- - Tuesday, March 13, 2012

PARIS — President Nicolas Sarkozy heard his first welcome news in a while Tuesday in his battle for re-election.

For the first time in this campaign, a new poll suggests the long-unpopular president could beat Socialist Francois Hollande in the first round of voting next month - but it, like all previous polls, indicates Mr. Hollande would win in the crucial runoff.

Mr. Sarkozy publicly shrugged off the new estimates, and the campaign remains full of uncertainties.

The conservative leader has shifted visibly to the right in his campaign, with calls for a crackdown on immigration and criticizing measures accommodating French Muslims. He’s trying to tap votes from the resurgent far right and its candidate Marine Le Pen.

Ms. Le Pen won a victory of her own Tuesday, as her party announced that she has obtained the 500 signatures from elected officials necessary to formalize her bid for the presidency.


International court to deliver first verdicts

THE HAGUE — Joseph Kony and Thomas Lubanga are accused of leading jungle militias that turned African children into killers.

But while Mr. Lubanga awaits verdict in jail here, Kony remains one of the world’s most-wanted fugitives.

Mr. Lubanga’s moment of judgment comes Wednesday when a panel of three judges at the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal lays down a crucial legal landmark by delivering verdicts.

The case is the first at an international tribunal to focus exclusively on the use of child soldiers, meaning it will set legal precedents that could be used if the likes of Kony - who recently found Internet infamy in a video about the atrocities allegedly carried out by his Lord’s Resistance Army - are captured and brought to justice.


Rightists win biggest congress bloc

SAN SALVADOR — The leftist party led by El Salvador’s president lost four seats in midterm elections, leaving the conservatives as the biggest bloc in the legislature, according to preliminary vote counts made public Monday.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal said that with 95 percent of Sunday’s votes counted, the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance gained a seat to hold 33 of the Legislative Assembly’s 84 seats. It also won some key mayoral posts, including in the capital.

President Mauricio Funes’ Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front dropped to 31 seats from 35. A coalition led by former conservative President Elias Saca won 11 seats, while the remaining nine seats went to four small parties.

Mr. Funes is the first leftist to be elected El Salvador’s president since its civil war ended in 1992.

Observers said the results of Sunday’s vote was a setback for Mr. Funes.


Panetta seeks to boost support for base

BISHKEK — Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta met with Kyrgyzstan’s leaders to stress that America needs the continued use of the U.S. air base there beyond the end of its contract in 2014, largely as a transit center to bring troops home from Afghanistan.

A senior U.S. official traveling with Mr. Panetta to Kyrgyzstan said the U.S. believes there may be some “wiggle room” for additional negotiations for a longer-term contract.

The official said the defense chief on Tuesday stressed the importance of the transit center for both countries, for regional security as well as the possible transition to a lucrative commercial hub in the future.

Mr. Panetta met with Taalaybek Omuraliev, Kyrgyzstan’s defense minister, and Busurmankul Tabaldiev, the secretary of the Defense Council.

Mr. Tabaldiev told Mr. Panetta that while Kyrgyzstan “has shown readiness” to support the U.S. and transit center after 2014, he said that after 2014 “there should be no military mission.”


Official: Gunmen kill 19 in bus attack

ADDIS ABABA — An Ethiopian official said Tuesday unknown gunmen in the country’s southwest killed 19 people in an attack on a public bus.

The president of Ethiopia’s Gambella region said eight people were wounded.

Omod Obang Olum said the victims were Ethiopian residents traveling in a public bus that was ambushed near a town called Bonga by attackers with machine guns.

Gambella is a traditionally marginalized area of the country that struggles with internal conflicts over water and land. It also is affected by its border with South Sudan, as refugees pour across into Gambella when violence erupts in that newly independent nation.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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