- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 7, 2009

MAURITANIA

Junta expels Israeli diplomats

NOUAKCHOTT | Mauritania’s military junta expelled Israeli diplomats and shut the embassy Friday after freezing ties with the Jewish state over its invasion of Gaza.

Mauritania was one of only three Arab countries that had full diplomatic relations with Israel, and the closure of the embassy in Nouakchott leaves just Egypt and Jordan.

Mauritania’s communications minister said the move was a result of a decision taken at a meeting of Arab leaders in Doha in mid-January following Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry official who declined to be identified said he could not confirm the expulsion and suggested that the timing of the decision could be linked to a planned visit to Nouakchott by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who also heads the African Union.

IRAQ

Forgive Saddam allies, al-Maliki urges

BAGHDAD | Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, growing in strength as violence fades and Iraq tries to embrace political unity, called Friday for forgiveness for allies of Saddam Hussein.

“We must reconcile with those who committed mistakes, who were obliged in that difficult era to side with the past regime. Today they are again sons of Iraq,” Mr. al-Maliki told a meeting of tribal leaders in Baghdad.

“We will reconcile with them, but on the condition they come back to us and turn the page on that dark part of Iraq’s history … What happened, happened,” he said.

The call for forgiveness comes five weeks after January’s provincial elections in which allies of Mr. al-Maliki, a Shi’ite and former opposition member who fled Iraq under Saddam and was sentenced to death in absentia, swept much of central and southern Iraq.

KYRGYZSTAN

U.S. allies barred from using base

BISHKEK | Kyrgyz lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Friday to suspend an agreement that allows U.S.-led coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan to use an air base on its territory.

The Central Asian nation last month ordered the United States to vacate the Manas air base within six months. The decision to deny use of the facility to other coalition members appears to undermine hopes a new agreement could be reached with American forces.

A spokesman for President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said this week that Kyrgyzstan was willing to negotiate a new deal allowing U.S. troops to operate in the country. Speaking after the vote, deputies suggested there was still a chance the base could be returned to foreign use.

MOROCCO

Iran ties severed over Shi’ite spread

RABAT | Morocco cut off diplomatic relations with Iran on Friday, accusing Tehran in a rare public spat of trying to spread Shi’ite Islam in this Sunni Arab kingdom.

Morocco’s Foreign Ministry accused largely Shi’ite Iran’s embassy in Rabat of trying to “alter the religious fundamentals of the kingdom” and threaten Morocco’s religious unity.

Accusations of proselytism by the Iranian Embassy have appeared in the Moroccan press in recent years. The embassy has denied the charges repeatedly.

There are officially no Shi’ite Muslims in Morocco, a North African kingdom that is more than 99 percent Sunni, with the remainder of the population Jewish or Christian.

SPAIN

Passenger caught with cocaine leg cast

MADRID | A 66-year-old passenger who arrived at Barcelona airport in a wheelchair and with a leg cast made entirely of cocaine was arrested Friday as he tried to get through customs.

The man, flying from Santiago, Chile, also had cocaine stashed in six cans of beer and two folding stools in his luggage, the Interior Ministry said. Police confiscated nearly 11 pounds of the drug.

INDONESIA

Rarest rhino endangered

JAKARTA | Time and space are running out for the Javan Rhinoceros - the most endangered mammal in the world.

There are fewer than 60 left in the wild - almost all in a single Indonesian national park - and numbers appear to be declining for the first time in decades because of low birthrates, said Christy Williams, an Asian rhino specialist.

The Javan rhino weighs 5,000 pounds and measures more than 10 feet in length. About 50 live in Ujung Kulon National Park, but it appears that only three of the females are breeding continuously, said Adhi Rachmat Hariyadi, who leads a project in the park.

As a result, an average of one calf is born every year - near to the number of animals dying, and four times fewer than would be needed to sustain a healthy, growing rhino population, he and others say.

Ms. Williams said the park may have reached the maximum number of rhinos it can support, and the animals may also be struggling to compete for scare resources with growing populations of wild cattle.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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