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Archive for Saturday, February 19, 2005

Briefly - World

February 19, 2005

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Congo

Deadly plague strikes remote diamond mine

A rare form of plague has killed at least 61 people at a diamond mine in the remote wilds of northeast Congo, and authorities fear hundreds more who fled into the forests to escape the contagion are infected and dying, the World Health Organization said Friday.

Eric Bertherat, a doctor for the U.N. health agency, said the outbreak had been building since December around a mine near Zobia, 170 miles north of Kisangani, the capital of the vast Oriental province.

Nearly all the 7,000 miners have abandoned the infected area and sought refuge in the world's second-largest tropical rain forest, all but cut off from the outside world.

Security fears -- mainly from bandits and militia left from Congo's five-year war -- also have slowed international response, Bertherat said.

Plague is spread mainly by fleas and causes an infection in the lungs that slowly suffocates its victims. If caught in time, it can be treated with antibiotics.

Spain

Campaign trumpets EU referendum

A $9 million promotional campaign is designed to rally people to the polls Sunday when Spain becomes the first country in the European Union to vote on the continent's new constitution.

It is not much of a contest: Polls indicate Spaniards decisively favor acceptance of the constitution.

At stake, however, is an important psychological boost for other European countries that will be watching Spain's exercise, as well as a political test for the Socialist government of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

The 465-article charter is considered a defining document for the emerging 25-nation bloc, the "United States of Europe," as some have put it. It establishes a foreign minister post and a full presidency, ending the rotating position that now exists. It also simplifies lawmaking procedures.

For Spain, becoming the first to ratify the constitution would help validate the nation's climb from a sleepy backwater that came late to democracy after decades of Fascist dictatorship -- a point that Zapatero stresses in rallies and speeches.

Lebanon

Opposition supports peaceful protests

The Lebanese opposition stepped up its campaign against the pro-Syrian government Friday, calling for a peaceful uprising to force the resignation of Prime Minister Omar Karami and the withdrawal of Syrian troops.

Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh, however, warned the government would not tolerate public disturbances. "The state will not stand idly by," he said.

In the first high-level political fallout after Monday's assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Tourism Minister Farid Khazen resigned, saying the government was incapable of running the country.

The departure of Khazen, who was close to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, was a surprise but not expected to lead to a government collapse. Karami quickly appointed Wadih Khazen as the new minister. The two men are not related.

The anti-Syrian opposition, which has blamed the government and its Syrian backers for Hariri's assassination, called on Lebanese to stage a peaceful "independence uprising."

Beijing

Chinese official heads to North Korea

A top Chinese Communist Party official headed today to North Korea on a diplomatic mission to draw the isolated Stalinist regime back to stalled disarmament talks.

Wang Jiarui, head of the diplomatic department of the Chinese Communist Party, arrived at Beijing's international airport for a flight to Pyongyang.

During his visit, he is expected to try to persuade North Korea to return to the negotiating table. It was not immediately clear how long the trip would be.

Restarting the six-country talks has taken on greater urgency since North Korea declared last week that it is a nuclear power. The talks involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.

U.S. officials hope Beijing -- Pyongyang's last major ally -- will use its economic influence on North Korea to get it to stop developing nuclear weapons. China is an indispensable source of fuel and trade for the impoverished North.

Jerusalem

Israel to evacuate Egypt-Gaza border road

Israel has agreed in principle to evacuate a road along the Gaza-Egypt border that has been a major flashpoint of violence in recent years, Vice Premier Shimon Peres said Friday after a Palestinian official warned that continued Israeli military patrols there would invite attacks.

Israeli officials said in the past that soldiers would need to remain in the Philadelphi corridor after the planned Gaza Strip pullout this summer to prevent weapons smuggling. But a new spirit of cooperation in the region after last month's election of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian leader could make a pullback more palatable.

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