French senate approves retirement bill
PARIS — The French Senate, pushed into an early vote, approved on Friday a hotly contested bill raising the retirement age to 62, hours after riot police forced the reopening of a strategic refinery to help halt growing fuel shortages amid nationwide strikes and protests.
In tense balloting after 140 hours of debate, the Senate voted 177-153 for the pension reform. The measure is expected to win final formal approval by both houses of parliament next week.
President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative government, keen to get the measure passed and quell increasingly radicalized protests, cut short the debate and voting process using a special procedure. Critics on the left dubbed the use of Article 44-3 of the Constitution a denial of democracy.
The tough stance by the government extended to strikes as French riot police forced a strategic refinery to reopen Friday, aiming to halt growing fuel shortages that have emptied gas pumps around the country and risked hurting industry.
The refinery at Grandpuits had been a bastion of resistance to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s bid to raise the retirement age to 62.
Despite the government’s efforts to conquer union resistance, the prime minister said it will take several more days to end gasoline shortages that are taking a toll on France’s economy.
Cholera outbreak kills 142 in Haiti
ST. MARC, Haiti — At least 142 people have died in a cholera outbreak, and aid groups are rushing in medicine and other supplies Friday to combat Haiti’s deadliest health problem since its devastating earthquake.
The outbreak in the rural Artibonite region, which hosts thousands of quake refugees, raised fears of an epidemic spreading to squalid tarp cities, where homeless quake survivors are vulnerable to disease because of poor sanitation.
“We have been afraid of this since the earthquake,” said Robin Mahfood, president of Food for the Poor, which was preparing to fly in donations of antibiotics, dehydration salts and other supplies.
Many of the sick have converged on St. Nicholas hospital in the seaside city of St. Marc, where hundreds of dehydrated patients lay on blankets in a parking lot with IVs in their arms as they waited for treatment.
Health Ministry director Gabriel Thimothe said laboratory tests confirmed that the illness is cholera.
He said Friday that 142 people have died and more than 1,000 infected people were hospitalized.
Pentagon braces for Iraq war leak
LONDON — The WikiLeaks website appears close to releasing what the Pentagon fears is the largest cache of secret U.S. documents in history — hundreds of thousands of intelligence reports compiled after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
U.S. officials said Friday they were racing to contain the damage from the imminent release, while NATO top official told reporters he feared that lives could be put at risk by the mammoth disclosure.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said any release would create “a very unfortunate situation.”
“I can’t comment on the details of the exact impact on security but in general I can tell you that such leaks … may have a very negative security impact for people involved,” he told reporters Friday in Berlin following a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
A team of more than a hundred analysts from across the U.S. military, lead by the Defence Intelligence Agency, has been combing through the Iraq documents they think will be released in anticipation of the leak.
The task force has informed the U.S. Central Command of some of the names of Iraqis and allies and other information they believe might be released that could present a danger, officials have said, noting that — unlike the WikiLeaks previous disclosure of some 77,000 documents from Afghanistan — in this case they had advance notice that names may be exposed.