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World Briefs: Soyuz craft, crew of 3 ready for mission to space station

- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2012

BAIKONUR | A Soyuz spacecraft atop a rocket was placed into launch position Monday at Russia's manned-space facility in the freezing steppes of Kazakhstan ahead of a five-month mission for three astronauts to the International Space Station.

NASA's Tom Marshburn, Russian Roman Romanenko and the Canadian Space Agency's Chris Hadfield are scheduled to blast off Wednesday and travel for two days before reaching three other astronauts working at the orbiting laboratory.

IRAQ

Wave of bombings kills 19 in ethnically disputed areas

BAGHDAD | A wave of bombings Monday across Iraq targeted residents of ethnically disputed areas and Shiite pilgrims, killing at least 19 people and wounding dozens.

The attacks deepen fears that militants are seeking to reignite ethnic and sectarian violence in the country, where tensions remain high over areas contested between Iraq's central government and the Kurdish minority.

The deadliest of Monday's attacks took place in al-Mouafaqiyah, a village inhabited by families from the Shabak ethnic group. Seven people were killed and 11 were wounded in the bombing, police said.

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION

Malaria progress falters, but goal remains the same

LONDON | The fight against malaria is slowing amid a dramatic drop in efforts to reverse the epidemic, even as health officials insist that they will try to meet their idealistic target of virtually eliminating deaths from the parasitic illness by the end of 2015.

In 2010, about 145 million bed nets were distributed across Africa to protect people against the mosquitoes that spread the killer disease. Last year, that number fell to about 66 million.

The number of homes in Africa sprayed with pesticides also has stalled, as have attempts to treat pregnant women, one of the high-risk groups.

PHILIPPINES

Contraceptives bill approved over Catholic objections

MANILA | Philippine lawmakers passed landmark legislation Monday to provide government funding for contraceptives and sex education in schools despite strong opposition from the Catholic Church and its followers, some who threatened to ask the Supreme Court to block the legislation.

Most members of the Senate and the House of Representatives separately cast their votes for the bill, which languished in Congress for more than a decade as lawmakers avoided colliding with the church.

President Benigno Aquino III considers the bill a major step toward reducing maternal deaths and promoting family planning in the impoverished country, which has one of Asia's fastest-growing populations.

Church leaders said in a pastoral letter Sunday that the proposal would put the moral fiber of the nation at risk.

UKRAINE

Judge and his family found beheaded in Kharkiv home

KIEV | Ukrainian law enforcement agencies are investigating the grisly killings and beheadings of a judge and three others in his home in the city of Kharkiv.

Judge Volodymyr Trofimov, 58, and his wife, son and the son's girlfriend were found dead in the judge's apartment Saturday. All the bodies had been decapitated and the heads were missing, prosecutors and police said.

Investigators say they think Judge Trofimov's killing could be connected to his job. They noted that the killings took place on Dec. 15, which is Judge's Day in Ukraine. Investigators also said the killings could have been the result of a robbery because some belongings are missing from the apartment, or a murder-for-hire job.

No further details were available Monday.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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