- The Washington Times - Monday, November 12, 2012

TEHRAN | Iran’s military is to test a new air defense system modeled after the U.S. Hawk system as tensions with the West escalate over the country’s suspect nuclear program, the Iranian state TV reported Monday.

The report quoted Gen. Farzad Esmaili, chief of Iran’s air defense headquarters, as saying the surface-to-air system has been named “Mersad,” or Ambush.

The system is capable of locking on a flying object at a distance of 50 miles and can hit from 30 miles away, using an Iranian-made missile dubbed “Shahin,” or Hawk, according to the report.

The TV said Mersad will be tested during the military exercises that started last weekend. Billed as “massive,” the weeklong drill is also to include Iranian jet fighters, drones and about 8,000 troops, spanning over nearly the entire eastern half of Iran.

The drill is meant to upgrade Iranian capabilities amid rising tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran’s enrichment program, which can be a pathway to nuclear arms.

The U.S. and its allies fear the program masks Tehran’s ambitions to obtain a nuclear weapon. Iran denies the claim, insisting the nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

The military drill also is expected to test Iran’s S-200 air defense system, which was first displayed in September. The S-200 is a Russian-made, medium-to-high altitude surface-to-air missile system designed primarily to track, target and destroy aircraft and cruise missiles.


22 police hurt, 176 arrested in march

WARSAW | Police said Monday that 22 officers were injured and 176 people were arrested in clashes with right-wing protesters marching on Poland’s Independence Day.

The disturbances broke out Sunday evening, when right-wing protesters, some of whom were masked, threw stones and metal objects at police in Warsaw. Police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.

It is the second year in a row that Independence Day celebrations in the capital have been marred by violence on the sidelines.

The Independence Day celebrates Poland regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after more than 120 years of imposed foreign rule.


Harvest improves but shortages persist

ROME | North Korea increased its staple foods production for the second year in a row, but its citizens are still suffering from a serious lack of key proteins and fats in their diets, a U.N. report said Monday.

A U.N. team visited all nine agricultural provinces of the communist state in September and October during the main cereal harvest, and estimated that even with the increase — a 10 percent improvement over last year — North Korea will need to import 507,000 metric tons of cereals to meet its basic food needs.

North Korea has struggled for decades to feed its 24 million people.

Its new leader, Kim Jong-un, has made improving the economy a priority and has pledged to improve North Koreans’ standards of living.

In its eagerly anticipated report, the U.N. said it is concerned that North Korea’s soybean production declined 30 percent and that there were limited vegetables available, meaning the chronic lack of proteins, oils, fats, vitamins and micro-nutrients in the typical North Korean diet remains a problem.


Radical cleric wins deportation appeal

LONDON | A radical Islamist cleric described by prosecutors as a key al Qaeda operative in Europe cannot be deported from Britain to Jordan to face terrorism charges, judges ruled Monday in the latest twist in a protracted legal saga.

Britain’s government has been attempting since 2001 to expel radical preacher Abu Qatada, who previously has been convicted in his absence in Jordan of terrorist offenses related to two alleged bomb plots.

Though the country’s Home Office said it intended to appeal the decision, Judge John Mitting granted the cleric bail and said he would be freed from prison Tuesday — despite a claim from a government lawyer that he poses a major security threat.

Abu Qatada, a Palestinian-born Jordanian cleric whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, was convicted in Jordan over terrorist plots in 1999 and 2000, and he will face a retrial if deported there from Britain.

Britain’s government has insisted it has won assurances from Jordan over how Abu Qatada’s case would be handled — including from Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who met with British Prime Minister David Cameron last week.

But judges said there is a real risk that evidence obtained through torture would be used against the cleric.


Inquiry opened into sister of Islamic terrorist

PARIS | The Paris prosecutor’s office has opened a preliminary inquiry into a statement by the sister of Islamic terrorist Mohamed Merah, who said she is “proud” of her brother, who killed seven people, including three Jewish children, in March.

A judicial official said Monday that the probe for “defense of terrorism” is aimed at establishing the conditions under which Souad Merah spoke.

Her words, captured by a hidden camera, were aired this weekend in a TV documentary based on an account by Merah’s oldest brother, Abdelghani. He claims the Merah children, of Algerian origin, were raised on anti-Semitism.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls denounced Souad Merah’s words, saying they can only be seen as a defense of terrorism and of anti-Semitism.

Merah was killed in a standoff with police at his Toulouse apartment.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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