- - Sunday, July 1, 2012

BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister on Sunday offered assurances that Germany protects religious traditions after a court ruled that circumcising young boys on religious grounds amounts to bodily harm even if parents consent.

Last week, a state court in Cologne ruled that the child’s right to physical integrity trumps freedom of religion and parents’ rights.

The ruling was strongly criticized by the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Dieter Graumann, who urged parliament to clarify the legal situation to protect religious freedom. Muslim leaders also expressed concern.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that a legal debate “must not lead to doubts arising internationally about religious tolerance in Germany.”

“The free exercise of religion is protected in Germany. That includes religious traditions,” Mr. Westerwelle said in a statement. “All our partners in the world should know that.”


Voters reject call to remove prince’s veto

GENEVA — Voters in tiny Liechtenstein soundly rejected a call to take away the ruling prince’s power to veto referendum results.

Government figures showed that 76.1 percent of voters, or 11,629 people, rejected the initiative titled “Yes - So that your vote counts” in a referendum Sunday. Turnout was 82.9 percent.

Hereditary Prince Alois threatened to use his veto in September to block a plan to legalize abortion, but the majority voted against the change. The royal family could have vetoed having its power of veto voted down.

That would have made Alois the first prince to use his veto since his grandfather, Franz Joseph II, blocked a revision of the country’s hunting laws three decades ago.

Hans-Adam II, Alois’ father, never exercised the right of veto. However, he did push through a new constitution in 2003 that gave the monarch greater powers, including to appoint judges and fire the government without reason.

Alois rules the Alpine principality, which is wedged between Switzerland and Austria. Hans-Adam II remains head of state but has passed most of his powers to Alois.


Georgians get powerful new prime minister

TBILISI — President Mikhail Saakashvili has named a powerful new prime minister ahead of an October parliamentary election that will set in motion a fundamental change in how the country is governed.

The new prime minister is veteran Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, who has been by Mr. Saakashvili’s side since he first came to power more than eight years ago. Mr. Merabishvili is best known for ambitious reforms that turned Georgia’s notoriously corrupt police into a professional force.

Under constitutional changes approved in 2010, the prime minister will gain additional powers to rival those of the president.

No longer tasked primarily with economic matters, the prime minister will have the power to name Cabinet members, including the ministers of the interior and defense, and to shape policies.

The president, however, will remain commander in chief.

The changes go into effect after the January presidential election. Mr. Saakashvili is not eligible to run, and he has not yet said what he plans to do when he leaves the presidency.

He has not excluded becoming prime minister, but that would bring unwelcome comparisons to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who spent the past four years as prime minister to sidestep a constitutional ban on two consecutive presidential terms.


International Criminal Court turns 10 years old

THE HAGUE — Ten years ago, the treaty that created the International Criminal Court (ICC) came into force, creating the world’s first permanent war-crimes tribunal.

But as the anniversary is marked Sunday, allegations of state-sponsored atrocities in Syria are piling up, and the court stands powerless to intervene, while the first person it indicted, Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, is still at large and his brutal militia, the Lord’s Resistance Army, continues its reign of terror.

The court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, came into force July 1, 2002. It says The Hague-based tribunal is “determined to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators” of atrocities.

Ad hoc tribunals set up to prosecute the perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in individual conflicts such as the wars in the former Yugoslavia and in Sierra Leone have succeeded in putting on trial the most senior political and military leaders - from Radovan Karadzic to Charles Taylor.

But the permanent ICC so far has started just three trials and convicted only one person, Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga.


Russian in plane killing delayed in Germany

BERLIN — A Russian man who was convicted of killing an air-traffic controller he blamed for a plane crash in which his wife and children died was held for several hours as he tried to enter Germany to mark the accident’s anniversary.

Vitaly Kaloyev was convicted in Switzerland in 2005 and released in 2007.

German federal police spokesman Albert Poerschke said he arrived at Munich airport Saturday morning but was held because he’s barred from entering Switzerland.

Germany and Switzerland belong to Europe’s passport-free travel zone.

Mr. Kaloyev was let into Germany on Saturday afternoon on papers valid only for that country.

On July 1, 2002, a plane operated by Russia’s Bashkirian Airlines collided with a DHL cargo jet in Swiss-controlled airspace over southern Germany. The crash killed 71 people.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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