World briefs – December 24

A fuel pipeline exploded in Colombia on Friday, killing 11 people, injuring nearly 90 others, and destroying more than two dozen homes.

Pipeline explosion kills 11 in Columbia

BOGOTA, Colombia — A fuel pipeline exploded in Colombia on Friday, killing 11 people, injuring nearly 90 others, and destroying more than two dozen homes.

The blast before dawn unleashed a ball of fire that ripped through the town of Dosquebradas. Authorities said they were investigating what caused the explosion and suspected it was set off by thieves who may have tapped the pipeline to steal fuel.

Eight people died near the explosion and three others died later at hospitals, said town official Oscar Andres Herrera. He said 88 people were injured, at least five of them severely burned.

President Juan Manuel Santos visited the site of the explosion and promised government assistance to the victims and their families. He said the cause remained unclear but that authorities suspected thieves were to blame.

The explosion sparked a fire that was extinguished Friday morning. The blast and flames destroyed 25 homes and damaged 47 others, Herrera said by phone.

The pipeline, which carries gasoline and diesel, is operated by national oil company Ecopetrol.


Turkish PM fires back at France over genocide bill

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turkey responded to French genocide allegations with a charge of its own Friday, accusing France of committing genocide during its colonial occupation of Algeria.

French lawmakers passed a bill Thursday making it a crime to deny that the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks constitute genocide.

The deepening acrimony between two strategic allies and trading partners could have repercussions far beyond the settling of accounts over some of the bloodiest episodes of the past century.

Turkey was already frustrated by French opposition to its stalled European Union bid, and hopes for Western-backed rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia seem ever more distant ahead of 2015, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian killings.

The bill strikes at the heart of national honour in Turkey, which maintains there was no systematic campaign to kill Armenians and that many Turks also died during the chaotic disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.

The French bill still needs Senate approval, but after it passed the lower house, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan halted bilateral political and economic contacts, suspended military co-operation and ordered his country’s ambassador home for consultations.

Turkey and France worked closely together during NATO’s operation against Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and had been co-ordinating policy on Syria and Afghanistan.


Ukrainian court upholds Tymoshenko jail sentence

KIEV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian court on Friday kept former Premier Yulia Tymoshenko in jail on charges of abuse of office, defying renewed Western pressure to release the country’s top opposition leader.

The Kyiv Appeals Court upheld a lower court’s guilty verdict and seven-year sentence for Tymoshenko, 50, in a decision her top aide called President Viktor Yanukovych’s “personal vengeance.”

Tymoshenko was convicted in October of overstepping her authority while negotiating a natural gas contract with Russia in 2009.

The U.S. and the European Union have sharply criticized Tymoshenko’s imprisonment as politically motivated and demanded her release. The EU this week refused to sign a key partnership deal with Kyiv over the Tymoshenko case.

Yanukovych, Tymoshenko’s longtime foe, said the courts and law enforcement agencies were independent and he would not intervene.

Tymoshenko’s top ally, Oleksandr Turchynov, accused Yanukovych of trying to get rid of his main political rival.


Czech pay last respects to Havel

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — Czechs and world leaders paid emotional tribute to Vaclav Havel on Friday at a pomp-filled funeral ceremony, ending a week of public grief and nostalgia over the death of the dissident playwright who led the 1989 revolution that toppled four decades of communist rule.

Bells tolled from churches while a wailing siren brought the country to a standstill in a minute of silence for the nation’s first democratically-elected president after the nonviolent “Velvet Revolution.”

Havel’s wife Dagmar, family members, friends and leaders from dozens of countries gathered Friday at the towering, gothic St. Vitus Cathedral which overlooks Prague. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron were among some 1,000 mourners who bowed their heads in front of the coffin draped in the Czech colours.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who was Havel’s political archrival, and two friends — Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright — paid tribute to Havel at the cathedral, which dates to the 10th century and has not witnessed a state funeral since 1875.


Indonesian girl swept away by 2004 tsunami reunited with her family

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — A girl who was swept away in the Indian Ocean tsunami seven years ago said Friday she broke down in tears this week after tracking down her parents, who had long lost hope of finding her alive.

The 15-year-old showed up in Aceh province’s hard-hit town of Meulaboh earlier this week, saying that not long after the wave hit she was “adopted” by a woman who called her Wati and forced her to beg, sometimes beating her and keeping her in the streets until 1 a.m.

When the teen stopped bringing in money, she was told, “Go ahead, leave … go find your parents then, they’re in Meulaboh.”

With only patchy memories about her past — she was only 8 when the tsunami hit, an age where most children don’t know their relatives’ full names — Wati began her search, telling people she thought her grandfather was “Ibrahim.”

She met a pedicab driver in Meulaboh, who brought her to a man by that name. Though she didn’t look familiar, he summoned her parents.

“When I saw my mother, I knew it was her,” said the wide-eyed girl, her hair cropped close to her head. “I just knew.”

The family, who say the girl’s original name is Meri Yuranda, is also now convinced.