- - Tuesday, January 18, 2011

IRAQ

Iraq’s security berated after 52 die in bombing

BAGHDAD | A suicide bomber killed 52 people among a crowd of police recruits in Saddam Hussein’s hometown Tuesday, shattering a two-month lull in major attacks and spurring calls to keep the U.S. military in Iraq beyond 2011.

It was the second time in three days that efforts to bolster Iraqi police and army soldiers have backfired. The violence underscores persistent gaps in the security forces’ ability to protect the country, despite seven years and $22 billion in training and equipment provided by the U.S.

In an all-too-familiar scene, the suicide bomber joined hundreds of recruits waiting outside a police station in Tikrit to submit applications for 2,000 newly created jobs - a plum, if risky, opportunity in a country with an unemployment rate as high as 30 percent.

MEXICO

Police capture founder of Zetas drug gang

MEXICO CITY | Mexico’s federal police have arrested a founding member of the brutal Zetas drug cartel, a man who controlled drug smuggling routes and the kidnapping of Central American migrants in southern Mexico, officials said Tuesday.

Flavio Mendez Santiago, 35, was arrested along with a bodyguard outside Oaxaca City.

He was in charge of operations in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas and Veracruz.

Mr. Mendez Santiago, known as “El Amarillo” or “The Yellow One,” controlled the smuggling of Central and South American migrants and was in charge of moving them to the northern states of Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas, on the border with Texas.

IVORY COAST

Gbagbo agrees to talks with rival

ABIDJAN | Laurent Gbagbo gave new assurances Tuesday that he is open to talks with his rival for the Ivory Coast presidency, while regional leaders mulled military intervention to break the deadlock.

The proposal for talks was delivered Monday by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga on a fresh round of mediation to persuade Mr. Gbagbo to step down and end a seven-week standoff that has left scores dead and raised fears of civil war.

There was “an offer of dialogue between the two camps. It was accepted … a meeting depends on the response of the [Alassane] Ouattara camp,” Gbagbo government spokesman Ahoua Don Mello said.

GUATEMALA

Army is no match for drug gangs

COBAN | Guatemalan soldiers tasked with sweeping out Mexican drug cartels are finding they are outgunned and ill-equipped, raising fears of a power vacuum in parts of the country even after a 30-day military siege.

Hundreds of troops poured into the remote state of Alta Verapaz last month to attack traffickers, a surprise move by President Alvaro Colom to remobilize the army known for massacring civilians during Guatemala’s 1960-96 civil war.

The “state of siege” declared by the president ends Wednesday, but soldiers already have begun to return to their barracks and few army patrols are still operating in small towns terrorized by Mexico’s feared Zetas drug gang.

POLAND

Poles faults Russians in president’s crash

WARSAW | Russian air traffic controllers failed to warn the crew of Polish President Lech Kaczynski’s plane that it was off course shortly before it crashed last year in Russia, Polish investigators said Tuesday.

Interior Minister Jerzy Miller - who heads a Polish panel investigating the crash - made the claim nearly a week after the release of a Russian report that laid the blame squarely on the Poles.

The April 10 crash in dense fog in Smolensk, Russia, killed Mr. Kaczynski and 95 others.

Issues over blame for the crash have revived tensions between Poland and Russia that the two countries have worked recently to overcome.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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