An investigation into SWIFT, the Belgian organization that has been providing the US with confidential information on global financial transfers to terrorist groups, was ordered by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt late Wednesday. Analysts said the move suggested that Belgium wanted to distance itself from the secret project after it was exposed late last week by The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal. President Bush has defended the monitoring operation as legal and vital to the counterrorism effort and roundly criticized the news media for disclosing it.
Saying, "The death and serious injury of Romanian soldiers is becoming a concern," Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tari-ceanu became the latest of the coalition partners in Iraq to order his nation's 890 men home. Two Romanians have been killed in Iraq since 2001. But four others have died in Afghanistan – the most recent last week – and public support for both missions has been dwindling. Japan's 600 troops in Iraq began returning home last week, and Italy's new government announced its decision on a withdrawal from Iraq earlier this month.
Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, the prime ministers of Britain and the Irish Republic, respectively, appeared together Thursday at the home of Parliament in Northern Ireland to deliver an ultimatum: restore a nationalist/unionist power-sharing government by Nov. 24 or our help ceases. Ahern and Blair have offered to mediate negotiations between the two sides. But the Irish leader said there already has been too much delay in the process and that too many deadline extensions had been given. Northern Ireland's senior Protestant political leader, the Rev. Ian Paisley, has refused to participate in a joint government. Critics questioned whether the ultimatum would work, noting that Ahern faces uncertain reelection prospects next year and that Blair has pledged to step down before the next British election, due in 2009.
As expected, the prime minister of Spain notified Congress that his government will open peace negotiations with the Basque separatist organization ETA. José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero had pledged to advise legislators of his plans before they leave for their summer break. Although ETA declared a permanent cease-fire March 22, Zapatero said the talks would be "long and difficult" and he ruled out paying "any price" for a settlement with the group whose 38-year campaign for Basque autonomy has taken more than 800 lives. He did not indicate where or when the negotiations would be held.
Hard-eyed supporters of former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri were back in force in East Timor's capital Thursday to show their anger at his forced resignation. But unlike Wednesday, when their arrival was marked by violence, the city was largely calm, with foreign peacekeepers keeping hecklers at bay and guarding government buildings. A demonstration organizer said he hoped to hand a letter to President Xanana Gusmao asking him to show respect for Alkatiri's Fretilin Party in forming a new government. For his part, Gusmao issued a statement that said only another election could resolve the nation's political crisis.
Opposition members of parliament seized the speaker's chair in Ukraine Thursday, preventing a necessary vote to confirm Prime Minister Yulia Tymo-shenko. The protesters represented the pro-Russian Party of Regions, which won the most votes in March's national election but was shut out of a role in government after failing to enlist any other political blocs in forming a ruling coalition. The dissidents demand to be given chairmanships of key committees. Ukraine has been without a government since the election. Last week, a coalition of the blocs that emerged from the 2004 Orange Revolution agreed to try to rule again, but it must win parliament's approval first.