Lawmakers defeat reform package
HONG KONG — Pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong voted down an election reform package yesterday, dealing a blow to the city’s leader, Donald Tsang, who argued that the package was a major step toward democracy.
The package was presented to the 60-member legislature in two parts — a motion to expand the handpicked committee that selects Hong Kong’s chief executive and another that would have added 10 seats to the legislature, five directly elected.
The democratic camp had vowed to vote against the package because it did not set a timetable for when the former British colony would realize universal suffrage.
Security agents to testify in U.S.
JERUSALEM — Israel will send two Shin Bet security agents to testify at the U.S. trial of a Palestinian immigrant who says he was forced to confess to terrorism charges while in Israeli custody, security sources said yesterday.
Their testimony would be the first public discussion in a foreign forum by serving members of Shin Bet. Officially known as the Israeli Security Service, it carries out counterterrorism and counterespionage missions within the Jewish state and Israeli-occupied territory.
The agents are to appear in connection with a case against Mohammed Salah, an Illinois resident who was charged last year in a U.S. court with a conspiracy to funnel money to the militant group Hamas.
Jerusalem Arabs face voting ban
JERUSALEM — Israel said yesterday that it would ban East Jerusalem Arabs from voting in a Palestinian election next month if the militant Islamic group Hamas takes part — a move Palestinian officials said could delay the vote.
Israel allowed Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to vote in Palestinian Authority elections in 1996 and at the start of the year when they elected Mahmoud Abbas as president.
But a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel will not allow voting in Jerusalem for the Jan. 25 elections because Hamas, which calls for Israel’s destruction and has spearheaded a suicide-bombing campaign, is running for the first time.
Karzai rival to head lower house
KABUL — One of President Hamid Karzai’s main rivals was elected to head the lower house of Afghanistan’s new parliament in a close vote yesterday.
Former Education Minister Yunus Qanooni defeated six other candidates, winning 122 votes, while his closest challenger, Abdul Rub Rasoul Sayuf, received 117.
Mr. Qanooni finished second to Mr. Karzai in the presidential elections in October 2004.
Talks with EU to resume next month
VIENNA, Austria — European powers France, Germany and Britain yesterday reopened talks with Iran over concerns that it is secretly trying to make atomic bombs and said the dialogue would resume in January, halting a spiral into confrontation.
But France said the five-hour exploratory talks had been “open and frank,” diplomatic language for sharp disagreement, suggesting that Iran had stuck to its resolve to enrich uranium. The European Union, backed by Washington, is demanding that Iran accept incentives to give up enrichment, which can yield material for nuclear weapons.
Top court allows group-sex clubs
OTTAWA — Group sex between consenting adults is neither prostitution nor a threat to society, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled yesterday, dismissing arguments that the sometimes raucous activities of so-called “swingers” clubs were dangerous.
The court threw out the conviction of a Montreal man who ran a club where members could have group sex in a private room behind locked doors. The decision does not affect existing laws against prostitution because no money changed hands between the adults having sex.
“Consensual conduct behind code-locked doors can hardly be supposed to jeopardize a society as vigorous and tolerant as Canadian society,” said the 7-2 majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.
City cuts water after Chinese spill
KHABAROVSK — Authorities in this city in Russia’s Far East cut off water to its 10,000 people yesterday as a toxic slick from a chemical plant explosion in China floated downriver.
The Nov. 13 chemical plant explosion dumped 100 tons of toxins into northeastern China’s Songhua River, disrupting water supplies to millions of Chinese and straining relations with neighboring Russia.
From wire dispatches and staff reports