- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009


Italy says Darfur hostages freed

KHARTOUM | Three Western workers for Doctors Without Borders have been freed two days after they were abducted in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region, the Italian Foreign Ministry said.

An official from the aid organization’s Brussels branch where the three worked also said the group had been told by the kidnappers and by the Sudanese authorities that the three had been released.

The Canadian nurse, Italian doctor and French coordinator of the group also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, along with two Sudanese guards, were kidnapped Wednesday in Darfur - a week after the government in Khartoum ordered 13 aid groups expelled. The two Sudanese guards had been released earlier.


Wen sets conditions for talks on Tibet

BEIJING | Beijing is willing to hold talks with the Dalai Lama if Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader abandons his separatist cause, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said Friday, as he defended his government’s hard-line policies toward the region.

“For such contacts and consultations to make progress, what’s important is for the Dalai Lama to have sincerity. Otherwise, no substantive results can be made,” Mr. Wen told reporters after the closing of China’s annual legislative session.

China has repeatedly accused the Tibetan leader of advocating independence and fomenting last year’s anti-government protests in the regional capital of Lhasa. The Dalai Lama has stated that he advocates a “Middle Way,” which calls for significant Tibetan autonomy under Chinese rule, but not independence.

Last year, representatives of the Dalai Lama and China’s government held three rounds of talks but little progress was made.


President proposes early elections

BUENOS AIRES | President Cristina Fernandez on Friday proposed moving congressional elections forward by four months to let the government focus more on fighting economic problems and less on politics. Critics called it a bald attempt to lock in votes before her political support erodes.

Mrs. Fernandez’s proposal would shift midterm elections up to June 28 from Oct. 25. Voters will elect half the 256-member chamber of deputies and a third of the 72-member Senate.

Nearly a dozen lawmakers have abandoned Mrs. Fernandez’s party this year, citing political differences, but her Peronist party still has majorities in Congress, which must approve any change in election dates.

The global economic crisis has hurt Argentina’s soy, meat, corn and wheat exports, draining government coffers of billions of dollars and denting Mrs. Fernandez’s popularity. She began a four-year term in December 2007.


7 killed by fire at largest mall

DHAKA | A helicopter plucked survivors from the roof of Bangladesh’s biggest shopping mall Friday as a fire raced through the upper levels of the high-rise complex, killing at least seven people and injuring 50 others.

Huge flames shot into the air amid billowing smoke as hundreds of panicked people, many carrying shopping bags, fled Dhaka’s 22-story Bashundhara City mall, which has more than 2,000 stores and cafes.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known. The mall opened in 2004.


Pakistan given more Mumbai terror details

NEW DELHI | India said Friday that it has handed over more information to Pakistan about the terrorist attack in Mumbai and urged its neighbor to take quick action against the plotters.

India says all 10 assailants in the three-day siege in November that left more than 160 dead were from Pakistan. It has blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic militant group widely believed to have been created by Pakistani intelligence agencies in the 1980s to fight Indian rule in the divided Kashmir region.

India’s Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said the new documents answered all of the questions that Pakistan had raised last month. In January, India handed over a dossier of evidence to Pakistan.


Weddings planned in House of Juliet

ROME | There may be no better setting for the words “Til Death Do Us Part.”

The House of Juliet - where, legend has it, Romeo wooed the young maiden under her balcony - will soon be used as a venue for weddings, city officials in Verona said Friday.

The idea is part of a campaign by Verona, where William Shakespeare set his tale of star-crossed lovers, to foster its image as a romantic city. The tab for getting married at the House of Juliet ranges from 600 euros (about $770) for Verona residents to 1,000 euros ($1,280) for non-EU citizens not living in the northeastern Italian city.

The 14th-century Casa di Giulietta, or House of Juliet, is one of the top tourist spots in a city that draws about 1.2 million people annually. The building belonged to the Cappello family, traditionally identified with the Capulets, leading to the folklore that Shakespeare’s fictional character may have lived there.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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