- - Monday, March 21, 2011

CHILE

Bomb at U.S. institute causes minor damage

SANTIAGO | Police in Chile said a small bomb exploded and broke some windows at a U.S. cultural institute hours ahead of President Obama’s arrival.

No one was injured in the attack, which happened in Vina del Mar, a seaside city far from the Obamas’ activities in the capital of Santiago.

Police Capt. Nibaldo Lillo said the bomb caused only minor damage.

Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the attack at the Chilean-North American Institute, where people can read books in English and receive language lessons.

The Obama family’s visit comes under tight security, with sharpshooters and more than 2,000 police deployed in the capital.

CANADA

Government hit with formal contempt charge

OTTAWA | A special parliamentary committee declared Canada’s minority government to be in contempt Monday but stopped short of trying to bring down the ruling Conservatives over the affair.

Despite the reprieve, the government appears set to face at least two confidence votes this week, and the chances of it surviving beyond Friday are uncertain at best.

The Conservatives, in power since early 2006, have been beset by a number of ethical problems in current weeks.

The committee, dominated by opposition legislators, ruled that the government had wrongly withheld information about the cost of a program to increase the number of prison cells.

Although legislators had the option to attach a non-confidence motion to the reprimand, they chose not to, saying the contempt ruling was serious enough in itself.

The House of Commons must confirm the contempt ruling, but there is no guarantee a vote will come before Friday, when legislators will vote on the government’s annual budget, which will be presented Tuesday afternoon.

The minority Conservatives need the support of at least one opposition party to pass legislation and remain in power. If they lose a vote on the budget or another confidence issue, Canada will embark on its fourth election campaign in less than seven years.

ARGENTINA

NASA tests Mars space suit

BUENOS AIRES | A NASA team has tested a space suit in a setting with extreme conditions akin to some of those found on Mars — an Argentine base in Antarctica — for possible use on a visit to the red planet.

The NDX-1 space suit, designed by Argentine aerospace engineer Pablo de Leon, endured frigid temperatures and winds of more than 47 mph as researchers tried techniques for collecting soil samples on Mars.

“This was the first time we took the suit to such an extreme, isolated environment so that if something went wrong we couldn’t just go to the store” and buy a repair kit, Mr. de Leon told Reuters news agency recently after returning from the one-week expedition.

The $100,000 prototype suit, created with NASA funds, is made out of more than 350 materials, including tough honeycomb Kevlar and carbon fibers to reduce its weight without losing resistance.

During the “Mars in Marambio” mission, named after the Argentine air force base, a team of NASA scientists went on simulated spacewalks, operated drills and collected samples while wearing the gear.

BRAZIL

New hunt planned for plane wreckage

SAO PAULO | French officials say investigators are ready to begin a fourth search for the wreckage of an Air France jet that crashed off Brazil’s coast two years ago.

The June 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447 killed all 228 people on board.

The jet went down as it hit a high-altitude thunderstorm en route to Paris from Rio de Janeiro.

Investigators are searching for the jet’s data-filled “black boxes” to determine what caused the crash.

Martine del Bono is a spokeswoman for the French accident investigation agency overseeing the search. She said the search will begin by early Tuesday and will run until July.

A boat carrying three underwater robots will scour an area off Brazil’s northeastern coast.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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