World digest 10/14/03

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Ahead of Bush visit, U.S. spy planes scour jungles

MANILA, Philippines -- The U.S. military has deployed surveillance planes to scour jungles in the Philippines for al-Qaida-linked guerrillas posing a threat to American counterterrorism trainers, officials told The Associated Press on Monday.

The heightened security comes ahead of a visit Saturday by President Bush and after the Philippines scored a victory in the war on terrorism by killing one of the most wanted terrorist suspects in Asia, a top bombmaker for the regional group Jemaah Islamiyah.

Praise rolled in Monday from U.S., Australian and Singapore officials for the shootout that ended a manhunt for the escaped Jemaah Islamiyah operative -- and a major embarrassment for President Gloria Mapacapagal Arroyo.

Fathur Roman Al-Ghozi, who slipped out of the main Philippine police headquarters three months ago with two other terror suspects, was hit Sunday by five bullets after he and a companion opened fire on troops and police trying to flag down their vehicle.

Bolivian leader cancels plan to export natural gas

LA PAZ, Bolivia -- President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada said Monday he is shelving plans to export natural gas to the United States and Mexico that sparked massive, violent protests.

Weekend clashes between troops and demonstrators over the export proposals killed 16 people in El Alto, a poor industrial city outside the capital of La Paz, and Sanchez de Lozada declared martial law there.

La Paz was virtually paralyzed Monday by a public transportation strike against the government and the gas plan.

Shelving the gas project did not appear to ease tensions for the president. His spokesman, Mauricio Antezana, has said the protests are part of an effort to topple the government, specifically Sanchez de Lozada.

"We will not stop until he goes away," said Roberto de la Cruz, a union leader in El Alto.

S. Korean leader asks for referendum on his rule

SEOUL, South Korea -- With his government beset by scandals and a weakening power base, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun on Monday proposed putting his 8-month-old presidency to the test in a national referendum.

Opponents accused Roh of grandstanding and called the idea a stunt to get voters to rally around the president.

Roh said he would step down if he fares poorly, and added he wants to hold the referendum around Dec. 15.

Roh's perceived inconsistency on major policy issues has alienated many South Koreans, and corruption scandals involving presidential aides have also hurt his approval ratings. The economy is another worry, as foreign investment declines and domestic demand remains weak.

Jail staff sacked after Taliban prison escape

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Authorities in southern Afghanistan have fired the head of a prison and other members of its staff after 41 Taliban prisoners escaped by digging a tunnel, the head of police said Monday.

The superintendent and between 25 to 30 staff were suspended Sunday because of negligence, said Brig. Mohammed Hashim, the head of police in the province of Kandahar, where the prison is located.

The fired officials were also being questioned "to determine how the Taliban escaped despite maximum security," Hashim said.

Authorities said the prisoners took about a month to dig the 30-foot tunnel.

Finalists for China's launch arrive at pad

BEIJING -- The three final candidates to be China's first astronaut in space have arrived at the spacecraft's desert launch pad, the government said Monday.

XinhuaNet, the Web site of the government's official news agency, said in a brief dispatch that the three finalists had arrived at northwestern China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

China has scheduled its landmark first manned spaceflight for sometime between Wednesday and Friday, though many state-controlled newspapers have said it would be Wednesday.

-- From wire reports

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