World briefs – May 2

Conflicts over land issues in Brazil increased last year, although the number of rural activists killed nationally went down slightly, according to a report released Monday by a watchdog group that tallies land-related threats and murders. The report found that at least two ongoing conflicts could turn into violent conflagrations.

Brazilian conflicts over land are up, but fewer activists were murdered

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Conflicts over land issues in Brazil increased last year, although the number of rural activists killed nationally went down slightly, according to a report released Monday by a watchdog group that tallies land-related threats and murders. The report found that at least two ongoing conflicts could turn into violent conflagrations.

The Catholic Land Pastoral’s survey showed murders connected to land disputes fell from 34 in 2010 to 29 in 2011. Murder attempts also fell, from 55 to 38. In spite of the trend, the number of conflicts nationwide rose from 1,186 to 1,363, and the number of death threats grew from 125 to 347.

In Brazil, killings over land are common and seldom punished, as powerful landowners clash with farmers and others for control of lucrative farming and logging land.

More than 1,150 rural activists have been slain in Brazil over the past 20 years, but fewer than 100 cases have gone to court since 1988, the land pastoral said. Out of those cases, the courts have only found guilty 15 of the men who ordered the killings, and the only one serving time in prison was responsible for the much-publicized 2005 murder of U.S. nun and environmental activist Dorothy Stang.

Prince Harry accepts award for work with wounded veterans

WASHINGTON — Britain’s Prince Harry has accepted an award for his charitable activities on behalf of wounded servicemen during an event in Washington, his first visit to the U.S. capital.

The 27-year-old prince accepted the award Monday from the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think-tank . Earlier in the day, he visited with wounded veterans at the British Ambassador’s Residence.

Harry, who trained as an Apache helicopter military pilot, has worked with a number of charities including Walking with the Wounded, a British charity that retrains and re-educates veterans, as well as Help for Heroes, which helps wounded servicemen and women.

The Atlantic Council’s annual award ceremony is also honouring U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter.

French presidential election winner must catch up on foreign policy

PARIS — On his whirlwind first day since winning the French presidential election, Socialist Francois Hollande was set to embark on a crash course in international politics, with a critical visit to Berlin, an invitation to the White House, and two top summits already on the agenda.

The leftist who has pledged to buck Europe’s austerity trend and NATO’s timetable for Afghanistan has virtually no foreign policy experience, and he will have very little time to catch up before he officially becomes France’s new president on May 15 — and must defend his policies to skeptical foreign leaders who worked with defeated incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.

He acknowledged Monday that his office was in a “transition phase” and that he was still preparing for international meetings, but insisted he would stand by his promises.

“What I said as candidate I will do as president,” he said. But he added, “Now, I am the president of everyone,” not just his supporters on the left.

Hollande has said his first act after the election will be to write a letter to other European leaders calling for a renegotiation of a budget-trimming treaty aimed at bringing the continent’s economies closer together — a stance that puts him at odds with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

CIA foils ‘undetectable’ new al-Qaida underwear bomb plot

WASHINGTON — The CIA thwarted an ambitious plot by al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner using a bomb with a sophisticated new design around the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, U.S. officials said Monday.

The plot involved an upgrade of the underwear bomb that failed to detonate aboard a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas 2009. This new bomb was also designed to be used in a passenger’s underwear, but this time al-Qaida developed a more refined detonation system, U.S. officials said. The FBI is examining the latest bomb to see whether it could have passed through airport security.

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