Other items: Cabinet advances gay-marriage bill; Musharraf defends keeping army control; Earthquakes rattle Colombia, Japan

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Taipei, Taiwan

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Taiwan celebrated the official opening of the world’s tallest skyscraper today with a colorful opera performance and some of the island’s top personalities taking elevators up to the 89th-floor observation platform.

Known as “Taipei 101,” the 1,679-foot-tall building is named after its number of floors. The structure boasts some of the world’s fastest elevators; they travel 3,333 feet a minute and can go from the fifth floor to the 89th floor in 39 seconds.

The building is 184 feet taller than the previous record-holder, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and is 271 feet higher than the tallest U.S. skyscraper, the Sears Tower in Chicago.

Madrid, Spain

Cabinet advances gay-marriage bill

Spain’s socialist Cabinet today approved a bill to legalize same-sex marriages, putting the predominantly Roman Catholic country on course to become the third European country after Belgium and the Netherlands to recognize gay matrimony.

Under the bill, homosexuals could adopt children and same-sex couples would be able to inherit from one another as well as receive retirement benefits from their working spouses just as heterosexual married couples do. The bill is expected to be presented to Parliament in February.

Islamabad, Pakistan

Musharraf defends keeping army control

President Pervez Musharraf accused his political opponents of “threatening” democracy yesterday as he explained his decision to renege on a promise to step down as army chief by the end of 2004.

In a nationwide televised address, Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S. war on terrorism, insisted he must continue to hold the post — the source of most of his power — and that of president to ensure continuity. “In my view, any change in internal or external policies can be extremely dangerous for Pakistan,” he said.

Parliament passed a law this month allowing him to stay on in both posts through 2007. Musharraf accused opposition groups of “threatening the democratic process” by trying to make political capital from the issue.

Bogotá, Colombia

Earthquakes rattle Colombia, Japan

A magnitude-5.3 earthquake jolted Colombia’s Bolivar province, about 300 miles northwest of the capital, Bogotá, yesterday morning, the country’s National Seismological Network said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage from the quake, which was centered in the town of Cordoba.

Meanwhile, a magnitude-5 earthquake yesterday shook Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture, 190 miles northeast of Tokyo, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Minsk, Belarus

Theft conviction of dissident blasted

A prominent opposition figure was sentenced to five years in prison yesterday after being convicted of stealing computers supposedly owned by the U.S. Embassy, a charge that Washington labeled spurious and that human-rights groups called politically motivated.

Mikhail Marinich, who was international economic-affairs minister under authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko but joined the opposition in 2001, had pleaded not guilty.

Belarusian security agents arrested Marinich on April 26 and charged him with stealing 40 computers belonging to the U.S. Embassy in Minsk. The embassy, however, did not report the computers stolen.

“The United States condemns this abuse and earlier abuses of the judicial system by the Lukashenko regime to persecute Belarusian citizens for their political beliefs,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.