World Briefs: Libya destroys toxic stockpile

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WASHINGTON -- Even as the international effort to destroy Syria's vast chemical weapons stockpile lags behind schedule, a similar U.S.-backed campaign carried out under a cloak of secrecy ended successfully last week in another strife-torn country, Libya.

The United States and Libya in the past three months have discreetly destroyed what both sides say were the last remnants of Moammar Gadhafi's lethal arsenal of chemical arms. They used a transportable oven technology to destroy hundreds of bombs and artillery rounds filled with deadly mustard agent, which U.S. officials had feared could fall into the hands of terrorists. The effort also helped inspire the use of the technology in the much bigger disposal plan in Syria.

Since November, Libyan contractors trained in Germany and Sweden have worked in bulky hazmat suits at a tightly guarded site in a remote corner of the Libyan desert, 400 miles southeast of Tripoli, racing to destroy the weapons in a region where extremists linked to al-Qaida are gaining greater influence. The last artillery shell was destroyed on Jan. 26, officials said.

As Libya's weak central government grapples with turmoil and unrest, and as kidnappings and assassinations of military and police officers accelerate in the country's east, U.S. and international weapons specialists hailed the destruction of the Libyan stockpile as a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy security environment.

Ukraine leader returning

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's president will return today from a short sick leave that had sparked a guessing game he was taking himself out of action in preparation to step down or for a crackdown on widespread anti-government protests.

Viktor Yanukovych's office made the announcement about the president's return the same day as protesters seeking his resignation held one of their largest gatherings in recent weeks. About 20,000 people assembled at the main protest site in Kiev's central square on Sunday.

The protests, which are heading into a third month, began in late November after Mr. Yanukovych backed away from a long-awaited agreement to deepen ties with the European Union. They quickly grew to encompass a wide range of grievances after police violently dispersed some of the early gatherings.

Pakistan negotiator sought

DERA ISLAMIL KHAN, Pakistan -- The Pakistani Taliban want five well-known political and religious figures including, ex-cricketer Imran Khan, to represent them in peace talks with the government, according to a statement from the militant group Sunday.

Mr. Khan's party said he was unlikely to accept the role. But the Taliban statement is one of their clearest signs to date welcoming the negotiations proposed by Pakistan's prime minister.

Journalist acquitted

CAIRO -- An Egyptian court on Sunday acquitted an Al-Jazeera journalist and 61 other people who had been charged with a variety of offenses after being arrested in July during clashes with security forces.

Egypt came under strong criticism from press freedom and human rights groups last week when it brought charges against 20 Al-Jazeera journalists for allegedly aiding a terrorist group. It was not clear whether the man acquitted Sunday, Mohamed Badr, was part of the group charged last week.

-- Compiled from news services


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