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|September 11-17, 2008
Pakistan may shorten work week
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani government is expected to shorten the working week and close petrol stations on Fridays over high oil prices, a national newspaper said.
Pakistan has seen a 55 percent recent rise in spending on oil imports, mainly due to “higher international prices and increased consumption,” the Dawn newspaper said, adding that Saturday, currently a working day, would be made into the extra day-off.
Friday, as in most Muslim countries, is currently a non-working day in Pakistan.
“An announcement about a five-day week and the closure of petrol pumps for one day is expected this week,” the newspaper said, quoting a senior governmental official.
The plan was developed by Pakistan’s petroleum ministry, which hopes the move will help cut oil consumption by 20 percent, despite the failure of an earlier experiment with five-day working weeks.
The earlier experiment is widely believed to have failed due to the fact that many Pakistanis took advantage of the extra day off to drive out into the countryside to get away from city life. The proposed closure of petrol stations on Friday is designed to combat this trend this time around.
Georgia seeks injunction
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The International Court of Justice in The Hague began hearings into Georgian claims of Russian human-rights violations.
Tbilisi claims that Russian forces and local militias infringed the human rights of Georgian nationals residing in its breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia between 1990 and 2008. It says a systematic campaign against Georgians in the republics has forced more than 300,000 from their homes since 1991.
Georgia is seeking an injunction from the court ordering Moscow to halt “murder” and “forced displacement” in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The court must first decide if it has jurisdiction in the case.
Russia also accuses Georgia of crimes against humanity in connection with its massive air and ground attack on Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, on Aug. 8. Moscow says hundreds of civilians plus a number of its peacekeepers were killed by Georgian forces during the attack. Most residents of South Ossetia have Russian citizenship.
Moscow has threatened to attempt to have Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili tried as a war criminal.
Both Russia and Georgia have been accused by the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch of “indiscriminate attacks” on civilians during the fighting.
The case opened as French President Nicolas Sarkozy led an EU delegation to Moscow. Sarkozy is hoping to persuade Russia to pull its peacekeeping forces out of positions inside Georgia.
Cairo rock fall death toll rises
CAIRO, Egypt — Some 40 hours after massive rocks flattened a densely populated Cairo shanty town, killing at least 37 and injuring more than 50, rescuers cleared the way for bulldozers to move in to the area.
Massive rocks weighing hundreds of tons tumbled down the Muqattam hill onto one of Cairo’s poorest and most densely populated areas.
Rescuers were forced to work with their bare hands and minimal equipment until a route could be cleared through narrow streets to bring the bulldozers and other heavy equipment to the area.
However, rescue workers say that even with the bulldozers it will take days to remove all the rocks and reach any remaining survivors. The death toll is likely to rise.
Some 100,000 people left homeless by the rock fall had to spend the night in the streets despite the government’s earlier pledge to provide them with temporary shelter and compensation.
Britain bagpipe ban
LONDON — The British Foreign Office has decided not to send 40 bagpipers to a military music festival in Moscow in protest over Russia’s actions in Georgia, a foreign office spokesperson said.
The festival to mark the 325th anniversary of the Russian Imperial Guards is scheduled to take place on Sept. 11-14 in central Moscow.
Military bands from the United Kingdom, Austria, Ireland, Scotland, and Canada have been invited to the event. The Scottish bagpipers were due to leave for Russia on Monday, Sept. 8.
However, a spokesperson for the British Foreign Office said that the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers would not be able to attend the Kremlin Zorya festival due to the crisis in relations between Russia and the West over the recent war in Georgia.
Elephant faces heroin withdrawal
BEIJING — Chinese vets have put an Asian elephant who was fed with drugged bananas by animal smugglers through a detox program to cure the animal of his addiction, the Xinhua news agency has reported.
The 4-year-old elephant, known as Big Brother, was illegally captured in 2005 in southwest China by the smugglers, who fed him bananas laced with heroin to keep him under control.
Several months later police arrested the smugglers and freed the elephant, but after monitoring Big Brother noticed repeated signs of distress.
Medics confirmed that the elephant was suffering from drug withdrawal symptoms, and sent it for a three-year detox program in a wild animal protection center in the Hainan province.
The elephant received methadone injections at five times the maximum human dosage. After a year of treatment, the dose was gradually reduced, and the animal recovered from his addiction, the agency said.
The elephant is expected to arrive at a wildlife park in Kunming, the capital of southwest China’s Yunnan province along with three other elephants that had been held by the smugglers.
Evangelicals urge South Park ban
MOSCOW — The Russian Union of Evangelical Christians said it had requested Russian prosecutors to open a criminal investigation against a TV channel that broadcasts the popular South Park cartoons.
The group’s leader, Konstantin Bendas, urged the prosecutors to ban the popular animated comedy series on the grounds that it contains “covert and overt propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia as norms of sexual life.”
The Russian adult-oriented cartoon network “2x2” which airs the show, faced similar accusations in March 2008, when Russian Protestant leaders submitted a request to the Prosecutor General’s Office asking for the channel’s license to be revoked, saying it “promotes immorality and violence.”
Gas explosion kills miners
BEIJING — At least 23 miners were killed in a gas explosion that hit a coal mine in northeast China, the country’s Xinhua news agency said.
Rescuers are carrying out a search operation for another four missing miners, believed trapped in the mine in Fuxin, Liaoning Province.
China’s mining industry is considered one of the world’s most dangerous with accidents killing up to 7,000 workers annually. A major gas blast at Liaoning’s Sunjiawan mine in February 2005 killed more than 200 miners, making it the worst mining tragedy in China for at least 15 years.
Kim Jong Il may be ill
PYONGYANG — North Korean leader Kim Jong Il failed to appear at a military parade marking the nuclear-armed communist state’s 60th anniversary, and a U.S. intelligence official said Kim appeared to be seriously ill and might have had a stroke.
Kim has ruled North Korea since his father died in 1994, and his incapacity would raise significant worries about the country’s stability and the future of already-troubled diplomatic efforts to eliminate its nuclear weapons cache.
His failure to appear at the parade in Pyongyang was highly unusual given the event’s importance, U.S. officials and North Korea-watchers said. Kim hasn’t appeared in public since mid-August.
Unlike his late father, “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung, the younger Kim hasn’t publicly anointed any of his three sons to succeed him.
Cuba devastated by Gustav, Ike
HAVANA — Hurricane Ike petered out of Cuba, but not before leaving behind between $3 billion and $4 billion in wreckage to homes, agriculture, the electrical grid and public buildings, the United Nations said.
More than 140,000 structures were damaged in the hurricane, Elisabeth Byrs of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said at a news briefing in Geneva.
Hurricane Ike entered Cuba’s eastern coast as a strong Category 3 storm. It swept away houses, roofs, trees, crops and electrical posts throughout the east until it weakened and dipped south back to sea, where it hugged the southern shore for more than a day.
Iraqi lawmakers gridlocked
BAGHDAD — Iraqi lawmakers returned from their summer recess, still gridlocked over the critical law on provincial elections and with no new vote in sight.
A premature vote, warned Ali Adib, of the ruling Dawa Party, could lead to another veto by the Kurdish leadership.
Elections in Iraq’s 18 provinces are seen as crucial for national reconciliation and safeguarding the security gains of recent months. They would be the country’s first since 2005 and would enfranchise many Sunnis who boycotted that round.
But the status of oil-rich, ethnically mixed northern region of Kirkuk has proven contentious. Kurds currently dominate Kirkuk’s political leadership and administration, and a Kurdish victory there in provincial elections could be a step toward that region’s annexation by the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.
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