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Sun., Dec. 26, 2004

Ukrainian high court changes election law on eve of run-off vote

Kiev, Ukraine On the eve of Ukraine’s hotly contested presidential vote, the nation’s highest court on Saturday threw out some of the election law changes aimed at battling fraud, a possible setback for opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

The Constitutional Court ruling poses a last-minute logistical challenge to election officials and could provide grounds for a protracted dispute over the results of the vote – a repeat of a November vote that was thrown out because of fraud.

The ruling came as Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych took a legally required day off from campaigning before today’s vote, and some 12,000 international observers – the largest election monitoring mission ever launched – fanned out across the country.

Today’s vote marks the culmination of a month of upheaval in Ukraine, marked by huge protests in the streets of Kiev by Yushchenko supporters; a Supreme Court ruling that voided Yanukovych’s victory in the Nov. 21 vote; tension between Russia – which backs Yanukovych – and the West, and revelations that Yushchenko, a pro-Western reformer, was poisoned by dioxin.

Saturday’s court decision brought a new twist in the final hours before polls open. The court ruled that amendments allowing people with only certain disabilities to vote at home were unconstitutional, and it ordered that all who were unable to reach polling stations because of a disability or ill health be allowed to vote at home.

Saturday’s ruling could benefit Yanukovych, who pushed for the restrictions to be lifted, saying they would deprive millions of their right to vote.

However, it could also throw an unexpected monkey wrench into his campaign team’s announced plans to help disabled voters reach polling stations. They are considered a key source of backing of Yanukovych because the prime minister raised pensions during his two years in office.

India captures Kashmiri leader

Srinagar, India A Kashmiri guerrilla leader wanted for more than 15 years was captured by Indian paramilitary soldiers and police Saturday during a raid on a militant hideout, an officer said.

Mohammed Shafi Dar was captured in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir state, a security official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Two AK-47 machine-guns and a satellite phone were recovered from him, the officer said.

Dar is the chief commander of the Pakistan-based Tehreek-ul Mujahedeen militant group — one of the smaller rebel organizations waging a separatist war against Indian security forces. He was active in Kashmir for more than 15 years, and a reward of $11,100 was offered for his arrest or killing, the official said.

More than a dozen separatist groups have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence from India or its merger with Pakistan since 1989. More than 66,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Suriname’s ex-leader to be tried

Paramaribo, Suriname Former dictator Desi Bouterse and 25 other suspects will face trial for one of this former Dutch colony’s most notorious crimes, the 1982 killings of 15 government critics, a lawyer said Saturday.

Prosecutors notified Bouterse and the others of the decision last week, said Irwin Kanhai, a lawyer who represents five defendants, including the former dictator.

“The notifications state that my clients will be tried for alleged murder,” Kanhai said.

The decision comes after a four-year investigation into Dec. 8, 1982, killings. The victims – journalists, politicians, lawyers and union officials – were allegedly taken by soldiers to Paramaribo’s Fort Zeelandia and shot one by one. At the time, the military said the activists were killed while fleeing from prison.

The killings prompted an exodus of hundreds of Bouterse opponents to the Netherlands, the former colonial power. Ever since, relatives of the victims have been demanding legal redress.

Bouterse, now an elected parliamentarian in this nation of 450,000 people, seized power in a 1980 coup. His regime stepped down in 1987 to make way for elections, but briefly seized control again through a bloodless coup in 1991.

Lenin sculptor finally gets paid

Bratislava, Slovakia It seemed a planned statue of Russian revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was all but forgotten – except by the artist.

The city of Rimavska Sobota commissioned the sculpture in 1988 – a year before communism fell in the former Czechoslovakia. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the city lost interest in the project.

Tibor Bartfay, however, has not. He has been fighting to be paid for the work he put into producing the sculpture’s model and a court several years ago ordered the city to pay $10,830 for the plaster model, city official Katarina Eliasova said.

The city has made the payment, she said, and this week the council figured out how to incorporate the cost in its accounting books.

The sculpture was never produced and the model sits in a storage room, Eliasova said.

Before 1989, sculptures of Lenin and other Soviet or local communist officials dominated many cities around Slovakia. After communism fell, they were removed and most were destroyed. At least one Lenin statue that once belonged to a former Soviet state has gone on sale on eBay.

Man gives away $35,000 at shelter

Denver Residents of Samaritan House didn’t know what to expect when the bearded, middle-aged man parked his sport utility vehicle in front of the downtown homeless shelter Christmas Eve.

The man walked into the building, pulled out a thick roll of $100 bills and began passing them out to each of the approximately 300 residents.

When he was finished, he had given out $35,000.

“It was like seeing Santa Claus and God all at once,” said William Chengelis, who has lived at the shelter since November. “You hear about stuff like that but you don’t think you’ll be there when it happens.”

As a crowd gathered, the man said he had once been homeless and knew what it was like to be in need. He did not identify himself and said only that he lived in Denver and had also distributed money at a Las Vegas shelter.

Possibly the man’s biggest single donation was $5,000 to a family of six to find housing. Louis Quezada, Tessa Wittner and their four children had been living with Quezada’s parents but were thrown out after an argument. They had been in the shelter several days.

“He asked if he gave us the money, would we get a house with it,” said Quezada, 23. “We said yes.”


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