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Chinese official, symbol of greed and corruption, is sentenced

HONG KONG — A court in northwest China sentenced a former provincial safety official Thursday to 14 years in prison for graft, a year after he became a symbol of a callous and corrupt bureaucracy when Chinese Internet users circulated photographs suggesting he had been living beyond his means.

The Xi’an Intermediate People’s Court issued the sentence after convicting Yang Dacai, a former safety inspection official in Shaanxi province, on charges of taking bribes and possessing assets of unclear origin, Chinese state-run news outlets reported Thursday morning. Phone calls to the court in Xi’an seeking confirmation of the sentence went unanswered Thursday.

Yang’s case is one of many in China in recent years to demonstrate how local officials can be held accountable to public opinion, as ordinary citizens frequently turn to microblog posts and other online social networks to vent complaints against rampant corruption or other abuses of power.

—Neil Gough, The New York Times

E-cigarette use doubles among students, survey shows

WASHINGTON — The share of middle and high school students who use e-cigarettes doubled in 2012 from the previous year, federal data show. The rise is prompting concerns among health officials that the new devices could be creating as many health problems as they are solving.

One in 10 high school students said they had tried an e-cigarette last year, according to a national survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up from 1 in 20 in 2011. About 3 percent said they had used one in the previous 30 days. In total, 1.8 million middle and high school students said they had tried e-cigarettes in 2012.

“This is really taking off among kids,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine that is vaporized to form an aerosol mist. Producers promote them as a healthy alternative to smoking, but researchers say their health effects are not yet clear, although most acknowledge that they are less harmful than traditional cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration does not yet regulate them, although analysts expect that the agency will start soon.

—Sabrina Tavernise, The New York Times

Syria crisis reveals new paradigm

BERLIN — In the early 19th century, the German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz concluded that war is an act of politics pursued by other means. Two centuries on, a student of modern conflict might be forced to recast the doctrine for the globalized, 24-hour-news-cycle era: War is a political act pursued to the extent that politics itself permits.

In recent days, indeed, as Western leaders wrestled with claims of chemical weapons use on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria, on Aug. 21, the balance between politics at home and the ability to project military power abroad seems to have shifted into a new and more circumspect era, as voters tire of fruitless wars overseas and of their leaders’ rationales for fighting them.

When the contenders for the German leadership in elections this month faced off in a televised debate the other day, for instance, the gathering showdown over Syria seemed almost a postscript.

Only when the 90-minute discussion between Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Social Democratic challenger, Peer Steinbrück, was in its final stages did it turn to the question of whether Germany should participate alongside the United States in any military intervention in Syria.

—Alan Cowell, The New York Times

Timken agrees to split in two after activist investor pressure

Activist investors scored another victory Thursday when the board of the Timken Co. agreed to spin off its steel business from its industrial bearings operations amid pressure from two big shareholders.

Timken’s decision came after a nonbinding vote by investors earlier this summer supporting such a move. The proposal was led by the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and Relational Investors, the hedge fund led by Ralph Whitworth. The 114-year-old company said at its annual meeting that it would consider the matter.

While Timken had argued that the company was better off staying together, the two dissident investors had argued that a division would create more value for their fellow shareholders.

Activists have taken on a number of big targets this year and claimed victory, including at Apple Inc., Microsoft and the Hess Corp.

Under the terms of its proposed split, which is expected to be completed within 12 months, Timken will spin off its engineered steel arm to create a new publicly traded company with about $1.7 billion in annual sales. The remaining business will retain the Timken name and have estimated annual revenue of about $3.4 billion.

James Griffith, Timken’s chief executive, will retire once the spinoff is finished. He will be succeeded at Timken by Richard G. Kyle, who is group president. John Timken Jr. will become nonexecutive chairman.

Ward Timken Jr., the current chairman, will take over as the chief executive of the steel company.

Both the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and Relational Investors said they supported the split.

“We fully support and commend Timken’s decision announced today because it means they’ve listened to their shareholders,” Anne Sheehan, Calstrs’ director of corporate governance, said in a statement. “In particular, we are grateful to the special strategy committee for its diligent work and to the entire Timken board for responding to the will and long-term interests that Timken’s shareholders expressed at the annual meeting. We firmly believe this action will create long-term benefit for the shareholders.”

—Michael J. De La Merced, The New York Times