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ANKARA (AFP) – A Turkish court on Thursday charged an Egyptian with alleged ties to Al Qaeda and a Turkish accomplice with hijacking a plane carrying more than 140 people, the Anatolia news agency said. The court in the southern city of Antalya charged Egyptian Momen Abdul Aziz Talikh and Mehmet Resat Ozlu with “hijacking a plane, being members of an armed terrorist organisation and restricting personal freedom”, the report said. Talikh, an Egyptian passport-holder of Palestinian origin, and Ozlu were sent to the local prison pending trial. The pair on Saturday commandeered the plane operated by Turkish private carrier Atlas Jet shortly after it took off from the breakaway Turkish-held north of Cyprus for Istanbul. Claiming they were Al Qaeda members and wielding a fake bomb made of modelling clay, the hijackers demanded the plane be diverted to Iran or Syria. The pilots landed in Antalya instead on the ground that they had to refuel and fled from the cockpit as most of the passengers escaped from the rear door.

Cecilia Sarkozy to stay clear of inquiry into Libya

PARIS (AFP) – The French presidency on Thursday rebuffed calls for First Lady Cecilia Sarkozy to testify before a parliamentary inquiry on her role in securing the release of Bulgarian nurses from Libya. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s wife served as a special envoy to Libya, travelling twice to Tripoli for talks that led to the release last month of the nurses after eight years in jail on charges of infecting children with AIDS. “It would be unconstitutional for the president to testify before the parliamentary commission of inquiry as it would violate the principle of separation of powers,” presidential spokesman David Martinon said. “By extension, Mrs Sarkozy in her capacity as his personal envoy falls into the same category,” he said. The socialist opposition had demanded that Cecilia appear before the future commission of inquiry that is to look into a possible trade-off between the medics’ release and a French-Libyan arms deal struck the same week.

South Sudan uses tribal chiefs to clear jails

JUBA (Reuters) – South Sudan will empower tribal chiefs to judge thousands of untried prisoners filling the semiautonomous region’s overcrowded jails in the absence of new laws, a southern official said. “We have decided that special courts be set up in every state manned by chiefs,” Chief Justice John Wuol Makek told Reuters late on Wednesday. “Within six months all these remand cases should be cleared,” he added. He said there were thousands of prisoners sitting in jails across the region, some for 5 to 10 years. The chiefs would use tribal law to deal with lower-level crimes. South Sudan has suffered decades of civil war since 1955 with only a short respite. Makek said this created a violent mentality in the south. Many of those jailed were involved in intertribal killings. Since a January 2005 peace deal, Makek said numbers of prisoners had grown because of a lack of manpower in the courts system and confusion over what legislation to use.

Hijacked ship owner paid ransom to Somali pirates to release crew

COPENHAGEN (AP) – The owner of a Danish cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates paid a ransom to have the vessel and its five-man crew released after more than 80 days in captivity, a foreign ministry official said Thursday. The Danica White had been on its way from Dubai to the Kenyan port of Mombasa when it was seized by Somali pirates June 1. The ransom was paid August 12, 10 days before the ship and its Danish crew were handed over to a French warship, said Lars Thuesen, head of the Danish foreign ministry’s consular department. He said “the ship owner and those who have financial interests in the ship and its cargo” paid to secure the crew’s release, but declined to say how much. The pirates had demanded $1.5 million. Thuesen added that the five crew members were not hurt physically during their 83-day ordeal, but said that captivity had been stressful psychologically.

Iran announces new 2,000-pound ‘smart’ bomb

TEHRAN (AP) – Iran has developed a new 900-kilogramme “smart” bomb, state-run television reported Thursday, the latest in a recent series of announcements heralding new weapons systems. The guided bomb, named Qased or Messenger, can be deployed by Iran’s aging US-made F-4 and F-5 fighter jets and will be officially unveiled next week, said the broadcast quoting a defence ministry statement. Iran often announces new weapons for its arsenal, but the United States maintains that while the Islamic Republic has made some strides, many of these statements are exaggerations. Iran launched its own arms development programme during its 1980-88 war with Iraq in response to a US-led arms embargo and since 1992, the country has produced its own tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and missiles. Earlier this month, Iran said it had started industrial-scale production of its own fighter jet, known as Azarakhsh or Lightning, to upgrade its elderly air force, much of which dates from before the 1979 revolution.

Yemen acts to stem gun violence

SANAA (AFP) – Yemen said on Thursday it had banned people from bringing privately owned firearms into major cities to stem crime and violence in a country with one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world. Yemenis with licenced firearms in major cities will also be banned from carrying their weapons in public as of next month, the interior ministry said. Yemen has an estimated 60 million firearms in private hands, roughly three for every man, woman and child. Bodyguards of senior business figures and government officials would be exempt from the ban, the ministry said, adding that gun owners in major cities could also hand over their weapons in return for compensation. Gun ownership has long been seen as an essential part of the culture in Yemen, an impoverished Arabian Peninsula state.

Israeli crematorium torched

TEL AVIV (AFP) – An Israeli crematorium has been torched after its secret location was revealed by a newspaper of ultra-Orthodox Jews who fiercely oppose cremation, police said. The crematorium in Hibat Tzion, a town north of Tel Aviv, has functioned for two years attracting vigorous criticism from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, which knew of its existence but not its exact location. Ultra-Orthodox Jews oppose cremation on religious grounds. The facility burned down on Wednesday after its location was revealed in an ultra-Orthodox newspaper. Police said they suspect arson. One of the facility’s owners, Alon Nativ, told army radio he had received anonymous death threats over the past two years and denounced the “criminal fire against a legal activity by people who follow the Torah.”

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