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He said joining Mercosur will allow Venezuela “to have a much wider market to climb the scale” in its exports and diversify its largely oil-driven economy.

At the same time, Mr. Chavez said the bloc’s other members, including Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, will have expanded access to Venezuela’s vast oil reserves.

Some business leaders and farmers say they’re worried that the four-year period during which Venezuela should eliminate tariffs on products from Mercosur members will be too short and that cheaper imports from countries such as Brazil and Argentina could hurt Venezuelan businesses.

NAMIBIA

Women with HIV sterilized improperly

JOHANNESBURG — Namibia’s government sterilized three women infected with HIV without getting proper consent, forcing them to sign forms they did not understand as they suffered through the pains of labor, a judge ruled Monday.

Activists applauded the decision by Judge Elton Hoff, though the ruling rejected lawyers’ accusations that doctors sterilized the women specifically because they had HIV in a country where the virus remains endemic. The activists say they worry that more women in the southern African nation are coerced into the procedure, as other cases pending before courts allege women suffered similar treatment at the hands of doctors.

The three women, in their 20s to 40s, all sought care at government hospitals in Namibia. All signed release forms that allowed doctors to sterilize them, though at the time they did not realize what they had agreed to, said Nyasha Chingore, an HIV project lawyer with the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. In one case, a woman signed a form that used only acronyms to describe the procedure, while another signed after being told she did not have a choice.

RUSSIA

Putin signs dealon U.S.-Russian visas

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin has signed the ratification of an agreement with the U.S. that substantially eases the visa regime for both countries’ citizens.

The agreement allows Russians and Americans to get three-year multientry visas under which they can stay for up to six consecutive months.

It also eliminates Russia’s requirement that visitors get a letter of invitation, although tourists still will need to show advance accommodation bookings.

Easing the laborious visa system is expected to boost business contacts between the countries and improve tourism, particularly of Americans coming to Russia.

Although Mr. Putin’s signing was announced Monday, the new measures will not go into effect until both countries exchange notes certifying that preparations for the changes have been completed.

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