- - Wednesday, February 23, 2011

NEW ZEALAND

Death toll rises in devastating quake

CHRISTCHURCH | A powerful earthquake that tore through one of New Zealand’s largest cities on Tuesday has left at least 75 people dead and an estimated 300 missing in the rubble.

Rescuers embarked on a desperate hunt for any signs of life in the twisted rubble in the city of Christchurch, as Prime Minister John Key declared the quake a national disaster and analysts estimated its cost at up to $12 billion.

Rescue teams rushed in from Australia, Asia, the United States and Britain, along with a military field hospital and teams to help repair power, water and phone lines that were damaged in all corners of the city of about 350,000 people.

NATO

Afghan attrition remains stubbornly high

BRUSSELS | Attrition rates in Afghan security forces remain stubbornly high, but there is no shortage of recruits so NATO still expects to meet its goal of having 305,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen by October, a general in the alliance said Wednesday.

The expansion of the army and police is a critical element in NATO’s exit strategy from Afghanistan. This summer, the alliance plans to hand over responsibility for security in the first provinces to Afghan control. The hand-over process will run through 2014, when international forces are scheduled to end their combat role.

CUBA

U.S. denounces treatment of dissidents

HAVANA | The United States on Wednesday denounced what it said is a campaign of intimidation against the mother of a Cuban political prisoner who died after a hunger strike, and called on the government of Raul Castro to release all dissidents still behind bars.

Meanwhile, Cuban opposition leaders on the island planned low-key protests to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died Feb. 23, 2010, after an 83-day hunger strike.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley joined a chorus of international criticism of Cuba for its treatment of Mr. Zapata’s mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, who was detained for about 12 hours last week in her hometown of Banes, in eastern Cuba.

VENEZUELA

Chavez foe freed from house arrest

CARACAS | A congressman-elect said Wednesday he has been released from house arrest, apparently because of a three-week hunger strike by students who demanded that opponents of President Hugo Chavez be freed.

Biagio Pilieri was elected to Venezuela’s congress in September, but has been unable to take his seat owing to charges he was involved in corruption during his 2000-2004 tenure as mayor of the western city of Bruzual.

Mr. Pilieri told the Globovision television channel that he was eager to enter the National Assembly.

It is not clear if he is now able to serve. Mr. Pilieri’s attorney, Norma Delgado, told Union Radio he was granted “conditional liberty,” meaning the charges against him remain active and that he must appear in court periodically.

SERBIA

Former police chief guilty of war crimes

THE HAGUE, Netherlands | The Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal convicted a former Serbian police chief Wednesday of orchestrating the killing of hundreds of ethnic Albanians and the deportation of hundreds of thousands more from Kosovo in 1999.

The U.N. court sentenced Vlastimir Djordjevic to 27 years in prison after pronouncing him guilty of murdering at least 724 Kosovo Albanians, as well as committing inhumane acts, persecution and deportations.

The verdict marked the end of the Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal’s final trial dealing with atrocities in the Kosovo conflict. The five trials included some ethnic Albanians, but taken together were a stinging condemnation of Serbia’s campaign of terrorism in Kosovo.

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