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News Briefs

Iraq Releases Japanese Captives

The New York Times -- TOKYO

Three Japanese civilians taken hostage last week in Iraq were released Thursday in Baghdad, bringing to an end the Japanese government’s first crisis in its involvement in the war in Iraq.

The civilians were freed unharmed at a mosque and taken to the Japanese Embassy on Thursday afternoon, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry. In a broadcast on Japanese television, the al-Jazeera network showed the former captives sitting and talking at the Islamic Clerics Association office in Baghdad.

News of the release came with a report that two other Japanese civilians may have been kidnapped. The two civilians, Junpei Yasuda, 30, a free-lance journalist, and Nobutaka Watanabe, an antiwar activist, were reported missing on Wednesday in an area west of Baghdad. The Japanese authorities said they could not confirm whether the two civilians had been kidnapped.

Last week, a previously unknown group called the Mujahedeen Brigades threatened to burn alive the three hostages unless the Japanese government withdrew its 550 troops from the area near the southern city of Samawah. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi firmly said it would not, a position that was praised by Bush administration officials.

Strikes Show Canadian Provinces Sinking Under Social Service

The New York Times -- ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland and Labrador

As soon as 20,000 government workers went on strike two weeks ago, 70 Native Canadian hunters from Quebec took advantage of the absence of conservation officers and slaughtered dozens of caribou in an endangered Labrador herd.

It was a dramatic sign among several that many vital public services in this remote province of 525,000 people are beginning to break down.

It was also a cautionary tale for many other Canadian provinces that have growing budget deficits, debt burdens and tensions with public sector unions since the federal government began shifting many of the costs of social services to them in the mid-1990s.

With nurses and X-ray and lab technicians on strike, hospitals in Newfoundland and Labrador have canceled elective surgery and are delaying chemotherapy for some patients. Public school assistants are on picket lines, and thus unavailable to children with learning disabilities. Ferry services connecting small island communities are virtually paralyzed, disrupting deliveries of food and other supplies.

The walkouts began after an announcement that 4,000 public service workers, or 13 percent of the government’s payroll, will be laid off in the next four years and wages will be frozen for the next two years to reduce a $770 million budge deficit.

Massachusetts Governor Seeks To Delay Same-Sex Marriages

The New York Times -- BOSTON

With only a month before same-sex marriages are to become legal in Massachusetts, Gov. Mitt Romney made a last-ditch effort on Thursday to keep them from taking place for at least two and a half years.

Romney said he would ask state lawmakers to pass emergency legislation allowing him to petition the state’s Supreme Judicial Court to stay its ruling making same-sex marriage legal as of May 17. The governor wants the court to postpone same-sex marriages until a proposed state constitutional amendment banning them has a chance to be approved by voters. That would not be until November 2006, because the amendment must be passed again in the 2005-06 legislative session.

Last month, when the constitutional amendment received preliminary approval from the Legislature, Romney, a Republican, asked the state attorney general, Thomas F. Reilly, to ask the court to stay the May 17 start date. But Reilly, a Democrat who opposes same-sex marriage but is considering a run for governor, refused to represent Romney or appoint another lawyer to do so, saying there was insufficient legal justification to ask the court to revisit a question it had already ruled on twice in the last six months.