27 April - 3 May 2000
Issue No. 479
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Lockerbie trial dateA SCOTTISH court trying two Libyan suspects in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing will decide today whether to accept a request by prosecutors to postpone the trial originally scheduled to open May 3. The last-minute request was made by prosecutors on Tuesday, saying they needed more time to study undisclosed details of defence evidence and witnesses.
The trial was due to take place at Camp Zeist, a former US military base in The Netherlands. Abdel-Basset Al-Megrahi and Lamine Khalifa, accused of blowing up a PanAm flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, pleaded not guilty in a February pre-trial hearing.
The United Nations, under US pressure, imposed an air and arms embargo against Libya in 1992 for refusing to hand over the two suspects to either the United States or Britain. Thanks to a South African-Saudi initiative coupled with Arab and African pressure, the United States finally agreed to a long-standing Libyan proposal that the two suspects be tried in a neutral country. Al-Megrahi and Khalifa will be tried according to Scottish law but at Libya's request, the United States and Britain agreed there would be no jury. Libya said any jury would be biased after years of US and British claims that Tripoli was involved in the bombing and supported terrorism.
Ties improvingIRANIAN Defence Minister Ali Shamkhani made an unprecedented visit to Saudi Arabia on Monday, reflecting the growing warmth in relations between the two major Gulf powers. The first visit by an Iranian defence minister to Saudi Arabia since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran was in return for a similar visit by Saudi Arabia's Defence Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdel-Aziz to Tehran last year.
The Iranian visit came shortly before Arab Gulf leaders were due to open a summit meeting in Muscat, Oman, on Saturday. Topping the agenda will be Gulf-Iranian relations and attempts by Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar to solve a border dispute between the United Arab Emirates and Iran over the ownership of three strategic Gulf islands.
The UAE has expressed reservations over growing Saudi ties with Iran but Saudi officials maintained that the relationship was aimed at helping to solve the territorial dispute between Abu Dhabi and Tehran.
Hunger striker worseTUNISIAN journalist Tawfiq bin Braik was rushed to hospital on Monday after completing a nearly one-month-long hunger strike to protest restrictions on his work and movement.
Bin Braik, 39, was taken to hospital after his health sharply deteriorated. Since he started his hunger strike on 2 April at the offices of the National Committee for Liberties in Tunisia, bin Braik has lost 15.5 kilogrammes, drinking only tea and water.
Bin Braik was summoned before a court over two articles writ-en for a French newspaper and banned from leaving Tunisia after his passport was confiscated. He faces six years in prison if con-icted of "having spread false news which trouble public order." Bin Braik, whom France expressed willingness to accept as a political refugee, also called for the re-installation of a phone line in his home and called for a halt to the harassment of his family.
Local and international human rights groups have appealed to Tu-isian President Zine Al-Abidine bin Ali to lift the travel ban against bin Braik and to improve the country's human rights record. Banning opponents from travelling, cutting their telephone lines and harassing their families are common practices in Tunisia despite the government's declared policy of respect for human rights.
Sorcery riotsSAUDI police detained up to 30 supporters of a suspected sorcerer after rioting on Sunday over his arrest, Saudi Arabian media re-orted on Tuesday. Newspapers said the south-western city of Najran was calm on Monday following the riots, in which one po-iceman was killed and shots were fired at a hotel.
The Arabic-language Al-Eqtisadiah quoted Interior Minister Prince Nayef as saying that security forces were interrogating suspects linked to the alleged heretic, who reportedly is not Saudi.
Shots were fired during the riot at a hotel where Najran Governor Prince Mishaal ibn Saud, a member of the royal family, was staying. Mishaal said the airport, banks, schools and markets were working normally on Monday.
Sources in Najran said the demonstrators were in fact from the Ismaili community, a Shi'ite Muslim offshoot, protesting against the closure of their mosque by security forces.