- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 22, 2010

THAILAND

Unrest spreads as army train blocked

BANGKOK | Thailand’s tense political crisis spilled over from Bangkok to the northeast Wednesday, as anti-government demonstrators blocked a train carrying military vehicles that they claimed would be used to suppress fellow protesters in the capital.

The confrontation erupted as the “Red Shirt” protesters and security forces remained locked in a potentially explosive standoff in downtown Bangkok. The determined demonstrators are demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve parliament and call new elections immediately.

A failed April 10 attempt by security forces to flush protesters from another location erupted into the worst political violence Thailand has seen in 18 years, leaving 25 people dead and more than 800 wounded.

The protesters consist mainly of poor rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists who opposed the military coup that ousted him in 2006.

VATICAN CITY

Pope promises action against clerical sex abuse

Pope Benedict XVI pledged Wednesday that the Catholic Church would take action to confront the clerical sex abuse scandal, his first public remarks calling for change since the crisis erupted.

It remains to be seen what exactly is in store. The Vatican has told bishops that they must report abusive priests to police if civil laws where they live require it and has promised “effective measures” to protect children.

The pope has wept alongside abuse victims in Malta.

Advocates for victims are skeptical that real change is afoot and say that previous promises have been made. Others argue that it would be wrong to underestimate the impact of the pontiff’s personal involvement in generating reform.

FRANCE

Sarkozy aims to ban Islamic face veils

PARIS | President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday ordered legislation that would ban women from wearing Islamic veils that hide the face in the street and other public places.

In seeking to forbid the garment from public view, Mr. Sarkozy defied the advice of experts sought by the government who warned that such a broad ban risked contravening the French Constitution.

Such a measure would put France on the same track as Belgium, which also is moving toward a complete ban in a similar reaction as Islamic culture has come in conflict with native European values. Mr. Sarkozy repeatedly has said that such clothing oppresses women and is “not welcome” in France.

The decision to seek a full ban, rather than a limited ban, came as a surprise. After a Cabinet meeting just a week ago, a government spokesman announced a decision for legislation that bans the veil but takes into account conclusions on the matter by the Council of State, France’s highest administrative office.

SRI LANKA

Detained army chief set to attend new parliament

COLOMBO | Sri Lanka’s parliament opens Thursday with attention focused on the appearance of former army chief Sarath Fonseka, who is set to travel under escort from military custody to take up his seat.

The assembly, set to convene for the first time since elections on April 8, will be dominated by the United People’s Freedom Alliance led by Mr. Fonseka’s arch-rival, President Mahinda Rajapakse.

Mr. Rajapakse’s coalition is just short of the two-thirds majority required for the government to rewrite the constitution, which at present prevents the president from standing again when his second term ends in 2016.

Mr. Fonseka, who is being court-martialed, would be allowed to attend the opening of parliament before being returned to detention afterwards, government officials said.

RWANDA

Opposition chief held for ‘genocide denial’

KIGALI | Rwandan opposition leader and presidential hopeful Victoire Ingabire was arrested Wednesday on charges of denying the 1994 genocide and “collaborating with a terrorist organization,” an official said.

Ms. Ingabire, a likely challenger to President Paul Kagame in August elections, was arrested in Kigali and later appeared before a prosecutor at the Gasabo district court in the capital.

“The court will decide on Thursday whether she remains in preventive custody as requested by the prosecution or is granted bail awaiting substantive trial,” the statement from the prosecution said.

Ms. Ingabire is accused of “association with a terrorist group; propagating genocide ideology; negationism and ethnic divisionism.”

Her United Democratic Forces party, formed in exile but not registered in Rwanda, condemned the arrest, but said it would not impair Ms. Ingabire’s ambitions.

CHINA

Tibetan monks ordered out of quake zone

BEIJING | As China mourned the victims of last week’s earthquake at official ceremonies on Wednesday, some of the first responders to the disaster apparently were ordered to leave.

Survivors say Tibetan monks were first on the scene with food and tents, and helping to dig survivors and bodies out of the rubble.

But the head of one monastery said the government’s Religious Affairs Bureau and the Communist Party in the remote, western region have ordered the monks to leave.

Communist Party authorities keep the monasteries under tight control and the tensions have in the past turned violent.

But in the aftermath of the disaster, the monks worked alongside Chinese soldiers sent to the quake area. Military officials said all 12,000 of the soldiers struggled with altitude sickness and many had trouble communicating with Tibetan survivors.

The monks, some of whom live in the quake zone, didn’t face those problems.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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