Court blocks impeachment
The appeal court on Friday blocked parliament from voting to impeach the country’s chief justice, the latest step in the case that risks a destabilizing clash between President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government and the judiciary. Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was found guilty by a parliamentary panel earlier this month of financial irregularities and a failure to declare assets, after the Supreme Court head and opposition parties withdrew from the proceedings citing unfair process. The US, the UN and the Commonwealth have raised concerns and called on Rajapaksa to ensure the independence of the judiciary. Parliament was to vote next month to impeach Bandaranayake. Rajapaksa can use his more than two-thirds majority in the legislature to remove Bandaranayake from her post. The appeal court ruling stops parliament voting on impeachment while it decides whether her appeal against the charges by the parliamentary panel is justified.
Carbon monoxide poisons 16
Sixteen people suffered slight carbon monoxide poisoning after a building in Yanan, a city in China’s northwestern Shaanxi Province, caught fire early yesterday morning, China National Radio reported. The fire has been brought under control and none of the people injured are in critical condition, the radio station reported yesterday on its Web site without saying where it got the information. About 1,700 residents have been evacuated, according to the report. The 14-story building hosts retailers, offices and a hotel where about 50 people were staying, according to the report which did not disclose the cause of the fire.
Lhasa’s heart to be preserved
The government of Tibet’s capital city has begun a seven-month, 1.2 billion yuan (US$196 million) project to help preserve Lhasa’s ancient heart. State-owned China Tibetan News, citing a government news conference from Friday, said the project will update the Barkhor area’s infrastructure, including water, sewerage and electrical lines. The government will also build heating facilities, remove fire hazards, improve sanitation services, regulate signs and dismantle illegally built structures. The official Xinhua news agency said the government will preserve cultural relics in the area, including Tibet’s most sacred shrine, the Jokhang Temple. The temple has been a symbolic center of ongoing Tibetan protests against authoritarian Chinese rule, and the Barkhor was a center of Tibetan unrest in 2008 that left at least a dozen people dead. In recent months, more than 90 Tibetans have self-immolated to protest China’s rule of the region.
Chinese arrested for fraud
Police in Sri Lanka have arrested 100 Chinese nationals for currency fraud in a string of raids in and around the capital Colombo, officials said yesterday. Police said that the 74 men and 26 women were arrested on Friday at their residences in and around the capital following a court order. Those arrested were due to appear in court later yesterday. Thousands of Chinese work in Chinese-funded development projects across the island. Many more arrive on tourist visas and work in the hospitality industry. China has been investing heavily in Sri Lanka as it enlarges its presence in South Asia. In June, the tropical island nation opened Sri Lanka’s first Chinese-built port, for which China loaned money. The port was seen as a strong symbol of Beijing’s investment and interest in the region.
UK land claim protested
Authorities on Friday presented a formal note of protest to the UK ambassador over the naming of a large area of Antarctica as Queen Elizabeth Land. The note handed by the foreign ministry to John Freeman criticised the UK’s “anachronistic, imperialist ambitions that hark back to ancient practices.” The newly named area has long been claimed by Argentina as its own, along with other contested areas in the south Atlantic including the Falkland Islands, which it calls Las Malvinas. The ministry accused London of infringing the spirit of the Antarctic treaty, signed in 1959 in Washington by 50 nations to preserve the Antarctic from territorial disputes by guaranteeing freedom of scientific investigation and banning military activity on the continent.
Mayan city greets new era
Friday started out as the prophetic day some had believed would usher in the fiery end of the world. By the afternoon, it had become more comic than cosmic, the punch line of countless Facebook posts and at least several dozen T-shirts. At the ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza, thousands chanted, danced and otherwise frolicked around ceremonial fires and pyramids to mark the conclusion of a vast, 5,125-year cycle in the Mayan calendar. For the masses in the ruins, Dec. 21 sparked celebration of what they saw as the birth of a new and better age. It was also inspiration for massive clouds of patchouli and marijuana smoke and a chorus of conch calls at the break of dawn. The official crowd count stood at 20,000 as of mid-afternoon, with people continuing to arrive.
Firing sexy employees legal
The Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Friday that employers in the state can legally fire workers they find too attractive. In a unanimous decision, the court held that a dentist did not violate the state’s civil rights act when he terminated a female dental assistant whom his wife considered a threat to their marriage. The dental assistant, Melissa Nelson, who worked for dentist James Knight for more than 10 years and had never flirted with him, according to the testimony of both parties, sued, saying she would not have been fired if she were a man. Knight said that Nelson was terminated not because of her gender, but because of the way their relationship had developed and the threat it posed to his marriage. The seven justices, all men, said the basic question presented by the case was “whether an employee who has not engaged in flirtatious conduct may be lawfully terminated simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction.” The high court ruled that bosses can fire workers they find too attractive and that such actions do not amount to unlawful discrimination.
An appeals court overturned a former president’s conviction last year on corruption charges, ruling on Friday that prosecutors waited too long to try the case. Miguel Angel Rodriguez, who was president from 1998 till 2002, had been sentenced to five years in prison, but was not jailed because of his appeal. Rodriguez and other former government officials were charged with taking bribes in exchange for giving the Latin American branch of the French telecoms company Alcatel a US$149 million cellphone contract while he was president in 2001. He became president of the Organization of American States in 2004, but the corruption scandal forced him to resign two weeks into his tenure.