U.N. human rights body rejects censure of Russia

Thursday, April 17, 2003

GENEVA -- For the second year running, Russia on Wednesday escaped censure by the top United Nations human rights body for alleged violations by its forces in Chechnya.

In a separate action, the 53-nation U.N. Human Rights Commission postponed a vote on Cuba's treatment of political dissidents for 24 hours after a politically charged debate collapsed into procedural wrangling.

On Russia, the commission rejected a resolution submitted by European countries that urged Moscow to tackle abuses including forced disappearances, summary executions and torture. The motion also condemned hostage taking and attacks by Chechen separatists, including last October's seizure of a Moscow theater.

Fifteen commission member countries backed the proposal, including European nations, the United States, Canada and Australia. The 21 opponents included Russia, China, Cuba, Brazil and India. Seventeen nations abstained.

Israelis mark Passover without Iraqi threat

JERUSALEM -- Israelis prepared the ritual Passover dinner Wednesday without the gas masks they carried during the Iraq war, but the holiday brought crushing restrictions for Palestinians.

Freed from the threat of missile attack by the fall of Saddam Hussein, Israelis ushered in the weeklong Jewish holiday, also known as the festival of freedom, while Israel sealed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip for fear of attacks.

Passover -- Pessah in Hebrew -- is more than a religious observance. It also brings families together to commemorate the Jews' Biblical flight from slavery in Egypt. This year, many Jews are making a connection between their forebears' deliverance from Pharaoh's tyranny and the removal of Saddam.

Scientists confirm new virus as SARS cause

LONDON -- Experiments in monkeys have confirmed the identity of the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, the World Health Organization announced Wednesday, an important step toward developing new drugs to combat the disease.

It will also help scientists trace the evolution of the virus and could help them determine whether it jumped from animals to humans, and if so, from which animals. Tests are under way in pigs and poultry to see how susceptible those animals are to SARS.

SARS, which emerged in China in November, has sickened 3,293 people in 22 countries and killed 161.

Scientists have now determined it is caused by a new member of the coronavirus family, so named because a crown shape is seen when the viruses are inspected under a microscope.

Scientists had been almost certain the new form of coronavirus first isolated from sick patients March 21 by the University of Hong Kong was the cause of SARS.

Brazil overcomes fear of economy crashing

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- So much for investor worries that Brazil's first elected leftist president could lead the country into a financial meltdown.

Three-and-a-half months after President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took office, Brazil's currency is staging a strong recovery, bond prices are surging and concerns that the country could default on its massive debt have evaporated.

Even the International Monetary Fund is praising the administration of the former union leader, known popularly as Lula, saying the IMF's $31 billion aid package to Brazil is among its most successful deals ever.

Experts say it is too soon to tell whether Brazil's sluggish economy, South America's largest, is in the midst of a turnaround. Double-digit inflation remains a prime concern for investors, and industry leaders in Sao Paulo state -- Brazil's industrial and financial heart -- expect business to remain flat the rest of this year.

--From wire reports

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