- - Sunday, November 14, 2010

FRANCE

Sarkozy appoints right-wing Cabinet

PARIS | President Nicolas Sarkozy named Prime Minister Francois Fillon head of a new, smaller and more right-wing government Sunday, setting the stage for his undeclared 2012 re-election bid.

Despite months of intrigue in the run-up to the reshuffle, Mr. Sarkozy retained his big hitters, while shifting rightwards in favor of a team more likely to fall in behind his government’s deficit-cutting austerity agenda.

Under a strengthened Mr. Fillon, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde and Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux remained in their jobs, while several other Sarkozy loyalists were promoted or saw their responsibilities widened.

Meanwhile, center-right Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo - the No. 2 figure in the outgoing government and until recent days a front-runner to become prime minister himself - announced he was stepping down.

AFGHANISTAN

5 NATO troops killed in bombings

KABUL | A series of bomb blasts and insurgents attacks killed 11 people across Afghanistan on Sunday, including five NATO service members and three Afghan police, officials said.

The strikes, which came a day after Taliban fighters stormed a NATO base in eastern Afghanistan, show the insurgents’ fighting spirit has not been broken despite a surge of U.S. troops and firepower.

Also Sunday, the Afghan president’s office said the former ambassador-designate to Pakistan, who was seized by gunmen two years ago in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, has been released and is back home and safe.

The diplomat, Abdul Khaliq Farahi, was freed in eastern Afghanistan late Saturday in a joint effort by officials from both countries and has returned to Kabul, where he met Sunday with President Hamid Karzai, the Afghan leader’s office said. A brief statement gave no details on how he was freed.

Sunday’s deaths brought to 31 the number of coalition service members who have died in Afghanistan this month.

ISRAEL

Official: Hamas rockets can reach Tel Aviv

TEL AVIV | A senior Israeli intelligence official warned Sunday that Hamas rulers in the Gaza Strip have rockets that can travel 50 miles - a longer range than previously reported, which would put the coastal metropolis of Tel Aviv within range of its launchers.

The official blamed Egypt, saying it was not doing enough to stem smuggling through a network of tunnels along the relatively short border between its Sinai desert and the Palestinian territory. An Egyptian security official reached for comment maintained that Egypt was combating the smuggling successfully.

The Israeli intelligence official said that Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, is “making very big efforts to build up their military capabilities … building up their rocket capabilities in the Gaza Strip, and all this is happening because of one important thing: the smuggling of weapons through Egypt to the Gaza Strip.”

Egypt, along with Israel, imposed an embargo on Gaza in June 2007 after Hamas militants took control of the area, but the Israelis and United States have repeatedly urged Egypt to do more to prevent weapons smuggling into the territory.

CUBA

Cuba frees political prisoner who refused exile

HAVANA | Cuba has freed one of 13 political prisoners who refused to go into exile and will let him stay on the island, in a signal that all may be released soon.

Arnaldo Ramos told Reuters Sunday that he was in good shape after more than seven years in prison and planned to resume his opposition to the communist-led government.

“I am in perfectly good condition and very happy to be home,” said the 68-year-old economist, who was released and allowed to return to his Havana home on Saturday night. “I’m going to return to the same activities I did before.”

He went on Sunday to the weekly protest march of the dissident group “Ladies in White,” where he posed for pictures beside leader Laura Pollan.

He was one of 75 dissidents arrested in a 2003 crackdown on government opponents and one of the last remaining in prison, serving an 18-year sentence.

In a deal brokered by the Catholic Church, Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in July to free the 52 who were then still behind bars.

But the government also wanted the imprisoned dissidents to leave the country and tried to convince them to go to exile in Spain in exchange for their freedom.

Spain has agreed to take in the former prisoners. Of the 52 dissidents, 39 accepted the offer, but the remaining 13, including Mr. Ramos, refused to leave their country.

GUINEA

Political party pulls out of vote count

CONAKRY | Less than 24 hours before Guinea’s election commission was due to release results from a crucial presidential election, one of the candidates said he would not accept the results because two contested counties had been included in the total, setting the stage for a violent showdown.

Cellou Dalein Diallo, who is from the Peul ethnic group, told reporters Sunday he would refuse to accept the outcome if the country’s election commission included the northern counties of Kouroussa and Siguiri in the provisional results - counties the head of the commission has said he was not authorized to invalidate.

The two provinces were swept by ethnic riots targeting the Peul in the days before the Nov. 7 balloting. Mr. Diallo claims his constituents were too intimidated to vote, and that in many polling stations his party could not find a single person to represent them and were instead represented by people appointed by the rival party.

Earlier in the day, the representative of Mr. Diallo’s party appointed to observe the vote count inside the election commission walked out over the same issue.


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