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World Digest: Opponents of Venezuela's Chávez jailed in crackdown

Saturday, March 27, 2010; A06

VENEZUELA

Chávez opponents jailed in crackdown

Two foes of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez who had publicly criticized the socialist government in recent days found themselves in jail this week as part of a crackdown on opposition figures that has prompted alarm about the state of democracy in the oil-rich Latin American country.

On Monday, former state governor and opposition presidential candidate Oswaldo Álvarez Paz was charged with spreading false information after he said that Venezuela has become a haven for drug traffickers, an accusation long made by U.S. and Colombian officials.

"No one can stand up to defame, to lie, to manipulate in the media here," Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said after the arrest of Álvarez, who remains in jail.

On Thursday, Guillermo Zuloaga, owner of the anti-Chávez television station Globovisión, was arrested for making remarks deemed offensive to the president. Zuloaga, who was released after several hours, was also accused of disseminating false information that could "cause public panic."

The State Department and Human Rights Watch have said that Chávez is abusing his authority. Santiago Cantón, executive secretary of the human rights arm of the Organization of American States, said Friday, "It's very grave that state power be used punitively to chase down opponents."

Constitutional experts and rights groups in Venezuela say that dozens of government adversaries have been jailed for their political activities. An additional 2,000 Venezuelans are under investigation.

-- Juan Forero

ISRAEL

2 soldiers, 2 militants killed in border clash

Two Israeli soldiers and two Palestinians were killed in an exchange of fire along Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on Friday after an Israeli army patrol spotted Palestinians planting explosives, the army said.

The Israeli deaths were the first military casualties since soon after Israel ended an offensive in Gaza in January 2009 that aimed to stop the firing of rockets from the enclave into Israel. A Thai worker was killed last week by a rocket fired from Gaza, the first such death in a year.

Three Palestinian groups issued statements asserting responsibility for Friday's incident: the military wing of the ruling Hamas movement, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades; the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades; and a little-known group that called itself Palestine Taliban.

Israel is under pressure from the Obama administration to make confidence-building gestures to the Palestinians.

-- Janine Zacharia

BRITAIN

Challenge upheld to Heathrow runway

Greenpeace and other groups opposed to expansion at London's Heathrow Airport won a challenge to the British government's decision to allow the building of a third runway.

A High Court judge ruled Friday that the government should take climate change issues into account before supporting the project.

The ruling may delay construction of the runway, which backers say is needed to relieve congestion at Europe's busiest airport.

-- Bloomberg News

EUROPE

Catholic leaders voice support for pope

Catholic churches in Europe rallied behind Pope Benedict XVI on Friday, rejecting claims that he had covered up child sex abuse by priests and praising his leadership on the issue.

The French bishops' conference, the archbishop of London and the Munich Archdiocese, which Benedict once led, all rejected allegations in the news media a day after the Vatican accused its critics of an "ignoble attempt" to smear him.

-- Reuters

Pakistani troops kill dozens of militants: Pakistani troops killed at least 34 militants after about 150 Taliban fighters attacked a military post in the northwest, undermining government assertions that crackdowns have weakened the group. A senior military officer and four paramilitary soldiers were also killed in the attack in Orakzai, a day after Pakistani jets killed nearly 50 people, mostly militants, in strikes on a school and a seminary in the region.

-- From news services

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