No early end appeared likely to the dispute between Belarus and Russia over oil, despite the concerns of angry customers in central and western Europe. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered consideration of a possible cut in production of crude – on top of the halt in sending oil via pipeline through Belarus – a sign that the standoff might continue indefinitely. A Belarussian delegation was in Moscow to seek a solution to the cutoff, but no talks were reported as the Monitor went to press. Russia supplies 25 percent of the oil to European countries, but it accuses Belarus of siphoning off some of that flow.
Taking over the rotating presidency of the European Union, Germany will try to rescue its constitution, which has been stalled for two years, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Tuesday. Appearing at a news conference with EU chief José Manuel Barroso, she conceded that it will be "a tall order" to put the charter in place by 2009. But she said her government would consult with the holdouts about their reservations and that, in her judgment, "the period for reflection is over." Eighteen of the EU's 27 members have ratified the document, but voters in France and the Netherlands rejected it in 2005. Seven others have yet to vote.
Sinn Fein, the political party allied with the Irish Republican Army, will decide Saturday whether to call for a vote on cooperating with Northern Ireland's police force, its leadership said. Such a commitment is crucial to plans for a revived self-rule government with Protestants. To date, Sinn Fein has discouraged supporters from helping police solve crimes. Its strategy has been to wait for the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party to move first in confirming a willingness to share power.
In the face of concern over the nuclear threat posed by neighboring North Korea, Japan's government elevated its Defense Agency to a full-fledged ministry Tuesday. The move confers both increased prestige and budgetary leverage on the ministry, a reversal of the military's status under the postwar Constitution, which forbids the use of force in any international confrontation. Japanese troops nominally perform only self-defense functions, although new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made a high priority of raising their profile.
Responsibility for the year-end car bombing that killed two men at Madrid's airport was claimed by the Basque separatist group ETA. But the organization said Tuesday that it continues to stand by the truce it declared last March and that Spain's government is to blame for the deaths because the location of the bomb was disclosed in three phone calls prior to the blast. The site was evacuated after the warnings, but the victims had been asleep in parked cars and were not discovered in time. A Basque newspaper said ETA still wants peace but reserves the right to respond to "obstacles" that the government "endlessly" places in the way.
With three of the US's most implacable foes attending, former communist rebel Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua is to be inaugurated Wednesday, returning to the presidency from which voters ousted him 16 years ago. He has said he wants good relations with the US, and he accepted a congratulatory phone call Monday from President Bush. But the most prominent guests at the swearing-in are to be Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, and Bolivia's Evo Morales.
At least 22 people were hurt as Morales supporters rioted in Bolivia's Cochabamba State Monday, setting fire to the capitol in a demand for the resignation of its governor. Police tried to disperse them by force, a response that Morales's government deemed excessive in firing their new commander. Gov. Manfred Reyes Villa, who opposes Morales's ambition to empower the poor by rewriting the Constitution, is considered a potential candidate for national office.