Thursday, December 18, 2008

RUSSIA

Treason draft triggers concern

MOSCOW | A new law drafted by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s Cabinet would allow authorities to label any government critic a traitor - a move that leading rights activists condemned Wednesday as a chilling reminder of the times under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

The draft extends the definition of treason from breaching Russia‘s external security to damaging the nation’s constitutional order, sovereignty or territorial integrity. That would essentially let authorities interpret any act against the interests of the state as treason - a crime prosecutable by up to 20 years in prison.

Prominent rights activists said passage of the bill would catapult Russia’s justice system back to the times of Stalin’s purges. Despite the criticism, the draft is likely to receive a quick approval by parliament, which is dominated by Kremlin loyalists.



ITALY

Mob suspect hangs self in jail

ROME | The purported Mafia boss of a Palermo neighborhood hanged himself in jail, hours after he was arrested in a blitz against the Cosa Nostra, police in Sicily said Wednesday.

Authorities arrested some 90 suspects Tuesday to prevent what they said were the Sicilian mob’s efforts to rebuild the Cosa Nostra after arrests of several top fugitives in recent years had left the syndicate’s leadership in disarray.

Carabinieri paramilitary police in Palermo said Gaetano Lo Presti, 52, hanged himself in his cell in a Palermo jail Tuesday evening, hours after he was arrested in the raid. State radio said he used his belt to hang himself. Investigators believe Mr. Lo Presti headed a Mafia clan in the city’s Porta Nuova district.

CHINA

Uighur bombers sentenced to die

BEIJING | China has sentenced two people to death for an attack earlier this year that killed 17 people in the restive border region of Xinjiang, the Xinhua news agency said Wednesday.

Attackers rammed a truck into paramilitary police on a morning training run Aug. 4 in the oasis city of Kashgar, then made use of explosives, a homemade gun and knives.

Fifteen people were wounded in the attack, which took place just a few days before the Beijing Olympics began.

BRITAIN

Doctor sentenced in failed attacks

LONDON | A doctor who led failed car-bomb attacks in Britain in revenge for U.S.-led military action in his family’s native Iraq was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison.

Bilal Abdulla, a 29-year-old physician with Britain’s National Health Service, will serve at least 32 years in prison for plotting to murder hundreds of people in two botched terrorist attacks in London’s theater district and a Scottish airport.

KENYA

Tribunal to probe postelection violence

NAIROBI | Kenya‘s president and prime minister have signed an agreement to set up a tribunal to prosecute those behind the worst postelection violence in the country’s history, the government said Wednesday.

Signing the agreement was a first step in implementing an official report into the bloodshed that killed 1,300 people and drove 300,000 from their homes after a disputed presidential election last December.

The violence shattered Kenya’s image as a bastion of peace in a fractious region, hurting its booming economy and those of neighboring countries that rely on Kenyan goods and transport links to its Mombasa port.

CANADA

Ice likely caused ski-gondola mishap

VANCOUVER, British Columbia | An unusual buildup of ice likely caused the collapse of a gondola tower that stranded more than 50 skiers in the air at the popular Whistler resort in Western Canada, officials said Wednesday.

A preliminary investigation discovered that water had leaked into the tower at the Whistler-Blackcomb resort - which will host some of the events for Vancouver‘s 2010 Winter Olympics. The water then froze, creating a condition called “ice jacking,” which caused the structure to fail Tuesday.

Thirteen people received minor injuries during the incident and evacuation, and crews had to use ladders and other equipment to rescue 53 people from stranded gondola cars.

Two cars with people in them bounced on the ground, but none fell off the cable, officials said.

Whistler, which is about 80 miles from Vancouver, will host Nordic ski events for the 2010 Winter Olympics, but the incident did not take place on the mountain where competitions will be held.

ZIMBABWE

Government accuses West of germ warfare

HARARE | The Zimbabwean government has accused the West of deliberately starting the country’s cholera epidemic, stepping up a war of words with the regime’s critics as the humanitarian crisis deepened.

The state-run Herald newspaper said in Saturday’s edition that comments by the U.S. ambassador that the U.S. had been preparing for the outbreak raised suspicions the West had waged “serious biological chemical war.”

Zimbabwean officials often blame their country’s troubles on the West. Their stranglehold on most sources of news to which ordinary Zimbabweans have access makes such rhetoric an important tool for a regime struggling to hold onto power.

After the first cholera cases, U.S. and other aid workers braced for the waterborne disease to spread quickly in an economically ravaged country where the sewage system and medical care have collapsed. Zimbabwe also faces a hunger crisis, the world’s highest inflation and shortages of both the most basic necessities and the cash to buy them.

SOUTH AFRICA

Russian wins Miss World contest

JOHANNESBURG | Russian blonde Kseniya Sukhinova is the new Miss World. She was crowned after a two-hour spectacle in Johannesburg combined elements of travelogue and reality show, and the kind of flag-waving usually seen at sports events. She beamed as she was crowned.

Miss Sukhinova also had won the contest’s top model award and was third in the swimsuit competition. She was a crowd favorite - though not as popular as hometown beauty Miss South Africa, Tansey Coetzee. Miss Coetzee made the final five.

Second runner-up was Miss Trinidad and Tobago, Gabrielle Walcott. First runner-up was Miss India, Parvathy Omankuttan.

MAURITANIA

Coup leaders to free president

NOUAKCHOTT | The leaders of Mauritania’s recent coup have agreed to free the country’s president, who has been under house arrest since the military takeover four months ago, international officials said Sunday.

President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi will be released no later than Dec. 24, a statement by the African Union and the European Union said. The president’s unconditional release has been an important demand of the international community, which cut off aid to the West African nation following the coup.

Mr. Abdallahi was elected president last year in the country’s first free election in more than two decades. On Aug. 6, hours after he fired several high-ranking generals, a military junta declared a coup and placed Mr. Abdallahi under house arrest in a government-owned villa.

In November, the junta bowed to international pressure and transported Mr. Abdallahi to his native village, and confined him there.

NIGER

Rebels kidnap U.N. envoy

NIAMEY | Tuareg rebels claim they have kidnapped a United Nations envoy to Niger.

The FFR rebel group says in a statement on its Web site that it seized Canadian Robert Fowler and three others in an operation Monday.

The U.N. says Mr. Fowler along with his assistant and their driver went missing Sunday.

The rebels say the hostages are in good health. They say the hostages were taken to send a message to Canada which they claim is providing Niger’s government with arms used against the local people.

The Tuareg nomads started their rebellion after claiming their desert people were being marginalized by the regime of President Mamadou Tandja.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Mr. Fowler as U.N. special envoy to Niger in July.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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