World Briefs (02/23/11)

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Algeria's 19-year emergency lifted

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- In a major concession to Algeria's opposition groups, the government on Tuesday adopted a measure that would lift a 19-year state of emergency that has constrained civil liberties and human rights in the North African oil exporter.

A draft law approved by the Cabinet would repeal the emergency law as soon as it is published in the government's official journal, the official Algerie Presse Service reported.

An opposition leader last week said he had been assured that the state of emergency would be lifted by the end of February.

The emergency measures, long lambasted by international human rights groups, have barred peaceful protests, limited constitutionally granted political freedoms and allowed for what many described as arbitrary detentions.

The strict conditions were imposed at the beginning of the country's decade-long civil war, which pitted Islamic militants against a military-dominated government that refused to abide by the results of a 1991 election that suggested Islamists would be ascendant. Tens of thousands died in the conflict.

Israel: Iran displaying power

JERUSALEM -- Two Iranian warships sailed from the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean on Tuesday, the first such trip in at least three decades, eliciting Israeli charges that Tehran is seeking to dominate the Middle East.

The vessels headed toward Syria, but were expected to remain in international waters as they passed the Israeli coast.

The voyage took the frigate Alvand and the supply Kharq close to NATO's southern flank and could further destabilize the Middle East, a region already reeling from an unprecedented wave of anti-government rebellions.

In Tehran, the deputy commander of the Iranian navy said that Iran has "surprised the Zionist regime" with the journey to the Mediterranean.

Iranian warships have not passed through the Suez Canal since 1979.

North Korea begs for food

TOKYO -- North Korea recently took the unusual step of begging for food handouts from the foreign governments it usually threatens.

Plagued by floods, an outbreak of a livestock disease and a brutal winter, the government ordered its embassies and diplomatic offices around the world to seek help.

The request has put the United States and other Western countries in the uncomfortable position of having to decide whether to ignore the pleas of a starving country or pump food into a corrupt distribution system that often gives food to those who need it least.

The United States, which suspended its food aid to North Korea two years ago amid concerns about transparency, "has no plans for any contributions at this time," said Kurt Campbell, the State Department's top East Asia official.

Japan suspends ex-leader

TOKYO -- Japan's governing party suspended its scandal-tainted political kingmaker on Tuesday as Prime Minister Naoto Kan struggled to restore his flagging popularity ahead of a crucial budget battle.

Mr. Kan and other leaders of the Democratic Party suspended the membership of Ichiro Ozawa, a shadowy political figure who once led the party, but who was indicted last month in a political financing case.

Mr. Ozawa's recurring money scandals have dogged the Democrats since their election victory in 2009, and more recently have helped drive Mr. Kan's public approval ratings below 20 percent.


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