- - Wednesday, May 23, 2012

GENEVA — A year after Japan’s nuclear accident at Fukushima, the World Health Organization says several areas near the plant had radiation above cancer-causing levels but most of the nation did not.

The U.N. health agency’s first global estimate Wednesday of radiation exposure from the earthquake and tsunami March 11, 2011, that triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant says increases in radiation were below cancer-causing levels in nearly all of Japan.

The agency’s 124-page report also says neighboring countries had levels similar to normal background radiation and for the rest of the world there was some minor exposure through food.

The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency previously has confirmed that radiation levels in some Japanese milk and vegetables reached significantly higher levels than Japan allows for consumption.


Party distances from ex-governor

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s former ruling party said Wednesday it will suspend the party membership of a former governor accused of accepting millions of dollars in bribes from drug cartels.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party said the former governor of the border state of Tamaulipas, Tomas Yarrington, will be suspended until the accusations are cleared up. The party, known as the PRI, held Mexico’s presidency without interruption from 1929 to 2000, and continues to govern most Mexican states.

“The PRI calls upon Mr. Yarrington to fully cooperate with the appropriate authorities to clear up the acts of which he is accused,” the party said in a news release. “Mr. Yarrington should face his personal responsibility … Where illegal acts are proved, the law should be fully applied.”

The party in the past has often been accused of protecting governors against charges of corruption and malfeasance, and only two former governors - one of them a PRI member - have been arrested in recent memory.


Official: Sanctions have cost $4 billion

BEIRUT — Syria’s oil minister blamed international sanctions Wednesday for shortages of cooking gas and other basic goods, saying the measures have bled $4 billion from the nation’s ailing economy.

President Bashar Assad’s regime must strike a delicate balance toward the U.S. and EU sanctions as it confronts a 15-month-old uprising against its rule, acknowledging their heavy toll while denying the regime’s grip on power is in any way shaken.

Sufian Allaw said the punitive measures were to blame for the shortages that have left Syrians across the country standing in long lines to pay inflated prices for cooking gas, fuel, sugar and other staples.

Before the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, the oil sector was a pillar of Syria’s economy, with oil exports - mostly to Europe - bringing in $7 million to $8 million per day. This income was key to maintaining the $17 billion in foreign reserves that the government had at the start of the uprising.

Speaking to reporters in Damascus on Wednesday, Mr. Allaw said sanctions had cost Syria’s oil sector about $4 billion.


Government ups oversight of nuclear shutdown

BERLIN — The German government will more closely oversee the country’s move from nuclear power to renewable energy, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday - a mammoth 10-year project for Europe’s biggest economy that has been going slowly so far.

Mrs. Merkel said she will meet with all of Germany’s 16 state governors twice a year to take stock of the transformation’s progress and shortcomings, stressing that everything must be done to avoid blackouts and ensure affordable energy.

Critics, including Germany’s main industry lobby group, have faulted the government for a lack of coordination and demanded better, permanent oversight for one of Mrs. Merkel’s most challenging projects.

In a major policy shift, Mrs. Merkel announced that the government is drafting laws that would pay utilities not just for the electricity their gas- or coal-fired power plants produce but simply for having them available in times when renewable energy sources aren’t sufficient.


Wanted: Bigfoot hair for European study

LONDON — European researchers say new techniques to analyze DNA could help crack the mystery of whether Bigfoot exists.

In a project announced this week, Oxford University and Lausanne Museum of Zoology scientists appealed to museums, scientists and yeti aficionados to share samples thought to be from the mythical apelike creature.

Researchers plan to focus on hair to determine the species it originated from.

Bryan Sykes of Oxford said the group already had received samples to test, including blood, hair, and items supposedly chewed by Bigfoot.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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