- The Washington Times - Monday, July 6, 2009

PAKISTAN

Air assaults kill 6 near Afghan border

MIR ALI | Pakistani fighter jets targeted suspected Taliban hide-outs in a tribal region near Afghanistan on Sunday, killing as many as six people and raising the odds of a future military offensive there, intelligence officials said.

Elsewhere in the northwest, two bomb explosions killed two people and wounded 15 more in Upper Dir district, police said. The district sits at the edge of Swat Valley where the Pakistan army says it is wrapping up a two-month-old offensive against Taliban militants.

Pakistan’s military has been targeting the Taliban since May, when it launched the Swat offensive to oust the militants, who imposed a harsh interpretation of Islam and are accused of plotting attacks on Pakistani targets as well as U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan.

Sunday’s air strikes in North Waziristan hit several homes near the Afghan border, two intelligence officials said on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media. The officials said six people died and several were wounded. They did not say whether the dead were militants.

Two local residents said that two people were killed and seven injured, and that all the victims were tribesmen.

MEXICO

Calderon party eyes midterm elections

MEXICO CITY | Drug violence, an economic downturn and recent cases of political malfeasance weighed heavily as Mexicans voted Sunday in midterm congressional elections that could decide the future of President Felipe Calderon’s anti-crime and economic policies.

Mr. Calderon’s National Action Party, PAN, hopes its nationwide crackdown on drug cartels will win it a bigger share of the 500-seat lower house of Congress, where it currently holds 206 spots.

But with the economy in its steepest downturn since the 1990s, polls suggest the gains will go to the former longtime ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI, which now has 106 seats.

“The fundamental problem is the lack of opportunities, jobs, education,” said government worker Thelma Flores, 46, as she waited to cast her ballot. “That’s what generates the other things, the criminality and organized crime. It’s because of a lack of opportunities.”

Mr. Calderon’s party angered the PRI during the campaign by essentially accusing it of tolerating drug trafficking. If the PRI and its allies win enough seats to form a majority, they could block the president’s efforts to reform police forces and give more police powers to 45,000 soldiers deployed to fight well-armed drug gangs.

The vote for 565 mayors and six governorships is also seen as a referendum on an economy that shrank 8.2 percent in the first quarter and is expected to contract 5.5 percent for the year.

IRAQ

Sandstorms send hundreds to hospitals

BAGHDAD | Hundreds of Iraqis are seeking medical help after one of the worst sandstorms in living memory stretched beyond a week Sunday, choking throats, clogging eyes and afflicting asthma sufferers.

The sandstorms forced visiting Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to cancel plans to fly to Kurdistan and also interfered with the schedule of his meetings in Baghdad.

It caused numerous other flight problems and also delayed Iraq’s first international bidding round for its oil fields since the 2003 invasion.

Many Baghdad shops stayed shut Sunday, while police wearing masks directed thin streams of traffic through misty streets. Hospital emergency rooms were packed with people complaining about breathing problems.

Iraq has long suffered blinding sandstorms, but several years of drought have aggravated the situation this year.

SUDAN

Irish diplomats seek freedom for aid workers

KHARTOUM| Irish diplomats and negotiators flew here Sunday to help free two female aid workers kidnapped in Sudan’s Darfur region.

The two women from Irish aid group GOAL, one Ugandan and one Irish, were abducted from their compound in the north Darfur town of Kutum late Friday - the third time foreign humanitarian workers have been seized in Darfur in four months.

The Irish delegation includes the ambassador to Egypt and officials from the Foreign Affairs Department.

Sudan’s foreign ministry said a joint Irish-Ugandan team would travel to El Fasher, capital of north Darfur, on Monday to help with negotiations.

GOAL has named the kidnapped women as Hilda Kawuki, 42, of Uganda, and Sharon Commins, 32, of Dublin.

Aid groups in Darfur say they have faced increased hostility since the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant in March for Sudanese President Omar Bashir for crimes against humanity.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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