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World Briefs: Putin fires defense chief linked to fraud probe

- - Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Russia

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin fired the country's defense minister Tuesday, two weeks after a criminal probe was opened into alleged fraud in the sell-off of military assets.

Anatoly Serdyukov has been widely unpopular in the ranks because of his reforms that radically cut the number of military officers and army units. Mr. Putin had staunchly backed him in the past, and his dismissal came as a surprise. Some observers say that Mr. Serdyukov's successor may take a less radical approach to the military reform.

Mr. Putin made the announcement in a meeting with Moscow regional governor Sergei Shoigu, whom he appointed as the new defense minister.

Mr. Putin's comments appeared to connect the decision to a probe announced by the country's top investigative agency last month into the sale of military assets, including real estate, at prices far below market value.

The Investigative Committee says the state suffered damages of $95 million in just a few cases reviewed.

Russia's military establishment has been haunted by corruption accusations for years, and several top military officials have been convicted of embezzlement.

Sri Lanka

Chief justice accused of fraud, other charges

COLOMBO — Sri Lanka's government has accused the country's chief justice of failing to disclose income and property among 14 charges cited in an impeachment bid against her.

The parliament met Tuesday to discuss setting up a committee to investigate the charges against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake that were handed to speaker Chamal Rajapaksa last week.

The charges say Ms. Bandaranayake has "plunged the Supreme Court and the office of chief justice into disrepute."

It says she did not disclose how she obtained $146,000 to pay for a house purchased under power of attorney for another person. The charges also say that she took control of several cases filed against the company that sold the property, having removed the judges who originally heard the cases.

Ms. Bandaranayake is also accused of failing to declare details of 20 bank accounts, including four foreign currency ones worth a total of $260,000.

Spain

Constitutional court upholds same-sex marriage

MADRID — Spain's Constitutional Court upheld the legality of the country's gay marriage law Tuesday, rejecting an appeal contending that marriage in the Spanish constitution means only the union of a man and woman.

The county's top court voted 8-3 to dismiss the appeal of the conservative Popular Party filed shortly after Spain became the world's third nation to approve gay marriage.

Spain's parliament passed the gay marriage law in 2005 when it was Socialist-controlled, with Popular Party deputies opposed. The Popular Party took power late last year after the Socialists were ousted over their handling of the economy.

The gay-marriage law angered the predominant Roman Catholic Church, but opinion surveys showed most Spaniards backed it. Belgium and the Netherlands approved gay marriage laws before Spain.

More than 22,000 gay marriages have taken place in Spain.

Cuba

U.N. sends aid mission for hurricane relief

HAVANA — The United Nations on Tuesday announced a humanitarian aid mission to eastern Cuba in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, saying the storm could end up being the most damaging one to hit that part of the island in 50 years.

The U.N. World Food Program said in a statement that it is coordinating with Cuban authorities to provide one month's food rations for nearly a half-million people in and around Santiago, a city of about 500,000 people that was clobbered when Sandy came ashore as a Category 2 hurricane Oct. 25.

"We are especially concerned about the damage in the agricultural sector where tens of thousands of hectares of staple crops have been affected," World Food Program emergency coordinator William Vigil was quoted as saying.

The government has estimated that more than 200,000 homes were damaged, and the World Food Program said that means more than 1 million people, about 10 percent of the island's residents, were affected.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports