Colombian rebels release French journalist

Langois
BOGOTA, Colombia  -- French journalist Romeo Langlois was released by his leftist rebel captors Wednesday, more than a month after he was taken prisoner during a bloody confrontation with an army unit that the video reporter was accompanying.

Members of the International Committee of the Red Cross, former Sen. Piedad Cordoba and a representative of the French government, Jean-Baptiste Chauvin,  were present to take Langlois away from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The release took place in Montanita township in southeast Caqueta province, according to the Press Freedom Foundation.

 Langlois, a 35-year-old freelance reporter for Le Figaro newspaper and France 24 cable channel, was released by the 15th Front of the FARC not far from where he was taken prisoner April 28 after suffering a bullet  wound in an arm. He had accompanied an army unit deployed to destroy illicit coca crops, the base material for cocaine.

TV images of Langlois after his release showed him thin and with his left arm bandaged, but in apparently good condition.

Four soldiers were killed and four wounded in the seven-hour battle that led to Langlois' capture. Three rebels were killed, according to a rebel commander speaking on a video released after Langlois’ capture. The commander described the reporter as a “prisoner of war.”

The FARC in April released its last 10 military hostages, some of whom had been held as long as 14 years. The group said previously that it was giving up political kidnappings, although it has not promised to not take civilians hostage.

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-- Chris Kraul

Photo: French Journalist Romeo Langlois looks out from a Red Cross vehicle after being  handed over by Colombian rebels on May 30.   Credit: Fernando Vergara / Associated Press

 


Gay marriage: Where it's legal around the world

Gayrightsmap

Gay marriage is still illegal in much of the United States, where President Obama this week made public his support for allowing same-sex couples to wed.

It also remains rare around the world, as the above map from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Assn. shows. (Double-click on the map to see a larger image.) Rather than the right to nuptials, gay people face years in prison in much of Africa and the Middle East.

To read more about what it's like to be gay in nations ranging from Ireland to South Africa, delve into some of our most compelling past stories about gay rights around the world:

Indian prince is out but not down

Egypt dissident a double outsider

In a hyper-macho Irish sport, a coming out

South Korean actor throws open closet door

Mexico City hosts nation's first gay marriages

An online 'Arab Spring' for region's gays and lesbians

In South Africa's black townships, being gay can be fatal

— Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Image: World map of lesbian and gay rights around the world, including marriage rights. Credit: The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Assn.


Peru miners rescued; kidnappers hold gas-field workers

  Peruvian president and rescued miners

LIMA, Peru -- Nine Peruvian miners trapped for six days in the collapse of a copper mine were rescued Wednesday, most walking out under their own power and wearing sunglasses against the light.

"Mission accomplished!" proclaimed President Ollanta Humala after the rescue at the mine in the southern region of Ica. Humala had flown to the zone the day before to oversee the rescue operation.

Rescuers were able to communicate with the trapped miners with a hose they lowered into the pit. It was also used to send oxygen, liquid nourishment and medicines.

The mine was not operating with proper permits, and Humala said the cave-in underscored the dangers faced by so-called informal  miners. Illegal mining, said to produce as much as $2 billion in metals annually, also does terrible damage to the environment and public health, his government has said.

Wednesday's rescue echoed the 2010 evacuation of 33 Chilean miners who had been entombed half a mile below ground for more than two months.

But as Peruvians celebrated the good news, another crisis was still playing out.

In the Andean region of Cuzco, 36 workers for gas-extracting companies have been kidnapped by guerrillas from the resurgent Shining Path group, officials from the firms said Wednesday. They have been held at least two days, and on Wednesday the government declared a 60-day state of emergency for the zone, which makes it easier for the army to deploy.

An estimated 550 army and police troops have fanned out through the area in search of Shining Path camps.

About 30 heavily armed guerrillas burst into three hotels and seized 39 workers. Three were released.

Shining Path emerged in the late 1970s as a Maoist faction aimed at toppling the Peruvian government. It was largely wiped out in the last two decades but has recently made a comeback, including being involved in drug trafficking.

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-- Adriana Leon

Photo: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, center, waves alongside nine miners rescued in the Ica region. Credit: Cris Bouroncle / AFP/Getty Images


Mexico's President Calderon pays first official visit to Cuba

Mexican President Felipe Calderon in Cuba

MEXICO CITY -- Through the decades, Mexico and revolutionary Cuba enjoyed close ties. It was in Mexico in the 1950s that a young Fidel Castro, along with Ernesto "Che" Guevara, plotted the uprising that would eventually take them to power. Mexico remained a bastion of support for Cuba for years.

But after the 2000 election of the first of Mexico's two consecutive presidents from the conservative National Action Party, things began to sour.

On Wednesday, in a long-delayed effort to improve relations between the two governments, Mexican President Felipe Calderon made his first official trip to Havana, where he was to meet with President Raul Castro and a host of other Cuban officials.

The visit is largely symbolic. Calderon has not quite eight months left in office. But it marks an important boost for the Castro government at a time when the island is undergoing extensive economic change.

It also comes on the eve of the regular Summit of the Americas, where Cuba's attendance has once again been barred, this time almost solely by U.S. veto.

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Costa Rican trade attache kidnapped in Venezuela

Costa-rica-ambassador
Costa Rica's trade attache to Venezuela was kidnapped outside his home near Caracas, and his captors demanded ransom for his release, the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry disclosed Monday.

The abduction of Guillermo Cholele as he arrived at his home east of Caracas on Sunday night was at least the third kidnapping of a diplomat in recent months in the violence-plagued Venezuelan capital. Security forces have seen their authority eroded as ailing President Hugo Chavez often has been abroad for medical treatment in Cuba.

Costa Rican Ambassador Nazareth Avendano told a news conference that Cholele was driven away in his embassy vehicle by an unknown number of captors.

A statement issued by the Foreign Ministry in San Jose, the capital, said that the kidnappers had been in contact with the Costa Rican government and that a ransom demand was received but did not specify the sum.

In January, Mexican Ambassador Carlos Pujalte and his wife were kidnapped, and in November Chile's consul in Caracas was shot and wounded in an abduction. The captives were released within hours in both prior incidents.

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-- Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles

Photo: Nazareth Avendano, Costa Rica's ambassador to Venezuela, speaks with the media at her office in Caracas, Venezuela, on Monday about the kidnapping of trade attache Guillermo Cholele. Credit: Fernando Llano / Associated Press


Mexico's President Calderon to make first official trip to Cuba

 Calderon2

REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's conservative President Felipe Calderon will make his first official visit to Cuba next week, a long-delayed effort to improve relations between the two governments.

The Mexican Foreign Ministry notified the Senate that Calderon plans to travel to Cuba, Haiti and then Cartagena, Colombia -- that final stop for the Summit of the Americas to be attended by President Obama and all the countries of the region, except Cuba.

Calderon will be in Havana on April 11 and 12, diplomatic sources said. It is believed he will meet with President Raul Castro but it was unclear whether he would also be received by ailing former leader Fidel Castro.

Mexico and Cuba under Fidel Castro enjoyed friendly ties for years, until the 2000 election of Calderon's conservative National Action Party and then-President Vicente Fox. With Fox at the Mexican helm and deep on a mission to move closer to then-U.S. President George W. Bush, the relationship with Havana suffered one contretemps after another.

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Prince William burned in effigy on Falklands War anniversary

Argentina

Every day on WorldNow, we choose a remarkable photo from around the world. Today we picked this fiery shot from Argentina, which is marking the 30-year anniversary of the Falkland Islands War.

The Falkland Islands are under British control and have been since 1833, but Argentina says it inherited the South Atlantic archipelago from the Spanish crown. Thirty years ago, more than 900 people died in a bloody 74-day war as Britain drove off Argentinian troops who had invaded the islands.

The anniversary has underscored tensions over the islands. Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner railed Monday against the British for maintaining control of the Falklands, calling it "absurd," and has warned Argentinian banks not to lend money to oil exploration projects under discussion there.

PHOTOS: Thirty years ago -- a look back

This striking photo underscores just how tense the anniversary has become: Argentinian leftists protesting near the British Embassy in Buenos Aires are burning an effigy of Prince William, who recently participated in naval exercises near the islands. The demonstrators also burned a British flag.

Britain argues that the Falkland Islanders should decide whose leadership they want. Nearly all of the islanders are British citizens, and they have repeatedly insisted that they want to be British.

Argentina has countered that, under the United Nations charter, self-determination is reserved for “ethnic groups,” not for “spaces illegally occupied by transplanted communities.”  

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-- Andres D'Alessandro in Buenos Aires, Chris Kraul in Bogota and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Members of the leftist Quebracho political group burn an effigy representing Prince William during a demonstration near the British Embassy in Buenos Aires. Credit: Daniel Garcia / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images


25 suspected Anonymous hackers arrested in international sweep

Twenty-five alleged hackers from the freewheeling, decentralized Anonymous protest movement have been arrested across Europe and South America in a massive sweep coordinated by Interpol, an agency based in France that links police around the world.

Suspects arrested in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Spain were believed to have carried out coordinated digital attacks against the Colombian Ministry of Defense, a Chilean electrical company and other targets, the Associated Press reported.

The Spanish national police said Tuesday that they had arrested four “cyberdelinquents” tied to Anonymous, accused of blocking and defacing websites of political parties, institutions and businesses. Authorities seized 25 personal computers, hard drives and other equipment for analysis. Two servers used by the group in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic were blocked.

One of the arrestees, known by the aliases "Thunder" and "Pacotron," was believed to be in charge of the Anonymous infrastructure in Spain and Latin America, Spanish police said.

The Interpol website was down Tuesday evening. Online chatter hinted that Anonymous had carried off a revenge attack, echoing retaliatory hacks in the past when other members were arrested.

“interpol.int seems to be #TangoDown. We can’t say that this surprises us much,” an Anonymous account tweeted.

The loosely linked band of hackers has carried off a number of cyber attacks, many of them with activist aims, such as opposing broad bills against online piracy or supporting the "Arab Spring" protests.

In December, it brought down the Stratfor security think tank server and claimed to have stolen credit card numbers from its clients to nab money for Christmas donations.

Last year, it claimed to have obtained emails, credit card information and other sensitive data from U.S. police websites in retaliation for the arrests of alleged members in the U.S. and Britain.

The year before, it said it had attacked PayPal as part of "Operation Avenge Assange" after PayPal decided to stop processing donations for WikiLeaks, which many of its members admire.

And just a few weeks ago, it posted a 16-minute recording of an FBI conference call with foreign policing agencies about two British teenagers allegedly tied to the hacking group. 

"There are future operations planned in the way of everything from campaign finance reform, to elections, to infosec [information security] and much, much more, stay tuned," an Anonymous activist told the CNET technology news website in an interview Tuesday. "Expect us."

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

 

 


Spanish treasure comes home after 200 years

Coins600

This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

REPORTING FROM MADRID -- One of the world's largest shipwreck treasures is being loaded onto Spanish military planes in Florida on Friday to complete a long-delayed trip home that began more than 200 years ago but was interrupted by war on the high seas and a nasty legal battle over ownership.

The Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes was sunk by British warships off Europe's Atlantic coast in 1804 while on its return from South America. It was carrying more than half a million gold and silver coins back to Spain -- valued today at several hundred million dollars -- along what was once one of the world's most-traveled routes for warships and trade.

In 2007, a U.S. deep-sea diving company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, used underwater robots to locate the long-lost vessel on the ocean floor off Portugal. The company laid claim to the bounty and says it spent more than $2 million to retrieve the precious cargo, the biggest trove of coins ever extracted from the deep sea. The haul was flown back to Florida, where the 17 tons of mostly 18th century silver coins have been kept in warehouses in Sarasota.

But Spain challenged Odyssey Marine's claim to the booty, and won. After a five-year court battle, a U.S. federal judge awarded the treasure to Spain and ordered Odyssey Marine to relinquish it to Spanish authorities by Friday. Spanish archaeologists have been in Florida for several days, inspecting the coins ahead of the transfer.

In a surprise last-ditch effort, another bid for the treasure surfaced Thursday when Peru filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court claiming ownership because the gold and silver coins were mined, refined and minted in the South American nation, then part of the Spanish empire. Peru asked the high court to halt the treasure's flight back to Spain to allow Peruvian lawyers more time to prepare their case. But U.S. courts have previously rejected similar claims by descendants of Peruvian merchants, and the Supreme Court did not indicate when or if it would respond.

The treasure's journey to Spain was set for sometime Friday, the court-appointed deadline, but details and exact timing are shrouded in secrecy for security's sake. U.S. marshals are expected to secure 100 miles of southern Florida highway along which the treasure will be trucked from the Sarasota storage facility to Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base, where two Spanish military C-130 transport planes will ferry it home.

[Updated 10:41 a.m. Feb. 20: Spanish military planes laden with the shipwreck treasure had left Florida as of 10:41 a.m. Friday morning.]

Spain's culture minister has said the treasure will be divided among several national museums.

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-- Lauren Frayer

Photo: A member of the Spanish Culture Ministry's technical crew displays some of the coins found in the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes. Credit: Culture Ministry of Spain


Judge promises probe into Argentina train crash that killed 49

Click here to see more photos.
REPORTING FROM BUENOS AIRES -- An Argentinian federal judge promised to lead an investigation into the causes of a stunning train crash that killed at least 49 people and injured more than 600 Wednesday morning.

No official cause of the accident here had been determined by midday. "We imagine there was a problem with the brakes," Transport Secretary Juan Pablo Schiavi told reporters after federal Judge Claudio Bonadio said he would lead the inquiry.

Operator TBA issued a statement apologizing for the accident and promising to pursue all means of investigation to "promptly clarify" its cause. Several commuters interviewed at the station where the wreck occurred said they were familiar with the line and that it is notorious for its shabby condition.

PHOTOS: Train accident in Buenos Aires

The train that crashed was on the Sarmiento line, which brings commuters from the western regions of Buenos Aires to the center of the capital. It slammed into a barrier at the peak of rush hour. After impact, many cars pancaked or jumped the tracks, killing passengers and people waiting to board.

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