- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 10, 2009

BRAZIL

Air France replaces speed monitors

RECIFE | Air France and other airlines moved Tuesday to replace speed monitors suspected of feeding false information to the computers of Flight 447 and leading to a series of failures that broke the plane apart over the Atlantic Ocean. Four more bodies were pulled from the sea, and helicopters began ferrying other remains to shore.

A total of 28 bodies have been recovered; 200 others have yet to be found. Soldiers and medical personnel in surgical gowns carried off the remains in body bags on the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, to be flown to the coastal city of Recife, where experts will try to identify them using DNA and photos.

Interpol, meanwhile, sent an agent to Paris to coordinate the identification work by a French team, which is using forensic evidence including fingerprints, tattoos and dental records.

With the plane’s data recorders still apparently deep in the ocean, investigators have been focusing on the possibility that external speed monitors - called Pitot tubes - iced over and gave false readings to the plane’s computers in a thunderstorm.

SWITZERLAND

WHO expected to declare pandemic

GENEVA | The World Health Organization (WHO) is on the verge of declaring the first influenza pandemic in more than 40 years, but wants to ensure countries are well prepared to prevent a panic, its top flu expert said on Tuesday.

Keiji Fukuda, acting WHO assistant director-general, voiced concern at the sustained spread of the new H1N1 strain - including more than 1,000 cases in Australia - following major outbreaks in North America, where it emerged in April.

Confirmed community spread in a second region beyond North America would trigger moving to phase 6 - signifying a full-blown pandemic - from the current phase 5 on the WHO’s 6-level pandemic alert scale.

A decision to declare a pandemic involved more than simply making an announcement, he said. The United Nations agency had to ensure that countries were able to deal with the new situation and also handle any public reaction.

GABON

Court names interim leader

LIBREVILLE | Gabon’s constitutional court confirmed on Tuesday that Senate President Rose Francine Rogombe will become interim leader and steer the country to presidential elections after the death of veteran ruler Omar Bongo.

Mrs. Rogombe will be sworn in as president on Wednesday, Marie Madeleine Mborantsouo, president of the court, said. The confirmation eases concerns about a power vacuum after the death on Monday of Mr. Bongo, Africa’s longest-serving leader.

Mr. Bongo’s death in a Spanish clinic after more than four decades in power in the central African oil-producing nation raised concern about how the transition would be handled. He was 73.

The government has said it will respect the terms of the constitution, under which Mrs. Rogombe, a Bongo ally in the ruling PDG party, is supposed to organize elections within 45 days.

AFGHANISTAN

Child killed in blast targeting U.S. troops

ASADABAD | A blast near a stalled U.S. troop convoy in eastern Afghanistan killed one child and wounded scores of civilians and three U.S. soldiers on Tuesday, Afghan officials and the U.S. military said.

Some witnesses and the Afghan Education Ministry initially blamed a U.S. soldier for throwing a grenade into a crowd, but the U.S. military said the grenade was Russian-made and had been thrown by an insurgent.

Asadabad hospital doctor Ehsanullah Fazli said most of the wounded were children. Some were in critical condition, he said.

The military said in a statement that up to 54 Afghan civilians had been wounded in the incident in Asadabad, capital of Kunar province in the east. It issued photos of what it said was a grenade fragment with Russian serial numbers.

FRANCE

Thieves steal Picasso notebook

PARIS | A red notebook of 33 pencil drawings by Pablo Picasso has been stolen from a specially locked glass case in the Paris museum that bears the painter’s name, authorities said Tuesday.

The book is believed to be worth $11 million, a police official said.

The theft took place between Monday and Tuesday morning at the Picasso Museum, removed from a glass case that “can only be opened with a specific instrument,” the Culture Ministry said.

A museum employee discovered the notebook missing Tuesday morning from the second-floor display case, the police official said anonymously, as police are not authorized to discuss cases publicly. The museum is closed on Tuesdays.

From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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