Bolivia back in drug treaty
Bolivia has been allowed to return to the UN’s main anti-narcotics treaty, after winning an opt-out allowing its population to keep chewing coca leaves. Bolivia withdrew from the UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs last year in protest over the coca leaf being labeled an illegal drug. Chewing coca leaves is a centuries-old tradition in Bolivia. The leaf is also the raw ingredient for cocaine. President Evo Morales has been to international conferences protesting the ban. Now the UN has come up with a plan allowing Bolivia to rejoin the convention, with a “reservation” regarding coca leaf chewing. Reaccession to the treaty would be allowed provided fewer than a third of the convention’s 183 member states objected. UN spokesman Eduardo del Buey said that 15 countries had objected to Bolivia’s optout in the 12 month consultations that ended on Thursday.
Death Star petition rejected
President Barack Obama’s administration dashed the hopes of Star Wars geeks across the galaxy by rejecting an official petition calling for the government to build a Death Star, the fictional planet-destroying space station featured in the Star Wars movies. “The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon,” said Paul Shawcross, head of the White House budget office’s science and space branch. “The Administration does not support blowing up planets,” Shawcross wrote in a response to the 34,435 people who signed the petition on the White House Web site. The White House accepts petitions and responds to the most popular ones. Most of the petitions on the Web site address weighty policy issues. However, in recent weeks, national attention has been drawn to quirky petitions, such as one that supports the minting of a US$1 trillion platinum coin to avoid a debt default if Congress fails to raise the debt limit next month.
Police crack child-sex ring
Police have broken up a pedophile network with international ties that used social media Web sites to swap pornographic images and videos of children. Security Ministry officials said on Friday that federal police carried out 61 raids last week to dismantle the ring as part of “Operation Oliver.” The covert operation began in February 2011 after local police and Interpol in Britain detected sites in London publishing and swapping pornographic videos with servers in the country. Officials say there are 64 people charged, but no arrests have been made. Several computers with images of minors were seized during the raids in nine provinces and in the capital, Buenos Aires.
Officials charged over crash
A court is charging two former government officials and the owners of a train company in connection with a crash that killed 51 people last year. The Buenos Aires federal court on Friday ratified charges previously filed against former transportation secretaries Juan Pablo Schiavi and Ricardo Jaime. The court also charged Sergio and Mario Cirigliano, owners of the Buenos Aires Train company. The court revoked an order by a lower judge last year that relieved the train’s machinist and the ex-head of the National Transportation Regulation Committee of any blame. The train was packed when it slammed into a metal barrier at Buenos Aires’ Once station on Feb. 22. It marked one of the worst tragedies in the country’s deteriorating rail system.
US citizen’s trial pending
Former US ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson delivered a letter for an imprisoned US citizen to officials in North Korea during his trip there this week. Richardson was unable to meet with Korean-American Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old tourist who was detained in North Korea late last year, but he said he was able to give a letter from Bae’s son to the authorities. “I delivered the letter to North Korean officials,” Richardson told reporters on Friday. “They said they would provide that to him.” Bae has been charged with unspecified crimes against the state. Richardson said in Beijing on Thursday that he was told judicial proceedings against Bae would start soon. Richardson made the trip to North Korea along with Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, who said the purpose of his visit was to discuss a free and open Internet. The timing of the trip was criticized by the US State Department.
Beijing-based artist Liu Yi is working on a series of black-and-white portraits he knows will never be shown in a Chinese gallery. His varied subjects — men and women, young and old, smiling and pensive — have one thing in common: They are Tibetans who have set themselves on fire to protest repressive Chinese rule. Liu wants to paint a portrait of each of the hundred-or-so Tibetans who have self-immolated over the past three years, as a way of bearing witness to one of the biggest waves of fiery protests in recent history. With each brushstroke, Liu is making a heartfelt plea: The burning must end. “When I’m painting, I’m thinking: ‘Enough, enough, don’t do this anymore. Stop,’” said the artist, who has completed 40 paintings so far.
President to keep firearms
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III may continue to carry a gun despite an impending ban on bearing firearms in the run-up to polls, an election official said yesterday. Gun ownership is a sensitive topic in the Philippines, where calls are growing for tighter controls or an outright ban in the aftermath of a series of shootings starting on New Year’s Eve which have left 23 people dead. The ruling by the official Commission on Elections exempted Aquino, a gun enthusiast and competitive shooter, on the basis that he is constitutionally the head of the military. “We have exempted the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and since the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, then by necessary implication [the exemption] covers the president,” commission official Emil Maranon said. The ban, which takes effect today and will be in place for six months, is intended to minimize violence ahead of local and congressional elections in May.
Helicopter crash disputed
Kachin ethnic rebels battling the army in northern Myanmar say they have shot down a government helicopter, but the army says it crashed due to engine failure. An e-mailed announcement from the Kachin guerrillas says they shot down the helicopter on Friday as heavy fighting raged. A senior government official citing military sources said yesterday that an Mi-35 helicopter crashed in Kachin-controlled territory due to engine failure. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to divulge military information. The Kachin have long sought greater autonomy. Intermittent fighting escalated last month when the rebels rejected a government demand that they allow supply convoys to reach an army base.
Gays can rear children: court
The highest court on Friday said gay couples can bring up children as well as heterosexual couples, in a landmark ruling in a predominantly Catholic country where the issue is a hot-button topic ahead of a general election next month. “There is no scientific certainty or concrete evidence, but only prejudice” behind the idea that “living in a homosexual family is damaging for the growth of a child,” the court’s ruling said. The court’s ruling was on a case brought by a man against his former partner, who had custody of their child and is now living in a lesbian relationship. The gay rights group Arcigay hailed a “historic verdict” and said: “Children are brought up by love and not by their parents’ sexual orientation.”
UN slams Saudi beheading
UN human rights experts say Saudi Arabia broke international law by beheading a Sri Lankan domestic worker accused of killing a Saudi baby in her care in 2005. The UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, said on Friday that it “is clear that it is unlawful to execute someone who was under 18 years old when they allegedly committed a crime.” On Wednesday, the interior ministry said Rizana Nafeek was given a death sentence and executed, despite appeals by the Sri Lankan government for a reprieve. The domestic worker had denied strangling the 4-month-old boy, which died when she was 17 years old. Heyns also said that “beheading is a particularly cruel form of execution.”
Music hackers sentenced
A court sentenced two hackers to 100 hours of community service on Friday for stealing a treasure trove of unreleased music — including Michael Jackson tracks — from the US servers of Sony Music Entertainment. Officials said that music aficionados James Marks, 27, and James McCormick, 26, used their home computers to access Sony’s servers and scour them for Jackson-related material. The pair downloaded nearly 8,000 files, including completed or partial tracks, artwork and videos relating to Jackson and other unspecified Sony artists. The precise nature of the unreleased material has not been made clear — Sony refused to comment on the case. A statement from the Serious and Organized Crime Agency identified some of the material as stems, which are audio tracks that can be used in mixes and overdubs. Marks and McCormick — who met online — were arrested in May 2011 after Sony alerted law enforcement to the breach.
Bid to free hostage fails
A French soldier was killed in a failed bid to free a French hostage overnight in southern Somalia, an Islamist spokesman said yesterday. “The French did not get what they were looking for,” Abdulaziz Abu Musab, from the al-Shabaab insurgents, said by telephone, adding that the French commandos left the body of their colleague behind following the operation. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs had no comment yesterday. At least one resident of the town of Bulomarer, where the attack allegedly took place, reported seeing the lifeless body of a white man. Witnesses said four helicopter gunships were used in the raid. “A French soldier was killed during an exchange of fire and his body was left by his comrades” after they failed in two attempts to recover it, the spokesman said. A secret agent named as Denis Allex was kidnapped in Mogadishu in August 2009 along with another agent, who was released the following month.