- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 25, 2009

WEST BANK

U.S. transfers $200 million aid

RAMALLAH | The United States has transferred $200 million to the Palestinian government to help ease a growing budget deficit, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has been struggling in recent months to keep his government afloat, borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars from commercial banks just to cover the public payroll.

The reasons for the shortfall include Israel’s restrictions on the Palestinian economy, the border blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and the failure of some donor countries to make good on their aid pledges, Mr. Fayyad said Friday in a video conference with Mrs. Clinton.

With Friday’s aid transfer, donor countries have given the Palestinian government $606 million in budget support this year, covering only about one-third of the estimated deficit of $1.45 billion for 2009, Mr. Fayyad said.

IRAN

Plane skids off runway, 17 dead

TEHRAN | An Iranian plane carrying 153 passengers and crew skidded off the runway and crashed Friday while landing in northeast Iran, killing at least 17 people, the state news agency said.

Among the dead was the manager of the privately owned Aria Air, operator of the plane.

Television footage showed the plane sitting at an angle, its tail resting awkwardly on the ground and the mangled front end pointing toward the sky. The rest of the aircraft appeared largely intact.

The Russian-made Ilyushin-62 plane had flown from Tehran, the Iranian capital, to the northeastern city of Mashhad, 600 miles away.

The crash came a little more than a week after another Iranian passenger plane nose-dived into the ground shortly after takeoff, killing all 168 people aboard.

Iran’s aging fleet is plagued by maintenance problems, blamed on financial straits and U.S. sanctions that make it harder for the country to get many types of spare parts.

AFGHANISTAN

2 more U.S. troops killed in combat

GHAZNI | The U.S. military reported Friday two more American service members died in combat in Afghanistan, adding to what has already been the deadliest month for U.S. and international forces since they invaded the country eight years ago. A third soldier was reported killed in a clash Friday in eastern Afghanistan but officials would not disclose the nationality pending notification of kin.

The deaths of the two U.S. troops in an explosion in southern Afghanistan raised to at least 37 the number of U.S. service members to die in the Afghan war in July.

Meanwhile, U.S. special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke visited the central Afghan province, coinciding with President Hamid Karzai’s first election rally in Kabul ahead of the Aug. 20 ballot.

BRITAIN

Conservatives win parliamentary seat

NORWICH | Britain’s opposition Conservatives won a parliamentary seat from the ruling Labor Party on Friday, securing a big majority that would give them a landslide if repeated at a national election due within a year.

The election for the Norwich North seat, prompted after the local member of Parliament resigned in protest at being punished for his role in an expenses scandal, was being watched for clues to the outcome of the forthcoming general election.

Conservative candidate Chloe Smith, who at 27 becomes Britain’s youngest member of Parliament, beat her Labor rival by a commanding margin. She captured 39.5 percent of the vote, against a Labor share of only just more than 18 percent.

Labor had held the seat in eastern England since Tony Blair swept to power in a landslide victory in 1997, ending 18 years of Conservative rule.

CHINA

Drunk driver gets death sentence

BEIJING | A court in southwestern China has sentenced a man to death for a drunken driving accident that killed four people, in what state media said Friday was a first for the country.

Sun Weiming, 30, was found guilty of endangering public safety and sentenced to death Thursday, several state-run newspapers said.

Sun was drunk and speeding in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, last December when he struck four other cars, killing four people and seriously injuring one, reports said. He was also driving without a license.

Sun had drunk “large quantities” of a strong Chinese spirit at a relative’s lunchtime birthday party on the day of the accident, and had a blood alcohol level of 0.13, or 135.8 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. China’s legal limit is 0.08.

ITALY

Berlusconi claims archeological find

ROME | Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s private conversations with an escort, which have riveted Italians all week, may wind up getting him into trouble with Italy’s archaeological authorities.

In one of the transcripts of his purported conversations with Patrizia D’Addario, posted on an Italian Web site, Mr. Berlusconi boasts to her about his sprawling villa in Sardinia - complete with an ice cream parlor and artificial lakes. “Here we found 30 Phoenician tombs from [around] 300 B.C.,” the voice in the recording is heard to say.

The latest audio clip was posted on the Web site of L’Espresso weekly Thursday and immediately raised the interest of the archaeological community. Under Italian law, archaeological discoveries made on private property must be reported to authorities for inspection, cataloguing and possible excavation.

Italian newspapers reported Friday that cultural heritage authorities in Sardinia knew nothing about the sites, which archaeologists said would be a major find if confirmed.

ZIMBABWE

Leaders launch ‘healing’ campaign

HARARE | Zimbabwe’s coalition government launched a campaign of “national healing” and reconciliation Friday, with political leaders urging supporters to end years of political violence and intimidation.

The opening ceremony in a Harare hotel produced a rare scene of conviviality between Zimbabwe’s leaders, with President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai smiling and laughing with one another onstage.

Mr. Mugabe told the poorly attended ceremony that his party members “will certainly do hard work to try and commit themselves to observe principles” of nonviolence and reconciliation.

Mr. Mugabe declared Friday, Saturday and Sunday national days of dedication to peace marked by “prayer for us to succeed.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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