An insult-filled quarrel erupted in Sudan's parliament Thursday over the Foreign Ministry's proposal to be "more flexible" about deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission in volatile Darfur Province. As part of a new peace accord May 5, the government reversed itself and agreed to allow UN troops to take over security in Darfur from a poorly equipped African Union force. But UN negotiators so far have failed to win approval to send in a team of technical experts to plan that mission. A visiting UN negotiator is due to leave Sudan Friday after critical meetings on the matter with President Omar al-Bashir. Members of parliament are split over the issue, with some calling supporters of the UN force "traitors."
Islamist militias and an alliance of secular warlords were clashing again in Somalia's capital, disregarding the truce they agreed to 12 days ago. Hospital officials reported at least 38 more deaths as well as dozens of injuries, many of them civilians caught in the crossfire. No public transport appeared to be operating Thursday, and schools were closed. The fighting before the cease-fire accord of May 14 killed at least 140 people. An Islamist chief blamed the resumed clashes on an attack on one of his bases in the southern sector of Mogadishu and said, "Until we get the upper hand, we shall not stop fighting."
Despite a boycott by separatist groups, India's prime minister ended two days of talks in Kashmir saying he could see "light at the end of the tunnel" in the dispute with Pakistan over the divided state. Manmohan Singh said India is committed to resolving the issue via a lasting treaty and is "committed" to living in peace with its neighbor and rival. Singh proposed new travel routes between them as well as an easing of procedures to encourage interaction by people on either side of Kashmir's Line of Control. In a rare public admission by an Indian leader, he also said he "cannot deny" that security forces in the state have been guilty of human rights violations. He met with pro-India groups; separatist leaders said they'd only speak with him alone.
Newly arrived foreign peacekeepers had the run of East Timor's capital Thursday as most frightened residents hid from the chaos that led their government to appeal for help. Australia sent an initial force of 150 commandos, with more than 1,000 other troops due to follow. Hundreds of Malaysian soldiers and police also were prepared to leave for East Timor once an advance team has reported back on conditions there. The tiny nation has been wracked by unrest since March, when the government fired almost half of the Army for striking over alleged discrimination. At least three more people were killed by gunfire as the first Australians arrived.
Confronting a projected crisis in the national pension system, the government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced a reform plan Thursday that would raise the retirement age in stages from 65 to 68 by 2044. It also would return to linking benefits to a retiree's earnings. Since 1980, they've been tied to the cost of living. The changes were recommended by a panel appointed by Blair to study the matter. It projected a 50 percent rise in the number of retirees by 2050. At the same time, it warned that the state pension fund would be forced to cut payments from less than 20 percent of average pay to less than 10 percent. Britons who are already 47 or older would not be affected by the changes.
Barring challenges to last week's election returns, the party of Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez appears to have won a majority of seats in Congress, where opponents have been able to block his reform agenda, officials said Wednesday night. The election turned on economic issues, especially inflation, which has fallen since Fernandez became president two years ago following a national banking crisis.