Ultraright leader resigns as Austrian gov.

VIENNA, Austria

Joerg Haider, whose praise of Hitler and anti-foreigner rhetoric helped fuel the meteoric rise of his party into government two years ago, said he was calling it quits yesterday in the wake of the party’s disastrous showing in general elections.

But after a late night meeting with Haider, a Freedom Party leader said he was sure the provincial governor would be persuaded to stay on.

Haider’s flashes of pro-Nazi sentiment and flamboyant exposes of corruption in other parties brought his Freedom Party from obscurity in the mid 1980s to unprecedented strength – it joined the present government coalition after coming in second in 1999 elections. But the same confrontational streak that attracted voters to Haider proved his party’s undoing in Sunday’s general election.

Weakened by months of infighting provoked by Haider, the party lost nearly two-thirds of its previous voter support to capture only 10 percent of the vote. Only hardcore Haider fans remained loyal. Disaffected swing voters powered the conservative People’s Party – the Freedom Party’s government coalition partners – to more than 42 percent, its best showing since the mid-1960s. The Social Democrats also gained, receiving just under 37 percent of the vote.

Announcing his resignation yesterday as governor of Carinthia province – the main political post he now holds – Haider said his party’s poor showing reflected “mistrust in me and my policies.”

Fate of Palestinian refugees remains unclear

JERUSALEM

Israeli and Palestinian moderates are close to a draft peace treaty, both sides said yesterday, but at least one potential deal-breaker remains unresolved: the fate of Palestinian refugees. Even if completed, the 40-page document would have largely symbolic value since those negotiating it are not in positions of real power. However, it could serve as a guideline in future formal negotiations.

In the West Bank, Israeli troops shot and killed an 8-year-old boy yesterday as Palestinian youths pelted tanks with rocks and bottles, defying an Israeli curfew order. Seven Palestinians were wounded. The emerging Israeli-Palestinian document is a result of behind-the-scenes meetings during much of the 26 months of violence. The key figure on the Israeli side is former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of interim peace accords and a member of the moderate Labor Party. Beilin, who did not represent Labor in the talks, told Israel TV yesterday that difficult issues were for the first time being discussed in detail.

On the Palestinian side, the team was led by Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, who said he was initially only representing himself, but on Sunday was given a more formal role by the Palestinian Authority.

Coup leader elected president of Ecuador

QUITO, Ecuador

A populist former army colonel who led a coup in 2000 and has pledged to fight corruption was elected as Ecuador’s sixth president in six years, despite concerns that some of his radical supporters would scare investors.

Lucio Gutierrez, 45, won 54.3 percent support in Sunday’s runoff vote, topping the 45.7 gained by billionaire Alvaro Noboa, who counts among his friends several members of the Kennedy clan and Hollywood actors such as Charlton Heston.

Gutierrez’s run for the presidency worried some Ecuadoreans because of his support from a small Marxist party, radical Indian groups and leftist-led unions.

But since he won the first round of elections on Oct. 20, setting up Sunday’s runoff vote, Gutierrez has toned down his rhetoric and shifted toward the center, describing himself as “center-left.”

Oil cleanup continues off Spanish coastline

MADRID, Spain

Storms abated along the northwest coast of Spain, enabling ships yesterday to vacuum some of the oil that spilled from the tanker Prestige before it sank.

One anti-pollution ship, the French vessel Ailette, had already sucked more than 90,000 gallons from the sea since it began work Sunday, a government statement said. The oil was deposited at a refinery in the northwestern port of A Coruna.

The Ailette and two other ships were focusing on the main slick more than 60 miles off northwest Spain. Four more anti-pollution ships from Belgium, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands are set to join the cleanup effort later this week.

Gale-force winds and rains have whipped through the region for the past two weeks, but the storms gradually diminished over the weekend.

Top al-Qaida official identified after killing

ALGIERS, Algeria

An Islamic militant killed by Algerian security forces in a raid more than two months ago has been identified as a man Washington considers to be a top al-Qaida operative in Africa, Algeria’s official news agency reported yesterday.

Emad Abdelwahid Ahmed Alwan, sometimes known as Abu Mohammed, was shot and killed in a Sept. 12 raid in the eastern Batna region, about 270 miles east of the capital, Algiers, the official APS news agency reported.

Ahmed Alwan, a 37-year-old native of Yemen, was identified after a two-month investigation by government experts, the report said. He was a leader of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network for northern and western Africa, it said.

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