Arafat acknowledges 'mistakes' in his rule

Thursday, August 19, 2004

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Yasser Arafat admitted to "mistakes" and promised to rein in corruption, but Palestinian lawmakers complained their leader's long-awaited speech Wednesday fell far short of expectations, offering no way out of the chaos plaguing the Palestinian territories. After weeks of street protests and increasingly vocal criticism of his rule, Arafat is under tremendous pressure to share power and attack rampant graft. Lawmakers had hoped the speech from his battle-scarred compound in this West Bank city would offer a blueprint for restoring the Palestinian leadership's tattered credibility both at home and abroad.

Witnesses: 9-11 helper holds anti-Israeli beliefs

HAMBURG, Germany -- A Moroccan accused of helping the Sept. 11 suicide hijackers approved of Hitler's extermination of the Jews and was part of a group that raged against the United States "because it defends Israel" witnesses testified Wednesday. Sudanese student Ahmed Maglad, 30, testified he met defendant Mounir el Motassadeq while living in Hamburg in 1997 and through him met lead suicide pilot Mohamed Atta, who he said was "aggressively religious" and was always trying to "prove something." Maglad told the state court he also knew Ramzi Binalshibh, a U.S. detainne who is the suspected contact between al-Qaida and the Hamburg cell that included three of the Sept. 11 suicide pilots.

Rebels blockade Nepal's capital with threat

KATMANDU, Nepal -- Without setting up a roadblock or even making an appearance, Maoist rebels cut off the capital from the rest of this Himalayan kingdom by declaring a blockade Wednesday, leaving Katmandu with only a few days of food and cooking fuel. Extra police took to the roads leading into the city, but no drivers defied the guerrillas. In the past, rebels have burned dozens of vehicles and planted mines to enforce blockades, and early this week they threw a bomb at a luxury hotel for disregarding an order to shut down.The government promised to provide security for travelers, but that didn't reassure civilians.

Lawyers doubt evidence credibility over USS Cole

SAN'A, Yemen -- The lawyer representing five men accused of plotting the deadly 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole said Wednesday the evidence presented by prosecutors "lacked credibility" -- including the source of the explosives and boat used in the bombing. Abdul Aziz al-Samawi also questioned prosecutors' insistence on trying in absentia Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the sixth defendant and the alleged mastermind of the October 2000 suicide attack that killed 17 American sailors. "This insistence is aimed at making my clients scapegoats in this case," he said. Al-Nashiri's court appointed-lawyer, Mohammed al-Azali, also urged the court to dismiss the case. In the attack, two suicide bombers rammed an explosives-laden boat into the Cole as it refueled in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden. The attack was blamed on Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.

Pakistan's ruling party ready for new premier

FATEH JANG, Pakistan -- The ruling party claimed victory Wednesday in special elections designed to clear the path for Pakistan's finance minister to be elevated to prime minister. The opposition said the vote was rigged. Shaukat Aziz, a former Citibank executive and strong ally of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was far ahead in the voting Wednesday night, according to unofficial results in two regions holding National Assembly elections. Lawmakers from the two regions resigned so Aziz could win a seat in the National Assembly -- a result seen as little more than a formality. Under Pakistani law, a prime minister must also be an assembly member.

-- From wire reports

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