- - Wednesday, April 25, 2012


SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO | The U.N.’s World Trade Organization says 1 billion people will cross international borders as tourists this year for the first time.

The WTO’s regional director for the Americas, Carlos Vogeler, predicted Wednesday that the milestone will be reached in the fall.

That figure would be about 4 percent higher than last year’s total. Back in 1950, the figure was 25 million.

The U.N. counts only people who stay at least one night. It does not include cruise ship passengers.

“It is quite iconic when you realize 1 billion people crossed borders,” Mr. Vogeler said at a Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association conference in Puerto Rico. “It shows from a sociological point of view how things have changed. If you go back 20 to 30 years, many people would die without traveling more than 100 miles from home.”

The WTO plans a celebration, and may even try to designate someone as the billionth tourist, when the number is reached.


France: U.N. should prepare military option if peace plan fails

PARIS — France wants the U.N. Security Council to consider allowing military action in Syria if an international peace plan fails to stop the violence under Bashar Assad’s regime, the French foreign minister said Wednesday.

Alain Juppe’s comments signaled that Paris is increasingly lining up behind a U.S. position laid out by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last week.

But the prospect of the Security Council backing military action in Syria is remote because veto-wielding members Russia and China are unlikely to go along.

The Syrian government’s crackdown on a popular uprising is estimated to have killed more than 9,000 people in the past 13 months.

The French foreign minister demanded that 300 U.N. observers authorized to go to Syria be deployed within 15 days, and said France has all but set a May 5 deadline for Damascus to comply with special envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan.

“We think this mediation should be given a chance, on the condition that the deployment of the observer mission happens quickly,” Mr. Juppe said after a meeting with Syrian dissidents at his ministry. The plan isn’t dead, he said, but “it is severely compromised”

Mr. Annan’s scheduled May 5 report on the state of a cease-fire called for under his six-point peace plan will be “a moment of truth: Either this mediation is working, or it isn’t,” Mr. Juppe said.


President decries foreign influences

ALMATY — The president of the oil-rich former Soviet nation of Kazakhstan has criticized the West for what he said was its attempt to impose its values on the rest of the world.

Nursultan Nazarbayev told Russian state-controlled channel Rossiya-24 in an interview aired Wednesday that the use of modern mass media to influence internal political developments in certain countries creates security risks.

Since 1991, Kazakhstan has adopted a flexible diplomatic position, cultivating warm ties with the West as well as its former Soviet partners and China.

But Mr. Nazarbayev’s remarks, which chime strongly with the position adopted by neighboring Russia, appear to signal discomfort with the democracy embraced by Western governments.

Authoritarian governments in Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, have observed the overthrow of numerous regimes in the Middle East with palpable unease.


World court rejects appeal on transfer of Gadhafi’s son

THE HAGUE — The International Criminal Court on Wednesday threw out an appeal filed by Libya against the court’s demand that Moammar Gadhafi’s jailed son be transferred to The Hague.

The Libyan state had filed an appeal April 6 against the court’s request for the immediate transfer of Seif al-Islam, wanted for crimes against humanity and detained in Libya in the aftermath of his father’s downfall.

“The Appeals Chamber therefore dismisses the appeal as inadmissible,” judges said in a document released by the court.

The government set up after Gadhafi’s 42-year stranglehold on power came to bloody end has been adamant about trying Seif al-Islam and former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi in Libya.

The dead dictator’s 39-year-old son remains in the custody of a militia in the town of Zintan. Mr. Senussi, who also is wanted by France and Libya, is being held in Mauritania, where he was arrested last month.


City forest hit by fire believed set by squatters

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s largest big-city forest park has been devastated by a fire that officials say was set by squatters seeking to take over land and has been worsened by armed gangs trying to scare off firefighting brigades.

The huge forest fire at the Bosque de la Primavera on the edge of the western city of Guadalajara has consumed 18,500 acres, sending plumes of smoke and ash into the city and forcing dozens of schools to close.

The chief firefighting official for the western state of Jalisco said squatters at camps along the park’s boundaries set the fire.

Alvaro Garcia Chavez said Wednesday that two firefighting teams encountered armed gangs in the woods over the weekend and were forced to temporarily withdraw. They later returned under police guard.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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