Other items: Israeli troops leave Gaza refugee camp; Media plan blackout to protest; 2 nurses killed in psychiatric wardslaying

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Karachi, Pakistan


Musharraf to keep role as army chief

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, has declared that he will not step down as army chief of staff by the end of the year, breaking a public pledge but asserting that to give up his uniform now would jeopardize the country’s political and economic stability.

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Musharraf had been saying for months that he was having second thoughts about the promise he made late last year to shed his uniform, but he had never explicitly revealed his intentions until an interview Friday night with a Karachi television station.

“I will remain in uniform even after Dec. 31,” he said on the broadcast, adding that he would address the nation in the next few days to explain his reasoning. His formal declaration sets the stage for renewed confrontation with political opponents, who yesterday accused him of betraying his oft-stated commitment to restoring democracy. The army chief came to power in a bloodless military coup in October 1999. Military governments have ruled Pakistan for much of its 57-year history.

The announcement also highlights a diplomatic challenge for the Bush administration, which has made promoting democracy in the Muslim world a top foreign-policy priority but is wary of upsetting its delicate relationship with Musharraf, a moderate, secular-minded Muslim who is a key ally in the war against Islamic extremism.


Gaza City, Gaza Strip


Israeli troops leave Gaza refugee camp

Israeli troops moved out of a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Gaza last night, the army said, ending a two-day raid that killed 11 Palestinians and wounded dozens, the largest Israeli military operation since Yasser Arafat’s death last month.

The raid in Khan Younis was launched Friday in response to Palestinian mortar and rocket attacks over the past week. Israel had said it would refrain from major offensives in the run-up to the Jan. 9 Palestinian elections but would take action if attacked.

Hundreds of residents who had evacuated their homes began returning to the camp even though the area was engulfed in complete darkness because the electric grid had been damaged in the operation. Some residents found their homes demolished or damaged, but officials said it was not immediately clear how many.


Banjul, Gambia


Media plan blackout to protest slaying

Gambia’s print media plan a weeklong blackout to protest the killing of a newspaper editor and press-freedom advocate.

Deyda Hydara, managing editor and co-owner of the Point, was shot three times in the head after leaving work on Thursday. He also worked for international press-freedom group Reporters Without Borders, which has criticized a law passed this week by the Gambian government to tighten press freedom with measures similar to those used in Zimbabwe.

Gambia’s five newspapers and a weekly news magazine agreed to the Dec. 20-27 blackout, and plan a demonstration on Wednesday in Banjul.


Pau, France


2 nurses killed in psychiatric ward

A nurse was decapitated and another stabbed to death overnight in the psychiatric hospital where they worked in this town just north of the Pyrenees, a medical source said yesterday.

The head of the decapitated nurse was found on top of a television in the geriatric ward, the source said. The second nurse had been stabbed in the neck.

Local prosecutor Eric Maurel said there were indications that a hospital window had been forced open.


Kinshasa, Congo


E.U. pledges $107M to democratic vote

The European Union, saying that only democracy could bring Congo peace and prosperity, pledged $107 million yesterday to help the country hold its first democratic election in four decades.

The vast central African country is due to hold a presidential vote by the end of June, but fighting between army factions in its eastern border region with Rwanda has raised fears of a slide back to war.

The money was the largest donation ever made by the E.U. to support an election, E.U. aid chief Louis Michel said. Officials said the funding would initially go toward drawing up voter lists in the country of almost 60 million people.


Berlin


Germany to restrict Jewish immigration

Germany is to stop offering unlimited immigration to Jews from Russia and eastern Europe as of Jan. 1, 2006, German newspapers reported yesterday.

Germany began offering Jews from the former Soviet bloc the right to settle in the country in 1991 to help rebuild its own Jewish communities, devastated by the country’s Nazi regime. Some 190,000 Jews had taken up the offer by the end of 2003.

Berliner Zeitung newspaper said the nation and Jewish community were under financial pressure because more than three-quarters of immigrant Jews were reliant on welfare payments.

New rules will mean those applying to come to Germany will have to show knowledge of German and be under 45 years old. They also will not be eligible for social aid, the paper said.