The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 46.0°F | Fair

Briefs (right)

Nicaragua Passes Strict
Abortion Ban

By Marc Lacey

Nicaragua’s legislature banned all abortions on Thursday, eliminating exceptions for rape and when the life of the mother is in danger.

The measure, expected to be approved by President Enrique Bolanos, was voted in 52-0, with nine abstentions and 29 not showing up to vote.

Nicaragua joins El Salvador and Chile as the only countries in the Western hemisphere to ban abortion without exception. But across Latin America, abortion is outlawed except in rare circumstances. It is readily available only in Cuba and a few English-speaking Caribbean countries.

The ban in Nicaragua comes two weeks before a hotly contested presidential election on Nov. 5, and opponents of the law say it was introduced now because no one dared oppose it in the political climate.

“The presidential election is so polarized that the church saw this as an opportunity to force this issue now,” Dr. Mirma Cunningham, a former minister of health and member of the National Assembly, said in a telephone interview.

The measure was supported by Daniel Ortega, the front runner in the presidential race. He favored the right to an abortion during his presidency in the 1980s but has since embraced the Catholic Church and spoken out strongly against abortion.

Shell Could Face Criminal
Charges in Russia


Andrew E. Kramer

A Russian official threatened criminal prosecutions against employees of Royal Dutch Shell, ratcheting up pressure on the company’s $22 billion oil and gas project on Sakhalin Island on Wednesday.

The remarks suggested a further unraveling of the relationship between Western energy companies and the Russian government, which is intent on gaining control of the energy sector.

Shell and two Japanese partners were accused of violating Russian environmental law at their Sakhalin 2 project. The project consists of two offshore platforms, a pipeline, the world’s largest liquefied natural gas plant and an oil terminal. A Russian state company, Gazprom, wants a 25 percent share. Mitsui and Mitsubishi, of Japan, are minority owners.

“The breaches at Sakhalin 2 fall under five articles of the criminal code,” Yuri Trutnev, the minister of natural resources, said after touring a pipeline on Wednesday, in remarks shown on Russian television news. “This falls under criminal law and we think it’s necessary to apply it. All the relevant documents should be sent to the prosecutor general within two weeks.”

Lower-ranked Russian officials had threatened criminal charges earlier this month. The statement by Trutnev, however, carried more force and suggested an escalation because he is a member of the Cabinet.

U.S. Home Sales Gain as
Builders Reduce Prices

By Jeremy W. Peters

U.S. home builders, struggling to keep ahead in a weakening market, cut prices and offered a variety of other discounts in September to help sell their newly constructed houses, the latest government and industry statistics show.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the median price of a new home plunged 9.7 percent last month, compared with September 2005, falling to $217,100, the biggest such drop since December 1970.

Statistics from the National Association of Home Builders showed a similar slide. Builders reported cutting prices in September by 5 percent, according to the association’s most recent data.

Just two months ago, prices of new homes were still on the rise.

At least to some extent, the lower prices achieved the developers’ goal: The backlog of unsold new homes on the market fell in September for the second consecutive month, while the number sold, adjusted for normal seasonal variations, rose by 5.3 percent from the previous month.

But economists and industry experts noted that the reported numbers provide a somewhat distorted picture of market reality.

African Leaders Offered
$5 Million Performance Prize

By Alan Cowell

After the Nobels, the Pulitzers and the Oscars, why not a prize for African presidents?

Not just any presidents, of course.

At a news conference in London on Thursday, Mo Ibrahim, a 60-year-old Sudanese-born billionaire who made his money in the cell-phone business, announced that he is offering $5 million in prize money, to be spread out over 10 years, for the sub-Saharan African president who on leaving office has demonstrated the greatest commitment to democracy and good governance.

“We must face the reality,” Ibrahim said, referring to Africa’s leadership record. “Everything starts by admitting the truth: We failed. I’m not proud at all. I’m ashamed. We really need to resolve the problem, and the problem, in our view, is bad leadership and bad governance.”

The first such prize, the Mo Ibrahim Award for Achievement in African Leadership, may be given as soon as next year by his Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Additional prizes may be offered in subsequent years if worthy candidates are found.

It is possible, though, board members say, that there might be a shortage of contestants to compete for that moment of quivering tension when the master of ceremonies says: “And the winner is — .”