Archive for Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Around the world

January 18, 2005

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United Nations

U.S. Ag secretary choice for U.N. post

Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced Monday that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman was his choice to head the United Nations children's agency, which works in 158 countries to protect the rights of youngsters.

He said he would recommend to UNICEF's board that the 55-year-old lawyer who grew up on a family farm in California's fertile San Joaquin Valley replace Carol Bellamy in the spring. The board is meeting this week at U.N. headquarters.

Veneman was appointed the first female U.S. agriculture secretary by President Bush. She announced her resignation after his re-election without saying what she would do next.

Indonesia

Travel banned in part of tsunami-hit region

Security fears again threatened to hamper tsunami relief efforts Monday, with U.N. officials banning aid workers from traveling in parts of devastated Aceh province following reports that fighting had broken out between Indonesian government forces and insurgents.

The travel ban also came after Denmark warned its aid workers to beware of an imminent terror attack -- a caution that prompted U.N. officials to launch an investigation and declare a state of "heightened awareness" in Aceh, where separatists have been fighting for an independent state for decades.

Insisting that aid workers had nothing to fear, rebel leader Tengku Mucksalmina dismissed claims that insurgents might attack relief convoys in hopes of stealing food for their fighters.

"Our mothers, our wives, our children are victims from this tragedy. We would never ambush any convoy with aid for them," Mucksalmina told The Associated Press from his jungle hideout outside Banda Aceh. "We want (aid groups) to stay. We ask them not to leave the Acehnese people who are suffering."

Russia

Pension hikes ordered in response to protests

President Vladimir Putin, seeking to assuage rising public anger, promised a moderate increase in pensions and blamed federal and local officials Monday for failing to properly implement Kremlin reforms that cut off benefits to millions of Russians.

Putin's first public comments since the unpopular change took effect came hours after lines of police blocked hundreds of protesters from retaking a major intersection in central St. Petersburg that thousands of pensioners had occupied over the weekend.

A law that gives retirees, the disabled, war veterans and others cash stipends instead of benefits such as free medicine and public transportation took effect Jan. 1, sparking the largest uproar in Putin's five years in power.

Belgium

EU considers ban on all Nazi symbols

The European Union may consider banning Nazi symbols in its 25 member nations after Britain's Prince Harry wore a swastika armband to a costume party, the bloc's top justice official said Monday.

Franco Frattini, the EU's justice and home affairs commissioner, said he was open to discussing the issue at a Jan. 27 meeting of EU justice ministers.

"It may be worth looking into the possibility of a total ban, a Europe-wide ban," his spokesman, Friso Roscam Abbing, told reporters Monday. "Commissioner Frattini shares the general feeling of opprobrium on the use of the swastika and other Nazi symbols."

The call came after several German conservatives, socialists and liberal democrats in the European Parliament urged a European ban following a scandal last week over photos published worldwide of Harry, third in line to the British throne, wearing the Nazi outfit.

West Bank

Abbas moves to stem militant attacks

Under heavy pressure from Israel, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ordered his security forces Monday to take action to prevent militant attacks and investigate an assault on a Gaza Strip border crossing that killed six Israelis last week, Palestinian Cabinet ministers said.

There was no official announcement of Abbas' new instructions, but Palestinian ministers who spoke to reporters after a Cabinet meeting in Ramallah said orders went out to stop militant violence. But the militant group Hamas said it would press ahead with its attacks, and more rockets and mortars were fired Monday.

Hamas has stepped up its attacks in recent weeks, seeking to portray a planned Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as a retreat under fire. Israeli forces have responded with raids into Palestinian areas.

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