World briefs 5/20/03

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

German leader: America lowering barriers to war

BERLIN -- Germany's president expressed concern Monday that the United States had lowered the threshold for war with its invasion of Iraq.

Johannes Rau urged German and U.S. leaders to repair their bitter rift over Iraq.

But Rau echoed a widespread sentiment in Germany when he questioned U.S. policy in a foreign affairs speech in Berlin.

While war must be allowed as a last resort, "I see the danger that when we speak of 'last resort,' we are actually in a process of getting accustomed, where military intervention and war ultimately become one means among many," Rau said.

WHO: SARS has spread on four airline flights

GENEVA -- Health chiefs from around the globe gathered Monday for the first annual meeting of the World Health Organization since the emergence of the new disease.

As the 10-day meeting got under way, WHO medical experts announced they have determined a total of 16 people became infected with SARS on airplanes, all early in the outbreak before airlines adopted tough screening measures.

"There were 35 flights on which SARS-infected people who were symptomatic with disease traveled," said Dr. David Heymann, WHO's chief of communicable diseases. "We know, however, that on only four of those planes was there actually passage of the disease. We believe that 16 people on four different airplanes got infected."

All 16 cases occurred before March 23.

China Web site operator sentenced for 'subversion'

BEIJING -- A Chinese computer engineer was sentenced to five years in prison for subversion after politically sensitive articles were posted on his Web site, a court official said Monday.

Huang Qi, 40, was sentenced May 9 by the Chengdu Intermediate People's Court in the province of Sichuan, the court official said. Huang spent nearly three years in police custody following his 2000 arrest.

The official refused to discuss other details, including why Huang was detained so long before sentencing. The official also refused to give his name.

-- From wire reports

Also Monday, a Hong Kong-based human rights group said Chinese authorities released a pair of veteran dissidents imprisoned for commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protest.

Striking teachers in France stop students from taking exams

PARIS -- Striking teachers in southern France prevented students from taking part of their high school graduation exams Monday, disrupting the centerpiece of the country's education system.

The action, part of nationwide protests by public sector workers against government pension reform plans, split the union movement and drew angry reactions from government leaders.

Also Monday, about 335,000 public sector workers, including postal and state-owned France Telecom employees, marched through Paris and other French cities Monday to protest plans to reform the retirement system -- in part by making teachers and other public employees work longer to qualify for full pensions.

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