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Legal news from Tuesday, January 31, 2006




Bush defends surveillance, celebrates court confirmations in State of the Union
Bernard Hibbitts on January 31, 2006 10:30 PM ET

[JURIST] President Bush Tuesday evening used the occasion of his 2006 State of the Union address [White House materials] to insist again on the legality of his domestic surveillance program and to celebrate the recent confirmations of two of his nominees to the US Supreme Court. On surveillance, he declared:

It is said that prior to the attacks of September 11th, our government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy. We now know that two of the hijackers in the United States placed telephone calls to al-Qaida operatives overseas. But we did not know about their plans until it was too late. So to prevent another attack – based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute – I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected al-Qaida operatives and affiliates to and from America. Previous presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have – and Federal courts have approved the use of that authority. Appropriate Members of Congress have been kept informed. This terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with al-Qaida, we want to know about it – because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again.
Shifting to consideration of America's cultural and social direction, he observed that many citizens were "discouraged by activist courts that try to redefine marriage", and countered:
A hopeful society depends on courts that deliver equal justice under law. The Supreme Court now has two superb new members, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sam Alito. I thank the Senate for confirming both of them. And I will continue to nominate men and women who understand that judges must be servants of the law, and not legislate from the bench.
Read the full transcript of the State of the Union address, now online from the White House. AP has more.

Before Bush began speaking, Capitol police arrested, handcuffed and removed anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan [AP report] from the Capitol gallery, where she had been sitting as a guest of Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-CA. Police said she was taken into custody for wearing a concealed anti-war T-shirt under her coat and charged with demonstrating in the Capitol building, a misdemeanor offense.





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Supreme Court stays another Florida execution
Joshua Pantesco on January 31, 2006 8:50 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Tuesday ordered a stay on the execution of Florida inmate and convicted murderer Arthur Rutherford [NCADP advocacy letter], who claims that the Florida execution procedure violates Eighth Amendment guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment. The Court will not lift the order until after it decides the case of another Florida death row inmate, Clarence Hill [NCADP advocacy letter], whose execution was similarly stayed last week when the justices granted his petition for certiorari [JURIST report]. Both cases turn on the issue of whether the lethal injection cocktail used by the Florida Department of Corrections violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment where it may not fully anesthetize inmates. AP has more.






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Appeals courts find 'partial-birth' abortion ban unconstitutional
Joshua Pantesco on January 31, 2006 8:13 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Second Circuit and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals ruled [2nd opinion, PDF; 9th opinion, PDF] in two separate decisions Tuesday that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act [text, PDF] is unconstitutional because it does not provide an exception for the health of the mother. The Ninth Circuit struck down the law 3-0 and issued an injunction against its enforcement, while the Second Circuit decided not to issue an injunction following a 2-1 vote, instead soliciting further arguments on the case. Both opinions cited the 2006 US Supreme Court decision in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England [text], decided earlier this month, though Ayotte involved a minor challenging a state abortion parental notification law. A similar Eighth Circuit ruling [JURIST report] was appealed to the Supreme Court [JURIST report] by the Bush administration last September, though certiorari has not yet been granted for that case. AP has more.






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IAEA: documents show Iran seeks nuclear weapons
Joshua Pantesco on January 31, 2006 7:38 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) [official website] said in a report disclosed Tuesday that a set of documents now possessed by Iran is unequivocally intended for use in manufacturing nuclear weapons. The documents, which allegedly explain how "enriched, natural and depleted uranium" is processed "into hemispherical forms," were given to Iran by black market suppliers and turned over to the IAEA during its ongoing investigation [IAEA materials] into Iran's nuclear development programs. The 35-member IAEA board meets Thursday [IAEA press release] to receive the just-disclosed report and to decide whether to refer Iran to the UN Security Council [official website]. AP has more.






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Judge allows $85M settlement for Kentucky clergy sex abuse victims
Joshua Pantesco on January 31, 2006 7:01 PM ET

[JURIST] A judge gave final approval Tuesday to a class action settlement jointly proposed by the Diocese of Covington, KY [official website; Diocese press release] and 361 plaintiffs who alleged they were molested by priests across 75 counties in Kentucky over a 50-year period. The final settlement amount of $85 million was smaller than the estimated settlement of $120 million pre-approved last July [JURIST report], as fewer plaintiffs joined the class than expected. Individual plaintiffs anticipate awards between $5,000 and $450,000, depending on the severity of the abuse suffered. Earlier this month other clergy sex abuse [JURIST news archive] plaintiffs rejected [JURIST report] as too low a settlement offered [JURIST report] by the Boston archdiocese. AP has more.






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E-privacy group sues AT&T for opening database to NSA domestic wiretaps
Joshua Pantesco on January 31, 2006 6:32 PM ET

[JURIST] Digital free speech group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) [advocacy website] has initiated a class-action lawsuit [press release] against AT&T [corporate website] on behalf of California plaintiffs alleging that the company violated their right to privacy as well as several federal statutes when it allowed the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] to use its infrastructure to wiretap US citizens. A December Los Angeles Times article [text] quoted an official source as saying that AT&T had provided the NSA access to a 300 terabyte database that stores caller information on every domestic call placed in the US through their infrastructure. An EFF staff attorney anticipates that the government will intervene on AT&T's behalf to support the controversial NSA warrantless surveillance program [JURIST news archive]. Read the EFF complaint [text, PDF] and the EFF case backgrounder. CNET has more.






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Chile court interrogates ex-Peru president Fujimori as extradition process continues
Andrew Wood on January 31, 2006 4:39 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori [personal website; JURIST news archive] was interrogated for four hours Tuesday as part of Chilean Supreme Court judge Orlando Alvarez's process to determine whether he will recommend his extradition to Peru. Fujimori, who fled to Japan in 2000 following allegations of human rights violations and corruption, was recently barred from running for office in Peru [JURIST report] until the 2011 election. He arrived in Chile last November on his way to start a reelection campaign notwithstanding the ban, but was immediately detained at Peru's request [JURIST report]. Reuters has more.






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UK Commons approves amendments narrowing scope of religious hate bill
Holly Manges Jones on January 31, 2006 4:13 PM ET

[JURIST] Members of the UK House of Commons [official website] Tuesday narrowly backed amendments [official text; JURIST report] to the government's controversial Racial and Religious Hatred Bill [text; BBC Q/A] approved by the UK House of Lords [official website] last year meant to ensure freedom of speech and exclude simple insults and abuse from the list of punishable offenses. The government had urged MPs to reject the amendments, and the vote marks UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's second defeat in Parliament since 1997. The religious hatred bill was written to give followers of all faiths equal protection from incitement to religious hatred. Under the current Public Order Act [text], Jews and Sikhs have protection from faith hate crimes, but not Muslims, Christians, or followers of other religions. The bill is also designed to prohibit extremist Islamic preachers from calling on their members to commit violent acts. Critics of the bill, including politicians, writers and comedians, had urged MPs to accept the Lords amendments [JURIST report]. In Tuesday's debate [Reuters report], UK Home Office Minister Paul Goggins responded to hundreds of protestors [Evening News report] rallying against the bill outside Parliament by saying that the bill is only intended to punish those who "stir up hatred" and is not meant to jeopardize free speech. The amended version of the bill which now applies only to threatening and intentionally offensive hate speech will go on to become law. BBC News has more.






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Alito confirmation prompts mixed reactions
Andrew Wood on January 31, 2006 3:34 PM ET

[JURIST] Tuesday's confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito [JURIST news archive] as the 110th justice of the Supreme Court of the United States has predictably prompted mixed reactions. President Bush congratulated Alito [text] in a statement, once again calling him "a brilliant and fair-minded judge who strictly interprets the Constitution and laws and does not legislate from the bench" and concluding that "...he will make all Americans proud as a Justice on our highest court." A spokesperson for the conservative Family Research Council [advocacy website] hailed the Alito appointment a turning point, putting America on "a course true to our founders' intent." Progressive groups were disappointed, however. The executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) [advocacy website] called the Senate vote "a political appointment railroaded through under extreme protest." Taking an environmental perspective, Earthjustice [official website] said Alito's appointment poses an immediate threat to the protection of America's drinking water, creeks, streams and wetlands. AP has more.






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Washington governor signs gay civil rights legislation
Andrew Wood on January 31, 2006 2:59 PM ET

[JURIST] Washington Governor Christine Gregoire [official website] on Tuesday signed into law the landmark gay civil rights act [HB 2661 text, PDF] which expands the Washington Civil Rights Act to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in housing, lending and employment. Advocates of the bill, which was approved by the Washington House and Senate [JURIST report] last Friday, have been pushing the legislation for nearly 30 years. In signing the bill, the governor said [speech text], "I am proud that finally, after far too many years, the State of Washington has taken an affirmative stand to say to gay and lesbian individuals, moms and dads, sons and daughters, neighbors, co-workers and friends, living in Washington State that they are, like all other people, free to work in an environment absent discrimination." Washington is now the 17th state in the nation with an anti-discrimination law that covers sexual orientation. Seattle's Post-Intelligencer has more.






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Former Wal-Mart executive pleads guilty to fraud, tax charges
Holly Manges Jones on January 31, 2006 1:38 PM ET

[JURIST] An former vice chair of Wal-Mart [corporate website; JURIST news archive] pleaded guilty Tuesday to fraud and tax charges for stealing money, merchandise and gift cards from the store and filing a false tax report. Tom Coughlin was referred to federal prosecutors [JURIST report] by Wal-Mart lawyers after they uncovered $500,000 in losses due to store vouchers that Coughlin used to purchase items and funds he embezzled to pay for the care of his hunting dogs, an upgrade to his truck, and to lease a private hunting area. US District Judge Robert Dawson ordered a presentencing report for Coughlin's case that is expected to take up to 14 weeks to complete. He could face up to 28 years in prison and a $1.35 million fine. Last year, a separate suit brought by Wal-Mart to stop Coughlin's multimillion-dollar retirement agreement was dismissed since the deal indicated that neither side would seek claims against the other, but Wal-Mart said it plans to appeal. AP has more.






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BREAKING NEWS ~ Alito sworn in as Supreme Court justice
Jeannie Shawl on January 31, 2006 1:13 PM ET

[JURIST] AP is reporting that Samuel Alito [JURIST news archive] has been sworn in as the 110th US Supreme Court justice. The private ceremony at the Supreme Court building took place shortly after the US Senate voted to confirm [JURIST report] his nomination Tuesday morning.






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Amnesty report condemns 'disgraceful' US executions of mentally ill
Chris Buell on January 31, 2006 1:13 PM ET

[JURIST] As many as 10 percent of prisoners executed in the US over the past 30 years suffered from some form of mental illness, according to a report [text] issued Tuesday by Amnesty International [advocacy website]. In a call for legal changes in the US that would prevent executions of mentally ill inmates, Amnesty noted that about 10 percent of the current 3,400 prisoners on death row also have some form of mental illness. The US Supreme Court [official website] last year barred the use of the death penalty for minors in Roper v. Simmons [opinion text; JURIST report], and in 2002 prohibited the death penalty for mentally retarded criminals in Atkins v. Virginia [opinion text]. Only Connecticut bans the execution of mentally ill prisoners. Amnesty has a news release on the report.






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Australia to review privacy law
Holly Manges Jones on January 31, 2006 1:02 PM ET

[JURIST] The Australian government said Tuesday that it is planning to review the country's Federal Privacy Act [text] to assess current policies and also technological changes since the act was passed in 1988 that may impact the law's application. Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock [official profile] announced the review [press release] by the Australian Law Reform Commission [official website] and said that situations like the tsunami disaster [JURIST news archive] last year have brought up areas where the current laws need updating since airlines were prohibited from giving information to the Australian government regarding citizens who were possibly in the vicinity of the catastrophe. The attorney general said the privacy review is not connected with the government's ID card proposal [JURIST report], but MP Nicola Roxon [official profile], a member of the Australian Labor Party [official party website], said this would also be an opportune time for a debate on that issue. The Law Reform Commission is expected to report its findings next year. Australia's ABC News has local coverage.






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Two Pitcairn sex offenders appeal convictions
Krystal MacIntyre on January 31, 2006 12:21 PM ET

[JURIST] Two of six men convicted in October 2004 [JURIST report] for committing sex offenses on the small Pacific island of Pitcairn appeared in court Tuesday to appeal their sentences at the Pitcairn Court of Appeal [Wikipedia backgrounder] in Auckland, New Zealand. Lawyers for the two men say they were unaware that they committed a crime because they did not know that British law applied to the residents of Pitcairn Island [government website], which was originally settled by eighteenth-century mutineers from the HMS Bounty. Thirteen men were originally charged in 2004 for committing a wide range of sexual assaults against women and girls over a 30-year period. The appeal hearing is expected to last two weeks. AFP has more.

Previously on JURIST's Paper Chase...






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Myanmar constitution talks adjourned until late 2006
Krystal MacIntyre on January 31, 2006 11:48 AM ET

[JURIST] The ruling military junta in Myanmar [CIA backgrounder] has closed constitutional talks [JURIST report] until late 2006, delegates said Tuesday. The convention to draft a constitution has been held intermittently since 1993, and is the first step on a seven-stage road map aimed at unification, democracy, and free elections for the country. There has been speculation as to when the talks will re-open, with some claiming that talks will not resume until December. Lieutenant General Thein Sein, who chaired the negotiations, has been quoted as saying that the convention will resume towards the end of the year, but did not provide a specific date. Several diplomats in Yangon questioned the legitimacy of the convention, saying that they are disappointed in the junta's lack of progress in implementing government reforms. The National League for Democracy (NLD) [party website] has boycotted the negotiations, demanding the release of their leader and other political prisoners [JURIST report]. AFP has more.






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California Senate passes ban on state-produced news reports
Chris Buell on January 31, 2006 11:42 AM ET

[JURIST] The California Senate [official website] has approved legislation banning state agencies' production of news releases designed to look like objective reports. Senators approved SB 740 [bill summary] by a 21-11 vote. The legislation mirrors a court ruling made last month in which a Superior Court judge ruled that the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger [official website] had to remove state-produced news reports from state websites. The Schwarzenegger administration used such reports to support two proposals to loosen employment laws. Under the legislation, any information provided by the state in video news releases must be "fair and impartial." The federal Government Accountability Office [official website] has previously concluded that similar tactics by the Bush administration with respect to education policies and Medicare [JURIST reports] were illegal. AP has more.






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War crimes trial postponed for former Afghan intelligence chief
Krystal MacIntyre on January 31, 2006 11:33 AM ET

[JURIST] Afghan Judge Abul Basit Bakhitari has postponed the trial of Assadullah Sarwari [TrialWatch profile] for twenty days so that he may hire a lawyer. Sarwari, the former director of Afghanistan's intelligence service, faces charges stemming from his operation under the country's Soviet-supported communist regime [Wikipedia backgrounder] in 1979, where he allegedly killed and tortured regime opponents. Sarwari claims that he has no money to hire a lawyer, and Bakhitari called upon international organizations to provide a lawyer for Sarwari so that the war crimes trial [JURIST report], the first of its kind in Afghanistan, may continue. Xinhuanet has more.






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BREAKING NEWS ~ Senate confirms Samuel Alito to Supreme Court
Jeannie Shawl on January 31, 2006 11:19 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate has approved the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito [JURIST news archive] to serve as an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court by a vote of 58-42 [roll call vote]. Alito will replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who announced her retirement [JURIST report] last July.

12:08 PM ET - Alito will be sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts [JURIST news archive] at a private ceremony later Tuesday. A ceremonial swearing-in will take place at the White House on Wednesday. AP has more.






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HRW slams closed trial for Uzbek rights activist
Krystal MacIntyre on January 31, 2006 10:47 AM ET

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] criticized Uzbek officials for blocking access to the trial of rights activist Mutabar Tojiboeva [RFE/RL report], in a statement [HRW news release] issued Tuesday. Uzbek police have blocked off the court building and set up checkpoints on the roads leading into the town where the trial is taking place. Tojiboeva openly criticized the Uzbekistan [JURIST news archive] government for its role in the Andijan uprising [HRW backgrounder] in May 2005, and gave advice to the businessmen involved in the uprising. He was arrested in October and faces charges of blackmail, embezzlement, and slander. Over the past four months, 151 have been convicted on similar charges in closed trials [JURIST report], which has led to increased criticism of the Uzbek government and questions surrounding the fairness of the trials. Pravda has more.






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Australia court hears constitutional challenge to national security law
Chris Buell on January 31, 2006 10:44 AM ET

[JURIST] Australian anti-terror laws force courts to close off too much information to the public and prevent fair trials, a group of media organizations argued Tuesday before the New South Wales Supreme Court [official website] in the first constitutional challenge to the federal government's anti-terrorism laws. According to a lawyer for the media groups, the National Security Information Act [text] would create chaos in cases as courts attempted to decide the issue of what information could not be publicly released due to security concerns. The groups have challenged the constitutionality [SMH report] of the law because it does not balance national security concerns against the right to a fair trial and improperly intrudes on the division of power between the executive and the judiciary. The challenge is expected to delay proceedings in the trial of Faheem Khalid Lodhi, who faces terror charges [SMH report] for allegedly plotting to bomb various electrical supply and military sites in the country. From Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald has more.






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Saddam defense calls for judge to be sacked
Chris Buell on January 31, 2006 10:25 AM ET

[JURIST] Defense yers for Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] have vowed to continue a boycott [JURIST report] of the former Iraqi leader's trial [JURIST news archive] unless the judge presiding over the trial is removed, one of the defense lawyers said Tuesday. Saleh al-Armuti, one of four defense lawyers representing , challenged the authority of newly-appointed chief judge Ra'uf Rasheed Abdel Rahman [Aljazeera profile] and said that the defense team would not attend a hearing scheduled for Wednesday. Hussein's trial collapsed into confusion [JURIST report] Sunday, resulting in several defendants, including Hussein and his half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti, being removed from the court, and other defendants and defense lawyers walking out of the proceedings. Abdel Rahman has brought a stricter approach to proceedings, vowing to prevent outbursts by defendants and to speed up the trial. Defense lawyers have also called for an apology [Reuters report] from Abdel Rahman before they will return. AFP has more.
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Georgia rebuffs death penalty moratorium proposal
Krystal MacIntyre on January 31, 2006 10:13 AM ET

[JURIST] State officials and politicians in Georgia have indicated that there are no immediate plans to add death penalty [JURIST news archive] reform to the legislative agenda, despite the highly critical Georgia Death Penalty Assessment Report [DOC text; additional materials] released Monday by the American Bar Association (ABA) [association website]. The assessment pointed out several flaws in the current system and recommended a moratorium [JURIST report] on all death penalty trials until the problems are fixed, but so far there does not seem to be support for imposing a moratorium from either the governor or candidates in the gubernatorial election. The ABA also called on Georgia to guarantee convicted murderers access to an attorney at habeas corpus appeals, but state Senate leaders say the move would be far too expensive. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has more.






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Trial opens for Madrid bombing suspect
Chris Buell on January 31, 2006 10:05 AM ET

[JURIST] A suspected mastermind of the 2004 Madrid bombings [JURIST news archive] appeared in an Italian court Tuesday for an initial hearing as his trial on terror charges begins. Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed [CBC profile], along with an alleged accomplice, faces charges of subversive association aimed at international terrorism, a new charge introduced in Italy following the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the US. The start of trial appeared in doubt after Ahmed's lawyer did not appear, but Judge Luigi Cerqua appointed another lawyer to represent Ahmed during the initial hearing. Italian prosecutors have alleged [JURIST report] that Ahmed, an Egyptian, helped orchestrate the Madrid attacks and later sought to recruit more extremists in Milan, where he was arrested [JURIST report] three months after the bombings. AP has more. AGI has local coverage.






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Iran says no legal basis for Security Council recourse
Jeannie Shawl on January 31, 2006 8:44 AM ET

[JURIST] Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran [official website], said Tuesday that there is no legal basis for efforts to refer Iran [JURIST report] to the UN Security Council [official website]. In an interview with the semi-official ISNA [media website], Aghazadeh said that the five permanent members of the Security Council, who agreed Tuesday that the International Atomic Energy Agency [official website] should report the situation of Iran's nuclear enrichment program [IAEA materials] to the Council, would face difficulties with the move because "there is no legal basis to refer Iran's case to the Security Council." Iran decided last month to resume its nuclear research program [JURIST report] prompting an emergency IAEA meeting Thursday after diplomatic attempts to resolve the situation failed [JURIST report]. Reuters has more.






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BREAKING NEWS ~ MLK widow Coretta Scott King dies
Bernard Hibbitts on January 31, 2006 7:42 AM ET

[JURIST] Wire services are reporting that Coretta Scott King [King Center profile], wife of the late US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and a key figure in the civil rights movement herself, has died. She was 78, and had been hospitalized since August after suffering a stroke. After the assassination of her husband in 1968 she established the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change [advocacy website] in Atlanta as a memorial to his legacy led a campaign to have his birthday commemorated a national holiday. ABC News has more.






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International brief ~ Big Five agree to send Iran to Security Council
D. Wes Rist on January 31, 2006 4:36 AM ET

[JURIST] Leading Tuesday's international brief, the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council [official website] have agreed to present the issue of Iran's nuclear enrichment program to the Council following a report by International Atomic Energy Agency [official website; materials on Iran] due to be released in March. The move stops just short of a formal referral to the Security Council, a move which Iranian leaders threatened would result in the country's production of enriched uranium [JURIST report]. The IAEA is scheduled to hold a special meeting [IAEA advisory] Thursday concerning Iran's plans for enriching uranium. The Security Council has the ability to impose mandatory sanctions on any nation deemed to be a threat to international peace and security. JURIST's Paper Chase has continuing coverage of Iran [JURIST news archive]. The Telegraph has more.

In other international news ...

  • King Gyanendra [official profile] of Nepal [government website] has published the annual report by the country's Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) [government website]. The agency is designed to examine political leadership and report on unacceptable abuses of position and power in the civil government. Under the Nepali Constitution [official text], the Parliament is tasked with publishing the report each year. Following the dismissal of elected government [JURIST report] by the King almost exactly one year ago, King Gyanendra published the report himself in the absence of a parliament. JURIST's Paper Chase has continuing coverage of Nepal [JURIST news archive]. NepalNews.com has local coverage.

  • The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) [CIA backgrounder] and Sudan [government website] have reportedly signed a UN-sponsored agreement that will allow nearly 20,000 refugees from the neighboring countries to freely cross national borders and return home. The agreement gives 13,000 Sudanese citizens in the DRC and nearly 7,000 DRC citizens in Sudan the ability to return to their homes after fleeing violence and conflict. Some of the DRC citizens have been in Sudan since the 1960 DRC struggle for independence from Belgium. The deal has no impact on the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons who are still within their country's borders but have been forced out of their homes. JURIST's Paper Chase has continuing coverage of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan [JURIST news archives]. The Sudan Tribune has local coverage.





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