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World Briefs: Chinese leaders pledge to cut pomp and ceremony

- - Tuesday, December 4, 2012

BEIJING — China's leaders pledged Tuesday to reduce pomp, ceremony and red carpets for senior officials, who are long accustomed to lavish trappings and distance from ordinary citizens.

In a meeting presided over by newly named Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, members of the 25-member Politburo agreed that officials should reduce ostentation and bureaucratic visits, meetings and talks "in order to remain close with the public," state media reported.

Chinese government bureaucrats are notoriously status conscious, and even low-level county officials can travel in chauffeur-driven cars.

Chinese microbloggers often mock the arrogance and corruption of officials, leading in some cases to disciplinary action against government and Communist Party leaders whose behavior is seen as particularly outrageous.

FRANCE

Two new arrests made in Jewish school attack

PARIS — A man and a woman were arrested Tuesday in southern France on suspicion of links to an Islamic militant who killed Jewish schoolchildren and French paratroopers earlier this year, the Paris prosecutor's office said.

The arrests, the first in the case since March, may throw new light on suspicions that Mohamed Merah did not act alone in the attacks, which left seven dead and terrified France.

Merah was killed later in a shootout with police.

One of Merah's brothers, Abdelkader, is already in custody on preliminary charges of complicity in the killings. Their oldest brother is among those who have suggested a third man may have played a role.

The man arrested Tuesday was picked up in the city of Albi in southern France, and the woman — his ex-girlfriend — was arrested in Toulouse, the prosecutor's office said. It released no other details.

SWEDEN

Swede charged with violating Iran sanctions

STOCKHOLM — A Swedish man has been charged with breaking international sanctions against Iran after trying to export advanced technical material typically used in uranium-enrichment activities, officials said Tuesday.

Police did not disclose the identity of the 31-year-old, who is accused of attempting to sell 11 state-of-the-art valves to Iran in February and April last year.

A court document claims the man lacked permission to export such valves and violated international sanctions.

The alleged attempt was discovered when Swedish custom officials made a random check of a shipment that contained dual-use products — material that can be used for civilian functions as well as for the production of weapons of mass destruction and other weaponry -- and seemed to be destined for Iran.

According to national broadcaster SVT, the cargo's official destination was labeled as Dubai, but a closer look showed that the final destination was Iran.

PHILIPPINES

Typhoon's flooding kills at least 74 villagers, soldiers

MANILA — At least 43 villagers and soldiers drowned in a southern Philippine town Tuesday when torrents of water dumped by a powerful typhoon cascaded down a mountain, engulfing emergency shelters and an army truck, officials said.

The deaths raised the toll from one of the strongest storms to hit the country this year to at least 74.

Gov. Arturo Uy said rain from Typhoon Bopha accumulated atop a mountain and then burst down on Andap village in New Bataan town in hard-hit Compostela Valley province.

The victims included villagers who had fled from their homes to a school and village hall, which then were swamped by the flash flood. An army truck carrying soldiers and villagers was washed away.

Bopha slammed into the Davao Oriental province region at dawn, its ferocious winds ripping roofs from homes and its 310-mile-wide rain band flooding low-lying farmland.

The storm, packing winds of 87 mph and gusts of up to 106 mph, toppled trees, triggered landslides and sent flash floods surging across the region's mountains and valleys.

Two entire provinces lost power and more than 100 domestic flights were canceled. About 60,000 people fled to emergency shelters.

GREAT BRITAIN

British Scouts consider letting atheists join

LONDON — Atheists could be allowed into Britain's Boy and Girl Scouts after more than a century.

Although there have been alternative oaths for Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists for decades, there have been no such exceptions made for atheists.

Wayne Bullitt, the association's chief commissioner in the U.K., said the proposed change is meant to keep the group relevant and to encourage membership.

But he said Tuesday the group plans to keep its oath to the queen.

The Scouting movement began more than a century ago, and now encompasses some 40 million members worldwide.

CAMEROON

Foreign poachers target elephants

YAOUNDE — Despite armed guards, Cameroon's dwindling elephant population is being devastated by heavily armed gangs of international poachers, according to a top official of the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Tighter security has been mounted because intelligence shows that two gangs of poachers from Sudan are heading for the area, said WWF Cameroon conservation director Hanson Njiforti at a news conference Tuesday.

In the first quarter of this year, poachers traveled more than 620 miles on horseback from Sudan, crossing through the Central African Republic to reach northern Cameroon's Bouba Ndjida National Park, where they killed more than 300 elephants in two months.

The killings wiped out about 80 percent of the park's elephant population.

"Two large groups of these same armed poachers are again on their way to Cameroon and are actually in the Republic of Central Africa," warned Mr. Njiforti.

The high demand for ivory in Asia threatens the remaining elephant population in Cameroon and the Central African subregion with possible extinction, said U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon Robert P. Jackson, who also spoke to journalists.

Africa is home to roughly 600,000 elephants, just a third of the number recorded a decade ago, according to data released by the U.S. Embassy.

Conservationists say that at least 25,000 elephants were killed on the continent in 2012 alone, owing to the demand for ivory, as the bodies of the animals were abandoned after their ivory tusks were removed.

From wire dispatches and staff reports