- - Tuesday, March 27, 2012

GENEVA — The number of assisted suicides in Switzerland has increased steadily since the late 1990s and now makes up about five of every 1,000 deaths.

The first official figures compiled by Swiss authorities show that cases of assisted suicide rose from 43 in 1998 to 300 in 2009.

The Federal Statistical Office says almost 90 percent of cases involved people 55 or older.

More women than men seek assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide has been legal in Switzerland since the early 20th century, and several groups provide counseling and medical support to those wanting to kill themselves.

The figures released Tuesday cover only assisted suicides by Swiss residents.

Groups such as Dignitas that provide services to foreign residents keep separate records.

TONGA

Islanders mourn king, grow wary of successor

NUKU’ALOFA — Homes swathed in purple and black formed a bright bow running from the countryside to cities of Tonga as the mourning nation honored and buried their late King George Tupou V on Tuesday.

That so many took the care to adorn their homes and businesses testifies to the reverence Tongans give to the idea of the monarchy, even after the king ceded many of his own powers in 2008 to usher in an era of democracy.

But his March 18 death is also raising questions about whether his younger brother, Tupou VI, will continue his legacy.

The new king is seen by many here as more conservative than his predecessor, and some fear he could stall or even reverse the political progress made in this small Pacific island nation.

TURKEY

Ex-army chief rejects terrorism charges

ANKARA — A former Turkish military chief accused of leading an Internet campaign as part of an alleged conspiracy to topple the Islamic-rooted government rejected the allegations Tuesday as “a comedy of incompetence.”

On the second day of his trial in Istanbul, Gen. Ilker Basbug said the charges brought against him were attempts to discredit the armed forces and declared that he would not defend himself or answer questions in court, the state-run news agency reported.

Gen. Basbug, who was arrested in January, is the most senior military officer to be prosecuted in a series of terrorism probes that began in 2008 and that have netted hundreds of suspects, many of them retired and active-duty military officers.

The government has defended the probes, which have stripped the military of its political clout, as steps toward enhancing democracy, but suspicions of score-settling, long imprisonments without verdicts and other lapses have tainted the legal process.

Gen. Basbug faces life in prison on charges of attempting to overthrow the government. The charges stem from allegations that the military funded dozens of websites aimed at discrediting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government in 2009 as part of alleged efforts to topple his administration.

INDIA

Maoist land mine kills 12 paramilitary police

NEW DELHI — Maoist rebels ambushed a patrol team in central India on Tuesday, killing at least 12 paramilitary policemen, a police official said.

The policemen were traveling through a densely forested area of Maharashtra state when the rebels set off a land mine, blowing up their vehicle, the official said.

Another 28 policemen were wounded in the powerful blast, he said.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting for more than three decades in several Indian states, demanding land and jobs for agricultural laborers and the poor.

They frequently target police and government officials, whom they accuse of colluding with landlords and rich farmers to exploit the poor.

The rebels are now present in 20 of India’s 28 states and have an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 fighters, according to the Home Ministry. Thousands of people - including police, militants and civilians - have died in the violence in recent years.

CHINA

China accuses Dalai Lama of self-immolation protests

BEIJING — China on Tuesday accused the Dalai Lama and his associates of planning the self-immolation by a Tibetan exile in India days before Chinese President Hu Jintao visits, repeating assertions that the spiritual leader is to blame for dozens of such protests.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei offered no evidence linking the Tibetan spiritual leader to the exile who lit himself on fire and ran shouting through a demonstration in New Delhi on Monday.

He said the Dalai Lama and his associates have been instigating Tibetan independence and creating “disturbances” and that showed the Dalai Lama and his associates “single-handedly” planned the man’s self-immolation.

About 30 such protests have occurred over the past year in ethnic Tibetan areas of China, and a Tibetan self-immolated last year in India, where many exiles reside.

From wire dispatches and staff reports