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Archive for Thursday, April 21, 2005

Briefly

April 21, 2005

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Rome

Italy's premier resigns

Silvio Berlusconi, faced with mounting criticism over Italy's sluggish economy and its involvement in Iraq, resigned Wednesday as premier but vowed to quickly form a stronger new Cabinet to restore confidence in his leadership.

Resigning and then immediately shuffling the Cabinet is an old trick of Italy's complicated political system and has been used by premiers to strengthen faltering coalitions.

Berlusconi, who had presided over Italy's longest-serving government since World War II, had so far resisted the move, sensing it would dent his image as a new-style politician.

"One can't always get what one wants," he said.

It is formally up to President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi to designate a candidate to assemble a new government, or dissolve parliament and call early elections.

Geneva

Deadly flu virus samples located

All samples of the killer influenza virus sent outside the United States have been destroyed except for one in Lebanon, the U.N. health agency said Wednesday.

The sample that had gone missing in Beirut "was found at the airport," said Maria Cheng, spokeswoman for the World Health Organization.

Previously unaccounted for samples sent to Mexico and South Korea already have been destroyed, she said.

Dr. Walid Ammar, director general of Lebanon's Health Ministry, said in Beirut that the sample was being kept in a safe place until the ministry was instructed on whether to destroy it or send it back to the College of American Pathologists.

Because of fears of a global pandemic should the virus be released, WHO has been urging destruction of the 50-year-old H2N2 virus. The kits were sent to 61 laboratories in 18 countries outside the United States.

Jerusalem

Israeli troops preparing for summer pullout

Flatbed trucks rumbled out of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday carrying office furniture, computers and uniforms from an army base, the Israeli military's first concrete step toward a planned pullout this summer.

With Israel set to withdraw all troops and settlements from Gaza in just three months, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned that he expected Palestinians to loot abandoned sites after the soldiers leave. The comment astonished Palestinian leaders, who say chaos is not inevitable.

The army trucks began emptying the base of the Southern Brigade in Neve Dekalim, the largest Jewish settlement in Gaza. About 20 containers were removed Wednesday, and more are expected to be shipped out in the coming days, the army said.

Moscow

Rice reassures Putin about U.S. intentions

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday that the United States did not seek to rob Russia of its traditional influence in former Soviet republics.

Concerns about American intentions have accelerated in Russia following the establishment of pro-Western governments in Georgia and Ukraine and the expansion of the U.S. military presence in Central Asia as part of the Bush administration's fight against terrorism.

The United States has military facilities in the Central Asian nations of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Some Russians fear American "encirclement" of their country.

Speaking to reporters, Rice said she told Putin that U.S. actions in former Soviet states "are not in any way anti-Russian or designed to diminish Russian influence."

United Nations

Oil-for-food investigators resign in protest

Two senior investigators with the committee probing corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program have resigned in protest, saying they believe a report that cleared Kofi Annan of meddling in the $64 billion operation was too soft on the secretary-general, a panel member confirmed Wednesday.

The investigators felt the Independent Inquiry Committee, led by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, played down findings critical of Annan when it released an interim report in late March related to his son, said Mark Pieth, one of three leaders of the committee.

"You follow a trail, and you want to see people pick it up," Pieth told The Associated Press, referring to the two top investigators who left. The committee "told the story" that the investigators presented, "but we made different conclusions than they would have."

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