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Archive for Saturday, August 2, 2003

Briefly

August 2, 2003

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West Bank

Protesters demand release of Palestinians

Thousands of protesters rallied Friday in the West Bank to demand the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel. Earlier, Israeli soldiers fired rubber bullets at demonstrators near a disputed security barrier, reportedly injuring at least 11 people.

Conflict about the prisoners and the barrier -- which had its first 90-mile section completed this week -- threatens to block the peace effort. Despite White House summits with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in recent days, progress on the U.S.-backed "road map" has stalled.

The protests, a day after a riot by Palestinian prisoners in an Israeli prison, underscored the growing tensions.

The barrier -- planned to stretch along 370 miles of electric fences, trenches, concrete blocks and coils of razor wire -- is designed to stop Palestinian bombers and gunmen entering Israel. It has infuriated Palestinians because it cuts into the West Bank in some areas.

Belgium

Senate approves new war crimes law

The Belgian Senate gave final approval Friday to a scaled-down war crimes law that the government hopes will repair relations with U.S. officials and preserve Belgium's role as NATO headquarters.

The bill passed by a vote of 39 to 4 with 20 abstentions after easily clearing the lower house Tuesday. It will take effect after it is signed by King Albert II, a formality.

The biggest change is the dropping of the "universal jurisdiction" in the 1993 original, which had resulted in politically embarrassing complaints against President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, among others.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld threatened in June to move NATO headquarters out of Brussels unless the law was scrapped, and Belgium's European Union partners also expressed concern.

Mexico

At least three killed in gunbattle near border

Mexican soldiers used a bazooka to return fire against cars believed to be carrying drug traffickers during a wild predawn battle Friday, killing three suspects, the state attorney general said.

The round struck the sport utility vehicle, burning and destroying it and killing the three, said Tamaulipas Atty. Gen. Francisco Cayuela Villarreal.

The bodies of two other men who had been handcuffed and executed were found later in the morning south of the city, but it was not immediately clear if that was related to the shootout.

Nuevo Laredo, just south of Laredo, Texas, has seen more than 40 murders so far this year, most of them attributed by authorities to drug trafficking disputes.

Germany

Three Germans claim Lindbergh as father

Three children of a German hatmaker claim their father is Charles A. Lindbergh, citing excerpts from more than 100 letters the famous pilot purportedly wrote their mother from 1957 to 1974.

In today's edition of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily, the three described Lindbergh as a dedicated, although infrequent, father who regaled them with stories of his African adventures during visits to their Munich home.

Dyrk and David Hesshaimer and their sister, Astrid Bouteuil, offered no concrete proof.

A member of the Lindbergh family, contacted by Marlene White, executive director of the Anoka, Minn.-based Lindbergh Foundation, declined to comment on the report.

Lindbergh made his groundbreaking solo and nonstop flight across the Atlantic in 1927. He and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, had six children. The oldest, Charles Jr., was kidnapped and murdered in 1932 at 20 months of age.

Paris

Euro Disney hampered by flagging tourism

Mickey Mouse is smiling a lot less in Europe these days.

High debt, lagging tourism revenues, a morose economic picture and French strikes have cast a pall over Mickey's masters at Euro Disney SCA, the operator of two Disney-themed parks outside Paris.

At this time of year, Disneyland Paris should be teeming with European visitors. But thin tourist traffic and an inability to meet bank agreements are making this a summer of discontent for the company that operates it.

Because of unexpectedly low park attendance and hotel occupancy, Euro Disney said Thursday that it didn't expect to meet bank covenants in fiscal 2003 and 2004 -- even though its biggest shareholder, The Walt Disney Co. of Burbank, Calif., had already agreed this year to waive some fees.

If talks toward restructuring its debt fail with banks and Disney, Euro Disney said it wouldn't be able to make regular payments on its debt totaling $1.7 billion.

Brazil

Police evict squatters from vacant hotel

Riot police used tear gas Friday to evict hundreds of squatters who moved into a vacant Sao Paulo hotel two weeks ago amid a wave of property invasions.

Police stormed the hotel near Sao Paulo's center at dawn and sprayed tear gas inside because some of the 200 to 300 squatters resisted and set a small fire on the roof of the building, said state police Col. Luiz Claudio Alves.

Alves said no squatters were injured, but leaders of the Workers Without a Roof Movement that organized the squatter invasion said at least five of their members were injured.

Firefighters quickly put out the fire, Alves said.

The property takeovers in Sao Paulo happened as another group representing Brazil's landless rural poor has increased its invasions of rural land owned by ranchers.

In Brazil, about 90 percent its land is owned by just 20 percent of the country's 170 million people. The poorest 40 percent of the population hold just 1 percent.

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