Two seriously hurt as tourist boat sinks in Paris
PARIS: A small tourist boat sank after hitting the pillar of a bridge in central Paris late on Saturday, police and the emergency services at the city hall said.
The city hall said 10 people had jumped into the River Seine and had been rescued. An adult and a child who were trapped in the sinking boat had been saved by divers and were being resuscitated, it said.
Police gave few details but said two people were seriously injured in the incident.
State radio station France Info reported from the scene that everyone who had been on the boat was now accounted for. It said the adult and child rescued from the boat were in a critical condition and were being treated nearby.
The incident took place in the heart of Paris, under the Pont de l'Archeveche which links the tip of the Ile de la Cite, where Notre Dame cathedral is located, to the Left Bank of the river.
The city hall said it did not know exactly what kind of boat was involved, although it was not a "bateau mouche", one of the huge, flat barge-like boats that carry hundreds of people up and down the river.
France Info said Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau had rushed to the scene.
An inquiry would be launched to determine the cause of the accident, the radio station said, adding it was not clear if the boat had hit the bridge or a bateau mouche that was now moored nearby, "La Besogne".
Pope remembers victims of terrorism
LOURDES, France: Pope Benedict prayed on Saturday at the site where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a French peasant girl 150 years ago, and asked the world not to forget the victims of terrorism and hatred.
The pope arrived in the southwestern town of Lourdes on the second day of his visit to France after earlier celebrating an outdoor mass for more than 250,000 people in Paris, telling them the modern world had made idols of money and power.
At Lourdes, Benedict prayed in the grotto where Saint Bernadette Soubirous said she had seen the Madonna 18 times in 1858, and drank water from a spring that believers say has healing powers.
In the past 150 years, the Church has recognised as "miracles" 67 medically inexplicable healings of sick pilgrims who visited Lourdes.
Later, at the end of a candlelight procession around the grounds of the sanctuary, Benedict told tens of thousands who had gathered to hear him not to forget those suffering in the world.
At mass on Saturday morning in Paris, the pope told more than a quarter of a million people that the modern world had turned money, possessions and power into idols as false as the gold and silver statues worshipped by the pagans of antiquity.
"Has not our modern world created its own idols?" he said.
"Has it not imitated, perhaps inadvertently, the pagans of antiquity, by diverting man from his true end, from the joy of living eternally with God," he said in fluent French, wearing gold, white and red vestments.
Benedict, who arrived in France on Friday, celebrated the mass at Les Invalides, a complex of military buildings begun by King Louis XIV in the 17th century that houses the sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte.
In his homily, he pursued a theme dear to him: the need to inject lasting spiritual and religious values into a modern society often enamoured of things material and fleeting.
He quoted the writings of St Paul, saying "Money is the root of all evil", and added in his own words: "Have not money, the thirst for possessions, for power and even for knowledge diverted man from his true destiny?"
Since he arrived on Friday, the pope has been encouraging Catholics to speak out confidently in a country where "laicite", the separation of church and state that often relegates faith to the private sphere, is part of the national psyche.
The once powerful French church struggles with a shortage of priests and Sunday mass attendance is below 10 percent.
But religion has re-emerged as a factor in public life, especially because of the growth of Islam, and French Catholics have increasingly spoken out on social issues.
Fire in channel tunnel caused serious damage
PARIS: The Channel Tunnel that links Britain and the Continent was closed Friday after an overnight blaze that reached temperatures as high as 1,800 degrees.
The fire, which broke out on Thursday on a France-bound freight shuttle train carrying trucks, may have started on one of the trucks, safety officials said. The fire was not extinguished until Friday, said Mady Chabrier, a spokeswoman for the operator, Eurotunnel.
The closing raised new questions about how such incidents could occur, especially after previous fires in the tunnel. The fire threatened to disrupt services for several weeks in the tunnel, which is used by truckers as well as by tens of thousands of tourists and business people every day.
Reports on Thursday afternoon suggested that damage and disruption were not heavy. But by Friday morning, officials said it had taken firefighters most of the night to douse the flames, and a truck driver told French news media that he and others had narrowly escaped.
"Because it's a tunnel, it works like an oven," Chabrier said. "I guess the concrete has suffered and the iron inside of the tunnel, and we have to check now what the situation is."
Eurotunnel said 32 passengers on the train, most of them truckers, escaped after being evacuated into the maintenance tunnel.
Six people were taken to a hospital in Calais suffering from smoke inhalation. There were no reports of more serious injuries.
The temperature inside the north tunnel, where the fire occurred, remained high on Friday afternoon. French officials said the fire was probably accidental. The exact cause is under investigation.
The link consists of two tunnels that carry freight and passenger trains in opposite directions, and a third tunnel used for maintenance and evacuations.
So far, the closing of the tunnel is the longest since 1996, when a fire shut down freight and passenger services for two weeks and kept the tunnel partly closed for months.
That blaze resulted from a fire on a truck, as did another episode in 2006, according to safety officials.
"There are a lot of questions to be asked, particularly about whether the truck tipped over in some way, or whether it was carrying flammable chemicals," Christian Wolmar, a journalist and leading commentator on transportation issues, said of the most recent fire.
But he said there might be little more that British and French authorities could do to ensure safety on the undersea system without hampering cross-channel trade and transportation.
"There is a trade-off between safety and cost," Wolmar said. "I can't imagine there are easy-to-do measures that would enhance safety further without disproportionate cost."
The French ground-transportation accident-investigation bureau, known by its French acronym, Bea-tt, was taking the lead in the investigation into the fire, according to a spokesman for the British Secretariat to the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority.
In coming weeks, trains will probably run in both directions using only the south tunnel, Chabrier said.
The train was nearly seven miles from Coquelles, France, where the 31-mile tunnel ends, near the port of Calais, when the fire broke out.
Eurostar, the company that provides passenger rail service through the tunnel, said it hoped to be able to begin running a limited service starting Saturday. Freight trains began rolling again late Friday night, the Associated Press reported.
Turkish PM hits back at international media body
ISTANBUL: Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told an international media body on Saturday it had no right to criticise him over his treatment of the country's largest news organisation.
Tensions have flared over the past week between the government and the country's largest independent media group, Dogan Holding, over its coverage of corruption allegations. The issue has prompted debate about press freedom in the European Union candidate country.
Press reports have focused on accusations that money from an Islamic charity in Germany was channelled to pro-government media outlets. A senior government official accused the group of instituting "media terror" earlier in the week.
The International Press Institute, grouping editors, media executives and journalists in over 120 countries, has condemned the government's statements and called on Erdogan "to cease all attempts to pressure the Turkish media".
Erdogan hit back in a speech to supporters in Istanbul on Saturday.
"This International Press Institute gave me its own kind of ultimatum. So I ask them, who do you think you are to issue me an ultimatum?" he said.
Last week Erdogan gave Aydin Dogan, head of the Dogan Group, a one-week deadline to reveal his motives for the coverage.
Dogan's media interests include top selling newspaper Hurriyet and broadcaster CNN Turk.
Shares in Dogan Holding as well as the conglomerate's other listings, Hurriyet Gazetecilik, Dogan Yayin Holding and Petrol Ofisi, fell sharply at the beginning of the week after tensions between the media mogul and prime minister were made public.
Ike cuts a punishing path through Texas
HOUSTON: Hurricane Ike barreled across a wide swath of Texas on Saturday, deluging the city of Galveston with an 11-foot-high wall of water and leaving extensive damage across metropolitan Houston.
One person was reported dead north of Houston, but it could take days to search flooded homes to assess the full impact of the storm. For now, Governor Rick Perry said, the state had embarked on the largest search-and-rescue effort in its history.
"We have already heard some initial reports of a few deaths," Michael Chertoff, secretary of homeland security, said Saturday afternoon in a news conference in Washington. "Obviously one death is more than we want to hear about."
With wind gusts approaching 100 miles per hour, the huge Category 2 hurricane peeled sheets of steel off skyscrapers in Houston, smashed bus shelters and blew out windows, sending shattered glass and debris across the nation's fourth largest city, with a population of 2.2 million.
Almost the entire metropolitan area lost power, with local news organizations reporting that more than three million people were trying to manage in the dark.
Ike damage may be less than feared
HOUSTON: Hurricane Ike slammed the Texas and Louisiana coast on Saturday with ferocious winds and a wall of water that flooded hundreds of miles, cut power to millions and caused billions of dollars in damage.
But relieved officials and residents said Ike may not have caused the catastrophe they had feared in the densely populated region.
The storm, which idled about a quarter of U.S. crude oil production and fuel refining capacity, swamped the island city of Galveston and paralyzed Houston, the country's fourth-largest city, shattering skyscraper windows and showering streets with debris.
There were unconfirmed reports of "a few deaths" from Ike, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said. He cited "significant surges" -- high seas pushed ashore by hurricanes -- and damage in Texas and Louisiana.
But Galveston and the Houston Ship Channel were not hit as hard as expected. Emergency officials had predicted a 20-foot (six-meter) storm surge that could have caused far greater damage and swamped refineries.
"Fortunately the worst case scenario that was spoken about, that was projected in some areas, did not occur," Texas Gov. Rick Perry told a briefing in Austin, Texas. But he said there had been "very heavy damage" to the power grid. About 4.5 million people could face weeks of power outages.
Ike came ashore at Galveston as a strong Category 2 storm at 8:10 a.m. British time on Saturday with heavy rains and sustained 110 mph (175 kph) winds, the National Hurricane Centre said.
It had weakened to a tropical storm by mid-afternoon as it barrelled northward on a path expected to bring heavy rains across a swath of the country stretching to Canada.
The storm flooded Galveston, sending waves over a 17-foot (5-metre) sea wall built to protect the city after a 1900 hurricane killed at least 8,000 people.
More than half the city's 60,000 residents fled before the storm. There were no reports yet of any deaths among those who stayed behind.
It was not clear yet how bad the damage was in Galveston, which is popular for beachgoers with second homes. The first aerial pictures showed homes surrounded by sea water.
In Bridge City, a small community along the upper Texas coast, frantic calls for rescue overwhelmed emergency workers.
"We just received one call from a guy in his attic and the water is rising and he can't get out," said Orange County spokeswoman Jill Frillou. "There were a lot of people that did not leave and just did not expect water to come that high."
Chertoff refused to say whether he expected the death toll to rise. "If someone stayed in an area predicted to be largely flooded, they put their lives at risk," he said.
UP TO $18 BLN INSURED LOSSES
Ike triggered the biggest disruption to U.S. energy supplies in at least three years and sent gasoline prices higher at the pumps.
Oil refineries along the western shore of Galveston Bay and Port Arthur may have been spared the worst of the flooding, Brad Penisson, a spokesman for the joint operations of southeast Texas emergency management agencies said.
Twenty-three percent of U.S. fuel production capacity was down, with 14 refineries having been shut as Ike approached. Twenty-eight natural gas processing plants were also shut.
Ike could lead to $8 billion (5 billion pounds) to $18 billion (10 billion pounds) in insurance claims, according to an early insurance industry computer-modelled estimate of damage.
Ike was the biggest storm to hit a U.S. city since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005.
Houston is home to 2.2 million people and a metropolitan area of 5.6 million residents. Unlike much of the United States, the city has a booming economy thanks in part to demand for energy.
CAUTION ABOUT EARLY CONFIDENCE
Authorities were cautious about early confidence in limited damage, especially after the Katrina experience, when levees broke under the floodwaters long after the storm.
President George W. Bush, who was strongly criticized for the slow federal response to Katrina, declared a major disaster in his native Texas and in Louisiana, and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local efforts in the storm area.
Galveston City Manager Steve LeBlanc said 17 buildings had collapsed on Galveston Island and that downtown was flooded and the causeway linking the island to the mainland had buckled. There were no reports of deaths, he said.
"People couldn't get in even if we let them," LeBlanc said.
Ike also flooded coastal communities and forced rescuers out to save stranded residents in parts of Louisiana, the state battered by Katrina three years ago and by Hurricane Gustav less than two weeks ago.
An estimated 10,000 homes in Terrebonne Parish were flooded or expected to be flooded as the waters rose, officials there said. About 100 elderly residents were evacuated overnight when flooding overwhelmed a nursing home in Franklin, Louisiana.
Landslides as typhoon hits Taiwan
TAIPEI: A typhoon pounded Taiwan on Saturday, bringing torrential rains and triggering landslides in the central and northern part of the island, the national fire agency said. One person was reported injured.
At 8:00 a.m. British time, typhoon Sinlaku was 90 km (55 miles) east of Ilan on the northeast coast, packing winds of up to 209 kph (130 mph), the island's Central Weather Bureau and local media reported.
Schools and offices in the capital, Taipei, were ordered closed on Saturday. Surrounding areas have faced strong weather warnings since late Friday.
Television images showed heavy seas and pouring rain in a coastal part of Hualien, where some trees had been uprooted. Most flights at the island's airports have also been cancelled.
"Up to now, we just know one person was injured and we also see some landslides but repair works are under way," an official at the agency told Reuters.
The category 3 storm was expected to blanket the island before moving on towards Japan, possibly gathering strength, the Central News Agency and the forecasting website Tropical Storm Risk (www.tropicalstormrisk.com) said.
The Xinhua news agency, meanwhile, said Sinlaku was expected to make landfall in eastern China on Sunday morning, battering the coastal provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang.
Man kills 1, hurts 6 with sickle at Japan shrine
TOKYO: A Japanese man killed one person and injured six with a sickle at the grounds of a Shinto shrine where an autumn festival was winding down, police said on Sunday.
A 42-year-old street stall operator was arrested over the incident, which took place late on Saturday in Hakusan city in Ishikawa prefecture, central Japan, an Ishikawa police spokesman said.
A 30-year-old man died from his injuries, the spokesman said. Kyodo news agency said another victim was seriously hurt and five had minor injuries.
Kyodo said the man told police he had become angry after being teased by a customer, went home and returned to the grounds of the shrine, where around 20 or 30 people remained after the festival, and began slashing at people with the sickle.
Japan, where crime rates are relatively low, was shocked last June when a man who said he was tired of life went on a stabbing rampage in the crowded Tokyo shopping district of Akihabara, killing seven people and wounding a dozen others.
Death toll rises to 24 in LA train crash
LOS ANGELES: The death toll in the head-on crash of a commuter train and a freight train outside Los Angeles has risen to 24 and more fatalities are expected, officials said on Saturday.
The Friday afternoon crash -- the worst commuter train crash in Los Angeles history -- was likely caused by the passenger train engineer's failure to stop at a red light, officials said.
"We have confirmed 24 dead and are still working to extricate bodies," said Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Ron Myers.
The collision also injured 135 people, including 45 who were in critical condition.
"At this moment we must acknowledge that it was a Metrolink engineer that made the error that caused yesterday's accident," Denise Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for the train line, said at a news conference.
She said the engineer worked for a subcontractor used by Metrolink. The engineer was believed to have died in the crash.
There were 222 people on the Metrolink train, and three Union Pacific employees aboard the freight train, according to media reports.
Fire Department officials said workers were continuing efforts to extricate the bodies from the twisted wreckage.
The force of the crash pushed the locomotive engine pulling the commuter train backward into a passenger car, and both toppled over, igniting in flames. At least seven cars from the freight train derailed, although most remained standing across the tracks.
Both trains were travelling at about 40 miles per hour (65 kph), according to Tyrrell.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called Friday's collision "a human tragedy that is beyond words."
Once rescue efforts conclude, the National Transportation Safety Board is poised to take over investigation of the crash.
Workers were searching for the event recorders carried by the two trains and the dispatch station recording involving the crash were to be turned over to NTSB investigators on Saturday.
The event recorders -- like the so-called black boxes carried by airliners -- monitor the actions of engineers on the trains and should provide investigators with crucial information regarding the cause of the collision.
Wild elephant kills four in Nepal village
KATHMANDU: A wild elephant killed at least four people, including a 12-year-old girl, in a village in southeast Nepal on Saturday, police said.
"The elephant dragged the victims from their homes while they were sleeping and then trampled them to death," police officer Lakshman Neupane said by telephone from Rajbraj, 200 km (125 miles) southeast of the Nepali capital Kathmandu.
Police were trying to chase the elephant out of the village, he said.
Nepal has about 250 elephants, including about 100 domesticated animals that are used by hotels and national parks for safaris.
Elephants are protected by law in Nepal and anyone found guilty of killing one can face up to 15 years in jail.
Second Georgian policeman killed in Abkhazia
TBILISI: A Georgian policeman was shot and killed on Saturday near rebel Abkhazia, the second such incident this week involving Georgia's Russian-backed breakaway regions, the Georgian interior ministry said.
The policeman was hit when shots were fired from an Abkhaz village at a Georgian police checkpoint in Ganmukhuri, near the de facto border with Abkhazia, ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said.
"He had very serious wounds and died on the way to hospital," he said.
The incident prompted the interior minister to send elite troops to the area.
"After the killing of a Georgian policeman in western Georgia today, the interior minister made a decision to replace policemen there with special forces. They will be deployed at the de facto border with Abkhazia," Utiashvili said.
The self-styled government of Abkhazia -- which Russia recognised as an independent state together with South Ossetia after a brief war with Georgia last month -- denied any involvement, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.
"The Abkhaz side has nothing to do with this. This is most likely the result of internal Georgian wrangling," Ruslan Kishmariya, deputy to the regional president, told Interfax.
Earlier this week Georgia accused Russia of violating a ceasefire deal after a Georgian policeman was shot dead near a Russian checkpoint near South Ossetia.
Russian troops withdraw from Georgian port
POTI, Georgia: Russian troops withdrew from the region around Georgia's Black Sea port of Poti on Saturday, within a September 15 deadline set for the first phase of a pullback brokered by France.
Georgia welcomed the move, and said it hoped Russian forces would keep to an October 10 deadline to withdraw completely from Georgian territory outside the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he was confident this deadline would be met. A 200-strong team of EU monitors would also be deployed in Georgia before the beginning of October, Solana told Reuters in an interview.
"By the 10th of October that part (undisputed Georgian territory) will be without any Russian troops. That is the most important thing," Solana said.
A Reuters reporter saw troops in armoured personnel carriers and trucks pull out from positions on the outskirts of Poti after dawn. The reporter said Russian forces had also left another three positions on the way to nearby Senaki.
Russia's foreign ministry said later on Saturday that the withdrawal had been completed two days before the deadline set in the agreement brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and endorsed on September 8 by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
"Russia expects the same strict and good-willed adherence to this agreement from all parties concerned, above all from the Georgian leaders, and likewise from the European Union," the ministry said in a statement on its website.
Albania ponders opening its secret police files
TIRANA: In the early 1970s, Spartak Ngjela spoke out against the Stalinist government of Albania. He spent 14 years in prison for taking such liberties.
Today a member of parliament, he is fighting to open up the files of the Sigurimi secret police, 18 years after Europe's most hardline communist regime under Enver Hoxha collapsed.
"I want to open all the files of these agents, these spies, everyone who is involved in the state terror," he said passionately in "I want to open all the files of these agents, these spies, everyone who is involved in the state terror," he said passionately in the Albanian capital Tirana. "Without the Sigurimi, Enver Hoxha was nothing. The secret service at that moment was his right hand."
Years after other ex-communist states in Eastern Europe dealt with their secret police files, Albania is grappling anew with the records of the Sigurimi.
The Balkan country has certainly made tremendous advances since communism. Tirana's roads have steady traffic where private cars were once banned, and a construction boom across Albania is giving a new face to the country. Still, the past casts a shadow as the ex-communist maverick moves towards NATO membership and dreams of joining the European Union.
"This is a never-ending soap opera since the first day of the falling of communism," Edi Rama, mayor of Tirana and the Socialist opposition leader, said in an interview. "Communism in Albania was like an atomic bomb on the mindset of the people. The explosion has ended but the radiation still hurts."
During Stalinist rule, the secret police employed 800 staffers, including operatives and clerks, according to a former Sigurimi official who did not want to be named. Yet they also relied on a vast web of unpaid informants, some of whom were blackmailed into helping keep tabs on fellow citizens.
"Why did they collaborate? The government was really powerful here," said the official, who oversaw a network of informers in Tirana and elsewhere. "There was no money at all, it was all built on ideological principles, an obligation to pay back for one's mistakes."
No one seems to know exactly how many Albanians worked as informants or helped the Sigurimi, but lawmaker Ngjela estimates it involved 17 percent of the population. In the 1960s one communist official once said one in four people were involved.
For now, most officials are not calling for an opening of all files to those who were monitored, a system used in former communist eastern Germany. The Albanian files were opened selectively before the 1996 elections, allowing scrutiny of potential candidates, but no permanent rules have been set.
"I am not in favour to open up for everybody," Prime Minister Sali Berisha told Reuters on Thursday.
"You see, we were a rural society. It would create big problems if we open in such a way. I am in favour to open for those who have been elected and high-ranking people.
"It is not to blame (people). What is very important is to close the chapter."
One issue complicating a full unveiling involves current politicians, some of whom could be embarrassed if skeletons in their closets are revealed.
"Truth is always very important for a democracy and the future, and everything that has to do with truth must be revealed," Anastasios Yannoulatos, the Orthodox archbishop of Albania, said in an interview on Friday.
"And don't forget that those in the leadership, they did not get there suddenly," he said, hinting at their involvement in the communist past. "They were born here and were here even before 1990. That means they were born in another atmosphere, another ideological environment."
Ngjela accused Prime Minister Berisha of having denounced people during his time as a Communist Party official. In the interview, Berisha denied that he or any member of his cabinet had any secret police links and added anyone who did should not be in his government.
Another question surrounds the completeness of the secret service records, with government officials and outside experts saying parts have already been destroyed. In addition to the hand-written main files, an additional register exists with names of informants, code names and how long they served, the former Sigurimi official said.
"No one would be able to find out exactly what these people had done," he said. "Anyway, society should not penalise these people today. Many of these people made a contribution to their homeland."
Elsa Ballauri, executive director of the Albanian Human Rights Group, expressed disappointment civil society was not paying more attention to the issue, but said she expected the parliament to pass some sort of law. "I don't know how much of it will be implemented," she added.
Afghan governor dies in blast near Kabul
KABUL: An Afghan provincial governor and former cabinet minister was among four people killed in a bomb blast near Kabul on Saturday, police said. Taliban insurgents later claimed responsibility.
Logar governor Abdullah Wardak, a commander of one of the armed factions that helped U.S. troops overthrow the hardline Islamist Taliban in 2001, died on a dirt road outside his home in Paghman, 20 km (12 miles) west of the capital.
Police gave varying accounts of the attack. Senior Kabul police officer Ali Shah Paktiawal said Wardak was killed when a remote-controlled device was detonated next to his car.
Earlier, Logar police chief Ghulam Mustafa Mohseni said Wardak had been killed in a suicide attack.
"The governor was leaving his house for the office," Mohseni told Reuters by telephone from Logar.
"The suicide bomber was waiting near his residence. As the governor came out with his driver, he was targeted and killed."
Mohseni had no further details.
Paktiawal told Reuters that Wardak's driver and two of his bodyguards were also killed in the blast, which he said was the work of "Afghanistan's enemies", a term often used by officials to describe Taliban insurgents and other militants.
A statement on the Taliban's Web site said they had carried out the attack, using a remote-controlled bomb.
After the Taliban's fall from power in late 2001, Wardak served as a government minister under President Hamid Karzai before becoming governor of Logar, where the Taliban and other militants are active.
He is the second provincial governor to be assassinated in recent years. Attacks against politicians, police and civil servants are fairly common in Afghanistan.
Overnight, five rockets landed near a U.N. compound in the western province of Herat but caused no damage, an official said.
That attack came hours after authorities were forced to close the province's only airport briefly after two rockets landed on its perimeter, again without causing casualties or damage, officials said.
German police arrest suspected al Qaeda supporter
BERLIN: German police have arrested a 30-year old Turk suspected of having collected money and equipment for al Qaeda, prosecutors said on Saturday.
Germany's federal prosecutor's office said Oemer Oe., who was arrested on Friday, had also tried to recruit militants to al Qaeda training camps since 2006.
The 30-year-old had worked on the orders of Aleem N., a German of Pakistani origin, who was arrested in February and has been charged with "membership in a foreign terrorist organisation and "offences against foreign trade legislation".
"(Oemer Oe.) is accused of collecting cash and equipment in Germany for al Qaeda fighters from the beginning of 2005 until the beginning of 2007, on the orders of ... Aleem N.," the prosecutor's office said in a statement.
Aleem N. had handed over the items, which included a bullet-proof vest and a laptop, to al Qaeda officials in the Afghan-Pakistani border region, the office said.
Oemer Oe. had stayed in an al Qaeda training camp in 2006, the prosecutor's office said.
Taliban executions still haunt Afghan soccer field
KABUL: The grass has grown in Kabul's soccer stadium where the Taliban used to stage public executions, but few Afghans dare visit in the evenings, believing that the souls of the victims still roam the sprawling grounds.
"Too much blood has flown here," says Mohammad Nasim as he mowed the lush green grass in the stadium under a warm afternoon sun, a little oasis ringed by brown hills away from the bustle of the street.
The goalposts, where the black-turbaned Taliban used to force convicts to kneel before executing them or from which they hung the severed arms or legs of thieves for all to see, have been given a fresh coat of white paint.
New portraits of Afghanistan's leaders, including late King Zahir Shah, President Hamid Karzai, anti-Taliban hero Ahmad Shah Masood and the country's latest star, Olympic taekwondo bronze medallist Rohallah Nikpai, hang from the empty stands.
The Afghanistan Olympic Committee has set up its office in the stadium's red building and there are pictures of Nikpai, the country's first Olympic medal winner, being feted.
But try as they might, few Afghans can put behind them the brutality of the Taliban years when men, and sometimes cowering women in their pale blue, all-enveloping burqas, were brought into the stadium to be either stoned or shot dead at close range.
Others had limbs amputated for crimes ranging from robbery to adultery and murder.
The stands would be full of people, including children, either coming of their own volition or brought in to witness how the Taliban enforced its version of justice.
"Now nobody comes here in the evening, even we don't go inside," says Nabeel Qari, a young guard at the entrance to the stadium. "Everyone believes the place is haunted, that the souls of the dead people are not at rest even now."
BODIES FLUNG INTO VANS
The Taliban also executed convicts in a huge open ground across the street from the stadium, where they would bring them in the back of open-topped vans, shoot them in the head at close range and fling the bodies back in the vans.
Nasim said he saw two of his relatives shot dead and another hanged in the soccer stadium for possessing arms that a Taliban court concluded in a summary trial were intended to be used against them.
He remembers people streaming into the stadium to watch the executions. It was usually over within minutes, with the men lined up near the soccer field's penalty spot and shot, blood oozing out as they slumped to the ground.
Some people shouted Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest) from the stands as they watched.
"My relatives were innocent, like so many others who died here," Nasim said.
So much blood has been spilled on the football field and seeped into the soil below that Nasim says a previous attempt to grow grass there failed.
Then the Afghan government asked the company that he worked for to redevelop the stadium in a project costing about $50,000 (27,940 pounds). The soil was dug up to a depth of half a meter and replaced.
"We put a new layer of soil so that players would not be stepping on to the blood of so many people," Nasim said.
Last month his team worked overtime to make sure the grass was freshly watered and the stadium spruced up for taekwondo star Nikpai's welcome party.
"We are working hard to ensure this again becomes a good place for sports," Nasim says.
OFF THE CHARTS
Are you better off? Check the misery index
The index is the sum of the U.S. unemployment rate and the inflation rate over the preceding 12 months. In normal times, the two indexes are likely to move in different directions, with inflation easing when unemployment rises, and climbing as the economy gets stronger and unemployment ebbs.
Before the administration of President George W. Bush, there were only three presidential terms in which the misery index rose at least four percentage points over a 12-month span. In each case, the incumbent party lost the following election. The third was Carter's term, when the combination of soaring oil prices and recession caused the misery index to peak at 21.9 percent. Ronald Reagan asked voters, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" and won.
During the past 13 presidential election campaigns, from 1956 through 2004, both the short- and long-term changes in the misery index showed the economy was improving in four campaigns - 1964, 1984, 1988 and 1996 - and worsening in four others -1960, 1968, 1980 and 1992. The incumbents held on when the signal was positive and lost when it was negative.
Carter guides All Blacks to Tri-Nations title
BRISBANE, Australia: Daniel Carter scored the match-sealing try and kicked four conversions Saturday to guide New Zealand to a 28-24 win over Australia and a fourth consecutive Tri-Nations title.
The All Blacks, who entered the series-deciding match a competition point ahead of Australia, trailed by 10 points with 30 minutes remaining before scoring three tries in 17 minutes to build an 11-point lead.
Replacement scrumhalf Piri Weepu darted over in the 62nd minute, running onto a Sitiveni Sivivatu pass from the ground, to put New Zealand back in front after prop Tony Woodcock had scampered 20 meters down the touchline to score in the 50th to close the gap.
Carter converted both from the sideline as the All Blacks took a 21-17 lead.
Playing at inside center after Stephen Donald came on at flyhalf to give him more space, Carter then bounced off Ryan Cross's tackle near the line to extend the margin to 28-17.
Cross dragged three tacklers over in the 77th minute in a powerful, solo burst and Matt Giteau converted to cut the margin to four points and set up a frantic last two minutes.
The Australians attacked desperately and again made it into the New Zealand quarter but fittingly, it was New Zealand's defense that held firm.
"I'm elated with what the guys have done," New Zealand coach Graham Henry said. "It's probably the sweetest victory we've had."
It was New Zealand's ninth Tri-Nations title since the competition was launched in 1996 and sealed its sixth consecutive Bledisloe Cup series win over Australia.
Australia captain Stirling Mortlock, playing out of position at inside center, said the New Zealanders made the most of their chances.
"They took advantage of their opportunities significantly better than we did. That was the difference," he said. "The majority of our tries we worked pretty hard for. Their tries, both that got them back into the lead, were quite soft, defensive lapses. That got their tails up."
Despite having only one-third of possession in the first 30 minutes, the New Zealanders led 7-3 via fullback Mils Muliaina's try in the 13th minute.
The Australians scored twice in five minutes either side of halftime. Fullback Cooper dived over in stoppage time to give Australia a 10-7 lead at the break and lock James Horwill crossed in the 45th.
But the momentum swung again when New Zealand, led by backrowers Richie McCaw and Rodney So'oialo, started dominating the breakdown and putting phases together.
Center Conrad Smith passed out wide in the 50th minute to front rower Woodcock, who showed surprising pace to race untouched into the left corner. Carter converted to make it 17-14 with 30 minutes remaining.
Henry, who was reappointed this season in favor of now-Wallaby coach Robbie Deans despite a shock quarterfinal exit in the last World Cup, expected some reprieve from the critics who called for his dismissal after back-to-back losses in July.
Even he had to concede it could have gone the other way.
"I just think we hung in, perhaps outlasted the Wallabies in the second half — although the last couple of minutes were a bit dicy," said Henry, whose yells from the coach's box would have been drowned out by the capacity 52,328 crowd.
"I was telling them 'keep the ball, keep the ball.' We turned it over with 10 seconds to go and all hell broke loose," he said.
New Zealand finished the Tri-Nations on 19 points, five clear of Australia and nine clear of World Cup winner South Africa.
The All Blacks and Wallabies play another Bledisloe Cup match in Hong Kong on Nov. 1, but New Zealand has already retained that trophy as well by winning two of the first three matches in the four-match series.
The Wallabies could be without No. 8 Wycliff Palu for that match, and five others in Australia's subsequent tour of Europe. Palu left Saturday's game just before halftime with a knee injury, and Deans said Sunday that Palu suffered a grade two medial ligament strain, making him "touch and go" for the tour.
Controversy erupts over Kenya central bank deputy move
NAIROBI: Kenya's central bank was embroiled in more controversy on Saturday over a bid to move a deputy governor in a step she linked to her anti-graft stance.
Critics have often connected the bank with corruption scandals dogging east Africa's largest economy in recent years to the despair of many Kenyans and foreign investors.
To the surprise of local markets and political observers, the central bank's No. 2, Jacinta Mwatela, was told this week she had been made permanent secretary -- the top civil service rank -- in the Ministry of Northern Kenya and Other Arid Lands.
Local media suggested the long-serving bank official was paying the price for her opposition to some shady practices at the bank including dubious money-printing deals.
Mwatela fuelled that impression with a letter, published in newspapers on Saturday, opposing the move as illegal because she had a four-year appointment contract signed by President Mwai Kibaki running until May 12, 2009.
"Kindly clarify to me how I am supposed to perform two high responsibilities since I am currently the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya as duly appointed by His Excellency the President," she said.
"I am now aware of its (the appointment's) revocation," she added in the letter to Francis Muthaura, Kenya's most senior civil servant and permanent secretary of the president's office.
Mwatela was quoted in the Standard newspaper as saying she had opposed a tender to print Kenya shilling notes. "It is very strange that this is what I got when I am trying to protect public resources and insisting we follow the law."
Mwatela told the Nation paper a new tender to international printer De La Rue broke rules on transparency. "The procurement is illegal. It is in conflict with the Procurement Act," said Mwatela, who has been at the bank for three decades.
Neither she nor other bank officials could be reached on Saturday for comment on the case. De La Rue declined to react.
"I don't think we would want to comment on that. It sounds like a local issue," said a spokesman for the firm in Britain.
Kenya's central bank has a history of controversy.
The nation's biggest corruption case "Goldenberg", named for a holding company, saw $1 billion (558 million pounds) in central bank money siphoned off in compensation for bogus mineral exports in the 1990s.
More recently, former central bank governor Andrew Mullei stepped down after being accused of awarding lucrative consultancies to his son. He was acquitted in May 2007.
And this year, activists accused the government of secretly selling a Central Bank-owned luxury hotel at a knock-down price. Kenya's finance minister denied any impropriety but has stepped aside during an official investigation.
Government spokesman Alfred Mutua said media reports that Mwatela's move was illegal because she enjoyed security of tenure at the central bank were wrong.
"Officers employed in the public sector can be removed or deployed to various offices," he said in a statement.
Chile's precocious teens cast aside sexual taboos
SANTIAGO: It is just after 5 p.m. in what was once one of Latin America's most sexually conservative countries, and the youth of Chile are bumping and grinding to a reggaetón beat. At the Bar Urbano disco, boys and girls aged 14 to 18 are stripping off their shirts.
The place is a tangle of lips and tongues and hands. About 800 teenagers sway and bounce to lyrics imploring them to "Poncea! Poncea!": to make out with as many people as they can.
And make out they do - with stranger after stranger, vying for the honor of being known as the "ponceo," the one who pairs up the most.
Chile, long considered to have among the most traditional social mores in South America, is crashing headlong against that reputation with its precocious teenagers. Chile's youth are living in a period of sexual exploration that, academics and government officials say, is like nothing the country has witnessed before.
"Chile's youth are clearly having sex earlier and testing the borderlines with their sexual conduct," said Dr. Ramiro Molina, director of the University of Chile's Center for Adolescent Reproductive Medicine and Development.
The sexual awakening is happening through a booming industry for 18-and-under parties and an explosion of Internet connectivity, especially through Web sites like Fotolog.com, where young people trade suggestive photos of one another and organize weekend parties, some of which have drawn more than 4,000 teenagers. The online networks have emboldened teenagers to express themselves in ways that were never customary in Chile's conservative society.
"We are not the children of the dictatorship; we are the children of the democracy," Michele Bravo, 17, said at a recent afternoon party. "There is much more of a rebellious spirit among the young people today. There is much more freedom to explore everything."
The parents and grandparents of today's teenagers fought hard to give them such freedoms and escape the book-burning times of General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship. But in a country that legalized divorce only in 2004 and still has a strict ban on abortion, the feverish sexual exploration of the younger generation is posing new challenges for parents and educators. Sex education in public schools is badly lagging, and pregnancy among girls younger than 15 is on the rise, according to the Health Ministry.
Underlying much of the newfound freedom is an issue that societies the world over are grappling with: the explosion of explicit content and social networks on the Internet.
Chilean society was shaken last year when a video of a 14-year-old girl eagerly performing oral sex on a teenage boy on a Santiago park bench was discovered on a video-hosting Web site. The episode became a national scandal, stirring finger-pointing at the girl's school, at the Internet provider - at everyone, it seemed, but the boys who captured the event on a cellphone and distributed the video. The girl's parents removed her from the school and even tried to change her name.
Chile's stable, market-based economy has helped drive the changes, spurring a boom in consumer spending and credit unprecedented in the country's history. Chile has become Latin American's biggest per-capita consumer of digital technology, including cellphones, cable television and Internet broadband accounts.
Chileans are plugged into the Internet at higher rates than other South Americans, and the highest use is among children 6 to 17. Therein lies a key factor in the country's newfound sexual exploration, said Miguel Arias, a psychologist with another Santiago consulting firm, Divergente.
Fotolog, a photo-sharing network created in the United States, came to this country barely two years ago. Today Chile, which has a population of 16 million, has 4.8 million Fotolog accounts, more than any other country, the company says. Again, children 12 to 17 hold more than 60 percent of the accounts.
Party promoters use Fotolog, as well as MSN Messenger, to organize their weekend gatherings, inviting Fotolog stars - the site's most popular users, based on the number of comments they get - to help publicize the parties and attend as paid VIPs. Many of the teenage partygoers use their online nicknames exclusively.
Arias did a study of the Fotolog phenomenon, scrutinizing the kinds of photos the teenagers are posting, even the angles and distances of the pictures - all of which are part of an "identifiable" language, he said. "The kids of today are expressing their sexuality in erotic ways for the whole world to see," Arias said.
"Before, someone would meet and fall in love and start dating seriously here; at a party today, you meet like three people and make out with all three," said Mario Muñoz, 20, co-owner of Imperio Productions, which organizes some of the larger 18-and-under parties.
"There are very few kids having serious relationships," he said, an observation shared by some doctors trying to reduce teenage pregnancy here.
On a recent Saturday, about 1,500 teenagers piled into the cavernous Cadillac Club, another city-center disco, for Imperio Productions' weekly event. The partygoers lined up at the bar to buy orange Fanta and Sprite.
Not too long ago, Muñoz and his brother Daniel were teenagers attending such parties themselves. Now they defend their parties as good, clean fun. Alcohol is not allowed and cigarettes are not sold, though smoking was widespread among the teenagers at the Cadillac Club. Security guards monitor bathrooms and regularly throw out boys whose groping crosses the line - if the girls complain.
During a break from dancing at the Cadillac Club, Nicole Valenzuela, 14, said: "Everything starts with the kiss. After the kiss follows making out, and after that, penetration and oral sex. That's what's going on, sometimes even in public places."
The parents of most adolescents today never received formal sex education. Chile's first public school programs were put in place at the end of the 1960s. But after the 1973 military coup, the Pinochet government ordered sex education materials destroyed, and moral conservatism took hold. It was not until 20 years later, in 1993, that a new sex curriculum was finally introduced in the schools.
Even so, by 2005, 47 percent of students said they were receiving sex education only once or twice a year, if at all. And now educators say they are struggling to keep up with an avalanche of sexual information and images on the Internet.
"Of course we are not happy with that," said Maria de la Luz Silva, head of the Sexual Education unit of the Education Ministry. She said that the explosion of Internet access has created a "tremendous cultural breach" that is straining the limits of educators, but she added that the ministry was putting in place a new sex-education curriculum this year to better "protect" children.
For now, Chile's teenagers are making decisions on their own.
"This is about being alive," Cynthia Arellano, 14, said after the Bar Urbano party. "It is all about dancing, laughing, changing the words of the songs to something dirty."
And with a slight giggle creeping in, she said, "Well, it's about making out with other boys."
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