Archive for Friday, December 24, 2004

Briefly - World

December 24, 2004



Cargo ship with supplies heads to space station

A Russian cargo ship blasted off early today carrying badly needed food and equipment for the international space station, where supplies for the American and Russian crew have been dwindling rapidly.

The Progress M-51 took off from the remote Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1:19 a.m. (Moscow time) with about 2.5 tons of food, fuel and research equipment for Russian cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov and U.S. astronaut Leroy Chiao, ITAR-Tass and Interfax news agencies said. It was scheduled to arrive Sunday morning.

Russian and American space officials were alarmed to learn earlier this month that Sharipov and Chiao, in their second month at the station, had gone through much of their food. There was food to last seven to 14 days beyond Christmas if the supply ship did not arrive.

The crew has been ordered to cut back on meals. A Russian Space Agency spokesman has said the two could be forced to return to Earth if the Progress does not reach the station.

New Delhi

Ex-prime minister dies

Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, whose free-market economic reforms in 1991 launched India's shift from a bankrupt nation hobbled by socialist policies into a regional economic power, has died. He was 83.

Rao died Thursday of cardiac arrest at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences hospital where he was admitted Dec. 9 after complaining of shortness of breath, said Chetan Sharma, his aide.

"It's a personal loss to me," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was once Rao's finance minister and his right-hand man in the reforms campaign. "He will be remembered as the father of economic reforms."

Rao's career was overshadowed by accusations that he did little to curb the savage religious violence that tore through India during his 1991-96 term, and by corruption charges leveled against him late in life.

Rao was a lifelong loyalist of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, which produced India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi, both of whom became prime minister.


Japan announces first human bird-flu case

The Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry confirmed Wednesday that one of five people suspected of having been infected with bird flu at a chicken farm in Kyoto Prefecture was the first person discovered to have carried the virus in the country.

Although the ministry said it was "highly likely" that the other four had been infected, it added that none of them displayed symptoms of the disease, and there was no risk of secondary infection.

The ministry thinks the man was infected with the virus because he worked at the farm without wearing protective clothing before the company reported the disease to the government.

Medical experts said that if the bird flu virus mutated, it might lead to the existence of a new type of influenza to which human beings have no immunity, creating serious problems.

Last month, the World Health Organization issued a warning, saying the risk of a new type of flu appearing is the highest in recent years.


Police question suspect in 'Scream' art theft

Police have a suspect in the bold daylight robbery of two Edvard Munch masterpieces, but declined Thursday to say how close they are to finding the priceless missing paintings.

"The Scream" and "Madonna" were stolen Aug. 22 from Oslo's Munch museum by three masked robbers, at least one with a gun. There has been no sign of the works, although the Norwegian news media, citing sources in criminal circles, said "Madonna" might be seriously damaged.

Oslo Assistant Police Chief Iver Stensrud confirmed that a man brought in for questioning Wednesday was a suspect.

The unidentified man was released but remains a suspect, Stensrud said.

The suspect's lawyer, Sverre Naess, said his client had an alibi for the time of the theft.

Naess said police questioned his client about an Audi station wagon that was used in the robbery, and was later abandoned.


Castro walks in public for first time since fall

A smiling Fidel Castro walked in public Thursday for the first time since the 78-year-old Cuban leader fell two months ago, and lawmakers attending a year-end National Assembly meeting gave him a standing ovation.

Castro entered the room on the arm of a uniformed school girl, then walked in front of the gathered lawmakers and up some steps before taking his seat on stage at Havana's Convention Palace.

"Long live Fidel!" a lone deputy shouted, followed by chants of "Long live a free Cuba!"

Castro, 78, made headlines around the globe when he stumbled and fell Oct. 20 in the central city of Santa Clara, shattering his left kneecap and breaking his right arm.

Puerto Rico

New governor backs U.S. territory status

Puerto Rico's congressional envoy who favors the island's status as a U.S. territory narrowly won a recount in the governor's race, election officials announced Thursday.

Anibal Acevedo Vila of the Popular Democratic Party garnered 961,512 votes compared with 958,328 for Pedro Rossello, who was governor in 1993-2001 and favors statehood for the Caribbean island.

Officials said they would not certify the result until next week because about 2,000 votes from three ballot boxes in a San Juan suburb had yet to be counted. The number of votes, however, will not affect the outcome.

Election results from Nov. 2 showed Acevedo Vila with 48.38 percent to 48.18 percent for Rossello, a margin narrow enough to force an automatic recount.

The disputed election deepened bitter divisions in the Caribbean island of 4 million people who have argued for decades about whether to become a U.S. state, remain a U.S. commonwealth or move toward independence.

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