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308 Thai lawmakers face anti-corruption inquiry

BANGKOK — Anti-corruption authorities in Thailand announced Tuesday that they were opening investigations against 308 lawmakers, most of them from the governing party, on suspicion of “malfeasance in office,” in connection with a constitutional amendment that was later ruled by a court to have been enacted illegally.

The investigations, which critics called highly political, could destabilize the governing party, Pheu Thai, because of the number of prominent lawmakers involved.

The constitutional amendment in question was approved by parliament, but was struck down by the constitutional court in November on the ground that amendment procedures were not properly followed. The amendment would have made the Thai Senate a directly elected body; currently about half its members are appointed by a committee of officials and judges. The court also found that the amendment would have upset the country’s system of political checks and balances.

—Thomas Fuller, The New York Times

First batch of deadly chemicals exported from Syria

The first batch of the most dangerous materials in Syria’s banned chemical weapons stockpile was exported from the country Tuesday, loaded onto a Danish commercial vessel in the Syrian port of Latakia in an operation overseen jointly by the United Nations and the group responsible for ensuring the arsenal’s destruction.

In a statement, the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, The Hague-based group that monitors the treaty Syria agreed to join in September, said the Danish vessel had departed Latakia and would remain at sea until the second cargo of chemicals reaches Latakia, when it will return to load them.

The export and destruction of the most dangerous substances in the Syrian arsenal, which the statement called “priority chemical materials,” has long been considered the trickiest and most hazardous part of the operation, which Syria agreed to carry out as part of its pledge more than three months ago to renounce chemical weapons and join the treaty that bans them.

—Rick Gladstone, The New York Times

Lindsey Vonn to skip Olympics over knee injury

On Tuesday, a devastated Lindsey Vonn conceded that she could not safely compete in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and withdrew, a departure that will rob the United States of much of its star power next month.

One of the best known winter sports athletes in the world, a celebrity enhanced by her yearlong relationship with the golfer Tiger Woods, Vonn said through her publicist that she would have surgery soon to repair the knee damage, sidelining her for the rest of the ski racing season.

Vonn’s exit will deprive the U.S. broadcaster NBC of one of its best story lines — the against-the-odds comeback of a telegenic star with crossover appeal.

Adding to the drama would have been Vonn’s previous travails at the Olympics. She had a horrific crash in training days before the start of the 2006 Torino Olympics and limped out of the hospital with multiple injuries only to fall short of a medal. In 2010, despite a painful leg injury, she became the first American to win the women’s downhill and added a bronze medal in the super-G.

—Bill Pennington, The New York Times

US charges 4 companies with deception in weight-loss products

WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday charged four companies with deceptively marketing products, saying they made “unfounded promises” that consumers would lose weight by using their food additives, skin creams and other dietary supplements.

As part of the settlement, the four companies — Sensa Products, L’Occitane, HCG Diet Direct and LeanSpa — will pay a total of $34 million. The companies neither admitted nor denied fault in the case.

The case is part of a broader crackdown by the government on companies that it says “peddle fad weight-loss products.” The commission is also proposing new guidance for media outlets to help them catch potentially fraudulent claims. The commission said it would urge media companies not to accept advertisements for companies or products that make dubious weight-loss claims.

—Edward Wyatt, The New York Times

Los Angeles sheriff, under fire, is stepping down

LOS ANGELES — The embattled sheriff of Los Angeles County, Lee Baca, announced Tuesday that he will retire at the end of the month and not seek re-election. His announcement ends weeks of speculation about his future amid federal investigations and accusations of widespread misconduct in his department.

“I will go out on my own terms,” Baca said during an emotional news conference Tuesday, flanked by dozens of top deputies and civilian officials. “I know I turn 72 in May. I don’t see myself as the future, I see myself as part of the past. I see it as important to allow the future to run.”

Baca was expected to face a fierce battle for re-election for a fifth term this year. Last month, 18 officers and deputies were indicted on federal charges of abusing inmates and visitors in county jails. When it became clear the FBI was investigating the problems in the county jail system, the largest in the country, several high-ranking officials tried to cover up the actions, federal authorities say. Baca has also come under fire recently for hiring practices that favored those with special connections to him.

—Jennifer Medina, The New York Times