- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

SIERRA LEONE

Taylor appears before war court

FREETOWN — Former Liberian President Charles Taylor appeared before an international war-crimes tribunal yesterday to hear the 11 counts against him for helping destabilize West Africa through killings, maiming and the exploitation of diamond resources.

Mr. Taylor is the first former African president to face war-crimes charges. He was brought to Sierra Leone last week after briefly escaping custody in Nigeria.

Mr. Taylor faces 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including sexual slavery and mutilation.

IRELAND

Gay partnerships given civil rights

DUBLIN — Ireland will legalize civil partnerships for homosexual couples, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern pledged yesterday as he opened new offices for the country’s main homosexual rights group.

Civil partnerships allow homosexual couples the same rights to inheritance, state benefits and other financial rights as held by married heterosexual couples.

“Sexual orientation cannot, and must not, be the basis of a second-class citizenship. Our laws have changed, and will continue to change, to reflect this principle,” Mr. Ahern told an audience at Ireland’s Gay and Lesbian Equality Network.

CHINA

Dalai Lama can visit under conditions

BEIJING — Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama may be allowed to visit China if he “completely abandons” independence ambitions, the nation’s religious affairs chief said in comments published yesterday.

“As long as the Dalai Lama makes clear that he has completely abandoned Tibetan ‘independence,’ it is not impossible for us to consider his visit,” State Administration for Religious Affairs Director Ye Xiaowen told the China Daily.

The Tibetan government-in-exile based in the Indian hill station of Dharamsala welcomed the statement.

SOUTH AFRICA

AIDS group barred from U.N. meeting

CAPE TOWN — South Africa’s Health Ministry has barred the country’s top AIDS activist group from a major United Nations’ forum on the epidemic, the group said yesterday, sparking a new row over AIDS policy.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), nominated for a Nobel Prize in 2004, said the government excluded it from a list of South African groups invited to the U.N. General Assembly Special Session on AIDS, to be held from May 31 to June 2 in New York.

Health Ministry officials conceded that TAC had been taken off the official list of invitees. The group’s campaign for anti-retroviral drugs puts it at odds with the president, who publicly questions the emphasis on such drugs.

VENEZUELA

Chavez tightens grip on oil fields

CARACAS — Venezuela seized two oil fields from France’s Total SA and Italy’s Eni SpA after the companies failed to comply with a government demand that operations be turned over to state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said yesterday.

“Those two companies resisted adjusting to our laws,” he said. “Those fields return to total, absolute control by Petroleos de Venezuela.”

Until the Venezuela company took control of the oil fields Saturday, Total and Eni had operated them under contract. Some other companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp., decided to sell their stakes among the 32 Venezuelan oil properties rather than go along with the new terms.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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