© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2002
Bush to Palestinian official: Statehood would end suffering
JERUSALEM -- In his first-ever discussion with a Palestinian Authority official, President Bush said statehood is a prerequisite for ending Palestinian suffering, the official said Saturday.
Bush met several times with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon but has refused to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat or his aides, calling his regime corrupt and linked to terror.
The conversation between Bush and Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian minister for international cooperation and planning, occurred Thursday during a reception Bush held for heads of state and representatives in New York, where the U.N. General Assembly is meeting.
Shaath said the two spoke for about seven minutes. He said Bush reiterated his support for an independent and economically viable Palestinian state.
"He (Bush) told me he meant every word, that this was the minimum that the Palestinian people deserved, that there can be no end to the suffering of the Palestinian people without achieving this independent state," Shaath said.
A U.S. official in Jerusalem, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush wants to maintain a dialogue with the Palestinians to make sure reforms take place in the Palestinian Authority.
SRINAGAR, India -- Kashmir's police chief warned Saturday of possible suicide attacks by rebels in state elections next week and Indian authorities played a tape of alleged Pakistan-based militants threatening violence.
Islamic militants fighting Indian rule in the divided Himalayan province are determined to scare voters and candidates from taking part in the legislative elections which start Monday. India hopes the vote will help weaken separatist forces in the region.
"I can't ensure a 100 percent violence-free election. Incidents will happen," A.K. Suri, the state director-general of police, told a news conference.
"A large number are fidayeen (suicide attackers) willing to die. It is possible they might make such efforts," he said.
Indian security officials played a tape for the Associated Press with a crackling voice in Urdu -- the primary language of Pakistan -- discussing election violence.
"Treat this as the final match of your 10 to 12 years of hard work," the voice said. "If voting cannot be held, if there is bloodshed, if some leaders are killed, if the voter cannot go to vote, then with the grace of Allah everything will be in our favor."
There was no independent confirmation of the security officials' claim about the taped conversations, but Islamic militants have called for a boycott of the elections and warned people against voting.
ROME -- About 200,000 people rallied in one of Rome's biggest squares Saturday to blast Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for what the protesters view as his rewriting of Italian laws to save himself from criminal punishment on corruption charges.
Demonstrators also charged that Berlusconi, the country's richest man, has used his dominance of Italian television to mislead much of the public and thereby escape serious political damage from his legal machinations.
"Italians voted for Berlusconi to follow a dream but instead awoke to a nightmare," film director Nanni Moretti, head of a group of prominent intellectual and cultural figures who organized the rally, declared to the crowd.
"Berlusconi is not against democracy," Moretti said. "Democracy is something extraneous to him. He doesn't know what it is."
The billionaire politician is on trial in Milan for allegedly bribing judges in the 1980s.
AMERICAN TEEN RELEASED: Kidnappers in the Philippines released an American teenager Saturday after his family paid about $24,000 in ransom, police said. Starlze Lumapas, a 15-year-old student, was left unharmed by his abductors on a roadside outside the city of Cagayan de Oro after four days of captivity, police chief Felicisimo Kho said.
Lumapas' parents, of Filipino descent, are real estate brokers in Orlando. Kho said he is staying with relatives in the southern Philippine city, where he is studying at an international school.
EARTHQUAKE KILLS 2: A strong earthquake hit India's southeast early Saturday, killing at least two people and damaging some homes on islands in the Bay of Bengal, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. The U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., said the earthquake had a magnitude of 6.5. Two people were killed when a wall collapsed, the news agency reported.
YELTSIN CHECKS IN: Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin was in a Berlin cardiology center Saturday for a routine checkup and was expected to be released in a day, the hospital said.
REBELS CRUSHED: Liberian President Charles Taylor lifted the state of emergency he imposed eight months ago, declaring Saturday that the rebel insurrection against his government had been all but crushed. Taylor made the announcement in a nationally broadcast speech in which he also ended a ban on political rallies.
MUDSLIDE VICTIMS BURIED: A grim caravan of 27 coffins wound through the narrow streets of San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala, as victims of a mudslide were laid to rest Saturday. The death toll rose to 28 with the death of one of the 14 injured in the Thursday night mudslide.