Miners’ release demanded
Lawyers are threatening court action against President Jacob Zuma unless 270 miners, charged with murdering 34 colleagues shot dead by police, are released this weekend. Prosecutors charged the workers on Thursday, based on a rule used by the former apartheid regime, in connection with the deaths two weeks ago at a platinum mine. Funerals are due to be held on Saturday for many of the workers killed at the Marikana mine, which lies outside Rustenburg, northwest of Johannesburg. On Friday, the justice minister demanded that the prosecutors explain why the arrested miners had been charged with murdering their colleagues, a move widely denounced by legal experts.
Thalidomide firm apologizes
The German firm that made thalidomide has issued its first apology in 50 years to the thousands born disabled as a result of the drug’s use, drawing stinging criticism from advocates for some survivors. Grunenthal chief executive Harald Stock said in a speech on Friday his firm was “very sorry” for its silence toward the victims of the drug, which was sold to pregnant women to cure morning sickness in the 1950s and early 1960s. An estimated 10,000 children worldwide were born with defects — including missing limbs — after their mothers took thalidomide, which was sold in nearly 50 countries before being pulled from the market in 1961.
Armenia breaks ties
Armenia broke off diplomatic ties with the country after an Azerbaijani military officer sentenced to life in prison in Budapest for killing an Armenian officer was sent back to his homeland on Friday and, despite assurances, immediately pardoned and freed. Lieutenant Ramil Safarov was given a life sentence in 2006 by the Budapest City Court after he confessed to killing Lieutenant Gurgen Markarian of Armenia while both were in Hungary for a 2004 NATO language course. Azerbaijan and Armenia are ex-Soviet neighbors who have been locked in a long-standing conflict over the mountainous territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Strauss-Kahn film planned
The disgraced power couple of former IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Anne Sinclair will be played by two of France’s best-known actors, Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Adjani, in an upcoming movie about sex, politics and love on the rocks. Rape charges in New York, later dropped, against Strauss-Kahn in May last year shocked the world and shattered the reputation of the former IMF head, costing him his job and his marriage to Sinclair, a popular TV journalist. “It should be fascinating because we have a director who isn’t French in charge and he’s going to go where it hurts,” Adjani said in a recent interview with the weekly Journal de Dimanche, speaking of US director Abel Ferrara. Sinclair — who separated from Strauss-Kahn earlier this year and is thriving in a new job as a news editor of the Huffington Post’s French edition — responded: “I’m doing very well, thank you,” when asked how her life has been since the split. Strauss Kahn, however, is said by people who know him to be dejected and frustrated following his fall from grace. He has kept a low profile in the past year, but is currently the target of a French judicial investigation to determine whether he knew sex parties he attended were organized by pimps and frequented by prostitutes.
Guatemala ex-cop arrested
Swiss authorities said they had arrested Guatemala’s former chief of police on Friday in connection with a series of murders committed in the Central American country between 2004 and 2007. Erwin Sperisen resigned in 2007 after eight murders raised fears that senior officials were linked to drug gangs. Geneva prosecutor Olivier Jornot said that Sperisen, who was arrested five years after criminal complaints were first lodged in the Swiss city for killings in Guatemala, is to be questioned over his alleged role in the killing of prisoners at the El Infiernito and Pavon prisons. Criminal proceedings will take place in Switzerland and there is no chance of extradition as Sperisen also has Swiss nationality and Switzerland does not extradite its own nationals, Jornot added.
US marines aid drug war
Nearly 200 US marines are patrolling Guatemala’s Pacific coast alongside local armed forces to fight drug traffickers in the first operation of its kind, officials said on Friday. The troops were deployed a week ago under Operation Martillo (“Hammer”), which targets drug trafficking in Central America and the Caribbean. The operation aims chiefly “to combat drug trafficking” operating via the Pacific coast of Guatemala to Mexico, Guatemalan presidential spokesman Francisco Cuevas said. The US military presence marks a milestone for Guatemala, where the CIA ran a covert operation that overthrew leftist president Jacobo Arbenz Guzman nearly 60 years ago. Guatemala then plunged into a 36-year civil war that ended in 1996. An estimated 200,000 people were killed or missing during the war.
Ex-Milan archbishop dies
Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, former archbishop of Milan and a favourite of Vatican progressives to succeed Pope John Paul II in 2005, died on Friday aged 85, the Milan diocese said on its Web site. A Jesuit intellectual, Martini was reported to speak 11 languages, but his liberal opinions sometimes sent chills down the spines of church conservatives. He once told an interviewer that even issues as controversial as birth control and women priests could be seen in a different light in the future. “Certainly the use of condoms in particular situations can constitute a lesser evil,” Martini said in an interview with the Italian magazine l’Espresso in 2006.
Maple syrup disappears
Police in Quebec are on the scent of something sweet — millions of dollars’ worth of maple syrup missing from a large warehouse stocking over US$30 million worth of the amber nectar. The theft puts a cavity-sized dent in Quebec’s syrup stock, considered to be a global strategic reserve of the sweet stuff that is often used to replenish markets during disappointing seasons. Quebec produces up to 80 percent of the world’s maple syrup. Quebec Provincial Sergeant Claude Denis said on Friday it was too soon to determine the exact quantity or value of the maple syrup stolen from the St Louis-De-Blandford facility where more than 4.54 million kilograms is stored. The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers said it discovered the disappearance of the syrup last week during a routine inventory where empty barrels were found at the site. Officials initially kept the news quiet, hoping it would help police solve the crime.