Other items: U.N. ends inquiry over secret listening device; Europe, Turkey agree to hold EU entry talks; 8 killed during raid to end prison standoff in Afghanistan.

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Vatican City

Cardinal says to skip debate over condoms

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Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, chosen by Pope John Paul II to head a new Vatican foundation to help AIDS victims, said yesterday that too much time was spent arguing over the Catholic Church’s opposition to condoms while too many people were dying.

“I don’t care about the condoms yes, condoms no, debate,” Barragan told a news conference. “What concerns me is that these people are dying and I have to help them.

“It’s one thing to talk about moral problems. That’s legitimate and we as Catholics have our position on this. It’s another thing to help those who are suffering. While people are arguing about whether or not condoms can be used, every day 12,000 people die of AIDS.”

The Roman Catholic Church, which teaches that the conjugal act must always leave open the possibility of conception, also says promoting the use of condoms to fight the spread of AIDS fosters what it sees as immoral and hedonistic lifestyles and behavior that will only contribute to its spread.


U.N. ends inquiry over secret listening device

The United Nations has ended an internal inquiry into the discovery of a secret listening device at the world body’s European headquarters without finding out who planted the bug or when, officials said yesterday.

The listening device was found during renovation work in an art deco room known as the Salon Francais, which adjoins a main conference hall.

Well-placed security sources questioned whether any major secrets could have been overheard because top government officials have security that includes electromagnetic waves to thwart eavesdropping systems.

Patrick Daniel Eugster, a Swiss surveillance expert who saw photographs of the device, said most of the parts were Russian in origin and that the device was at least three years old.

Brussels, Belgium

Europe, Turkey agree to hold EU entry talks

The European Union and Turkey yesterday reached a historic agreement to begin talks in October aimed at bringing the populous Muslim nation into the EU.

Turkey accepted an offer from the 25 EU leaders during their two-day summit to launch a process that could take years and could transform the political and social landscape of both parties.

If the talks succeed, Turkey would become the largest EU member, with a population of 71 million expected to grow as high as 85 million by 2020. But its per capita income is roughly one-third of the average of longtime EU member states, requiring far-reaching economic reforms.

Turkish membership would also add millions of Muslims to the EU at a time when many Europeans are questioning whether their countries, which have Christian heritage, can absorb large numbers of Muslim immigrants.

Kabul, Afghanistan

8 killed during raid to end prison standoff

Afghan troops stormed a notorious prison in a hail of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades yesterday, ending a 10-hour standoff that began when four inmates once suspected of belonging to al-Qaida tried to escape. Four inmates and four guards were killed in the day’s violence.

Explosions rocked the crumbling, crowded Pul-e Charkhi jail — which holds Taliban and al-Qaida suspects as well as common criminals — as troops launched the assault.

The standoff began when four inmates — three Pakistanis and an Iraqi — used razors to attack a guard leading them to morning prayers. They took his AK-47 rifle, then beat and stabbed him to death, said Abdul Salam Bakhshi, the prison warden.

Nuevo Laredo, Mexico

Americans kidnapped by gangs for ransom

Marauding drug gangs in this violent border city have turned to kidnapping U.S. citizens for ransom as they seek to diversify their criminal activities, the U.S. government warned yesterday.

The U.S. consul in Nuevo Laredo, which lies south of the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas, said 22 U.S. citizens have been either kidnapped or disappeared while visiting the city since mid-August. The city had averaged three or four abductions of U.S. citizens in recent years.

Consul Michael Yoder said the majority of the kidnap victims came from the south Texas area, and several had family living in Nuevo Laredo. Two were killed by their abductors and nine released, while 11 remain missing.

Chihuahua, Mexico

U.S. couple acquitted in slaying of teenager

A Minnesota woman and her husband were acquitted yesterday of charges they murdered a Mexican teenager in a satanic ritual near the U.S. border in 2003.

A judge in Chihuahua city found Cynthia Kiecker and her Mexican husband, Ulises Perzabal, not guilty in the killing of Viviana Rayas, 16, the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez said, providing no other details.

Kiecker and her husband have had a jewelry shop in Chihuahua city for 10 years. She said masked men kicked in their door and took them to jail one night in May, 2003, torturing them with electric shocks and beatings until they confessed to the killing.

Human-rights leaders said events typified police ineptitude in investigating the murders of hundreds of women near the border over the past decade.


6 killed as windstorm hits northern France

A powerful storm packing hurricane-force winds lashed northern France yesterday, killing at least six people — some crushed by falling trees — and forcing officials to close the Eiffel Tower and the famed Paris parks.

Winds of up to 80 mph delayed flights out of Paris, cut electricity to some 220,000 homes and damaged cars, scaffolding and other property, officials said.

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

U.N. troops eject rebels from Aristide home

U.N. peacekeepers detonated an explosive device to force their way into the former residence of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and persuaded a group of ex-soldiers to leave unarmed yesterday, ending a two-day standoff.

Brazilian peacekeepers said the explosion was meant as a warning to the ex-soldiers, who put up no resistance. No one was hurt.

The ex-soldiers occupied the estate Wednesday, saying they would make it a new army base and repeating demands that the interim government reinstate the army that Aristide had disbanded.

Efforts at negotiation by Haiti’s interim government, the U.N. mission and various political and civil groups failed to get the rebels to leave the compound, which had been plundered and abandoned in February when Aristide left the country.