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Families of U.S. victims say Italy siding with Iran

Associated Press
Published December 22, 2005

ROME - The families of three Americans killed in Palestinian suicide bombings have accused the Italian government of siding with Iran in a legal battle to collect damages from the Islamic regime's assets in Italy.

Relatives of the victims sued Iran under a U.S. federal law that allows them to seek damages from nations that sponsor international terrorism. The families accuse Iran of supporting Palestinian militant groups; American judges have so far awarded them more than half a billion dollars in damages.

As part of the families' efforts to collect the money, they have petitioned Italian courts, which froze Iranian Embassy assets held in accounts with the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro. But in a closed hearing Tuesday, Italy's state lawyers joined Iran's legal representatives in a surprise request to unfreeze the assets and dismiss the case, lawyers for the Americans said.

"The (Italian) Foreign Ministry has formally intervened on behalf of the state of Iran, against the victims of terrorism," Anthony Shipman, a lawyer for the families of three victims, said.

The plaintiffs are Stephen Flatow of New Jersey, whose 20-year-old daughter, Alisa, was killed in a 1995 bus bombing in the Gaza Strip, and the relatives of Matthew Eisenfeld, 25, a rabbinical student from West Hartford, Conn., and Sara Duker, 22, of Teaneck, N.J., who died in a Feb. 25, 1996, bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 22 others and wounded 80.

The Italian Foreign Ministry reiterated Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini's "strongest condemnation of any direct or indirect activity in support of terrorism" and said Fini hoped "justice can run its course and families can receive their due compensation."

Karzai rival wins key post in Afghan Parliament

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan's new house of representatives Wednesday elected a leading opposition figure as its speaker, raising the prospect of a divided government just two days after the country inaugurated its first Parliament in more than three decades.

Yonus Qanooni, who finished second to Hamid Karzai in last year's presidential race, won the speakership on a razor-thin 122-to-117 vote over factional commander Abdurrab Rasul Sayyaf. After four years of governing without a legislature, Karzai will face the challenge of sharing power with his rival for national leadership.

In the Parliament itself, members from virtually every point on the political spectrum will be dealing with a long list of contentious issues, including the U.S. role in Afghanistan, the legal weight of Islam, official corruption and opium poppy cultivation.

New toxic spill pollutes water in Chinese city

BEIJING - A zinc smelter discharged toxic waste into the Beijiang River in southern China last weekend, forcing one city to order a daylong suspension of water supplies and threatening other cities as the pollution moves downstream, residents and official media reported Wednesday.

The discharge, which authorities said contained high levels of cadmium, marked China's second environmental crisis in a month. An explosion at a chemical plant in northeastern Jilin province in November sent 100 tons of toxic benzene floating down the Songhua River and caused a water cutoff of several days in the city of Harbin.

Leftist Evo Morales set to win Bolivian presidency

LA PAZ, Bolivia - Nearly complete official returns Wednesday showed coca activist Evo Morales winning Bolivia's presidency, getting 54.2 percent of the vote with more than 92 percent of polling places tallied.

Morales needed just over 50 percent to win outright and avoid the formality of congress deciding between him and the man who finished second, Jorge Quiroga.

Morales would be the first president since Bolivia returned to democratic rule in 1982 to be directly elected at the ballot box. He would also be Bolivia's first Indian president, marking a historic turning point in a country traditionally governed by the non-Indian elite.

[Last modified December 22, 2005, 00:59:14]

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