World digest 03/29/05

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Pope John Paul II skips post-Easter appearance

VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II skipped another beloved tradition Monday -- a post-Easter blessing from his window -- ending the Easter holiday as silently as he began it. A few hundred people had gathered in St. Peter's Square in hopes that John Paul would appear as he has on each Easter Monday of his 26-year pontificate. But the curtains remained closed as the 84-year-old pope continued recovering from Feb. 24 surgery to insert a tube in his throat to help him breathe. John Paul last spoke to the public on March 13, shortly before he was discharged from the hospital for a second time in a month. In addition to the breathing tube, John Paul suffers from Parkinson's disease, which makes it difficult for him to talk.

Another 2,000 Syrian troops leave Lebanon

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Syria has withdrawn 2,000 more troops from Lebanon, a military official said Monday, bringing Damascus' military presence in the country to the lowest level since it began three decades ago. The departure brought the number of troops to 8,000, the lowest it has been since Syrian forces entered Lebanon in the second year of the 1975-1990 civil war. More Syrian forces were expected to leave this week. A Lebanese Foreign Ministry official, meanwhile, flew to New York to attend talks on the probable formation of a U.N. commission of inquiry into the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Israeli parliament rejects referendum for pullout

JERUSALEM -- Israel's parliament on Monday rejected a last-ditch attempt to torpedo Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, vetoing a proposed national referendum. The plan now goes to the nation's Supreme Court. Settlers said they would move their fight into the streets, promising to bring 100,000 protesters to the settlements slated for evacuation to prevent the withdrawal. Approval of a referendum would have almost certainly delayed the withdrawal, scheduled for this summer, and could have brought down Sharon's government and forced new elections. Opinion polls show a large majority of Israelis back the withdrawal plan.

U.S. bases in Afghanistan get $83 million upgrade

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The United States is pouring $83 million into upgrading its main military bases in Afghanistan, an Air Force general said Monday in a sign that American forces will likely be needed in the country for years to come as al-Qaida remains active in the region. U.S. Brig. Gen. Jim Hunt said the millions were being spent on construction projects already underway at Bagram, the main U.S. base north of Kabul, and Kandahar in the south. Both are being equipped with new runways. Afghan leaders are seeking a long-term "strategic partnership" with the United States, which expects to complete the training of the country's new 70,000-strong army next year, but it remains unclear if that will include permanent American bases.

Nepalese police break up anti-monarch protests

KATMANDU, Nepal -- Police arrested about 120 anti-government activists nationwide Monday for defying a ban on protests to show their anger at last month's seizure of power by the king. Officials said protesters in Katmandu were detained at the police station and charged with violating government orders. In taking absolute power and declaring a state of emergency Feb. 1, King Gyanendra said he needed to defeat an escalating anti-monarchy communist insurgency and root out endemic corruption among politicians.

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