- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Caracas mayor on hunger strike

CARACAS | The mayor of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, said Monday that he has not eaten for three days to draw attention to what he called months of harassment by President Hugo Chavez.

Mr. Chavez, a socialist former coup leader who first won office a decade ago, reduced the power of elected opposition officials this year after they won some key states and cities in a regional vote last November.

Television images showed Mayor Antonio Ledezma looking pale and propped up in a bed wearing white hospital-style pajamas on the third day of a hunger strike he began in the Venezuelan offices of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Mr. Ledezma is calling for an OAS commission to investigate his treatment at the hands of the Chavez government.

“It is unforgivable that they sabotage and block all the programs and projects that we have tried to promote in my administration as the metropolitan mayor of Caracas,” Mr. Ledezma said, via the Globovision television channel.

The mayor has lost control over the police, medical and emergency services and schools and says he has struggled to pay workers because of funding delays since he beat a Chavez-backed candidate in November.


First swine flu fatalities reported

LIMA | Peru on Sunday reported its first two swine flu fatalities, and Uruguay and Paraguay saw their death tolls rise as South America grappled with mounting cases and measures to contain the spread of the virus.

The American continent remains the region worst affected by the A(H1N1) virus, which first appeared in Mexico in late April.

The virus, declared a global pandemic in June by the World Health Organization, has infected 89,921 people in 125 countries and territories and caused 382 deaths worldwide, according to the latest World Health Organization figures.

But concerns have risen in South America in recent days, following the Argentine health ministry’s estimate that some 100,000 people have contracted the A(H1N1) virus since the first case was discovered in that country in May.

Fifty-five people have died of swine flu there, but the ministry said 95 percent of those who were infected with the virus have recovered.

Peruvian Health Minister Oscar Ugarte said a 38-year-old woman died Friday after checking into a Lima hospital with pneumonia on June 29, when tests confirmed that she had contracted the virus.

The second death was of a 4-year-old girl who had Down syndrome and was admitted to a hospital with severe respiratory problems.


Prison guards nab pigeon with phone

SAO PAULO | Prison guards foiled a new attempt to smuggle a cell phone into a Brazilian prison by carrier pigeon - this one wearing a tiny backpack - and said Friday that the practice is becoming almost common.

An exhausted pigeon wearing a small makeshift backpack was intercepted just outside walls at the Danilo Pinheiro prison near the city of Sorocaba, said a spokesman for the Sao Paulo State Prison Affairs department. The representative spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the matter with the press.

Inside the cloth sack was a cell phone and a piece of paper with the name of the inmate who was waiting for the phone, the spokesman said. He declined to reveal the name of the inmate.

“The use of carrier pigeons to smuggle cell phones into prisons is becoming almost commonplace,” he said. “Guards now keep a sharp eye on pigeons as well as on inmates.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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