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Briefly

- - Thursday, November 24, 2011

SRI LANKA

Government takes first count of civilian war deaths

COLOMBO | Sri Lanka said Thursday that it was counting on its own how many civilians were slain at the end of its bloody civil war to counter claims that tens of thousands were killed and fend off international calls for a war-crimes probe.

Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa also acknowledged for the first time that soldiers may have committed unspecified "crimes." He promised to investigate and punish them.

Both the count of the killed and the admission of misconduct are a major shift for a government that had sworn its soldiers were beyond reproach and had insisted for more than two years that not a single civilian was killed by its forces during the final stages of the war.

Mr. Rajapaksa's speech to a conference on postwar ethnic reconciliation is the government's latest attempt to show it is taking action on its own and blunt the calls for outside investigations into the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Mr. Rajapaksa said the census department's count, which is near completion and will be released soon, shows a very small number of civilians died because of military action.

He said people who died due to natural causes or accidents, as well as those who fled the country illegally, died fighting for the rebels or were killed by the rebels, also were counted in order to reconcile the number of people unaccounted for.

A U.N. report released in April said tens of thousands of civilians may have been killed in the last months of the decades-long war that a final government offensive ended in May 2009.

AFGHANISTAN

Karzai charges NATO with killing seven civilians

KABUL | Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday accused NATO-led forces of killing seven civilians, most of them children, in an airstrike in the southern province of Kandahar.

"Initial reports as stated by the district sub-governor indicate that an airstrike carried out by the international forces in Siacha village in Zhari district killed seven persons, including six children and injured another two young girls," a statement from the presidential palace said.

"President Karzai was saddened when he heard the news and designated a team to fully investigate the incident."

The governor of Zhari district, Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi, contacted by Agence France-Presse, said the strike was aimed at Taliban fighters planting roadside mines in the area but missed its target and hit residential areas nearby.

INDIA

Man angry about prices slaps agriculture minister

NEW DELHI | A man slapped India's agriculture minister in the face Thursday, apparently to draw attention to rising food prices and corruption.

Sharad Pawar was talking to reporters at a political function when the man attacked him. TV news reports said the man was shouting slogans about inflated food prices and graft.

Television footage showed the man brandishing a knife as he was dragged away by security officials and Mr. Pawar's aides.

"Don't you know why I hit him? The common man is distressed. Am I wrong?" he shouted as he was being taken away.

CNN-IBN TV reported that the man was detained by police. Mr. Pawar was not seriously hurt.

Such incidents have become increasingly common in India, where ministers and other officials have had shoes thrown at them and their offices ransacked by angry citizens.

The incidents usually have been over political decisions, corruption, or real or perceived injustices.

MALDIVES

U.N. rights official urges end to flogging

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA | The U.N. human rights chief urged the Maldives on Thursday to end the "degrading" practice of flogging women found to have had sex outside marriage.

"This practice constitutes one of the most inhumane and degrading forms of violence against women, and should have no place in the legal framework of a democratic country," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told Parliament.

"I strongly believe that a public debate is needed in Maldives on this issue of major concern," she said calling for law reforms against discrimination against women.

She told reporters later that she discussed with Maldives officials how to end the practice.

"At the very least, pending more permanent changes in the law, it should be possible for the government and the judiciary to engineer a practical moratorium on flogging," she said.

According to the law, 30 lashes are given to women found to have committed adultery. Court officials would not give numbers on how many women are flogged in the conservative Muslim nation, but the punishment is usually done in public.

Ms. Pillay also urged authorities to improve poor, exploitative conditions for migrant workers, especially those from Bangladesh.