- - Sunday, March 18, 2012

MINSK — Two men convicted of carrying out a deadly subway bombing last year in Belarus’ capital have been executed, drawing strong condemnation from activists and the European Union.

The mother of one of the two 26-year-olds said she had received official notification of the execution of her son, Vladislav Kovalyov. State television reported late Saturday that both Kovalyov and Dmitry Konovalov had been put to death, which in Belarus is done with a gunshot to the back of the head.

Human rights activists condemned the hasty executions, saying they deprived society of the opportunity to learn the truth.

“The government was in a rush to throw a white shroud over all the contradictions and discrepancies in the case,” activist Lyudmila Gryaznova said Sunday. “The execution of the so-called ‘terrorists,’ whose guilt remains under suspicion, gives the appearance that the government is concealing the traces of the crime.”

The men were convicted in November of planting a bomb in Minsk’s busiest subway station that killed 15 people and wounded more than 300 in April.


Lawmakers elect new president

BERLIN — A far-reaching majority of lawmakers elected former East German pro-democracy activist Joachim Gauck as Germany’s new president Sunday.

The 72-year-old Mr. Gauck, who enjoyed the backing of most major parties, received 991 of the 1,232 ballots cast, parliamentary speaker Norbert Lammert said.

The ex-communist Left Party’s candidate Beate Klarsfeld secured 126 votes, the far right National Democratic Party’s candidate Olaf Rose only three, and there were 108 abstentions.

Mr. Gauck is a former pastor who opposed East Germany’s then-communist regime and became head of a federal agency overseeing the files of the communists’ ubiquitous domestic intelligence service after Germany’s reunification in 1990.

Mr. Gauck appeared moved as he accepted the election to become the country’s new head of state, a largely ceremonial role in Germany that has little executive power but is considered an important moral authority.


Police detain protesters outside TV station

MOSCOW — Russian police detained about 100 people protesting Sunday outside a television station loyal to the Kremlin after it aired a documentary-style program that portrayed the opposition as paid agents of the U.S.

The NTV program “Anatomy of a Protest” suggested that opposition leaders were intent on overthrowing the government, and that migrant workers and others were being paid to attend recent protests against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The program, which aired Thursday, triggered a flood of angry tweets and comments on social networking websites.

About 1,000 people took part in Sunday’s protest, chanting “Shame on NTV” and “Russia without Putin.” Many wore the white ribbons that have become a symbol of the protest movement. Drivers passing by honked their horns in support.


Solar storms added to national security risks

LONDON — Britain has added volcanoes and solar storms to floods, flu and terrorism on a list of threats to national security.

The highest-priority risks to Britain are pandemic influenza, coastal flooding, terrorist attacks and - a new addition - volcanic eruptions in countries such as Iceland, according to the recently published 2012 edition of the government’s National Risk Register for Civil Emergencies.

“Severe space weather” poses a threat to communications systems, electronic circuits and power grids, the list said.

Solar storms - eruptions of magnetic energy and charged particles - are part of the sun’s normal 11-year cycle, which is expected to reach a peak next year.

The storms can’t hurt people but can disturb electric grids, GPS systems and satellites. In 1989, a strong solar storm knocked out the power grid in Quebec, cutting electricity to 6 million people. Last week, the strongest solar storm since 2004 passed without major disruptions.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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