May 31, 2006 in Nation/World

Chavez amassing military supplies

The Spokesman-Review
 

Venezuela is buying helicopters, boats and military transport planes in defense deals worth about $2.7 billion, modernizing its military as tensions grow between leftist President Hugo Chavez and the United States.

Flush with oil profits but blocked from buying U.S. arms, Chavez is increasingly looking to countries like Russia and Spain as suppliers.

A cargo ship carrying 30,000 Russian-made Kalashnikov assault rifles is headed to Venezuela with the first shipment of an order totaling 100,000 guns to arrive by year’s end. The military is looking to buy more submarines, and Chavez is planning an even bigger deal for Russian fighter jets.

Washington has pointed to the mounting defense deals with concern and urged Russia and Spain not to do business with Venezuela. Both countries have shrugged off the warnings.

Venezuela’s defense budget is up 31 percent this year, to $2 billion, and that doesn’t include roughly $2.2 billion it plans to spend for 10 transport planes and eight patrol boats on what will be Spain’s largest-ever defense deal.

Dili, East Timor

President seizes control of security

East Timor’s president, a former guerrilla leader and independence hero, announced emergency measures Tuesday after mobs stole evidence on massacres that followed the nation’s break from Indonesia.

President Xanana Gusmao’s declaration that he was taking sole control of security was seen as an attempt to break a political deadlock that has paralyzed the government and may have helped fuel deadly violence.

The announcement came after two days of wrangling with Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, leader of the ruling party. Gusmao has had a partly ceremonial role in government but inspires adulation for his fight against Indonesia’s harsh occupation, which ended after East Timor voted for independence in 1999.

Gusmao previously stayed out of daily politics, preferring a loftier role as a symbol of the new nation.

But Tuesday, seated in his office after the Cabinet announced the firing of the defense and interior ministers, Gusmao told reporters he was assuming “sole responsibility” for security. He said he was taking direct control of the armed forces and key ministries, and urged lawmakers to meet to discuss a solution to “a state of grave crisis.”

Paris

Voltaire’s letters fetch $750,000

A European collector Tuesday paid $750,000 at auction for 26 letters from French philosopher Voltaire to Russian empress Catherine the Great, auctioneers Sotheby’s said.

The Voltaire letters, dating from 1768-1777, had been estimated at $320,000 to $385,000. It was believed to be among the highest prices ever paid for handwritten letters from the 18th century.

Catherine the Great was one of 18th-century Europe’s enlightened despots, known as much for her correspondence with French philosophers Diderot and Voltaire as for reforms she introduced in Russia. She ruled Russia from 1762 to 1796.


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