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Wednesday, December 29, 2004; Page A14

Romanian Parliament Gives Centrists Power

BUCHAREST, Romania -- Romania's Parliament elected a centrist government on Tuesday packed with young, Western-educated academics vowing to speed up changes needed to bring the Balkan country into the European Union.

Forged from four centrist parties, Romania's youngest post-communist cabinet faces two years of hard work to join the wealthy bloc as planned in 2007, along with Bulgaria.

A joint session of both houses of Parliament voted 265 to 200 in favor of Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu's government, hailed by many Romanians as representing a new beginning 15 years after the fall of the Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Voters tired of poverty and corruption punished the outgoing ex-communist Social Democrats for dragging their feet on pro-Western changes. The young centrists must tackle a mountain of work in revamping rusty public administration and justice systems.

The Americas

LIMA, Peru -- About 70 peasants armed with sticks, stones and machetes kidnapped a journalist and tied him to a post in a remote Andean village, accusing him of supporting a copper mining project.

In an apparent reprisal, his friends abducted a local official who opposed mining, but no details of her whereabouts or condition were immediately available.

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Police captured a reputed leader of the Norte del Valle drug cartel, the latest arrest in a U.S.-backed effort to dismantle a gang accused of trafficking half of all cocaine sold in the United States in the 1990s.

Dagoberto Florez, a reputed capo, or leader in the cartel, was on a list of most-wanted alleged cocaine kingpins sought by U.S. authorities under a court order handed down in New York in May. The U.S. government offered a $5 million reward for his capture.


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- An Egyptian, two Thai Muslims and a Cambodian Muslim charged with links to the Islamic radical group Jemaah Islamiah plotted to bomb the British and U.S. embassies in Phnom Penh in 2002, a court was told.

The prosecution said the Egyptian, Esam Mohamid Khidr Ali, Thais Chiming Abdul Azi and Muhammadyalludin Mading, and Cambodian Sman Esma El had colluded with Indonesian al Qaeda militant Hambali, suspected planner of the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, to attack the two missions.

HONG KONG -- Former Philippine president Joseph Estrada, who was ousted and placed under house arrest on corruption charges, said his country's government feared his popular support and prosecutors had no evidence against him.

Estrada, who is in Hong Kong for knee replacement surgery, said that the current Philippine president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was keeping him under house arrest because he was still hugely popular and could launch his own "people power" movement similar to the one that forced him out in 2001.

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