December 29th, 2011
01:34 AM ET

India's upper house tackles anti-graft bill

India's upper house of parliament on Thursday took up a landmark bill to create an independent anti-graft watchdog agency.

The scheduled vote in the Rajya Sabha comes two days after the legislation passed the Lok Sabha or lower house of parliament.

To become law, the anti-corruption bill has to be approved by both chambers with a majority vote.

The legislation proposes a nine-member citizen ombudsman or Lokpal panel that would serve as a watchdog and have the power to prosecute politicians for corruption.

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Filed under: World
December 29th, 2011
01:25 AM ET

China, Uighurs offer different account of deadly shooting

Chinese officials said they killed seven members of the Uighur ethnic group in the restive western region of Xinjiang in order to free two hostages - an account the Uighurs disputed.

The hostages - local villagers looking for their lost sheep in the rural county of Pishan outside of Hotan city– were kidnapped by a group of Uighurs on Wednesday night, said Hou Hanmin, a spokeswoman for the chief of the regional information office in Xinjiang.

The operation to rescue them left one police officer dead and wounded another, he said.

However, Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the Stockholm-based World Uighur Congress, said the shooting did not stem from a rescue operation.

Police opened fire when locals clashed with officers during a demonstration outside the police bureau, he said. The Uighurs were protesting a recent security crackdown in Hotan city.

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Filed under: China • World
December 29th, 2011
01:04 AM ET

Thousands of North Koreans gather for Kim Jong Il memorial

Huge crowds assembled in Pyongyang on Thursday at a national memorial service for the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the second day of state-orchestrated ceremonies to mourn the dictator who died earlier this month.

The authoritarian regime used a mixture of somber music, hyperbolic speeches, booming artillery fire and blaring horns to honor the man who oversaw 17 years of despotic rule in the secretive nation.

The ceremony took place a day after a funeral procession for Kim spent three hours winding through the snow-laden streets of Pyongyang lined with thousands of wailing mourners.

Once again, the regime placed Kim Jong Un, the son and chosen successor of Kim Jong Il, at the center of proceedings, proclaiming him the "supreme leader" of North Korea - a fresh indication that the leadership transition is progressing smoothly.

The footage broadcast Thursday by North Korean state television showed thick rectangular blocks of people gathered in the snowy expanse of Kim Il Sung Square - named after Kim Jong Il's father, the founder of North Korea.

Kim Jong Un and other senior members of the regime stood solemnly on a viewing platform overlooking the square.

During the ceremony, a string of top officials took to the microphone to praise Kim Jong Il's life and reinforce Kim Jong Un's leadership credentials.

"Kim Jong Un is the greatest leader who has inherited Kim Jong Il's beliefs, leadership, courage and guts," said Kim Yong Nam, the president of the North Korean parliament.

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Filed under: North Korea • World
December 29th, 2011
12:54 AM ET

Mother of accused U.S. spy says Iranian charges are false

The mother of an American on trial in Iran denied allegations that her son is a spy for the CIA, saying that anything he confessed to was coerced.

Iranian authorities allege that Amir Mirzaei Hekmati entered the country to infiltrate its intelligence system in order to accuse Iran of involvement in terrorist activities, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

"We are deeply concerned for the fate and well-being of Amir," Hekmati's mother, Behnaz, said in a statement Wednesday. "We are also disturbed by the video and reports coming from the Iranian court that describe Amir admitting to being a spy. It is clear to me and our entire family that Amir is speaking under duress."

The United States also has called the accusations false.

According to Fars, Hekmati told a judge Tuesday that he worked for the CIA and that he was to get paid for delivering information to Iran's intelligence ministry.

He also told the judge he felt he had been duped and that he had planned on not returning to the United States, Fars reported.

Hekmati's mother called the reported admission "totally false."

"It is an indication that he is not speaking freely but being forced to say something that isn't true," she said. "Amir has many financial and business investments in the U.S. and would never walk away from them."

Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine, was arrested in August while visiting his grandmother and other relatives, his family in Michigan said last week.

Up until Wednesday, they had remained quiet about the arrest at the urging of Iranian officials, who promised his release, they said.

"In this environment Amir is a victim," his mother said. "We are convinced that there is a mistake or misunderstanding. We pray and hope he will be allowed to come home soon."

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Filed under: Iran • Justice • U.S. • World
December 29th, 2011
12:11 AM ET

US Embassy pulls its personnel from Afghan media center

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul is withdrawing its personnel from an Afghan media center, saying it is reviewing and reassessing its relationship.

"We have been planning to transition U.S. personnel and assistance, and that process has begun," said a statement posted Wednesday on the embassy website.

"We want to ensure that U.S. support and resources are used efficiently and effectively as the transition takes place."

The statement did not detail why the embassy decided to pull its personnel, who act as advisers to the Government Media and Information Center. The center is responsible for shaping the government's positions and responses to Afghan news issues.

The Washington Post, citing anonymous Afghan and Western officials, reported that the embassy pulled its advisers amid concerns it had become politicized in recent months.

The newspaper reported, according to officials, that there were concerns about how the media center "has been managed and the allocation of resources."

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Filed under: U.S. • World
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