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News Briefs

Florida Brothers Plead Guilty To Murdering Father


Alex and Derek King, the teenage brothers whose tangled legal saga inspired candlelight vigils and a nationwide debate about trying juveniles as adults, pleaded guilty Thursday in a Pensacola, Fla., courtroom to murdering their sleeping father.

The brothers, dressed in green jail jumpsuits, entered guilty pleas to third-degree murder and arson charges despite a failed, last-minute attempt by their estranged mother, Kelly Marino, to stop the proceedings by requesting a competency evaluation.

Derek King, 14, who admitted to swinging the aluminum baseball bat that killed his father, Terry King, was sentenced to eight years in an adult prison that specializes in programs for juveniles. Alex King, 13, who admitted suggesting that his brother commit murder, was sentenced to seven years in the same kind of prison.

Before Thursday’s court hearing, the case had already featured the unusual spectacle of two separate murder trials, each built on contradictory theories. In the first case, Ricky Chavis, a convicted child molester who’d befriended the boys, was acquitted on a charge that he murdered Terry King. In the second trial, the King brothers were convicted of killing their father, exposing them to the possibility of life sentences. But the guilty verdicts were later overturned, leading to weeks of court-ordered mediation that ended with a plea deal late Wednesday night.

U.N. Investigates Claims That Taliban Fighters Were Tortured


The United Nations said Thursday that it is looking into claims of torture and execution of witnesses to the deaths last year of as many as 1,000 Taliban fighters whose bodies have reportedly been found in mass graves.

The United Nations, which is running an assistance program in this devastated country, also condemned the shooting deaths by police of two students in a protest this week at Kabul University. The deaths were “in no way justified by self-defense or public safety concerns,” it said.

At a briefing, U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said that a U.N. agency had received credible reports of war crimes in Dasht-i-Leili committed by forces commanded by Uzbek Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum. The fighters, who reportedly suffocated after being piled into shipping containers when the Taliban government fell late last year, were buried in a mass grave near Dostum’s base in Sheberghan in northern Afghanistan.

Dostum has acknowledged that about 200 Taliban fighters may have died while being transported to a prison, but contends that most were sick or badly wounded in fighting.

Pope Calls Italy’s Low Birth Rate A ‘Grave Threat’


In the first papal speech to Italy’s parliament, Pope John Paul II on Thursday urged Italians to have more babies, and called on an expanding European Union not to forget its religious roots.

Given in the building that housed the papacy’s law courts until the mid-19th century, the speech also was a historic milestone symbolizing full reconciliation between the Vatican and the Italian state, which have a long history of strained relations.

The speech was interrupted with applause nearly two dozen times. The lawmakers gave a standing ovation at its end, with some shouting, “Viva il papa!”

John Paul, 82, described Italy’s low birth rate and the aging of its society as a “grave threat” to the country. The government should “make the task of having children and bringing them up less burdensome both socially and economically,” he said.

Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in the world and one of the oldest populations. Italian women on average have 1.23 children, compared to a U.S. average of about 2.1.

Increased Production by OPEC Keeping Oil Prices Down


Saudi Arabia and other OPEC oil producers are flooding world markets with crude oil, a shift that experts say should help offset any economic dislocation from a military strike against Iraq.

The surge of production has helped wash away a $5-a-barrel “war premium” that pushed the price of crude above $30 in early October, industry experts say, and may have reduced the risk of spot shortages during the initial stages of a U.S.-led military offensive. If sustained, it also could boost the economies of the United States and other consuming countries.

“OPEC has increased production dramatically in the last 30 to 45 days, which is why we’re seeing the price fall,” said Larry Goldstein, president of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation in New York.

The 11 members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have had little to say on the production boom. But some experts believe it reflects a deliberate strategy by key OPEC producers to stockpile crude closer to end markets in the United States, Europe and Asia, where it would be less vulnerable if war breaks out, and to prevent prices from rising to dangerously high levels.

“You have the potential for Iraq being taken offline very quickly, you have the potential for the winter being severe, and you have the question of whether we’re coming out of a worldwide recession or sinking into one,” said Ed Porter, research manager at the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group. “OPEC doesn’t want to trigger something it didn’t intend.”