- - Monday, January 30, 2012

CANADA

Afghan family guilty in honor killings

KINGSTON, Ontario — A jury on Sunday found three members of an Afghan family guilty of killing three teenage sisters and another woman in what the judge described as “coldblooded, shameful murders” resulting from a “twisted concept of honor,” ending a case that shocked and riveted Canadians.

Prosecutors said the defendants killed the three teenage sisters because they dishonored the family by defying its rules on dress, dating, socializing and using the Internet.

The jury took 15 hours to find Mohammad Shafia, 58; his wife, Tooba Yahya, 42; and their son Hamed Shafia, 21, each guilty of four counts of first-degree murder.

First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

After the verdict was read, the three defendants again declared their innocence in the killings of sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar 17, and Geeti, 13, as well as Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, Mohammad Shafia’s childless first wife in a polygamous marriage.

Their bodies were found June 30, 2009, in a car submerged in a canal in Kingston, Ontario, where the family had stopped for the night on their way home to Montreal from Niagara Falls, Ontario.

VENEZUELA

Mexican diplomat freed after abduction in Caracas

CARACAS — A Mexican diplomat in Venezuela said the country’s ambassador was freed by captors hours after he and his wife were kidnapped.

Mexican Embassy spokesman Fernando Gondinez told the Venezuelan news website Noticias 24 that Ambassador Carlos Pujalte was kidnapped Sunday night in Caracas and freed hours later.

Mr. Gondinez said both the ambassador and his wife were in good condition. He did not offer details about how the abduction occurred or about the liberation.

Venezuela has one of Latin America’s highest murder rates, and the number of kidnappings has risen in recent years.

CUBA

Communists map out future of the party

HAVANA — Cuba’s communist leaders vowed not to cede any ground to “the enemy,” even as they pledged to fight corruption and continue overhauling the island’s listing Marxist economy with an injection of free-market reform.

No word of long-awaited political changes - including an April pledge by President Raul Castro to implement term limits - seeped out on the first day of the closed-door party conference on Sunday.

Nor was there any hint of changes to the aged upper ranks of the party hierarchy. Mr. Castro is 80, and his two top deputies are 81 and 79.

Mr. Castro has spoken of the need to revitalize the island’s leadership but has complained there are few young leaders ready to step up. He, or his now-retired brother Fidel, have ruled the country since their 1959 revolution.

PERU

27 killed in fire at rehabilitation center

LIMA — A fire swept through a two-story private rehabilitation center for addicts in a poor part of Peru’s capital on Saturday, killing 27 people and critically injuring five as firefighters punched holes through walls to rescue residents locked inside.

The Christ Is Love center for drug and alcohol addicts was unlicensed and overcrowded, and its residents apparently were kept inside “like prisoners,” Health Minister Alberto Tejada told the Associated Press.

Authorities said 26 people died at the scene, and prosecutors spokesman Raul Sanchez said Saturday night that one of six men hospitalized in critical condition died later.

Peru’s fire chief, Antonio Zavala, said most of the victims died of asphyxiation. All the victims appeared to be male.

The local police chief, Clever Zegarra, said the cause of the 9 a.m. fire was under investigation.

MEXICO

Suspect shown by cops says he beat Canadian

CULIACAN — A man charged with brutally beating a Canadian tourist at a luxury beach hotel told reporters Saturday that he tried to hold the woman in an elevator and punched her several times in the face when she cried for help.

Police presented Jose Ramon Acosta Quintero, 28, to local and foreign journalists in the Pacific port city of Mazatlan, where the attack on Sheila Nabb of Calgary, Alberta, occurred in the early hours of Jan. 20.

He was arrested Friday and charged with attempted murder.

Prosecutors have said investigators were led to Mr. Acosta by a hotel security video that showed him leaving the elevator where Mrs. Nabb was attacked.

Sinaloa state prosecutor Marco Antonio Higuera Gomez said Saturday that Mr. Acosta was drinking in local bars and had taken cocaine with a Canadian friend when they decided to go to one of the large tourist hotels where bars operate 24 hours. He said Mr. Acosta frequents those hotels and sometimes goes by the name Ray.

Flanked by police, Mr. Acosta spoke in fluent English as he answered a few questions from foreign reporters.

He said he entered the hotel from the back beach doorway and was taking an elevator up to the roof when the doors opened and Mrs. Nabb got in. They talked and then he put his hand on the door, he said, to prevent her from leaving so they could keep talking.

“She got afraid when I didn’t let her out, and she started yelling, ‘He won’t let me out,’ ” Mr. Acosta said. “I got afraid also, because she’s a North American and I’m Mexican and I wasn’t supposed to be in the hotel.”

He said he covered her mouth as she continued to yell for help.

“Then I hit her four or five times in the face with my fist and then I left,” said Mr. Acosta, who swallowed nervously as he talked.

Mrs. Nabb’s husband was in their hotel room at the time of the attack, and she was found lying in the elevator and bleeding heavily.

She was flown to Canada, and Canadian media have reported that she remains hospitalized with major injuries to her face and jaw.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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