Protesters demand more autonomy

By Times Wires
Published December 16, 2007

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia   

Antigovernment demonstrators gathered in Santa Cruz and three other provincial capitals on Saturday as four of Bolivia's wealthiest provinces celebrated efforts to seek greater autonomy from the central government, even as President Evo Morales said he would mobilize the armed forces to prevent any secession plans.

The protests began in Santa Cruz, Bolivia's most prosperous city, in a festive spirit, as demonstrators waved green-and-white flags inscribed with the words, "Now We Are Autonomous."

Supporters of Morales, meanwhile, gathered in the capital, La Paz, to celebrate a new constitution aimed at strengthening the rights of indigenous groups.

The "autonomy statutes" of the four provinces are the biggest challenge yet to Morales, who is Bolivia's first indigenous president. The regional charters fall short of declaring independence, but their supporters seek to give provincial officials power over natural gas royalties, agricultural policies and police forces.

QUITO, Ecuador

Saudi approval sought to sell gift, help poor

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said he is seeking Saudi King Abdullah's permission to sell an expensive set of jewelry the royal gave his wife at the OPEC summit in Riyadh last month. In his weekly radio address on Saturday, Correa said he wanted to sell the jewels - which include earrings and a necklace made of diamonds and emeralds and set in white gold - to finance social programs in Ecuador. Correa said the jewelry given to his wife, Anne Malherbe, was worth "hundreds of thousands of dollars," and he wanted the king's approval to sell it to "avoid any resentment." The jewels "can't stay with my wife," Correa said. "She didn't receive them for being Anne Malherbe, but for being the president's wife. They belong to the Ecuadorean people."


French deals signed, Gadhafi visits Spain

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi began his first official trip to Spain on Saturday with a private visit to a luxury country resort hotel after arriving from France where he sealed business deals worth billions of dollars. Gadhafi, who was long a vocal champion of armed struggle and a sponsor of state terrorism, is keen to restore normal relations with European countries after renouncing terrorism and nuclear weapons. During his four-day visit to Spain, Gadhafi is expected to meet Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, King Juan Carlos and former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar among other senior officials.

JAKARTA, Indonesia

Strong quake sends residents from homes

A strong earthquake shook eastern Indonesia on Saturday, sending panicked residents running out of their homes. The tremor struck with a preliminary magnitude of 7.1 at a depth of about 60 miles in Maluku province, about 1,700 miles east of the capital, Jakarta, according to the Indonesian Meteorology and Geophysics Agency. The U.S. Geological Survey put the quake at a magnitude 6.3. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries and no tsunami alert was issued, said Suharjono, an agency spokesman who like many Indonesians goes by a single name.

SANTIAGO, Chile: A moderate earthquake rattled central Chile Saturday, causing alarm but no reported victims or damage. The magnitude-5.8 quake struck at 3:23 p.m. local time and was centered about 95 miles northwest of Santiago, near the port city of Valparaiso, according to the Seismological Institute of the University of Chile. The quake was felt across a stretch of about 370 miles.

BEIRUT, Lebanon

Lebanese urged to elect new president

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch urged Lebanese legislators to elect a new president during Monday's parliamentary session, as increasing tensions between the majority and the opposition made a vote highly unlikely. Welch also reiterated U.S. support for the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and the anti-Syrian majority in Parliament. The president's post has been vacant since Nov. 23, when former pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud left office.


3 dead in shooting rampage at club

A man suspected of being responsible for a shooting rampage Friday that left two people dead and five injured at a sports club in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, was found dead Saturday morning on the premises of a Catholic church near his home, police said. The police, who believe Masayoshi Magome, 37, was the gunman, found a shotgun next to his body. Magome owned three shotguns and an air gun, for which he had received permits from the prefectural public safety committee.


Officials say bird flu infects six, kills one

Six people caught the deadly strain of bird flu in northern Pakistan last month and at least one person with the disease has died, the government said Saturday. The World Health Organization confirmed that all six cases were positive for the H5N1 strain of the virus in preliminary testing, but a second round of analysis was being conducted. If confirmed, the infections would be the first in humans in South Asia.


Crime boss caught after 7 years on run

A fugitive Naples crime boss who built one of the most dangerous cartels has been captured in Naples, Italian authorities said Saturday. Police had been following the trail of Edoardo Contini, who has been on the run since 2000, for more than a year. Contini, 52, might have been one of the more careful fugitives to try elude capture, according to reports by Italian news agencies. He had his aides buy him new underwear and socks instead of having his laundry washed, and communicated, even with those in the same room, through handwritten notes, the Apcom news agency said, apparently a precaution in case the room was bugged.