Sharon, Gaza plan survive crucial vote

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon easily won a crucial party vote to reinforce his shaky government to carry out his Gaza pullout plan, party officials announced yesterday. Sharon has proposed inviting the dovish Labor Party and Orthodox Jewish to join his government, ensuring a solid majority for his Gaza withdrawal plan in the face of internal opposition from his Likud Party.

Cabinet minister Israel Katz announced that the final count of the vote in the Likud Central Committee was 62 percent in favor of Sharon’s proposal and 38 percent against.

A loss in the Central Committee could have forced new elections and jeopardized the Gaza withdrawal — a centerpiece of efforts to restart peace talks with the Palestinians in the wake of Yasser Arafat’s death.

The win clears the way to adding Labor, a partner solidly in favor of the Gaza pullout and resumption of peace negotiations.

There was some opposition among Labor activists to joining their arch-rival Sharon in another government, after their first joint government broke up in 2002. However, party leader Shimon Peres strongly favored entering the government.



Shiites present candidates for Jan. election

Under the guidance of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite cleric, Shiite parties presented a list yesterday of 228 candidates for next month’s elections. Minority Sunni Arabs, who had been favored under Saddam Hussein, must now decide whether to join the race or renounce a vote that will help determine the country’s future.

The announcement of the list of 23 parties, dubbed the United Iraqi Alliance, followed weeks of haggling. It includes two powerful Shiite parties, as well as an array of independent Sunni tribal figures, Shiite Kurdish groups and members of smaller movements.

Importantly, the list did not include the movement of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who appeared to be waiting to see whether the vote will be considered legitimate before he joins the political process. With violence roiling the country and key Sunni leaders demanding the Jan. 30 vote be put off, a credible election is by no means certain.

There were already signs that Sunni ranks were breaking: One group that had called for a delay, the Iraqi Islamic Party, quietly submitted a 275-candidate list yesterday.



India worried about U.S. arms sale to Pakistan

Indian officials cautioned Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday that a proposed U.S. sale of military hardware worth $1.2 billion to Pakistan could damage a fragile peace process between the nuclear-armed neighbors and harm India-U.S. relations.

Rumsfeld met with Indian Defense Minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee and later described the relationship between Washington and New Delhi as an enduring one.

“The defense relationship is a strong one and something we intend to see is further knitted together as we go forward in the months and years ahead,” he said.

Rumsfeld’s two-day visit is expected to focus on India-U.S. cooperation in defense and countering terrorism. It began after India cautioned the United States against going ahead with the sale of surveillance aircraft and anti-tank missiles to Pakistan.


CAIRO, Egypt

Oil cartel plans further cuts in production

OPEC will cut back on oil production early next year in a bid to stave off a further decline in the world price, Kuwait’s oil minister said yesterday.

The comments by Sheikh Ahmad Fahad Al-Ahmad Al Sabah revealed what delegates to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries had agreed in informal discussions ahead of their formal meeting today.

Asked when the cut in production would start, Al Sabah said: “Everyone has committed for next month, maybe to start from February.” He said all members of the 11-nation organization were committed to complying fully with the current production ceiling of 27 million barrels a day and taking excess oil off the market.


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