World briefs – October 11

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk took his first steps toward building a new government Monday after his centrist ruling party became the country’s first ever to win re-election since the collapse of communism in 1989.

Polish PM posts historic re-election win

WARSAW, Poland — Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk took his first steps toward building a new government Monday after his centrist ruling party became the country’s first ever to win re-election since the collapse of communism in 1989.

Results of Sunday’s election show that his pro-European party can maintain a narrow majority in parliament with its small coalition partner — a sign of deepening stability in this nation of 38 million.

As well as being the first time in 22 years of Poland’s post-communist history that a ruling party has won a second consecutive term, Civic Platform’s success brought an end to a string of defeats for incumbent governments in Europe. Over the past year or so, a swathe of governments from Ireland to Latvia have been kicked out as they bore the cost of the economic turmoil.

In another first, Palikot’s Movement, a new left-wing party that opposes the church’s influence in political life in this conservative and mainly Catholic country, entered parliament as the third largest force.

It seems to be benefiting from the country’s growing secularism and disenchantment with the established parties. Thanks to its strong showing, a transsexual and an openly gay activist are now poised to take seats in parliament, also unprecedented.

Tusk took his initial steps toward creating a new government on Monday after the state electoral commission issued a near-final vote count that left no doubt that he is the winner. With a little over 39 per cent of the vote, Civic Platform won nearly 10 per cent more than its nearest challenger.

Tusk met with President Bronislaw Komorowski, who said all logic indicates that Tusk will remain as prime minister. Under Polish law it is the president who charges the victor with forming a government.


Gadhafi likely hiding in vast desert in southwestern border area: official

TRIPOLI, Libya — A representative of Libya’s ethnic Tuareg group says he believes Moammar Gadhafi is hiding in the southwestern desert near the borders with Niger and Algeria.

Moussa al-Kouni, the Tuareg representative on the governing National Transitional Council, says the fugitive leader could even be taking advantage of the rough terrain to go back and forth unnoticed across the border into Niger.

Al-Kouni produced no evidence during a news conference Monday. But he claims Gadhafi sent his son Khamis to the area two months before Tripoli fell to set up a radio station and make preparations in case the regime fled.


String of bombs kill at least 10 in Baghdad

BAGHDAD — A string of explosions targeting security officials — and people who rushed to the scene to help the injured — killed at least 10 people in western Baghdad Monday evening, officials said.

The first explosion came from a roadside bomb in a Shiite neighbourhood, targeting an Iraqi army patrol, a police official said. Minutes later, a second bomb exploded nearby, targeting a passing police patrol.

As firefighters arrived on the scene of the first blast, the third bomb went off, an official said.

He said 19 people were also wounded in the attacks. A hospital official confirmed the casualties.


U.K. landmark nearly half a metre out of line

LONDON — Big Ben has a little bend.

Experts say the neogothic clock tower — one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks — is gently leaning to one side. Documents recently published by Britain’s Parliament show that the top of its gilded spire is nearly half a meter out of line.

The 96-meter tower is leaning in the northwest direction at an angle of 0.26 degrees, according to a report from 2009 that was recently obtained by the Sunday Telegraph through a Freedom of Information request.

But there’s no cause for alarm, experts said. It would take thousands of years before the London landmark’s tilt matches that of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The clock tower — colloquially known as Big Ben after its massive bell — has been slightly off centre since it was erected in the mid-19th century. Like many old buildings, its position has been shifting imperceptibly for years due to environmental factors such as seasonal temperature and moisture level changes.

“We’re talking about unbelievably small movements,” said John Burland, an engineering professor at Imperial College London who has been involved in the study on the tower.

“At the present rate, it will be 10,000 years before we reach that,” he added, referring to comparisons with the tower in Pisa, Italy.

Even so, the tilt might now be just about visible to the naked eye.

“Anyone who stands there and looks may say ‘I don’t think it’s vertical,’ and they are quite right,” he said.


Top Syrian cleric warns U.S., EU to stay away

BEIRUT — Syria’s top Sunni Muslim cleric has warned Western countries against military intervention in Syria and threatened to retaliate with suicide bombings in the United States and Europe if his country comes under attack.

Western countries have shown no willingness to open a Libyan-style military campaign against the regime of President Bashar Assad, who has launched a bloody crackdown on the seven-month uprising against his rule, and NATO’s chief said last week the alliance has “no intention whatsoever” of intervening in Syria.

Still, the prospect of such an intervention seems to have rattled the Assad regime, although publicly, officials say they are confident there would be no such thing because no one wants to foot the bill.

In a speech late Sunday, Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddine Hassoun, a state-appointed cleric and Assad loyalist, issued a clear warning to the West.

“I say to all of Europe, I say to America, we will set up suicide bombers who are now in your countries, if you bomb Syria or Lebanon,” Hassoun said in a speech late Sunday.

“From now on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

Hassoun spoke to a delegation of Lebanese women who came to offer their condolences for his son’s death by unknown gunmen earlier this month.

“Don’t come near our country, I beg you,” Hassoun said.

The international community’s unwillingness to get directly involved stems from a mix of international political complications, worries over unleashing a civil war and plausible risks of touching off a wider Middle East conflict with archfoes Israel and Iran in the mix.

Hassoun’s comments follow another warning by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, who told the international community Sunday not to recognize a new umbrella council formed by the opposition, threatening “tough measures” against any country that does so.


Shark suspected in swimmer’s disappearance

PERTH, Australia — Officials suspect that a shark attacked a 64-year-old man who disappeared while swimming off one of the Australian west coast’s most popular beaches.

Police Senior Sgt. Denise Grant told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio that Bryn Martin disappeared Monday while swimming toward a buoy off Perth city’s central Cottesloe Beach.

Grant says police divers found Martin’s torn trunks hours later on the sea bed near the buoy. She says shark experts agree the tearing is consistent with a white pointer attack.

Australia’s last fatal shark attack was in April when a surfer lost both legs off a beach south of Perth.


Israeli medical residents quit over low wages

JERUSALEM — Activists say hundreds of Israeli medical residents have resigned in protest their low pay and the high cost of living.

At least 340 of the nation’s approximately 5,000 residents quit and skipped work Monday after weeks of failed negotiations.

Protest leader Dr. Yona Waisbuch says the doctors demand higher salaries, particularly for newly qualified specialists. Waisbuch says these doctors struggle to support families on annual salaries of about $40,000.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz warns the resignations endanger patients’ lives.

Israel has a socialized medical system in which all citizens are covered. Doctors are paid salaries by hospitals or HMO funds.


UK considers criminalizing forced marriage

LONDON — Britain says it is considering criminalizing the act of forcing someone into a marriage under moves to tighten immigration policy.

Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday that ministers would examine whether existing law could be changed.

Currently, a potential victim can apply to a civil court for a protection order — and anyone breaching that order can be jailed for two years.

Britain is seeking to cut net immigration from about 196,000 to below 100,000 by 2015.

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