Summit endorses Israel, trade declaration
South American and Arab leaders at their first regional summit endorsed a declaration Wednesday condemning the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and calling for trade liberalization to lift the planet's poor out of misery.
Banding together in an event aimed at dampening the dominance of developed countries, they ended the two-day Summit of South American-Arab Countries by staking out positions at odds with U.S. policy on several fronts while committing to closer political and economic ties for the two far-flung regions.
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, a socialist, and American-backed Iraqi President Jalal Talabani joined dozens of other nations in approving a "Declaration of Brasilia" condemning terrorism, denouncing U.S. sanctions against Syria and supporting moves to give developing countries more clout on the international stage.
The summit brought 9,000 troops to the Brazilian capital in the tightest security seen here in years. Tanks were posted outside the convention center where 15 heads of state and top officials from 34 South American, Middle Eastern and North African nations met.
Strong support boosts EU constitution
Lawmakers in Austria and neighboring Slovakia voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to ratify the new European constitution, giving much-needed support to the charter intended to strengthen the 25-member European Union.
The Austrian ratification -- opposed by just one lawmaker -- and the strong support from the Slovak parliament, which voted 116-27 to endorse the constitution, gave EU backers a welcome boost as they try to gain support ahead of a fiercely contested May 29 referendum in France.
All 25 EU member countries must ratify the constitution for it to take effect, but it is up to each country to decide whether to hold a referendum or just a parliamentary vote. So far, the document has been approved by eight countries -- Austria, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.
Independence Day celebrated with optimism
Israel began Independence Day celebrations Wednesday evening with a sense of optimism sparked by a drop in fighting with the Palestinians, but a top official warned that the coming year could be one of strife between Israelis bitterly divided over plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.
The optimism, illustrated by a survey in Israel's largest daily, was a marked change from the previous four years, when Israel was embroiled in a bitter conflict with the Palestinians and struggling to deal with a faltering economy. Israel and the Palestinians have been observing a truce since February, and the economy is showing signs of recovery.
Despite the recent calm, security was tight. Palestinians were banned from entering Israel during the holiday, which began at sundown at the end of the solemn commemoration of the annual memorial day for Israel's fallen soldiers.