- - Wednesday, September 5, 2012

GERMANY

BERLIN — A top state official says infant male circumcision for religious reasons is legal in Berlin, making the capital the first of Germany’s 16 states to specify that the ritual followed by Jews and Muslims shouldn’t be considered a crime.

State Justice Minister Thomas Heilmann’s announcement on Wednesday came after Berlin’s Jewish Hospital asked for clarification following a June ruling by a regional court in Cologne.

That ruling said circumcision amounted to causing criminal bodily harm to a child. The court decision didn’t amount to a ban on the procedure and wasn’t binding for other courts, but it raised fears among Jews and Muslims of possible prosecutions.

The federal government is drafting new legislation clarifying the issue, but Mr. Heilmann says he felt it necessary to allay fears in this “difficult transitional period.”

INDIA

Fireworks factory blaze kills at least 40

NEW DELHI — A massive blaze raged for hours at a fireworks factory in southern India, killing at least 40 workers and injuring 60 others Wednesday, police said. Some reports put the death toll at more than 50.

Flames billowing out of the factory could be seen a mile away before firefighters with about a dozen fire engines extinguished the fire more than five hours after it began, witnesses and news reports said.

Photos taken afterward showed the factory had burned to rubble and fireworks littered the ground.

The fire spread to 40 of the 60 rooms at the Om Siva Shakti fireworks factory, one of the biggest in Sivakasi town in Tamil Nadu state, police Officer P. Karupaiah said.

The Press Trust of India news agency said about 300 people were working in the factory and 52 died. The CNN-IBN television news channel said rescue workers had completed a search of the devastated building for trapped workers.

Large amounts of firecrackers and raw materials were stored in the factory with major Hindu festivals weeks away.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

MEXICO

Marines detain alleged drug cartel leader

MEXICO CITY — The Mexican navy says it has detained a top leader of the Gulf drug cartel.

Navy spokesman Jose Luis Vergara said marines took Mario Cardenas Guillen into custody Tuesday in the northern city of Altamira.

Mr. Vergara said Mr. Cardenas Guillen is the brother of Osiel Cardenas Guillen, who led the cartel until he was detained in 2003.

Osiel Cardenas Guillen was extradited in 2007 to the U.S. and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Marines killed another brother, Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, in 2010 in the city of Matamoros. At the time, authorities said Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen and Jorge Eduardo Costilla were the cartel’s top leaders.

Mr. Vergara said that after Antonio Ezequiel’s death, the Gulf cartel divided into two groups, one led by his brother Mario and the other by Mr. Costilla.

CHINA

Ex-police chief charged in political scandal

BEIJING — A former police chief whose flight to a U.S. consulate set off China’s biggest political scandal in years has been charged with crimes including defection and bribe taking, possibly indicating the turbulent affair is moving closer to a resolution before a key national leadership transition this fall.

Wednesday evening’s announcement by state media of the charges against Wang Lijun came hours before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton ended a brief visit to Beijing, and it was likely timed to convey to Washington that China’s government is in full control and would strongly object to any foreign involvement in its internal politics.

Mr. Wang, the former police chief and vice mayor of the southwestern city of Chongqing, also was charged with “bending the law for selfish ends” and abuse of power, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Mr. Wang set off the scandal by fleeing to the U.S. consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu in early February after being summarily demoted by the city’s powerful Communist Party boss, Bo Xilai.

Xinhua said the charges were brought by prosecutors in Chengdu, indicating that is where the trial will be held.

During his overnight stay at the U.S. consulate, Mr. Wang expressed to the Americans his concerns about the death of British businessman Neil Heywood in Chongqing in November. That prompted the British Embassy to request a new investigation, which uncovered that he had been murdered.

The case resulted in Mr. Bo’s dismissal in March and the conviction last month of Mr. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, for poisoning Heywood, a former family associate with whom Gu had reportedly feuded about money.

Gu was given a suspended death sentence while Mr. Bo remains under investigation by the ruling party’s disciplinary branch for unspecified grave violations of discipline. Three leading Chongqing police officers and a Bo family aide also were sentenced as accomplices in the murder and subsequent cover-up.

ISRAEL

Israel tries to ease differences with U.S.

JERUSALEM — Israeli officials said Tuesday they are in close discussions with the United States over how to deal with the Iranian nuclear program, seeking to ease tensions that have emerged between the two allies over a possible Israeli military strike against Iran.

The dialogue, in which Israel is looking for President Obama to take a tough public position against Iran, suggests the odds of an Israeli attack in the near term have been reduced.

Israel, convinced that Iran isn’t taking seriously U.S. vows to block it from acquiring nuclear weapons, believes that time to stop the Iranians is quickly running out.

A series of warnings by Israeli officials in recent weeks has raised concerns that Israel could soon stage a unilateral military strike.

In response, senior U.S. officials have stressed that they oppose any Israeli military action at the current time.

After tense exchanges with the Americans, Israeli political and defense officials said Tuesday that the sides are now working closely together in hopes of getting their positions in sync.

Clearer U.S. assurances on what pressure it is prepared to use against Iran, including possible military action, would reduce the need for Israel to act alone, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a security matter.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports