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Briefly: Activists protest pope for gay marriage remark

- - Sunday, December 16, 2012

Activists angered by Pope Benedict XVI's recent comment about gay marriage have held a small protest in St. Peter's Square during the pontiff's weekly address there.

The protesters carried signs in several languages, including ones saying: "Marriage for All" and "Homophobia = death."

An Associated Press journalist saw police quickly seize placards from four of the protesters who entered the square Sunday as pilgrims and tourists were watching the pope appear at his studio window.

In his annual peace message released by the Vatican on Friday, the pontiff called gay marriage, and abortion, threats to peace.

The organizers of the protest issued a statement saying: "Gay unions don't harm peace. Weapons do."

SPAIN

Spaniards protest health privatization

MADRID — Several thousand Spanish public health workers and other people marched from four main hospitals in Madrid to converge on a main square in the capital Sunday, protesting the regional government's plans to restructure and part-privatize the sector.

The marches, described as a "white tide" because of the color of the medical scrubs many were wearing, finally met midafternoon in Puerta del Sol.

On Monday, the region's health minister will meet with a committee responsible for coordinating professional services and union representatives to try and agree how to achieve $697 million in savings.

RUSSIA

Ex-cop sentenced for journalist's murder

MOSCOW — A Moscow judge has sentenced a former police officer to 11 years in prison and fined him about $100,000 for his part in the 2006 murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, who prosecutors claimed helped to track Politkovskaya's movements and armed the gunman, had struck a plea bargain that qualified him for a reduced sentence in exchange for his cooperation.

Politkovskaya's family opposed the deal, which allowed Pavlyuchenkov to admit his guilt without testifying, on the grounds that it would not help find the masterminds of the killing.

The alleged gunman and four other defendants will be tried separately.

Politkovskaya, a sharp critic of Kremlin policies in Chechnya, was gunned down in her apartment building Oct. 7, 2006.

GREAT BRITAIN

Hawking calls for pardon for code-breaker Turing

LONDON — Famed physicist Stephen Hawking and other eminent scientists have called for the British government to pardon computer pioneer Alan Turing, who helped win World War II but was later prosecuted for homosexuality.

In a letter published Friday in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Mr. Hawking and 10 others urged Prime Minister David Cameron "formally to forgive the iconic British hero."

The letter, whose signatories include Astronomer Royal Martin Rees and Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, called Turing "one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the modern era."

"It is time his reputation was unblemished," it said.

Turing worked at Bletchley Park, the wartime code-breaking center, where he helped crack Nazi Germany's secret codes by creating the "Turing bombe," a forerunner of modern computers.

He also developed the Turing Test to measure artificial intelligence.

After the war, Turing was prosecuted for having sex with a man, stripped of his security clearance and forcibly treated with female hormones. He killed himself in 1954 at age 41 by eating an apple laced with cyanide.

Homosexuality remained illegal in Britain until 1967.

SERBIA

Country's richest man gets 30 days in prison

BELGRADE — A judge has ordered the richest man in Serbia to be held in prison for 30 days pending trial on suspicion of corruption, as the government hailed his arrest as proof that no one is above the law in the graft-plagued country.

The arrest of billionaire retail tycoon Miroslav Miskovic is part of an anti-corruption sweep that the new nationalist government says is necessary if the country wants to move closer to European Union membership.

But critics argue the crackdown is mostly aimed at political opponents and allies of the country's previous pro-Western leadership.

Mr. Miskovic, 67, was arrested Wednesday along with his son Marko and eight others in connection with the privatization of several Serbian road construction companies in 2005, during which the suspects allegedly gained illegal profits of about $39 million.

The judge at Serbia's special court for organized crime ruled Friday that Mr. Miskovic, his son and five others must remain in prison during the pretrial investigation. The rest were freed, with their travel documents seized.

GREAT BRITAIN

Coroner: Eva Rausing died as result of drug abuse

LONDON — A coroner has ruled that Eva Rausing, one of Britain's richest women, died as a result of her "dependent abuse" of drugs.

Rausing's decomposed body was found by police in July in the London home she shared with husband Hans Kristian Rausing, whose family founded the Tetra Pak drinks carton empire.

She had been dead for two months.

Deputy coroner Shirley Radcliffe said Friday that the 48-year-old Rausing had died as a result of cocaine intoxication and a heart condition. Ms. Radcliffe ruled the death "a result of the dependent abuse of drugs."

Mr. Rausing, who kept his American-born wife's death a secret for weeks, was given a 10-month suspended sentence in August for preventing the lawful burial of a body. He is being treated for drug addiction.

RUSSIA

Circus claims vodka saved elephants in Siberia

MOSCOW — Circus trainers claim two of their elephants were saved from the deadly Siberian cold by vodka.

Emergency ministry spokesman Alexander Davydov said Friday that the elephants were in a trailer that caught fire Thursday outside the city of Novosibirsk, forcing trainers to take them out into the bitter cold before another truck arrived to deliver them to a warm gym at a local community college.

The Komsomolskaya Pravda daily reported that trainer Leonid Labo had the animals, aged 45 and 48, drink 2.6 gallons of vodka diluted in warm water — and a veterinarian said later that only the tips of their ears were frostbitten.

Although scientists say that alcohol can make humans feel warmer but actually lowers their core body temperature, Novosibisk zoo director Rostislav Shilo told the daily that the vodka saved the animals from frostbite and pneumonia, without harming or even intoxicating them.

From wire dispatches and staff reports