Opposition Reports

Arrests in Azerbaijan

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Two of Azerbaijan's leading opposition parties said Friday that police had arrested their campaign managers less than 48 hours before a parliamentary election seen as a test of democracy in the former Soviet state.

A spokesman for the National Front party said its campaign boss, Qabil Mamedzayev, had been detained. Its partner in the main opposition bloc, the Democratic Party, said earlier that its campaign manager, Faramaz Javadov, had been arrested.

Azerbaijan, an oil-producing region in the turbulent south Caucasus region, has yet to hold an election judged free and fair by international observers. Sunday's vote is under close scrutiny for signs of official interference.

The Democratic Party said Javadov had been arrested by plainclothes police at the party's campaign headquarters late on Thursday during a raid in which party leaflets were also confiscated.

Both the National Front and the Democratic Party are part of the Freedom bloc, which is seen as the strongest opposition force contesting the election.

Opinion polls indicate that the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party will easily retain its huge majority in parliament. But Western officials say they are more concerned about how the vote is conducted.

Western officials had said they were hopeful Sunday's vote would be an improvement after President Ilham Aliyev ordered a last-minute package of anti-fraud measures including applying ink to voters' fingers to stop people from voting twice.


* BEIJING -- China and Vietnam reported new bird flu outbreaks in poultry Friday despite massive prevention efforts, while Japan prepared to destroy 180,000 birds to stop a suspected outbreak and Thailand announced plans to distribute its own generic antiviral drug.

As global jitters mounted, a meeting of ministers from 17 African nations appealed to the continent's governments to share resources, warning that migratory birds from Europe and Asia could carry the virus to their shores.

The virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu has devastated Asia's poultry flocks and killed at least 62 people since 2003.

Most of the human deaths from bird flu have been linked to close contact with infected birds, but experts fear the virus could mutate into a form easily spread from person to person and spark a worldwide pandemic.

The outbreak prompted authorities to destroy 369,900 other birds in the region and came despite efforts to tighten controls on China's 5.2 billion chickens, ducks and other poultry.

No human cases have been reported in China, but authorities warn that one is inevitable if the government fails to stop repeated outbreaks in poultry.

* MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan will postpone the purchase of F-16 fighter jets from the United States in order to provide more relief to victims of the Oct. 8 earthquake, said the president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

"We want to bring maximum relief and reconstruction effort," he said, while stressing the need to maintain national security.

The United Sates said last year it was willing to sell Pakistan F-16 fighters, and the country was said to be prepared to buy about 80 of them.

An F-16 can cost up to about $40 million, depending upon the model and the configuration.

Pakistan is seeking billions of dollars in relief and reconstruction aid in the wake of the earthquake that killed more than 73,000 people in its northern mountains.

* TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan is considering expanding charter flights to rival China for the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday in the latest sign of improved commercial relations between the longtime adversaries, an official said.

Direct air links were suspended in 1949 when the sides split in a civil war, but in 2003 and 2005 charter flights were set up to allow Taiwanese businesspeople in China to return home for the Lunar New Year.

Initially only Shanghai was served by the flights; the cities of Guangzhou and Beijing were added this year.

While commercial ties between the island and the mainland have boomed over the past 15 years, regular air travelers must still connect via a third point, usually Hong Kong.

Taiwan opposes commercial flights, ostensibly for security reasons.


* ZANZIBAR, Tanzania -- The winner of Zanzibar's disputed election appealed for peace as the Indian Ocean archipelago celebrated the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan after days of political violence.

"The people of Zanzibar made their choice, and God blessed their choice," President Amani Abeid Karume said in his first public address since being sworn in Wednesday for a second term, which by law must be his last. "There is no good reason for people not to respect the law."

Karume's main rival, Seif Shariff Hamad, contends that the Oct. 30 election was stolen. Hamad's supporters in the Civic United Front party fought running battles with police for four days before, during and after the vote in opposition strongholds in this semiautonomous part of Tanzania. At least two people were killed, and scores were injured and arrested.

the middle east

* JERUSALEM -- Family and friends lit candles and laid wreaths at the grave of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to begin a week of commemorations marking the 10th anniversary of his assassination.

The anniversary has reopened wounds in a country that remains deeply divided about Rabin's legacy and the prospects for peace with the Palestinians. In his first interview since the assassination, the man in charge of Rabin's security the night he was killed called for a new inquiry into the killing, saying key questions remain unanswered.

Rabin, who negotiated the historic 1993 Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians, was assassinated on Nov. 4, 1995, by Yigal Amir, an ultranationalist Jew who considered Rabin a traitor. Amir is serving a life sentence for the killing.

Many mourners fretted about the divisions that still exist in Israel and the possibility of more political killings.

-- From News Services

With a rainbow over their heads, British soldiers of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Anglians line up to receive their medals at their Pirbright barracks in Surrey in southestern England following their six-month tour of Iraq.