- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

SRI LANKA

Gunmen destroy private TV studio

COLOMBO | Masked gunmen threw grenades and destroyed the main studio of Sri Lanka’s largest private broadcaster Tuesday, days after state media criticized it for coverage of a Tamil Tiger suicide blast.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa condemned the early-morning attack on MBC Network’s studios and ordered an investigation.

Independent MBC has clashed with the government in the past over its coverage, and again over the weekend was criticized by state-run media for giving too much coverage to a Tamil Tiger suicide blast Friday after a major military victory.

Mass Media and Information Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, without saying who was responsible, said in a statement the attack was meant to divert attention from the military’s successes and “bring the government into disrepute.”

SOMALIA

Gunmen kill U.N. aid worker

NAIROBI, Kenya | Somali gunmen Tuesday fatally shot a U.N. World Food Program (WFP) aid worker in the violence-plagued country’s southern Gedo region, the agency said.

Three masked gunmen ordered Ibrahim Hussein Duale to stand up and then fatally shot him, the WFP said in a statement citing witnesses. He was the Rome-based agency’s third worker to be killed since August 2008.

Aid workers have been frequently targeted by gunmen in the lawless country, where 3.25 million of its 10 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

BAHAMAS

Travolta ashes returned to U.S.

FREEPORT | Actor John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, have returned to Florida with the remains of their 16-year-old son, Jett, who died at the family vacation home in Grand Bahama.

The couple received an urn with his ashes and left the island chain Monday night, according to Obie Wilchcombe, a member of the Bahamas Parliament and a family friend.

Doctors in the Bahamas performed an autopsy on Jett on Monday, but did not release results. However, a Bahamas undertaker said the teen’s death certificate had “seizure” as the cause of death.

Jett Travolta had a history of seizures and was found unconscious Friday in a bathroom.

INDIA

Boeing wins $2.1 billion order

The Indian navy has agreed to buy eight reconnaissance and anti-submarine planes from Boeing Co. in a $2.1 billion deal that signals the developing nation’s drive to upgrade its military hardware.

The first of the aircraft, a variant of the P-8A Poseidon under development for the U.S. Navy, will be delivered within four years, and the remaining seven will be delivered by 2015, the defense unit of Chicago-based Boeing said Tuesday.

India will become Boeing’s first international customer for the plane, known as the P-8I, which also is capable of performing search-and-rescue, surveillance and targeting missions, according to the company.

TURKEY

Venezuela package from Iran seized

ANKARA | Turkey was holding a suspicious shipment bound for Venezuela from Iran because it contained lab equipment capable of producing explosives, a customs official said Tuesday.

Suleyman Tosun, a customs official at the Mediterranean port of Mersin, said military experts were asked to examine the material, which was seized last month, and decide whether to let the shipment go to Venezuela.

Authorities detected the equipment during a search of 22 containers labeled “tractor parts,” Mr. Tosun said. They were brought to Mersin by trucks from neighboring Iran, he said. Turkey’s Interior Ministry said an investigation was under way.

An Iranian Embassy official said the shipment contained “nothing important.”

THAILAND

Web sites blocked for insulting king

BANGKOK | Thailand has blocked 2,300 Web pages deemed insulting to the country’s revered monarchy and plans to block 400 more, Communications Minister Ranongrak Suwanchawee said Tuesday.

Ms. Ranongrak, a former nurse who joined the Cabinet last month, said waging an online war against anti-monarchy activists was her top priority, though critics of censorship have said the country needs to liberalize its telecommunications industry urgently to compete with the rest of the world.

The ministry also planned to spend $1.3 million on equipment for its round-the-clock war room to fight messages defaming the royal family members, Suea Loruthai, a senior bureaucrat at the ministry, was quoted on the Web site as saying.

“Lese-majeste,” or insulting the monarchy, is a serious offence in Thailand, where many people regard 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej as semi-divine. It is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

IRAQ

President’s party member killed

BAGHDAD | Gunmen have killed a member of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s political party in a drive-by shooting in the northern city of Kirkuk, Iraqi police officials said Tuesday.

Subhi Hassan, who handles political relations for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and a bodyguard were killed Monday after unidentified gunmen chased down their car after it passed through a checkpoint.

The shooting is the latest in a spate of killings that appear to be politically motivated and come in advance of the Jan. 31 Iraq-wide provincial elections.

Also Tuesday, the U.S. military said troops killed a civilian in a vehicle after the driver failed to heed warnings to stop in Baqouba. In Baghdad, Iraqi police said a parked car bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol exploded, killing one civilian and wounding six others.

ISRAEL

New York mayor backs Jewish state

JERUSALEM | New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg expressed solidarity with Israelis threatened by Hamas rockets in a daylong trip to Israel that included visits to two towns targeted by the Islamic militant movement in recent weeks.

During the visit to the embattled town of Sderot on Sunday, Mr. Bloomberg and his party, which included Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, New York Democrat, were briefly hustled to a bomb shelter when a missile warning went off.

In a telephone interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Bloomberg said he fully understood Israel’s actions. “You should rest assured, if anyone in New York was being threatened, my instruction to the NYPD [New York Police Department] would be to use all the resources at their disposal to protect civilians,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

“I think as a New Yorker, we’ve been attacked twice by al Qaeda itself,” said the mayor, who is Jewish. “We’ve seen enormous devastation and courage and after that you sort of feel you have a bond, if you will, for those who live in a dangerous world and subject to someone trying to kill them.”

GAZA STRIP

Israel changes mind on foreign journalists

EREZ CROSSING, Israel | Israel scrapped arrangements Monday to allow the first foreign reporters into the Gaza Strip since the military launched its offensive against Palestinian militants, adding to mounting media frustration at being locked out of the war zone.

The ban on foreign media, which has been appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court, drew criticism from journalists that Israel is trying to manage the story.

Israel says opening border crossings for journalists would endanger staff at the border crossings, which have often been targeted by militants. Israeli officials also say many foreign reporters are biased against Israel and easily manipulated or intimidated by Hamas.

The effect of the ban is to force many media outlets to rely on partisan reports from the Israeli military or Gaza’s Hamas rulers and militants for information.

LEBANON

Children protest Israeli offensive

BEIRUT | Thousands of children organized a sit-in Tuesday in front of the U.N. headquarters in the Lebanese capital to denounce the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.

The children, ages 6 to 13, gathered in front of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) building downtown, responding to a call by the educational wing of the militant group Hezbollah, which fought a devastating war with Israel in 2006.

Some of the demonstrators carried fake rockets and machine guns as well as pictures of Palestinian children presumably killed during the Israeli onslaught that began on Dec. 27 in a bid to stop rocket attacks by the militant group Hamas.

They handed over to an ESCWA official a letter addressed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging him to halt the bloodshed.

TURKEY

Editor faces jail for criticizing army

ISTANBUL | A newspaper editor faces up to five years in jail for publishing reports that accused the Turkish army of ignoring intelligence on a deadly Kurdish rebel raid, the daily’s chief editor said Tuesday.

Adnan Demir, managing editor of the Taraf newspaper, was charged following a complaint by the general staff that the paper printed “leaked secret information” about an October attack by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on a military outpost near the Iraqi border, Markar Esayan told Agence France-Presse.

If found guilty, Mr. Demir could be jailed from three to five years, he said.

Seventeen soldiers were killed in the attack in which PKK rebels backed by heavy weapons from northern Iraq attempted to strike the outpost in the mountainous Hakkari province.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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