March 21, 2013
turkey
Kurdish rebel leader
orders cease-fire

Jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan ordered his fighters on Thursday to cease their fire and withdraw from Turkish soil as a step to ending a conflict that has killed 40,000 people, split the country and battered its economy.

Hundreds of thousands of Kurds, gathered in the regional center of Diyarbakir, cheered and waved banners bearing Ocalan’s image when a letter from the rebel leader, held since 1999 on a prison island in the Marmara Sea, was read out by a pro-Kurdish politician. “Let guns be silenced and politics dominate,” he said to a sea of red-yellow-and-green Kurdish flags. “It’s not the end. It’s the start of a new era.” Ocalan did not provide a time frame.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken considerable risks since he was elected in 2002, breaking taboos deeply rooted in a conservative establishment by extending cultural and language rights to Kurds. But Kurdish activists want greater freedom from Ankara. Erdogan, in the Netherlands, welcomed the cease-fire call but said the real test would be putting it into action.

— Reuters

burma
Sectarian violence
flares in central town

At least five people died and a mosque was burned in two days of rioting in a central Burmese town, in the latest challenge for the government in keeping the peace while moving from military rule to pluralist democracy.

State-controlled media broke their silence Thursday night on the continuing violence in Meikhtila, about 340 miles north of the main city of Rangoon, announcing that five people had been killed and 39 injured in rioting triggered by an argument between a Muslim gold-shop owner and his Buddhist customers.

Occasional isolated violence involving Burma’s majority Buddhist and minority Muslim communities has occurred for decades. But the risk of spreading violence was underlined last year by clashes in the western state of Rakhine between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya that left about 200 people dead and more than 100,000 homeless.

— Associated Press

Australia’s Gillard avoids leadership challenge: Australia’s unpopular government further damaged its image with a bizarre internal power struggle in which Prime Minister Julia Gillard was forced to open her job to challengers only to find that no one from her Labor Party was willing to run against her. Kevin Rudd, whom Gillard ousted in a party coup in 2010, withdrew his expected challenge at the last minute, apparently uncertain of his support. The spectacle was seen as likely to harm Labor’s already dismal prospects in September elections.

Scotland sets date for independence vote: Scotland will hold an independence referendum on Sept. 18, 2014, to decide if its 5 million people should end a 300-year-old union and leave the United Kingdom. First Minister Alex Salmond, announcing the date in the Scottish Parliament, said a break of ties with London would give Scots the chance “to build a better country.” Opinion polls, however, put support for independence at about 30 percent of the Scottish electorate, while 50 percent favor the status quo.

New Anglican leader enthroned: The new archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England and spiritual leader of the world’s 77 million-strong Anglican Communion, was formally enthroned in England’s 900-year-old Canterbury Cathedral. Earlier Thursday, Justin Welby talked to the BBC about some issues that have dogged his predecessors, acknowledging that his views on same-sex marriage had been “challenged” by the quality of many gay relationships and predicting that a woman would one day become Anglican leader.

Central African rebels plan to resume combat: Central African Republic’s Seleka rebel group said it will resume an offensive against the government after President Francois Bozize failed to meet demands issued four days ago. The U.N. Security Council expressed “strong concern” about the deteriorating security situation in the country and urged all parties to respect a peace accord signed two months ago in Gabon.

— From news services

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