Al-Qaida leader calls on Muslims to aid Hamas

Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaida’s second in command, called Monday on all Muslims to support the Islamic movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip by sending money and weapons to defend it against what he said were attacks planned by Western and Arab governments.

The appeal marked a shift in tactics for al-Qaida, which has long criticized Hamas for failure to adhere to strict interpretations of Islamic principles, and criticized Hamas’ participation in Palestinian elections last year. The appeal follows Hamas’ conquest of Gaza earlier this month in a brutal, five-day battle against Fatah, the rival Palestinian party whose headquarters are in the West Bank.

With the Palestinian Authority now split into two camps, and Gaza cut off from international assistance as the United States and Israel back Fatah and President Mohammed Abbas, al-Qaida is seizing an opportunity to increase its influence.

World Bank approves Zoellick as president

Robert Zoellick, a seasoned player in international financial and diplomatic circles, won the unanimous approval of the World Bank’s board on Monday to become the poverty-fighting institution’s next president.

Zoellick will succeed Paul Wolfowitz, whose last day is Saturday, ending a stormy two-year tenure.

The new president will take the reins Sunday, the first day of his five-year term.

Zoellick, 53, brings to the World Bank years of experience in the foreign and economic policy arenas under three Republican presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan.

Vienna, Austria

Opium production surges in Afghanistan

Afghanistan produced dramatically more opium in 2006, increasing its yield by nearly 50 percent from a year earlier and pushing global opium production to a record high, a U.N. report said today.

The annual report also found that the estimated level of global drug use has remained more or less unchanged for the third year, although cannabis use continues to decline in North America.

The findings were contained in the 2007 World Drug Report released by the Vienna-based U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

In 2006, Afghanistan accounted for 92 percent of global illicit opium production. From wire reports


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