Quake survivors seek food, shelter
WAM | Children begged for food from trucks passing through Pakistan‘s quake zone Thursday as the death toll rose to 215 and survivors prepared for another frigid night camped out amid wrecked mountain villages.
Provincial government minister Zamrak Khan said 215 people died and hospitals were still treating dozens of people who were seriously injured in the 6.4-magnitude quake that struck before dawn Wednesday.
Soldiers and foreign aid groups distributed blankets, warm clothes and tents, in Baluchistan province, near the Afghan border, but many among the estimated 15,000 homeless complained of receiving little help.
A poorly managed aid effort in Baluchistan could add to anti-government sentiment as the country’s new leaders battle violence by Islamic extremists and try to fix mounting economic problems.
The region is home to a separatist movement but has been spared the level of militant influence and violence seen in other tribal areas along the Afghan border.
Sarkozy bank raiders charged with fraud
PARIS | Preliminary fraud charges have been filed against three men who purportedly belonged to a gang that secretly withdrew money from French President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s personal bank account, an official said Thursday.
Wednesday’s court action raised to six the number of people in the gang who have been charged with opening telephone line subscriptions using stolen bank information.
Once the subscription was fraudulently established in another person’s name, the gang members would sell the mobile phones, with the subscription being paid directly from their victims’ bank accounts without their knowledge.
A government spokesman has said Mr. Sarkozy reported the theft from his personal bank account in September after noticing the unauthorized withdrawal of 170 euros.
Aid group leaves country in protest
NIAMEY | An international aid group will leave Niger because the government unexpectedly terminated its medical and nutritional program in one of the country’s drought-prone districts, an official announced Thursday.
The president of Doctors Without Borders told reporters the government of Niger had closed down its program in the district of Maradi in July. The French branch of the aid agency has been working in Niger since 2001 and also runs a smaller health center in the country’s north.
In protest, the French branch of the organization will leave Niger, resulting in the closure of the smaller center as well as the one in Maradi. The Swiss, Spanish and Belgian branches of the aid agency will continue to operate in Niger.
Rail to bypass traffic jams
BAGHDAD | Baghdad commuters have a new way to bypass the city’s checkpoints and congested, dusty streets with the launch of a commuter rail that travels 15 miles through Sunni and Shi’ite neighborhoods in the heart of the capital.
The new service, which began Wednesday and costs the equivalent of 80 cents, comes as public irritation is mounting over traffic congestion - a result of better security but also caused by numerous police checkpoints that help stop bombers but also slow down cars and trucks.
Starting in the morning, the commuter train pulls out of the Baghdad’s blue-domed main station and runs north to the mostly Shi’ite neighborhood of Kazimiyah, then cuts down through central Baghdad to the mainly Sunni suburb of Yousifiyah in the south. It makes a handful of stops.
Still, transport officials say they are unsure just how popular the new service will be as Iraqis adjust to the idea of rail travel in Baghdad, and it may face an uphill struggle in winning passengers.
The Associated Press Television News footage showed only a few people riding the train Thursday morning.
Guidelines issued for seminarians
VATICAN CITY | The Vatican issued new psychological screening guidelines for seminarians Thursday — the latest effort by the Roman Catholic Church to be more selective about its priesthood candidates following a series of sex-abuse scandals.
The church said it issued the new guidelines to help church leaders weed out candidates with “psychopathic disturbances.” The scandals have rocked the church in recent years, triggering lawsuits that have cost hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements.
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said the Vatican needs to go beyond screening seminarians to end what the group calls the church’s “virtually unchanged culture of secrecy and unchecked power in the hierarchy” that left dangerous priests in parishes.
Brothers convicted of drug smuggling
BELLINZONA | Two brothers from Kosovo were convicted Thursday of running a massive drug smuggling ring that prosecutors said supplied Western Europe with up to half of its heroin.
Ragip and Kemal Shabani channeled 1.5 tons of heroin through Europe from the mid-1990s until 2003, when they were shut down, prosecutors said.
The trial — considered one of Switzerland’s largest-ever drug cases — was held under high security in the southern town of Bellinzona, with only some relatives and journalists allowed into the courtroom.
Ragip Shabani, 42, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and his 28-year-old brother received a two-year suspended sentence for participating in a criminal organization.
From wire dispatches and staff reports