- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009


Blackwater says exit will harm diplomats

MOYOCK, N.C. | Blackwater Worldwide, denied an operating license in Iraq, said Thursday it could leave the country within 72 hours but cautioned that such a move would cause more harm to the American diplomats it protects than the company itself.

Iraqi officials made public Thursday a decision to deny the North Carolina-based company an operating license, citing lingering outrage over a September 2007 shooting in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince said Blackwater had yet to receive any indication from the State Department that it would be ordered to evacuate.

“Our abrupt departure would far more hurt the reconstruction team and the diplomats trying to rebuild the country than it would hurt us as a business,” Mr. Prince told the Associated Press.

The shooting strained relations between Washington and Baghdad and fueled the anti-American insurgency in Iraq. Five former Blackwater guards have pleaded not guilty to federal charges in the United States that include 14 counts of manslaughter and 20 counts of attempted manslaughter.

A security agreement, which took effect Jan. 1, gives the Iraqis the authority to determine which Western contractors can operate in their country.

State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood said the department has yet to determine its next step.


Opposition surges against Saakashvilli

TBILISI | Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili’s opponents on Thursday pressed their demand for his resignation in the wake of the August war with Russia, urging new elections and threatening protests in the coming months.

Leaders of a broad spectrum of opposition parties - some of them former allies of the outspoken pro-Western president - signed a declaration calling for him to step down and make way for early presidential and parliamentary votes in the strategically located former Soviet republic.

Mr. Saakashvili has overseen economic growth and sought to decrease Russia’s influence after two centuries of domination, courting Europe and particularly the United States. But he frightened Georgians and alienated allies with a violent crackdown on protesters in 2007, showing what critics call a strong authoritarian streak.


Intelligence ex-chief to remain in prison

SANTIAGO | A Chilean court has upheld a sentence of two consecutive life terms in prison for former dictator Augusto Pinochet’s intelligence chief.

The Santiago Appeals Court also confirmed lesser sentences Thursday for eight other former officials from Gen. Pinochet’s feared secret police.

Retired Gen. Manuel Contreras was sentenced in June 2008 for the killing of retired army chief Carlos Prats and his wife. The couple died when a bomb blew up their car in Argentina in 1974.

Contreras’ lawyer, Jorge Balmaceda, said he would appeal to the Supreme Court.


Pirates seize German tanker

NAIROBI | Somali pirates hijacked a German tanker loaded with liquefied petroleum gas Thursday off the Horn of Africa. The ship’s crew was reported safe even though gunshots were heard over the ship’s radio.

The MV Longchamp is the third ship captured this month in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

The Longchamp, registered in the Bahamas, is managed by the German firm Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, which said seven pirates board-ed the tanker early Thursday.

Spokesman Andre Delau said the ship’s master had been briefly allowed to communicate with the firm and had said the crew of 12 Filipinos and one Indonesian were safe.


Foreign currency OK for businesses

HARARE | Zimbabwe’s government admitted defeat Thursday in a fight against dizzying inflation, allowing business to be done in U.S. dollars and bank notes of neighboring countries.

Zimbabwe has the world’s highest official inflation, with its currency now printed in the trillions of dollars. This month, the central bank introduced a 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar note.

The announcement by acting Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa acknowledged the black market practices that have been a reality for months because of Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown.


Agreements nixed with South Korea

SEOUL | North Korea said Friday it was scrapping all agreements signed with South Korea, blaming Seoul’s government for pursuing a hostile policy toward it.

“First, all the agreed points concerning the issue of putting an end to the political and military confrontation between the north and the south will be nullified,” Pyongyang’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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