Among other items: New law on Venezuelan airwaves criticized as "gag law"; Tokyo eases ban on exports of weapons; and direct flight from U.S. to Vietnam celebrated.

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The United States will send 100 observers to Ukraine for the Dec. 26 make-up election, mandated after the nation’s top court ruled this week that the Nov. 21 election was illegitimate.

President Bush pressed yesterday for strong international support for free and fair voting. He called Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who helped mediate talks between the government and Viktor Yushchenko, the Western-leaning opposition leader.

Yushchenko contends pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych stole the victory in the first round of voting.

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The U.S. observers will be part of a 960-member team fielded by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, for the new election. The United States will also spend $3 million toward election monitoring.

Opposition protesters lifted their two-week siege of Ukraine’s Stalin-era Cabinet headquarters yesterday, a day after Parliament adopted electoral laws to ensure a fair ballot in the repeat presidential runoff.

Caracas, Venezuela

New law on airwaves criticized as “gag law”

Some Venezuelan television channels began altering their programs yesterday, citing fears of penalties under a new law restricting violence and sexual content over the airwaves.

The law, which took effect yesterday, limits broadcasts deemed to be obscene or violent and details a range of offenses for which the government may fine noncompliant media organizations.

The private TV channel Globovision blocked out photographs of street violence with white space when it displayed the day’s newspapers, filled with coverage of Wednesday riots that police said left at least 56 injured.

President Hugo Chávez and his supporters say they are committed to freedom of expression. They say the changes will ensure more responsible programming and television that is suitable for children and adolescents.

Critics say the law threatens press freedoms and have dubbed it the “gag law.”

Organizations such as the Inter American Commission on Human Rights and Human Rights Watch have expressed concern.

U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said yesterday that the United States is “deeply troubled” by “threats to freedom of expression” posed by the law.

The law distinguishes between news and opinion programming. It also bans “vulgar” language, images of sex and “psychological” or physical violence from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.


Ban on exports of weapons eased

Japan’s government will ease a four-decade ban on weapons exports, part of a new defense plan approved by the government today, which shifts funding to a missile-defense system.

The changes are part of Japan’s first review of military planning since 1995.

Japan imposed its own ban on weapons exports in 1967. That limit, to be eased so Japan can participate in the $50 billion U.S. missile-shield program, restricted Japanese defense contractors to competing only for domestic weapons spending.

The United States and Japan concluded a preliminary agreement for Mitsubishi to supply nose cones, motors and other components for sea-based antimissile systems. Under Japan’s current rules, shipping such equipment abroad would violate the export ban.

San Francisco

Direct flight from U.S. to Vietnam celebrated

With fanfare and an appearance by actor David Hasselhoff, a United Airlines flight headed for Ho Chi Minh City yesterday — the first direct flight from the United States to Vietnam in almost three decades.

The flight, carrying 347 people, is scheduled to arrive in the city formerly known as Saigon today, garnering a coup for United as the only U.S. carrier allowed to land in Vietnam since the end of the war in 1975.

The carrier celebrated the event yesterday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that featured speeches by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Hasselhoff, who, along with his wife, Pamela, traveled to Vietnam for the first time.

Vietnam has one of the fastest-growing economies, according to the Asian Development Bank, and United expects demand to come from both tourists and business travelers.


President John Kufuor

, whose 2000 election marked the first peaceful transfer of power in the thriving West African democracy of Ghana, won re-election in a race that drew more than 8 out of every 10 voters.

Kufuor, an Oxford-educated lawyer whom Ghanaians affectionately call “the Gentle Giant,” received 52.75 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election with results from 225 of 230 legislative districts tallied, Election Commission Chairman Kwadwo Afari-Gyan said late yesterday.

A fire raced
through a paint factory in the Mari-El region of central Russia yesterday, killing six workers and injuring 15 others, emergency-response officials and media reports said.

A U.S. Marine

suspected of causing a car crash in Bucharest that killed Teo Peter, a bass guitarist revered across Romania, could face a court-martial, the United States said yesterday.

The Marine, a guard at the U.S. Embassy, was whisked out of the country soon after the incident last Saturday, prompting outrage in Romania.

More than 1,000 Buddhist

monks descended on military-ruled Myanmar yesterday from as far away as Jamaica and Japan for a World Buddhist Summit.