- The Washington Times - Friday, March 6, 2009

UKRAINE

February gas bill said paid in full

MOSCOW | Ukraine’s energy company paid its February bill for Russian gas in full Thursday, officials said, moving swiftly to avoid a cutoff that could have affected deliveries to Europe.

The payment came just hours after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that Russia would halt gas supplies to Ukraine if it failed to meet a Saturday deadline - and warned the suspension might stop deliveries to European nations further west, as well.

The threat raised the prospect of a repeat of the January suspension that cut off most Russian gas supplies to Europe for weeks as the result of a bitter price dispute with Ukraine.

The stoppage left millions of Europeans without heat during a cold spell and angered the European Union, which accused Russia and Ukraine of holding its citizens hostage to their standoff.

BRITAIN

Contact resumed with Hezbollah

LONDON | Britain is re-establishing contact with the militant group Hezbollah after the formation of a unity government in Lebanon, the British government said Thursday.

The Foreign Office said that it has established contact with the group’s political wing but still has no contact with its military wing.

Britain ceased contact with members of Hezbollah in 2005 and listed the military wing as a proscribed terrorist organization last year.

The Foreign Office said that it had reconsidered its position following positive developments in Lebanon.

KYRGYZSTAN

New deal eyed for U.S. base

BISHKEK | Kyrgyzstan is willing to negotiate a new deal allowing American troops to operate there despite its recent decision to shut a U.S. air base essential to the war in Afghanistan, the president’s spokesman said Thursday.

The Central Asian nation last month ordered the United States to vacate the Manas air base within six months. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the closure shortly after Russia pledged $2.15 billion in aid and loans for impoverished former Soviet nation.

Presidential spokesman Almaz Turdumamatov said the decision on Manas would not be changed but indicated that a separate arrangement allowing U.S. troops in the country could be negotiated.

The base is a transit point for 15,000 troops and 500 tons of cargo each month to and from Afghanistan.

CUBA

Ousted officials quit party posts

HAVANA | Two of Cuba’s most prominent officials have resigned from all Communist Party and government posts after they were removed from the Cabinet and criticized by Fidel Castro, according to letters published Thursday in the state press.

The letters from Vice President Carlos Lage and ousted Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque acknowledged they had committed errors - which were not specified - and promised to continue serving the country. Neither offered an apology for any wrongdoing, however.

The two were dismissed from Cuba’s Cabinet, the Council of Ministers, as part of a broad shake-up on Monday. A day later, Mr. Castro, the former president, published a statement asserting they had been seduced by “the honey of power” and hinted the two were demoted because their angling for leadership roles in a post-Castro Cuba had become unseemly.

Both resignation letters were addressed to President Raul Castro and pledged loyalty both to him and Fidel, as well as to the Communist Party.

IRAQ

Lawmakers pass trimmed budget

BAGHDAD - Iraq’s parliament passed a $58.6 billion budget Thursday after agreeing to sharp cuts amid falling oil prices.

The budget was approved after political blocs reached a compromise to break a weeks-long deadlock, according to Sami al-Atroushi, a member of the parliament’s finance committee.

He said lawmakers agreed to further cut the budget by about $4 billion. The government’s original spending proposal was about $79 billion but it already had faced an earlier round of cuts as oil prices dipped from a mid-July high of $150 to under $45.

COLOMBIA

Warlord extradited — despite concerns

Heberth Veloza, alias “HH,” has admitted to personally killing more than 100 people and has acknowledged that fighters under his command killed hundreds more. He is the 17th Colombian paramilitary boss to be extradited to the United States in less than a year to face drug-trafficking charges.

Handcuffed and wearing a bulletproof vest under a dark jacket, Veloza departed for New York on a DEA Super King turboprop plane accompanied by four U.S. agents. He switched planes at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, U.S. and Colombian officials said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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