April 25, 2009

Swine flu outbreak hits Mexico

Mexico City schools closed Friday after concerns of a deadly swine flu virus sweeping the nation, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Authorities have suggested wearing masks to help prevent further cases of the virus, and masks were being handed out on street corners and at subway stations by health care workers, the New York Times reported.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon announced extended emergency powers Saturday that may include isolating patients with the virus and canceling public events, the New York Times reported.

The flu strain has killed as many as 68 people, with more than 1,000 cases. The government has encouraged people to stay in their homes by canceling some public events, the New York Times reported.

Many of the people who died were younger people or adults, usually a less-vulnerable group to flu viruses, which has increased concern about the strain, the Dallas Morning News reported.

The World Health Organization met Saturday in Geneva to discuss the strain of swine flu and the possibility of it becoming a wide-scale epidemic, the New York Times reported.

April 18, 2009

American journalist sentenced to prison in Iran

An Iranian court in Tehran sentenced an American journalist to eight years in prison Saturday after she was convicted of spying for the United States, a defense lawyer told Al Jazeera.

Roxana Saberi, 31, has dual nationality in the U.S. and Iran, and has lived in Iran for the past six years. She has been in prison since January, Al Jazeera reported. She was initially arrested on the charge of buying alcohol, but was later accused of working as a reporter without press credentials, the New York Times reported. She was put on trial for spying, however, the prosecutor's office told the New York Times.

Saberi release has been called for by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and both North Dakota senators, New York Times reported. Saberi grew up in Fargo, N.D.

Saberi was working as a freelance journalist at the time of her arrest, Al Jazeera reported. She has previously reported for National Public Radio, Fox News and the BBC. The Iranian government revoked her press credentials in 2006.

April 12, 2009

Polar bear attacks woman in Berlin

A polar bear at the Berlin Zoo attacked a woman Friday when she jumped into the polar bear enclosure during feeding time, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The woman, 32, is in intensive care and is being treated for cuts to her arm, back and legs.

After the woman jumped into the enclosure, a bear swam to her and began biting her. Zoo staff arrived immediately on the scene and started to hit the bear across the nose to get him to stop, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Zoo workers hoisted the woman out with rescue rings, CNN reported.

Police issued the woman a citation for trespassing, CNN reported.

Berlin Zoo biologist Heiner Kloes told the Sydney Morning Herald that the polar bear reacted normally to the situation. He also said that the zoo staff had guns available to shoot the bear if the situation had warranted it.

The Berlin Zoo's polar bear, Knut, is well-known for being the first polar bear born at the zoo in 30 years, CNN reported. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the polar bear that attacked the woman was neither Knut nor his mother.

April 5, 2009

North Korean rocket launch condemned

North Korea was condemned by world leaders for test-firing a long-range rocket Sunday, the Miami Herald reported.

A North Korean news agency said a satellite had successfully been put into orbit circling the Earth, but South Korea and US military said the satellite failed to orbit, the Guardian reported. Debris from the launch fell into the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean.

A meeting of the U.N. Security Council was called Sunday afternoon to discuss a response. The launch violated U.N. Security Council resolution 1718, the Miami Herald reported.

President Barack Obama spoke out against the rocket launch in a speech he gave Sunday in the Czech Republic.

Both China and Russia hoped the situation would be handled calmly, the Guardian reported.

March 28, 2009

Death toll rises after Indonesian dam burst

The search for survivors continued Saturday after a dam burst Friday during heavy rainfall in Cirendeu, Indonesia, USA Today reported.

The flood of water killed at least 77 people. More than 100 are still reported missing.

A 230-foot gash in the dam let loose water, rocks and debris on more than 400 homes, BBC reported.

The dam, built in 1933, had little maintenance work done over the years since it was constructed, experts told BBC.

Aldi Rojadi, 34, whose house was damaged in the disaster, told USA Today he hopes someone will be held accountable for not repairing the dam after multiple reports of leaks over the years.

The government plans to give the victims millions of dollars in aid, the BBC reported.

March 12, 2009

Fifteen killed in German school shooting

A 17-year-old gunman killed 15 people before his own death in Winnenden, Germany, Wednesday in what started as a school shooting and ended as a shoot-out with police, the Guardian reported.

The attacker, identified as Tim Kretschmer, was a former student of the Albertville high school where the attacks took place. He shot and killed nine students and three teachers, most of them female. He also killed a person at a nearby clinic and two passers-by during a shoot-out with police.

Kretschmer was wounded by police in the shoot-out, but apparently took his own life, the New York Times reported.

No motive for the killing had been found by Wednesday night.

A memorial for the tragedy started at the school and in Winnenden had started by Wednesday evening, the New York Times reported.

"This is a day of mourning for the whole of Germany," Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, told the Guardian.

March 7, 2009

Vatican supports excommunications in abortion case

A senior Vatican cleric on Saturday defended the decision of a Brazilian archbishop to excommunicate the doctors and mother of a 9-year-old girl who had an abortion after being raped, the BBC reported.

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re told Italian paper La Stampa that the twins the girl had conceived "had the right to live."

The Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, criticized Friday regional archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho's decision to excommunicate the mother and doctors.

The girl's stepfather has been accused of sexual abuse, the New York Times reported, He is currently in jail.

The girl was discovered to be four months pregnant last week, after she was taken to the hospital for stomach pains.

Abortion is illegal in Brazil, except in cases of rape and if the mother's life is endangered, the New York Times reported.

February 28, 2009

Bangladeshi mass grave found

Bangladesh police discovered a mass grave containing 38 bodies Friday, following the end of a two-day mutiny by border guards, the New York Times reported.

The bodies are thought to be those of officers taken hostage, a Bangladeshi police officer told the New York Times.

The death toll due to the mutiny has risen to more than 75, the Guardian reported. Searches for more bodies are continuing.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised amnesty to the mutineers, but said those responsible for the killings would answer to the law.

Hasina, elected last December, faced the mutiny as her first major test in leading the country, the New York Times reported. She was elected after two years of military rule.

Three days of mourning have been declared by the government following the deaths, the Guardian reported.

February 21, 2009

Australian writer freed from Thai prison

An Australian writer was pardoned by the Thai king after he was sentenced to a three-year jail term for defaming the monarch, BBC reported.

Harry Nicolaides, 41, returned home to Australia Saturday after being sentenced to jail in January.

He was pardoned by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Al Jazeera reported.

Nicolaides self-published a fictional book, Verisimilitude, in 2005 that allegedly slandered the monarchy. Only seven copies of the book were sold, Al Jazeera reported. Nicolaides was sentenced to jail after pleading guilty to lese majeste.

The Australian government had lobbied for Nicolaides' release, BBC reported.

February 10, 2009

China national TV network apologizes for hotel blaze

China's national television network apologized Tuesday for its Beijing fireworks display that lit a luxury hotel on fire and killed a firefighter Monday, the New York Times reported.

The fireworks display, part of the country's Lunar New Year celebration and sponsored by China Central Television, was so powerful that it needed a special permit. The permit was never obtained.

The Mandarin Oriental hotel was still under construction before it burned. It was expected to open in May, and was located in the same housing complex as CCTV's headquarters, the Star Tribune reported.

The New York Times reported that the fire remained largely under-reported in media outlets in China. CCTV's own newscasts did not include images of the burning hotel.

According to a propaganda official's leaked directive, photos and video clips should not be printed or aired with the news, and "comments posting areas should be closed," reported the New York Times.

News of the fire still spread to the general population via cell phones, e-mail and blogs.

February 7, 2009

Australian brushfires continue

At least 35 people were confirmed dead in Australia Sunday due to wildfires sweeping through the state of Victoria, the BBC reported.

About 30,000 firefighters are battling the blaze. The federal government also plans to sent in the army to help control the fires.

The firefighting conditions are some of the worst in Australian history, the BBC reported. Winds are unpredictable and temperatures have reached as high as 117 F.

Victoria's deputy police commissioner, Kieran Walshe, told CNN that some of the fires seem to be caused by people as opposed to natural ignition.

At least 100 homes have been destroyed in the fires. One town, Marysville, is reported to have burned to the ground, BBC said.

Most of the deaths occurred in small towns north of Melbourne.

Firefighters are primarily battling the fires with aircraft, except in areas with houses, CNN reported.

The fires are Australia's worst since 1983, when 75 people were killed.

January 31, 2009

Jailed CIA agent and son accused of spying for Russia

One of the highest-ranking CIA officers convicted of spying is now accused of recruiting his son to continue his work, the New York Times reported.

Harold Nicholson pleaded guilty in 1997 to spying for Russia, and was sentenced to 23 years in federal prison, which he has been in Oregon for the past 12 years. Nicholson and his 24-year-old son, Nathan, are now charged with selling more secrets to Russia since 2006 through jailhouse visits, coded letters and visits overseas. Both men pleaded not guilty Thursday.

The FBI began keeping a closer watch on Nicholson in 2002 after reports that he was trying to recruit fellow inmates to continue his espionage work, British newspaper the Guardian reported. The FBI also kept Nathan under surveillance beginning in 2002, tapping his phone and tracking his movements.

Nathan allegedly received $35,000 from Russia, some of which he gave to family members and the rest of which he kept. Authorities believe Nicholson's value to the Russians was minimal after his conviction, but they continued to pay him in obligation for his past services, the Guardian said.

Officials told the New York Times that the "spy wars" between the U.S. and Russia did not end with the the Cold War.

"The Russians clearly were interested in finding out how he got caught," a government official told the New York Times.

Russian officials declined to comment on the case.