Cairo denounces partial U.S. aid freeze

Egypt on Thursday decried Washington’s decision to freeze a sizable chunk of its annual $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt, saying the move was wrong and ill-timed.

In Egypt’s first public reaction to the news, the Foreign Ministry said the U.S. move raised questions about Washington’s commitment to supporting the Arab nation’s security goals at a time when it is facing terrorist challenges, a reference to a burgeoning insurgency by Islamist militants, some with al-Qaeda links, in the strategic Sinai Peninsula and scattered attacks elsewhere in the country.

The United States announced the freezing of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, most of it meant for Egypt’s armed forces, as a show of displeasure over the military’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi and the subsequent crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist allies. Washington said the aid would be restored if “credible progress” was made toward setting up an inclusive, democratically elected government.

In its statement, the Foreign Ministry said Cairo was keen to maintain good relations with Washington but will independently decide its domestic policies. It also said that Egypt will work to secure its “vital needs” on national security, a thinly veiled threat that it would shop elsewhere for arms and military hardware.

— Associated Press

Report: Illicit gold financing rebels

M23 fighters in eastern Congo are bankrolling their rebellion by smuggling illicit gold, which ends up in jewelry stores and banks worldwide, according to a report published Thursday.

The Washington-based Enough Project has identified three main gold exporters that it suspects of helping the M23 rebels and their allies sell gold from eastern Congo, and it suggests that individuals not exercising due diligence should face U.N. sanctions. An estimated $500 million worth of gold is traded annually.

“That’s not to say that somebody else couldn’t try to take it over, but gold smuggling is a highly illicit business where people find it very difficult to trust one another,” said Sasha Lezhnev, senior policy analyst for the group.

The report accuses Rajendra “Raju” Kumar, who is thought to trade through Mineral Impex Uganda; Mutoka Ruganyira of Ntahangwa Mining in Burundi; and Madadali Sultanali Pirani, who is thought to run Silver Minerals in Uganda.

It was not immediately possible to reach the exporters for comment. Ruganyira told the Enough Project that he had sold his company and no longer traded gold, and investigators were unable to reach the other two for comment despite repeated attempts by phone and e-mail, Lezhnev said.

— Associated Press

Opponents challenge Aliyev reelection

Opponents of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said Thursday that they would go to court to challenge his election to a third term, rejecting the result of a vote that international monitors said was seriously flawed.

Aliyev, who succeeded his father a decade ago as leader of the oil-producing former Soviet republic, won a third five-year term with nearly 85 percent of the vote in Wednesday’s election.

Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the election was marred by a “restrictive media environment” and allegations of intimidation of candidates and voters.

Opposition candidate Jamil Hasanli said he would seek to challenge the official result in the Constitutional Court, alleging violations, including ballot stuffing and multiple voting.

Aliyev, 51, has overseen an economic boom that has raised living standards in the Caspian Sea nation, which pumps oil and gas to Europe, bypassing Russia. He has let Washington use Azerbaijan as a transit point for sending troops to Afghanistan. But he has faced criticism at home and abroad for his treatment of opponents.

— Reuters

Former Pakistani president re­arrested: Pakistan rearrested former president Pervez Musharraf on Thursday over accusations that he was personally responsible for the deaths of more than 100 people after he ordered commandos to storm the Red Mosque in Islamabad in 2007. The operation followed a week-long standoff between the mosque’s backers and security forces. The rearrest came after he had been granted bail in three other cases and after his attorney said Wednesday that he had been cleared to leave Pakistan.

Iraq hangs 42 alleged terrorists: Iraq has hanged 42 prisoners convicted of terrorism-related charges, including a woman, the Justice Ministry said Thursday, in Baghdad’s latest use of capital punishment despite international appeals to have it abolished. With violence mounting since April, the government defends the death penalty as a way to face down insurgents bent to destabilize the country. More than 5,000 people have been killed over the past six months, including nearly 200 in October.

— From news services