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Dec. 21, 2001 at 10:06 AM
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Concern is mounting among Spanish businessmen over the ominous signs of success in their government's long campaign to wrest back the sovereignty of the rocky peninsula of Gibraltar from the British. Patriotic as they are, Spanish financiers are worried that along with Spanish sovereignty over the rock might come Spanish banking and tax inspectors, keen to delve into the

records of what has been a Mediterranean tax haven. Since two-thirds of the accounts in Gibraltar are reliably estimated to be held by Spaniards, their concern is understandable. Britain conquered Gib, or The Rock, from Spain almost 300 years ago and has held it ever since as a strategic naval outpost at the mouth of the Mediterranean. Tony Blair's government in London,

untrammeled by such old-fashioned notions of patriotism or even by the overwhelming desire of the Gibraltarians to remain under British rule, says it wants a solution to this "irritant" in Anglo-Spanish relations next year. Spain's Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar may be in less of a rush, now that his party financiers are being warned against too much zeal on Gibraltar. Otherwise, Aznar will have trouble raising campaign funds.

The Indian flag that was taken home to New Delhi by the last embassy official in 1996, is back in Kabul and ready to fly again over the reopened Embassy in the Sahr-e-Nao district, at the special request of the Afghan foreign ministry. No such friendly request has been made to the Pakistan Embassy, that used to rule the diplomatic roost when the Taliban were in charge. The new rulers of Kabul seem happy to rub Pakistan's nose in its discomfiture, even though Indo-Pakistan relations could hardly be worse after last week's assault on the Indian Parliament building, blamed on Pakistani-backed terrorists. "Although we have received request from the Pakistan government to reopen their embassy, I do not think any such permission would be granted

in the near future," a spokesman for Northern alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told United Press International. "The Pakistan request would be considered by the new government after it takes over on 22 December," he added.

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has found a new friend in Lord Woolf, the quaintly titled Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, who sounds as unhappy as Berlusconi with the draconian new European anti-terror laws. Troubled by British Home Secretary David Blunkett's decision to suspend parts of the European Convention on Human Rights in the name of fighting

terrorism, Woolf has appointed a panel of top judges to examine the cases of any alleged terrorists held without trial under the provision of the act that Blunkett rushed through the House of Commons. "I think we have got to be very careful in situations of this sort not to overact," Woolf says, adding that the judges would release any suspect against whom there was insufficient evidence.

Amid speculation that its ambassador to the United States is due to retire, government officials in Mongolia are jockeying for the plum Washington post. Jalbuu Choinhor has served in the U.S. capital for nearly seven years and several heavyweight contenders have emerged to replace him. Chief among these, and favorite to get the job, is Ravdan Bold, executive secretary of the Mongolian National Security Council. Bold, a fluent English-speaker, pioneered Mongolia's post-Communist foreign policy aimed at achieving a diplomatic balance between its two giant neighbors, Russia and China. Bold has a background in military intelligence and is a former deputy chairman of the Mongolian Central Intelligence Agency.

The south Indian state of Tamil Nadu boasts a new attraction at the fabled Mahabalipuram temples -- which has become a new center of sex tourism. Standing proud among the lingams is a talking condom. Now accounting for half of the total HIV/AIDS cases reported in India, Tamil Nadu needs all the help it can get. "Hi," says the recorded message from Mr. Condom, who has a

friendly smile painted on its face, "I am very happy that you know about me. I am a protector of informal sexual relations. If anybody utilizes me, they will realize my protection." A basket of Mr. Condom's little friends sits beneath the latest construction that beams proudly from its place of honor among all the stone ones.

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