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Archive for Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Around the world

December 14, 2004

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Romania

Reform candidate wins presidential runoff

Bucharest mayor and reformist opposition candidate Traian Basescu won an unexpected victory Monday in Romania's presidential runoff election, ending a decade of rule by successors to this country's former communist regime.

Basescu, former ship captain, vowed to fight widespread corruption, restore press freedoms and prepare Romania to join the European Union by 2007. He also has said he supports social reform, including greater rights for gays -- a stance that drew heavy criticism from the country's powerful Orthodox Christian Church.

He defeated Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, who was supported by outgoing President Ion Iliescu, Romania's leader for 11 of the past 15 years since the revolution that deposed former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Belgium

EU, Iran launch next phase in negotiations

Germany, Britain and France launched new negotiations with Iran on Monday to seek ways for Tehran to abandon its alleged nuclear weapons program in return for aid to build up its civilian energy program.

The agreement for new talks came after 90 minutes of negotiations between Iran's top nuclear negotiator and the foreign ministers of Europe's "big three" nations, plus Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief.

Iran reached a provisional deal with the Europeans last month to suspend its enrichment and related activities. The International Atomic Energy Agency is monitoring the suspension.

"We are now able to move forward to a next phase," said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, adding it should lead to "a longer-term arrangement to provide objective guarantees that Iran's nuclear program can only be used for peaceful purposes."

Nigeria

Sudan's Darfur rebels boycott peace talks

Sudan's Darfur rebels announced a boycott of peace talks Monday, alleging the government had begun an offensive and saying a return to the negotiating table wasn't possible until the attacks ceased.

"The government is currently launching an offensive in all regions of Darfur. We are suspending the talks until the situation improves and there is a clear commitment that the Sudan government will stop the offensive," said Bahar Ibrahim, of the Sudan Liberation Army.

Ibrahim told reporters that he was speaking for both insurgent groups at the latest round of African Union-sponsored peace talks, held in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

Tens of thousands have died and nearly 2 million driven from their home during the nearly two-year fight, which has sparked what the United Nations calls the worst humanitarian crisis anywhere.

Ireland

Protestant leader breaks with government

Northern Ireland's major Protestant party broke off relations with the Irish government Monday after Prime Minister Bertie Ahern indicated he had accepted the IRA's refusal to provide photographs of disarmament.

Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley said his British Protestant party would not talk with Ahern's foreign minister or other officials during negotiations planned Wednesday for Hillsborough Castle near Belfast.

"We have cut off from today all connections with the southern government in talks. As far as we are concerned, he is a man that can't be trusted," Paisley declared of Ahern.

Paisley, 78, pursued his protest despite taking what he called an apologetic telephone call from Ahern who, according to aides, contended that he had been describing the IRA's opposition to photos, not his own.

Afghanistan

Report: Prisoners die in U.S. custody

Human Rights Watch said Monday it has discovered two more U.S. detainee deaths in Afghanistan, including an apparent murder more than two years ago, and said slow-paced investigations had "spawned a culture of impunity" that may have fueled prisoner abuse in Iraq.

In an open letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the New York-based group presented evidence of "an alleged murder of a detainee by four U.S. military personnel" in Afghanistan in 2002.

It also said a man picked up on Sept. 24 died the next day at an American base, but did not specify the cause of death.

"It's time for the United States to come clean about crimes committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan," said Brad Adams, the group's Asia division director. "The United States has to get serious about prosecuting people implicated in prisoner deaths and mistreatment."

Poland

Poles mark anniversary of martial law

Young political activists demonstrated Monday outside the home of Poland's last communist-era leader, whom some condemned and others praised on the anniversary of his imposing martial law in 1981.

Banners outside Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski's home in Warsaw read: "Here lives a communist criminal" and "Jaruzelski, we remember your crimes."

On Dec. 13, 1981, Poles awoke to find Jaruzelski's government had imposed martial law and outlawed Solidarity, the trade union movement that was pushing for economic reforms and democracy. Thousands were imprisoned before martial law was lifted on July 22, 1983.

"We remember the victims of those days, those who were arrested and their families," said Jaroslaw Krajewski, of the conservative Law and Justice party, according to PAP news agency.

Beijing

China, Russia announce joint military exercise

China and Russia will have their first joint military exercise next year, the Chinese government said Monday, as President Hu Jintao called for an expansion of the rapidly growing alliance between the former Cold War rivals.

The announcement came during a visit to Beijing by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who was expected to discuss expanding the Kremlin's multibillion-dollar annual arms sales to China.

The exercises are to take place on Chinese territory, the official China News Service said. But that report and other government statements didn't say when they would take place or what forces would be involved.

Beijing and Moscow have built up military and political ties since the Soviet collapse in 1991, driven in part by joint desire to counterbalance U.S. global dominance.

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