist book,” a Dutch court ruled Wednesday.

Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders made headlines around the world in March with his film “Fitna,” which juxtaposed Koranic verses against a background of violent film clips and images of terrorism by Islamic radicals.

In 2007, Mr. Wilders called for a ban on the Koran “the same way we ban ‘Mein Kampf.’” He said both Adolf Hitler’s work and the Muslim holy book contain passages that contradict Western values.

The Amsterdam Appeals Court called Mr. Wilders’ statements in his film, newspaper articles and media interviews “one-sided generalizations … which can amount to inciting hatred.”

Mr. Wilders told Dutch media it was a “black day for myself and for freedom of speech.”

KOSOVO

National army takes over security

PRISTINA | Kosovo armed forces took over security duties on Wednesday, less than a year after the territory declared independence and in the face of strong protests from Serbia.

The Kosovo Security Force replaces a 3,000-strong civilian emergency organization formed out of the disbanded ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army, which fought Serbia in a 1998-99 war.

Serbia - which insists Kosovo remains a part of its territory - said it would file a protest with the United Nations against the new force, which it says is designed to intimidate the Serbian minority in Kosovo.

RUSSIA

Space tourism put on hold

MOSCOW | Russia won’t be sending tourists to the International Space Station after this year because of plans to double the size of the station’s crew, the chief of Russia’s space agency said in an interview published Wednesday.

Roscosmos chief Anatoly Anatoly Perminov told the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta that U.S. software designer Charles Simonyi - who has already flown to the station - would be the last tourist when he blasts off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in March.

The lucrative Russian space tourism program has flown six “private spaceflight participants” since 2001. Participants paid $20 million and up for flights aboard Russian-built Soyuz crafts brokered by U.S.-based Space Adventures Ltd.

Russian Soyuz and Progress craft have been a crucial part of the $100 billion station’s upkeep and expansion - particularly in the wake of the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, which saw the entire U.S. shuttle fleet grounded.

CHINA

Authorities target electronic porn

BEIJING | China has extended a crackdown on electronic porn to the country’s mobile phones, after shutting down 1,250 Web sites because of their explicit content, the official Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday.

“We will incorporate ‘lewd’ messages spread via mobile phones into the crackdown,” the report quoted a joint notice from the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Culture and five other government offices as saying.

China promised last week that the campaign, which was launched in early January, will be no “flash in the pan.”

More than 40 people have been detained for disseminating porn on the Internet, and more than 3 million “items of online information” have been deleted, the report said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports


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