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Afghanistan's Karzai publicly endorses NATO's Kandahar operation

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks at a meeting in Kandahar.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks at a meeting in Kandahar. (Massoud Hossaini - AP)
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Monday, June 14, 2010

AFGHANISTAN

Karzai publicly backs Kandahar operation

Afghan President Hamid Karzai gave the green light Sunday to a major security crackdown in the Taliban birthplace of Kandahar, assuring residents that the operation was aimed at battling corruption and bad government as much as insurgents.

Hundreds of tribal and religious leaders, sitting cross-legged in a steamy conference hall in the city, publicly endorsed the plan, although Afghan officials acknowledged lingering skepticism about the high-stakes operation, seen as a possible turning point in the nearly nine-year-old war.

Afghan and international forces have started to ramp up security, raising fears among the estimated half-million people living in and around the city that military action will lead to more bloodshed. Karzai worked to allay those fears, saying the operation will not resemble a heavy military offensive that includes tanks and airstrikes, which are blamed for civilian deaths.

It was only Karzai's second visit in recent years to Kandahar, the biggest city in the south and the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban. U.S. commanders think control of Kandahar is the key to wresting the ethnic Pashtun south away from the Taliban, which has exploited public discontent with the central government to win broad support in the strategic region.

-- Associated Press

GAZA STRIP

Arab League chief offers his support

The Arab world's top diplomat declared support Sunday for the people of the blockaded Gaza Strip in his first visit to the Palestinian territory since Hamas violently seized control of it three years ago.

The visit was the latest sign that Israel's deadly raid on an aid flotilla trying to break the blockade of Gaza has eased the diplomatic isolation of the Islamist militant group.

"The siege must be lifted," Arab League chief Amr Moussa told reporters.

Israel, meanwhile, appeared to grow more isolated amid the fallout over the May 31 raid as Defense Minister Ehud Barak canceled plans Sunday to visit Paris.

Barak's office said he would stay in Israel while the government forms a committee to investigate the raid. The statement denied that the decision was connected to attempts by pro-Palestinian groups to seek his arrest.

Israeli defense officials said Barak called off his trip to Paris over concerns that it would attract unwanted attention. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the news media.

-- Associated Press

Blasts at Kenyan political rally kill 5: Two explosions ripped through a park in Kenya's capital during a packed political rally late Sunday, killing five people and wounding 75, officials said. The Nairobi rally was held to protest a draft constitution that will be put to a vote in August. The country's president and prime minister support it, but several prominent political leaders do not.

Colombian troops rescue FARC hostages: Government troops have rescued a police general kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) nearly 12 years ago, delivering another blow to the country's weakened guerrilla movement, President Álvaro Uribe said Sunday. Uribe said Gen. Luis Mendieta, the highest-ranking and longest-held FARC hostage, was rescued along with a kidnapped colonel.

Flemish separatists lead in Belgian election: A separatist party that advocates independence for the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium, leaving the country's Francophones to fend for themselves, was scoring a big victory in the country's general election on Sunday. With two-thirds of the votes counted, the Interior Ministry predicted that the Dutch-speaking New Flemish Alliance -- a fringe factor until now -- would take 31 out of the 150 legislative seats, a gain of 23, and push the long-dominant Christian Democrats into second place.

U.S. interior designer found dead in Bahamas: A South Florida interior designer whose elegant creations were popular with movie stars, models and fashion icons was found dead in an exclusive area of the Bahamas, authorities said Sunday. J. Wallace Tutt III, the owner of the boutique Rock House hotel on Harbour Island, was found Saturday morning in a grassy area of the island known as "the Narrows," said a police official.

-- From news services


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