Iraqi legislators suspended parliamentary sessions Thursday until the end of the month because of the Muslim religious season – the end of much-delayed efforts to pass U.S.-backed legislation aimed at achieving national reconciliation this year.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, meanwhile, welcomed a report from his top commander in Iraq that violence has declined 60 percent in the last six months. But Gates warned that “people are getting impatient” for the Iraqi government to take advantage of improved security and move toward needed political reforms.
The Sunni speaker of parliament announced the decision to suspend sessions after days of debate over a draft bill that would allow thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to return to their government jobs. The measure is among the 18 benchmarks set by the United States to encourage reconciliation.
Child kidnappings surge at year-end
Haiti is witnessing a new spate of child kidnappings, with at least 14 youngsters abducted and one killed in the last five weeks, U.N. and Haitian police said Thursday.
Child kidnappings make up the majority of the 24 abductions reported in an end-of-year surge in the impoverished Caribbean country, U.N. officials said.
Abductions increase at this time of year as Haitian gang members try to raise money to buy Christmas presents, U.N. officials warned.
45 arrested near butterfly habitat
Police raided clandestine sawmills near a threatened nature reserve where Monarch butterflies nest in the winter, arresting 45 people and confiscating enough illegally logged wood to fill 600 heavy trucks, the government said Thursday.
Illegal deforestation in and around the reserve threatens the butterflies, which rely on the forest cover to protect them from the cold, high-altitude winds. Huge numbers of Monarchs died during a cold snap in 2002.
About 600 police and environmental agents raided 19 clandestine sawmills Wednesday in the western state of Michoacan.
Seoul, South Korea
Tons of crude oil spilling off coast
A Hong Kong-registered oil tanker collided with another vessel in seas off South Korea’s west coast today and leaked about 15,000 tons of crude oil, an official with the Maritime and Fisheries Ministry said.
It was believed to be South Korea’s largest offshore oil leak.
The collision left three holes in the 146,000-ton tanker Hebbei Spirit. The leaked oil amounts to 110,000 barrels, the official said.
The tanker was at anchor about five miles off Mallipo beach, carrying about 260,000 tons of crude oil when it was hit by another vessel, the official said.