- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

SIERRA LEONE

Liberia’s ex-leader denies war crimes

THE HAGUE | His combat fatigues were replaced by a dark suit and tie, and the tinted aviator glasses gave former Liberian leader Charles Taylor a haughty air as he took the stand Tuesday to emphatically denounce the war crimes charges against him as “disinformation, misinformation, lies, rumors.”

Mr. Taylor, 61, once one of West Africa’s most powerful men, is charged with 11 counts of murder, torture, rape, sexual slavery and the use of child soldiers and terrorism in his role backing rebels in Sierra Leone’s 1991-2002 civil war.

An estimated 500,000 people were the victims of killings, systematic mutilation or other atrocities in that war, with some of the worst crimes committed by child soldiers who were drugged to desensitize them.

Mr. Taylor began his defense by portraying himself as a peacemaker rather than the cannibalistic warlord described by prosecutors at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone.

GEORGIA

Military drills fuel U.S.-Russia tension

BATUMI | A U.S. warship anchored off Georgia for joint military exercises Tuesday while Russian jets pounded mock targets nearby in a sign of lingering tensions over the former Soviet nation turned U.S. ally.

The U.S. and Russian maneuvers marked a stark change in tone from meetings last week between President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who expressed hope for repairing relations that have sunk to a post-Cold War low.

Georgia is still seething over what it views as Russia’s occupation of South Ossetia after the August conflict, when Russian tanks drove deep into Georgia before pulling back.

SOMALIA

2 French security advisers kidnapped

NAIROBI, Kenya | Two French security advisers on a mission to train Somali forces were kidnapped Tuesday at a hotel in capital Mogadishu, where they had checked in as journalists, officials and witnesses said.

About 10 gunmen arrived at the Sahafi Hotel in a small car and a pickup mounted with machine guns before several of the men disarmed the guards and stormed inside, a witness who runs a tea shop nearby said. Gunmen then knocked on the door where the French men were staying and kidnapped them when they opened the door, the hotel’s manager said.

The French Foreign Ministry said the men were security consultants. No claim of responsibility or demand for a ransom was reported from the kidnappers.

EUROPEAN UNION

Pole elected assembly president

STRASBOURG, France | The European Parliament elected Jerzy Buzek as its president Tuesday, making the former Polish prime minister and pro-democracy activist the first easterner from a former Communist country to head a major EU institution.

A leading member of the Solidarity trade union that sank Communism in Poland in the late 1980s, Mr. Buzek won 555 of the 644 valid votes cast - an outright majority in the first ballot at the inaugural session of the new 736-member EU assembly.

His nearest opponent, Swedish Green Party member Eva-Britt Svenson, won only 89 votes.

SPAIN

Charges dropped against U.S. soldiers

MADRID | A Spanish court Tuesday threw out charges against three U.S. soldiers in the death of a Spanish journalist in Iraq six years ago and recommended the case be closed.

The National Court said investigative magistrate Santiago Pedraz had produced no new evidence to indicate that the soldiers had acted incorrectly, given that they were in a war situation.

The soldiers, members of a tank crew, said they were responding to hostile fire when they shot at a Baghdad hotel housing Western journalists during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Spanish cameraman Jose Couso was one of two journalists killed in the shooting. The other was Reuters cameraman Taras Portsyk.

BRITAIN

Music conductor, wife die in suicide clinic

LONDON | British maestro Edward Downes, who conducted the BBC Philharmonic and the Royal Opera but struggled in recent years as his hearing and sight failed, has died with his wife at an assisted-suicide clinic in Switzerland. He was 85 and she was 74.

The couple’s children said Tuesday that the couple, married 54 years, died “peacefully and under circumstances of their own choosing” Friday at a Zurich clinic run by the group Dignitas.

They said Mr. Downes, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1991, had become almost blind and increasingly deaf. His wife - a former dancer, choreographer and television producer - had devoted years to working as his assistant. British newspapers reported that she had been diagnosed with cancer.

RWANDA

Genocide tribunal jails ex-governor

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania | A U.N. court trying the architects of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide jailed a former Kigali governor for life on five counts including ordering the killing of 60 Tutsi boys in a church-run pastoral center.

The Arusha, Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda had indicted Tharcisse Renzaho of genocide, complicity in genocide, murder and rape in the massacres in which 800,000 minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were killed. The court found him guilty of all except complicity in genocide.

From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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