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Archive for Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Briefly

June 1, 2005

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Paris

New P.M. named after EU charter's failure

President Jacques Chirac booted his prime minister Tuesday and replaced him with the man who was France's chief spokesman against the Iraq war in 2003, Dominique de Villepin. The cabinet shakeup was prompted by angry voters who revolted against a proposed European Union constitution and made clear they wanted changes at the top levels of their government.

De Villepin took over from Jean-Pierre Raffarin in a ceremony at Matignon, the prime minister's official residence. A political protege of the president, he made his international reputation as foreign minister when he led French efforts in the U.N. Security Council to block the invasion of Iraq.

The proposed charter would give more powers to the central European government in Brussels, Belgium, to regulate issues as diverse as foreign policy and real-estate purchases.

In the Netherlands, opinion polls show that voters are likely to follow the French example in a referendum today and reject the constitution, which would likely kill or at least freeze efforts to adopt the document. All 25 member nations of the EU must ratify the charter before it can take effect.

Peru

'Mermaid' baby ready for risky surgery

Peru's bright-eyed "little mermaid" - a baby born with legs fused from her thighs to her ankles - giggled and played on her hospital bed Tuesday, ahead of a delicate operation to begin repairing her rare birth defect.

Thirteen-month-old Milagros Cerron was in prime condition for the surgery, which was to begin at 10 p.m. CDT and last four to six hours, said Dr. Luis Rubio, leader of the team of 11 surgeons who were to perform the operation.

Milagros, whose name means "miracles" in Spanish, was born with a rare congenital defect known as sirenomelia, or "mermaid syndrome," which occurs in one out of every 70,000 births. There are only three known cases of children with the affliction alive in the world today, according to Rubio.

Tuesday night's operation was the first of three complicated surgeries to separate her legs, which are seamlessly fused all the way to her heels. The 11 doctors joining the operation include plastic surgeons, pediatricians and heart specialists.

Nepal

Sherpa sets record for Mount Everest climbs

A Sherpa guide broke his own record and scaled Mount Everest for the 15th time Tuesday, followed by 24 other climbers who also reached the world's highest peak, officials said.

Appa, 48, who like most Sherpas uses only one name, was leading a team of Western mountaineers and other Sherpa guides to the 29,035-foot peak.

Four Australians, three Americans, three Japanese, two Koreans and a British climber, along with Appa and 11 other Nepalese Sherpa guides also stood on the world's highest point Tuesday, the Mountaineering Department said, quoting reports from the mountain.

Appa first climbed Everest in 1989. He last reached the summit in 2004.

Since New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay first reached the summit of Mount Everest on May 29, 1953, more than 1,400 climbers have scaled the peak. About 180 people have died trying.

Thailand

Citizens urged to conserve energy

Thailand's prime minister has asked the country's entire population to turn off their lights for five minutes today as part of an energy-saving campaign.

"On June 1, I would like to call upon all Thais throughout the country to help save energy," Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said in his weekly radio address.

Thaksin said he would lead a televised countdown for switching off lights starting at 8:45 p.m. (8:45 a.m. CDT) today.

Besides turning off unneeded lights, the government also is urging Thais to turn off air conditioners every day during their one-hour lunch break, and to drive at no more than 55 miles an hour.

Energy Minister Wiset Jupibal has said that Thailand could save $29 million a year if every house switched off a light for one hour each day.

Afghanistan

Smugglers evade arrest in raid at 'drugs bazaar'

With scarves hiding some faces and guns at the ready, a new secretive Afghan anti-drug squad zoomed into a desert village as part of a crackdown on the country's booming narcotics trade, authorities said Tuesday.

They seized 2 1/2 tons of opium and 550 pounds of heroin, but hundreds of smugglers sneaked out the back and fled to safety across the Pakistani border just 80 yards away. No one was arrested.

Under fire for not being tough enough on drugs, the government Tuesday showed a video of the weekend raid by dozens of agents, which it said proves it is cracking down on an industry that last year produced nearly 90 percent of the world's opium.

The market in Bahram Shah village in southern Helmand province is used by up to 1,000 drug traffickers every day and is on smuggling routes to Pakistan and Iran.

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