Arrests halt U.N. contacts with Taliban
The arrests of top Taliban figures in Pakistan abruptly halted secret U.N. contacts with the insurgency at a time when the efforts were gathering momentum, the United Nations' former envoy to Afghanistan said Friday. Kai Eide, a Norwegian diplomat who just stepped down from the U.N. post in the Afghan capital, said the discussions with senior Taliban members began in the spring of 2009 and included meetings in Dubai and elsewhere. The Associated Press reported that it learned from an adviser of Afghan President Hamid Karzai that last month's detention of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar — second in the Taliban only to Mullah Mohammed Omar — infuriated Karzai. Gen. Athar Abbas, a spokesman for the Pakistani military, said Friday that Baradar's arrest was a joint operation with the United States.
Catholics await pope's Irish letter
Pope Benedict XVI addresses Irish Catholics today in a letter apologizing for the sex abuse scandal in Ireland — a message being watched closely by Catholics from Boston to Berlin. The scandals first emerged in Canada and Australia in the 1980s, followed by Ireland in the 1990s, the United States last decade and, in recent months, Benedict's German homeland. Ireland, a nation of 4 million, has paid out more than $1 billion to about 13,000 victims. Victims' advocates say they want an explanation of how the church let child molesters operate with impunity.
Disaster hoax sparks confusion
Minister of Mineral Resources Alpha Kanu said he raced to the town of Bo, about 150 miles from the capital, Freetown, on Friday after news reports said at least 200 people had been killed in a mining accident there, only to find out it was a hoax. Kanu said the rumor began with local radio stations, then was picked up by international media. At one point, the French Foreign Ministry issued a statement in Paris offering its condolences to the mine accident victims.
Toll from February quake is lowered
Chile is lowering the confirmed death toll from its February earthquake to 452. Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter said 96 people are still missing. The previous estimated death toll was 497. The government on Friday announced school repairs and other reconstruction efforts that are the focus of an initial $112 million in aid. The 8.8-magnitude quake and tsunami on Feb. 27 caused an estimated $30 billion in damage.