- - Tuesday, December 18, 2012

BEIJING — Chinese police have detained more than 500 people from a fringe Christian group for spreading rumors about the world’s impending end, state media reported Tuesday.

In western China’s Qinghai province alone, police arrested more than 400 members from the religious cult group, state-run China Central Television said.

Police seized leaflets, video discs, books and other apocalyptic materials in the recent arrests of more than 500 people across eight provinces and regions, from the prosperous east coast to less-developed western China, state media reports said.

The detentions were carried out in connection with a reported Mayan prophecy that Dec. 21, 2012, would be the end of the world.

Those detained are reported to be members of the group Almighty God, which is also called Eastern Lightning, after a phrase from the New Testament’s Gospel of Matthew.

Widely regarded as a heretical Christian sect, the group preaches that Jesus has reappeared as a woman in central China. The group has been accused of kidnapping and beating Christians to force conversions to the sect.


Brazilian official: Chavez improving after surgery

SAO PAULO — Brazil’s foreign minister says Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez seems to be improving after cancer surgery.

Brazil’s state-run news agency Agencia Brasil cited Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota as saying that Brazilian officials are monitoring Mr. Chavez’s health daily.

Mr. Patriota said the latest news about Mr. Chavez indicates “stabilization and even positive developments.”

Mr. Chavez underwent his fourth cancer-related surgery in Cuba last week. He has remained secretive about the exact nature of the cancer that he has been battling for more than 18 months.

The Brazilian official offered no more details regarding Mr. Chavez’s health. He said he is staying informed through conversations with Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro and Brazilian diplomats in Venezuela.

Calls to Brazil’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday weren’t returned.


Zuma win shows his dominance in party

JOHANNESBURG — Under the bright lights, the corruption allegations and the ethical concerns trailing South African President Jacob Zuma faded away, and the master politician basked in his re-election as head of the governing African National Congress (ANC) party, singing on stage, smiling and waving to cheering delegates.

However, the question remains whether he can translate his party victory into reassuring the anxious in South Africa, those worried about the nation’s flagging economy, violent crime and the continued poverty striking those his party once aimed to liberate.

ANC members voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to keep Mr. Zuma as head of the top political party in South Africa, more than likely guaranteeing the 70-year-old leader another five-year term as the nation’s president in the 2014 general election.

Opposition parties don’t receive the same support as the ANC, the party of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela that many in this nation of 50 million people vote for out of that history.

Mr. Zuma trounced Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, his only challenger, who ran a largely muted and reluctant campaign. Mr. Zuma received 2,983 votes to Mr. Motlanthe’s 991.


Netanyahu vows more East Jerusalem building

JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister on Tuesday rejected international criticism of plans to build thousands more Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, insisting that construction will move forward.

Benjamin Netanyahu issued the tough response as European diplomats were discussing plans to condemn Israel in the U.N. Security Council.

A U.N. resolution would be the latest in a wave of angry international reactions to Israeli plans to build in areas that the Palestinians claim for a future state.

The fate of the eastern sector of Jerusalem, with its holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, is an emotional issue and lies at the heart of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Jerusalem’s Old City is home to one of the world’s most sensitive religious places, holy to Jews and Muslims.

About 250,000 Palestinians and 200,000 Jews live in East Jerusalem.

Mr. Netanyahu announced plans to build thousands of homes in East Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo section and the West Bank in response to a U.N. decision last month to upgrade the Palestinians’ status, endorsing an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 war.

Israel accused the Palestinians of trying to bypass negotiations.


Police arrest 3 in major maple syrup heist

MONTREAL — Canadian police say three people have been arrested in connection with a massive maple syrup heist from a Quebec warehouse, which put a dent in the global supply.

Quebec produces up to 80 percent of the world’s maple syrup.

Authorities never disclosed the exact amount of maple syrup stolen in August, but the warehouse contained Quebec’s maple syrup reserves, which were supposed to hold 10 million pounds valued at $30 million.

Those arrested were scheduled to face charges Tuesday of theft, conspiracy, fraud and trafficking in stolen goods.

Police also have seized vehicles suspected of being used in the illicit trafficking of the syrup.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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