World briefs – December 22

A huge funeral procession for Iran’s most senior dissident cleric became a show of defiance against the country’s rulers Monday as mourners flashed green protest colours and chanted against the Islamic leadership in Iran’s holy city of Qom.

Funeral turns into opposition march

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A huge funeral procession for Iran’s most senior dissident cleric became a show of defiance against the country’s rulers Monday as mourners flashed green protest colours and chanted against the Islamic leadership in Iran’s holy city of Qom.

The response by authorities was not as punishing as in recent demonstrations — an apparent attempt to avoid bloodshed and chaos during the cortege for one of the patriarchs of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the one-time heir to lead the country.

But the major outpouring for Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri by opposition supporters could signal a restive week ahead. Tens of thousands of demonstrators, if not more, filled the main boulevards in Qom, the hub of Islamic scholarship and study in mostly Shiite Iran.

Iran is marking one of the most important periods on the Shiite religious calendar with ceremonies that draw deeply on themes of martyrdom and sacrifice, which could inspire fresh opposition marches. It culminates on Sunday, the same day mourners will gather for the traditional seven-day memorial for Montazeri’s death.

Opposition leaders have used holidays and other symbolic days in recent months for anti-government rallies. Montazeri, who died of apparent natural causes on Sunday at age 87, had stunned even hard-core protesters with his scathing denunciations of the ruling clerics and their efforts to crush dissent after the disputed presidential election in June.

His open assault on the highest reaches of the Islamic system helped galvanize the opposition and shatter taboos about criticizing the pinnacle of power: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.


Missing girl turns up in the Caribbean

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Her dream of becoming the youngest person to sail solo around the world shattered and under scrutiny over her quest, Dutch teenager Laura Dekker ran away from home — to the Caribbean 8,000 kilometres away.

Two days after she was reported missing, police managed to track the 14-year-old girl down on the island of St. Maarten.

Police and child care authorities were working Monday to uncover how exactly Laura got there and why she fled, as a family spokeswoman speculated that the pressure of a court battle over the attempt had gotten to her.

It remained unclear if she had any plans to use the island, half of which is part of the Netherlands Antilles, as a start point for a sailing voyage.

She made international headlines in August when a court temporarily blocked her bid to set sail alone around the world in her 8-metre yacht Guppy.

If Laura were to get permission to set off on the voyage and successfully complete it, she would break a record set this year by 17-year-old Mike Perham of Britain, who sailed 45,000 kilometres around the world in nine months.


Five arrested in sign theft

WARSAW, Poland — Polish police have recovered the infamous Nazi sign stolen from the former Auschwitz death camp cut into three pieces, and said Monday it appeared to have been taken by common criminals seeking profit.

Five men were arrested late Sunday after the damaged “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Sets You Free”) sign was found near one of their homes in a snowy forest outside Czernikowo, a village near the northern Polish city of Torun, on the other side of the country from the memorial site.

The brazen pre-dawn Friday theft of one of the Holocaust’s most chilling symbols sparked outrage from around the world. Polish leaders launched an intensive search for the five-meter sign that spanned the main gate of the camp in southern Poland where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed during the Second World War.

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