World briefs 09/11/01

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Vietnam cracking down on dissidents, groups say

HANOI, Vietnam -- Vietnamese authorities are targeting Communist Party critics and Buddhists in a new crackdown, religious and human rights groups charged Monday.

The group Human Rights Watch said more than 12 dissidents were detained and interrogated last week in "the largest and most systematic effort to intimidate Vietnamese dissidents in a long time."

On Sept. 5, police in Hanoi detained and interrogated 15 democracy activists, diplomats said.

Vietnam's human rights record has come under increasing international scrutiny recently. Last week in Washington, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would tie future non-humanitarian U.S. aid to improvements in Vietnam's human rights record. The bill is still pending in the Senate.

Court denies damages for widow of smoker

ORLEANS, France -- An appeals court denied a request Monday for damages by the widow of a three-pack-a-day smoker, ruling that it was the state-owned tobacco company's job to make money for the government.

The tobacco company, Seita, "was not unaware of the correlation between smoking and the risk of cancer, notably to the lungs," the court said. But the court said Seita's status as a state-run company did not permit it to "make this information known to the public."

"It's extraordinary," said Francis Caballero, lawyer for Lucette Gourlain, whose 49-year-old husband died of cancer.

"Under the pretext that Seita existed only to bring in taxes for the state, it has no duty to inform?" the lawyer asked rhetorically.

Heavy flooding in India kills at least 48 people

PATNA, India -- Torrential rains triggered severe flooding in eastern India, washing out thousands of villages near India's eastern border with Nepal, officials said Monday. At least 48 people have been killed.

The surging Burhi Gandak and Gandak rivers broke through rows of sandbag embankments early Monday, inundating some 50 villages, said Water Resources Secretary Radha Singh.

At least two people died after being swept away by the surging waters, Singh said. Another suffered a deadly snake bite while wading through waters in search of drier ground.

Forty-five others were killed in weekend floods, mostly in Gopalganj, Darbhanga and Muzaffarpur, officials said.

French finance ministry to probe tax blunder

PARIS -- France's finance ministry is looking into an administrative flub that caused thousands of people to receive secret financial information about other taxpayers.

Finance Minister Laurent Fabius has called on his ministry to file a report by next week explaining how a suspected "sorting error" prompted officials to send confidential tax-related forms to the wrong recipients.

"This is a serious and important mistake, a blunder -- we can't beat around the bush on it," Fabius said Saturday during a visit to Lyon. "It's normal for the government to say it's sorry in such a situation."

Fabius said a "letter of personal regret" will be sent to the taxpayers concerned.

Afghan opposition chief seriously injured

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The symbol of opposition to Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban rulers, Ahmed Shah Massood, was unconscious and in serious condition Monday following a suicide bombing attack, his brother said.

But there were conflicting reports about Massood, 48, with the Russian news agency ITAR-Tass reporting his death.

Massood's brother, Ahmed Wali, said he underwent emergency surgery in Tajikistan to remove shrapnel from his head after the attack by two men posing as journalists.

The loss of Massood would devastate the opposition, a fractured collection of groups who fought each other when they ruled much of Afghanistan for four years until the Taliban took control in September 1996.

-- From wire reports

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