France to consider bill allowing same-sex marriage

The French Cabinet approved a draft bill legalizing same-sex marriage
PARIS -- French President Francois Hollande delivered on a controversial campaign pledge Wednesday, sending the legislature a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in France, Europe's second-most-populous nation.

Hollande's Cabinet approved the draft "marriage for all" bill, which would give same-sex couples the same legal rights as heterosexual ones, including the ability to adopt children. Lawmakers are set to examine the measure in Parliament in mid-January.

The proposal was declared a historic event by many French media organizations and comes 31 years after the French government refused to recognize medical designations of homosexuality as a mental illness. The new bill was unveiled just hours after voters on the other side of the Atlantic, in the states of Maryland and Maine, approved same-sex-marriage measures.

Hollande hailed the bill as a sign of "progress not only for a few, but for the whole of society."

"It's an important step toward equal rights for all," said Dominique Bertinotti, minister in charge of family issues, as she left the Cabinet meeting Wednesday afternoon. 

"We don't take anything away from heterosexual couples," Bertinotti added. "We enlarge and give the possibility for same-sex couples to have the same rights and, I repeat, the same duties."

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U.S. returns more than 4,000 stolen antiquities to Mexico

MEXICO CITY -- U.S. officials Thursday returned more than 4,000 pieces of stolen and looted pre-Columbian art and artifacts to the Mexican government, the result of 11 investigations. 

The recovery of the items, which include statues, hatchets and pottery, came about in different ways, according to information from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.

In a Montana case, Homeland Security special agents kept tabs on an art dealer who had paid members of the Tarahumara, a tribe in northwestern Mexico, to rob items from ancestral burial caves in Chihuahua’s Copper Canyon area. The idea was to consign the items in a local gallery.

In a 2009 undercover case, agents discovered a Fort Stockton, Texas, resident in possession of 200 artifacts that had gone missing a year earlier from a museum in the Mexican border state of Coahuila.

A couple of copper hatchets were discovered at San Diego International Airport, having arrived from Sweden. At the Chicago Port of Entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers happened upon a Nayarit figurine.

These far-flung discoveries will come as no surprise to Mexican officials and others who follow the widespread illicit trade in Mexican cultural artifacts.

Noah Charney, the founding director of the nonprofit Assn. for Research Into Crimes Against Art, or ARCA, noted last year that Mexico had reported more than 2 million art objects stolen between 1997 and 2010, according to figures from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology.

Charney wrote that the yearly average of stolen items in Mexico surpasses the yearly average in Italy -- the country with the most stolen art reported each year in Europe -- by a factor of five.

The comparison, he added, is probably somewhat flawed, since the Italian pieces tend to be more substantial works and Mexican antiquities “may include fragments or very low-value” items. But the problem is serious enough that the Mexican ambassador to France last year asked for UNESCO to consider strengthening its 1970 Convention on Protection of Cultural Property, which set international standards to help prevent the plunder of precious cultural items.

The return of the Mexican items occurred during a “repatriation ceremony” at the Mexican Consulate in the border city of El Paso.

Tensions over border issues have been running particularly high of late after a number of shootings of Mexicans by U.S. Border Patrol agents. In statements Thursday, officials emphasized the healthy partnership between the two countries, at least when it comes to hunting down and returning stolen art.

Homeland Security Investigations Assistant Director Janice Ayala touted the “teamwork and cooperation” between the countries, while Mexican Consul General Jacob Prado thanked U.S. officials for returning items “which are a part of the cultural heritage and the historical memory of the people of Mexico.”


Mexican union reform effort stays alive -- for now

Mexico's most powerful woman faults working mothers

Former members of Mexico student movement join Televisa talk show

-- Richard Fausset


Son of controversial Mexican politician slain in border town

Son of controversial Mexican politician slainMEXICO CITY -- The son of a controversial Mexican politician was slain under mysterious circumstances in the border state of Coahuila on Wednesday, triggering an outpouring of condolences from the country’s political class as well as speculation about the motives behind the shooting.

The body of Jose Eduardo Moreira Rodriguez was discovered by police late Wednesday on a rural road outside of Ciudad Acuña -- across the Rio Grande from the west Texas town of Del Rio -- shortly after he was reported missing, according to Homero Ramos, the Coahuila state prosecutor.

Moreira, 25, was the oldest son of Humberto Moreira, the former governor of Coahuila and the former president of the Institutional Revolutionary Party. Humberto Moreira quit as head of the national party, known as the PRI, in December after being embroiled in a financial scandal centered on falsified loan requests during his governorship, in which he left the state with more than $3 billion in debts.

His son had been employed as a social programs coordinator for the state government, which is headed up by his uncle, Ruben Moreira. As part of that job, Jose Eduardo Moreira was reportedly known for touring the countryside without bodyguards, according to Mexican news reports.

As a border state, Coahuila has struggled mightily with the drug cartels in recent years, particularly the ruthless paramilitary band known as the Zetas. In some cases, the criminals have sparred with state government forces; in others, they have allegedly collaborated with government employees.

Recently, Coahuila has been the scene of particularly intense clashes between government forces and various outlaw bands after an audacious prison break last month, believed to have been orchestrated by the Zetas gang, in which more than 130 inmates escaped through the front door.

On Wednesday afternoon, state government forces reportedly killed five alleged criminals during a shootout in the Coahuila city of Piedras Negras. That has fueled a theory that the slaying of Jose Eduardo Moreira could have been an act of reprisal against the government.

The administration of outgoing Mexican President Felipe Calderon, while not endorsing this theory, issued a statement Thursday saying it would not tolerate “attempts at intimidation” on the part of criminals.

Ramos, the state prosecutor, said in a news conference Thursday that “no hypothesis will be ruled out” and added that federal police, prosecutors and military personnel were taking part in the investigation.

The finance scandal involving the victim’s father had been viewed as a public relations embarrassment for the PRI during this year's presidential campaign, in which its candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto -- now the president-elect -- promised that the party had turned over a new leaf.

The PRI ran Mexico for most of the 20th century in an authoritarian manner that was often marked by graft and political chicanery.

After leaving public life, Humberto Moreira has remade himself as an entrepreneur, rolling out a line of sugar-free jams and jellies.

“They killed my son Jose Eduardo, a clean young man, a social activist who was dedicated to working with the most humble people of Acuña, Coahuila,” Moreira said in a statement given to the newspaper Mileno.

Peña Nieto, the president-elect, said on his Twitter account that the slaying “should not go unpunished.”

Calderon, the outgoing president, called the slaying “a cowardly assassination.”


In Mexico, the ajolote's fate lies in troubled waters

Mexico declares Yucatan island zone a protected natural reserve

As 'Chavismo' sputters, a charismatic challenger woos Venezuelans

--Richard Fausset. Cecilia Sanchez contributed to this report.

Photo: Jose Eduardo Moreira Rodriguez, who was found shot to death Wednesday. He was the son of a former Mexican governor and political party leader. Credit: Alberto Puente / Associated Press

Iranians shut out of 'World of Warcraft'; U.S. rules cited


TEHRAN -- Iranians have scaled back as their economy is squeezed by Western sanctions, scrimping on meat and cutting down on small luxuries.

But now those pressures have intruded on a world that once seemed safe from geopolitical wrangling:  an online fantasy realm of goblins, dragons and warlocks enjoyed by more than 9 million paying subscribers around the world.

Sanctions by the United States, it seems, have hit "World of Warcraft."

Iranian gamers took to the "World of Warcraft" message board this week, complaining that they had been shut out of the online game. “Well, as if life of an Iranian couldn't get worse, the became completely inaccessible as of today,” one "World of Warcraft" fan wrote in frustration.

Another lamented, “Well we had a good run, Goodbye cruel world ...”

Some speculated that the Iranian government must have shut them down, concerned that the game glorified mythology and violence. But a gaming company employee replied this week that U.S. sanctions were to blame for Iranians getting booted after paying for the game.

Blizzard Entertainment, the U.S. company behind the popular game, “tightened up its procedures to ensure compliance with these laws, and players connecting from the affected nations are restricted from access,” one of its employees explained in an online message to gamers.

The same rules stopped Blizzard from offering refunds, the employee wrote. “We apologize for any inconvenience this causes and will happily lift these restrictions as soon as U.S. law allows.”

The U.S. Treasury Department said it hadn't asked Blizzard to block the game and referred questions about the decision to the company. It said that Blizzard could seek government permission to get Iranians back into online warfare.

“Clearly the focus of our sanctions is not on video games,” U.S. Treasury spokesman John Sullivan said. “We would consider a license request from Blizzard Entertainment should they choose to apply for one.”

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African adoptions raise alarm about safeguards

As Guatemala, China and other adoption hubs have pulled back on foreign adoptions or stopped them altogether, Africa has become the new frontier for adoptions, bolstered by the sight of stars such as Madonna and Angelina Jolie bringing African children into their families.

But the rapidly advancing trend has raised concern that many African countries lack protections to prevent local families from being misled or pressured into giving up children -- the same kind of problem that led other countries, such as Guatemala and Romania, to clamp down on adoptions by foreigners.

Foreign adoptions of African children increased more than fivefold in seven years, even as international adoptions declined worldwide, a new report from the African Child Policy Forum says. Ethiopia is now second only to China in foreign adoptions, according to the most recent available data.

Child-protection groups are alarmed that most of the increase was in African countries that have not signed the Hague Convention, a 1993 agreement meant to prevent children from being abducted or trafficked by setting rules and procedures for cross-border adoptions.

Most African countries lack even basic rules to protect families, a vacuum in which “adoption can become a vast, profit-driven industry with children as the commodity” instead of turning to out-of-country adoption as a last resort for children in need, the report warns.

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