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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Israel says Pelosi delivered wrong message to Syria; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, delivered the wrong message from Israel when she visited Syrian President Bashar Assad April 4, according to the offices of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Pelosi, who was leading a bipartisan “fact-finding” tour of the Middle East, announced in a Damascus press conference that both Israeli and Syrian leaders had told her they were open to peace talks, which have been stalled since 2000, according to CNSNews.com. Olmert’s office quickly protested the announcement, saying Olmert had not asked her to deliver such a message.

“In order to conduct serious and genuine peace negotiations, Syria must cease its support of terror, cease its sponsoring of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations, refrain from providing weapons to Hizballah and bringing about the destabilizing of Lebanon, cease its support of terror in Iraq, and relinquish the strategic ties it is building with the extremist regime in Iran,” a statement released by Olmert’s office said.

While lawmakers from both parties occasionally visit countries with whom the United States has strained relations, Pelosi was criticized for engaging in foreign policy discussions without authorization from the State Department. Pelosi has said that the Democratically controlled Congress will exercise more leadership in foreign policy and added that she also is open to a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

RADICAL CLERIC DEMANDS FIRING OVER HUG — The leader of a pro-Taliban mosque has demanded Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf fire a female member of his administration after newspapers published a photo showing her hugging a non-Pakistani man identified as her skydiving instructor.

Tourism Minister Nilofar Bakhtiar was in France for an early April fund-raising event to raise money for victims of an earthquake that killed 73,000 people in Pakistan in October 2005, according to Reuters news service. She hugged her instructor after completing a jump.

Abdul Aziz, leader of Islamabad’s Red Mosque, said: “Her act was un-Islamic and against our social norms. She earned a bad name for Islam. She should be punished.” Aziz also announced a Taliban-style vigilante court would be set up to enforce Muslim law and warned that efforts to crack down on his followers would be met with suicide-bomb attacks.

In February, a Muslim radical murdered a female government official in Punjab province because he believed women should not hold political office. Musharraf’s government has not taken action against Aziz, raising fears that his moderate, pro-Western government cannot rein in the extremists.

U.S. DOUBTS IRAN CLAIM TO EXPANDED NUCLEAR ABILITY — The government of hardline Irnaian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced the dramatic expansion of its ability to produce nuclear fuel -– potentially enough to manufacture a nuclear bomb -– but experts in the United States are skeptical about the claim.

Iran announced April 9 that it had begun operating 3,000 centrifuges -– nearly 10 times the previously known number -– defying U.N. demands to halt its nuclear program, according to an Associated Press report. However, observers expressed doubt that Iran actually could operate that many machines and said the announcement may be intended to shore up Ahmadinejad’s flagging support among the Iranian people.

“From a political perspective, it’s more important to have (3,000 centrifuges) in place than to have them run properly,” nonproliferation expert Michael Levi told AP. The United Nations Security Council has set a late-May deadline for Iran to halt its nuclear program.

TALIBAN BRINGS BACK HEROIN POPPIES — Muslim radicals who wiped out Afghanistan’s opium poppies less than a decade ago now are forcing farmers to replant the flowers -– and extorting millions of dollars in “taxes” to fund their insurgency against the country’s pro-Western government and the foreign troops that support it.

“Drugs are bad. The Koran is very clear about it,” NATO political adviser Gafus Scheltem told the Associated Press. But to fight the enemy, “all things are allowed. They need money and the only way they can get money is from Arabs that support them in the (Persian) Gulf, or poppies.”

Corrupt government officials, warlords, landowners and farmers all benefit from the cultivation of poppies in Afghanistan, which provides 90 percent of the world’s heroin supply. When the Taliban was in power, they initially banned poppies as being “against Islam,” but later decided it was acceptable to produce the drug as long as it was not consumed locally.

The United Nations estimated the street value of Afghanistan’s 2006 opium crop at $3.5 billion.

STATE GAMBLING MONOPOLY ‘TARGETS POOR’ — Sweden’s state-owned gambling company is deliberately targeting poor people by placing gambling machines in areas with major social problems and low incomes, according to a survey conducted by the country’s parliament. One low-income suburb of Stockholm was found to have 52 “Jack Vegas” gambling machines, while one of the city’s wealthiest suburbs had none at all.0

Swedish lawmaker Tomas Tobé criticized the government for increasing access to gambling in poor communities while providing virtually no help for gambling addicts in those areas, according to The Local, a Swedish newspaper.

Jesper Kärrbrink, CEO of the state gambling company, defended the actions, saying, “Our job is to provide safe and responsible options in the areas where the players are. It is quite possible that there are more people interested in playing on these kind of machines in Botkyrka than in Danderyd. It is therefore quite natural that our machines should be situated there.”

Tobé called for the state to privatize gambling –- ending its role “as a player on the market” –- and establish stronger regulation of the industry. He said he would introduce a bill in October to abolish the state’s gambling monopoly.

SURVEY SAYS HOMOSEXUALS LESS THAN 2 PERCENT — The largest random sex survey ever conducted in Canada has revealed that no more than 2 percent of adults engage in homosexual behavior. The 2003 survey of 121,300 adults found that 2 percent of 18-44-year-olds, 1 percent of 50-year-olds and only 0.3 percent of subjects 60 and older considered themselves homosexual.

Researcher Paul Cameron asked, “What happened to the older homosexuals? Some may have ceased to be sexually active, or they may have died. Recent reports from Scandinavia indicate that the life expectancy of homosexuals is 20+ years shorter than that of heterosexuals.”

While activists in the United States claim 6 percent to 10 percent of the population is homosexual, Cameron said a government survey in 1996 reported that 1.3 percent of men and 1.1 percent of women under the age of 60 said they’d had homosexual sex in the last 12 months. It also found the oldest male who engaged in homosexuality was 54 and the oldest female 49. So it appears that homosexuality is a young person’s activity -– one that may contribute to an early death.”

The findings were delivered March 23 during a meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association Convention in Philadelphia as part of a report titled “Federal Distortion of the Homosexual Footprint.”

Even though some homosexual activists in the U.S. claim homosexuals make up close to one-tenth of the population, in 2003 a coalition of leading homosexual organizations wrote a legal brief in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas case in which they said the most “widely accepted” statistic is that 2.8 percent of men and 1.4 percent of women are homosexual.

NORTH KOREA WARNS DEADLINE MAY BE MISSED — With a deadline looming, North Korean officials have warned they may not be able to meet the terms of a nuclear disarmament agreement produced in February by six-way talks with the reclusive communist country. The accord with South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia gave Pyongyang 60 days to shut its nuclear facilities in return for energy assistance.

North Korean delegates walked out of the talks in March, demanding the release of $25 million in frozen assets held at a bank in Macau. The U.S. State Department said it had found a way for the funds to be transferred, but observers were uncertain that would resolve the dispute. North Korea has a history of continually adding demands before abiding by agreements it has signed.

A top government spokesman for Japan said the assets dispute must not delay implementation of the agreement, according to Reuters news service. “The BDA issue is outside the framework of the six-party talks,” said Yasuhisa Shiozaki. “They cannot make that an excuse not to abide by the 30- or the 60-day deadlines. We need to resume the six-party process.”

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  • Mark Kelly