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News Briefs

Chretien Overhauls Cabinet In Wake of Surprise Resignation


Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien overhauled his Cabinet on Tuesday, dismissing seven ministers and bringing 10 new faces into the government just one day after the country was stunned by the resignation of a popular Cabinet member who had been Chretien’s presumptive heir.

The restructuring was the most significant development yet in the unofficial but quite public race to succeed Chretien as head of the Liberal Party when -- or rather if, as skeptics here say -- the long-serving prime minister decides to retire, political analysts here say.

The shake-up also reflects the changed political environment in Canada four months after the terror attacks in the United States, with much greater emphasis on domestic security and military preparedness than in recent decades.

Brian Tobin, a garrulous and ambitious Newfoundlander who had served as minister of industry until he abruptly announced Monday that he was quitting Parliament, had long been considered Chretien’s preferred successor but had been eclipsed by Cabinet rivals in recent months.

Tobin, who said he was leaving government for family reasons, may have preferred to resign rather than lose his undeclared campaign for the party leadership, Canadian political commentators said.

Palestinian Gunmen Kill Two Near Jerusalem


Palestinian gunmen shot two Israelis to death near Jerusalem Tuesday, including one, an elderly American citizen, who was kidnapped in his car, taken to a field and murdered.

The shootings, both of them in the West Bank, were a further sign of the collapse of a ceasefire proclaimed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in a televised speech Dec. 16.

After one of the quietest three-week periods since violence erupted here in September 2000, death and bloodshed is quickening again, and all three major Palestinian armed militant groups have announced they will no longer observe the ceasefire.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told a group of visiting American congressmen Tuesday evening that the second Israeli killed, a 45-year-old motorist sprayed with bullets as she turned into a gas station, was also an American passport-holder. However, Israeli police and army spokesmen could not confirm that.

The Palestinians blamed Israel for the escalation, citing the killing of a prominent gunman, Raed Karmi, who died when a remote-control bomb exploded Monday outside his hideout in the West Bank town of Tulkarm. Karmi acknowledged killing two Israelis a year ago in Tulkarm, and Israel blamed him for the murders of seven other Israelis.

Rights Group Reports Deadly ‘Operations’ Aimed at Chechens


Russia’s leading human rights group says it has documented the apparent killing of three men and the disappearance of six others during a Russian “special operation” in Chechnya over the New Year’s holiday.

“As interviews with local residents make clear, the special operation was carried out with the crudest violations of human rights and the law,” the chairman of the group Memorial, Oleg Orlov, wrote in a letter to Vsevolod Chernov, the chief prosecutor of the separatist republic. Memorial released the letter alleging actions in the village of Tsotsin-Yurt to news organizations Tuesday.

In addition, Orlov said Russian forces detained massive numbers of local residents, most of whom complained that they were insulted and humiliated by the soldiers. About 80 residents said they were “cruelly beaten” during their detentions, which took place between Dec. 30 and Jan. 3.

Russian soldiers continued firing at suspected rebels even after being informed that civilians were in the line of fire, according to information collected by Memorial, and used two detainees as “human shields” during the battle. Witnesses said that the two men were still alive when the battle ended but that their bodies turned up shortly afterward near the local military headquarters.

U.N. Documents Show Russia As Iraq’s Top Importer


Six months after Russia blocked a U.S. effort to overhaul U.N. sanctions against Iraq, Moscow has emerged as Baghdad’s largest importer, according to U.N. diplomats.

Russian companies have signed more than $4 billion in business deals with Baghdad as part of a 1996 arrangement that allows Iraq to sell oil to purchase food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies. In the last six months, Russia concluded more than $1.4 billion in trade under the U.N. program, surpassing Egypt and France as Iraq’s top importers during the past five years, the diplomats said, citing confidential U.N. figures.

The expanding trade relationship is the product of a long-standing Iraqi policy of rewarding companies from countries that help it circumvent an 11-year-old U.N. embargo imposed after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. It poses a major challenge for U.S. diplomats seeking Moscow’s support for a plan to strengthen sanctions against Baghdad.

Iraq exported nearly $30 billion in high-quality crude to refineries in the United States, Europe and Asia over the past two years. Although the proceeds from Iraq’s oil revenue are controlled by the United Nations, Baghdad retains the authority to choose its trade partners.