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World in brief

Iran releases prominent dissident

By wire services
Published March 19, 2006


TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's most prominent dissident emerged from six years in prison, promising Saturday to remain defiant. But Akbar Ganji - now with a bushy beard and so gaunt even some of his friends failed to recognize him - is returning to a political scene where hard-liners have all but silenced Iran's reform movement.

Ganji was imprisoned in 2000 after angering Iran's ruling clerics with a series of articles accusing Intelligence Ministry agents of killing five dissidents and calling for the end of absolute rule by a top cleric - currently supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The articles made Ganji a hero of Iran's reform movement, which at the time still dominated the elected government, including the presidency and Parliament. He held a hunger strike for three months last year, prompting calls from President Bush and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for his release, which were rejected.

Since his arrest, hard-liners took over Parliament and pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami was replaced in elections last year by ultra-conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has moved to purge reformists from government. Dozens of pro-reform newspapers have been shut down and those that remain have largely been cowed into toning down their criticisms.

The 46-year-old Ganji was released from prison Friday after serving most of his six-year sentence, and on Saturday he welcomed dozens of friends and relatives at his Tehran home.

"My views have not changed at all. Jail and pressures never forced me to change my views. Today, I'm more determined to say what I said six years ago," Ganji said. "My imprisonment was unjust and will remain a great injustice forever."

But many at the gathering advised Ganji to lay low - including his wife, Masoumeh Shafiei.

Farmers face eviction for U.S. base in S. Korea

SEOUL, South Korea - Hundreds of farmers face forcible eviction to allow the expansion of a U.S. military base near Seoul, according to the human rights group Amnesty International.

Some of the farmers - mainly in their 60s and 70s - suffered bloodied noses and several human rights activists were detained during clashes with riot police this month, the London group posted on its Web site Friday.

Police had come to evict the farmers from their homes in Daechuri village, it said.

Of 210 families, 20 had already left their land and some 80 families would eventually leave, but the remaining families would stay, village chief Kim Ji Tae Kim said.

Ahn Jung Hoon, a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman, declined to comment, saying he had not seen the Amnesty International statement. David Oten, spokesman for the U.S. military in South Korea, also declined to comment.

Elsewhere ...

THE HAGUE: A Congolese militia leader accused of abducting children and turning them into soldiers and sex slaves has become the first suspect to be delivered to the new International Criminal Court, the chief prosecutor said Saturday. The former warlord, Thomas Lubanga, arrived at The Hague, Netherlands, late Friday.

SPAIN: Spain's deputy prime minister began an emergency visit to the Canary Islands on Saturday to discuss ways to control a record flow of African migrants arriving in boats from Mauritania that has led to at least 25 deaths in the last week. The Spanish government says more than 1,000 migrants have been detained at sea in the last 10 days while trying to reach the islands from Mauritania, a voyage of 500 miles.

[Last modified March 19, 2006, 01:08:10]


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