China says quake made worse by building flaws

BEIJING: Nearly four months after China's devastating earthquake, a government scientist acknowledged yesterday that a rush to build schools in recent years likely led to construction flaws causing so many of them to collapse. It was the first official admission that low building standards may have been behind the deaths of thousands of children. Government critics have raised questions about shoddy construction after the 7.9-magnitude quake killed nearly 70,000 people in Sichuan province, including many students crushed to death when their classrooms crumbled. Ma Zongjin, chairman of an official expert committee on the May 12 earthquake in southwest China, said that poor-quality construction materials were one possible reason more than 1,000 schools were damaged.


Pentagon would shift forces to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON: The United States would carry out a modest shift of American forces from Iraq to Afghanistan by early next year under a confidential recommendation to President Bush by the Pentagon's top civilian and military leaders, according to Bush administration officials. The number of American combat brigades in Iraq would shrink from 15 to 14 in February, according to the recommendation. All told, the number of American forces in Iraq, which currently number about 146,000, would drop by nearly 8,000 by March. American officials said the recommendation was the product of extensive consultations between the Pentagon officials and Gen. David H. Petraeus. The reduction is smaller than some officials had earlier suggested might be possible before Bush leaves office in January.


Iran polygamy plan stirs outcry from women

TEHRAN, Iran: A bill that would allow Iranian men to take additional wives without the consent of their first wife has angered women and the country's top justice official, who say it would undermine women's rights and could be a government attempt to more deeply enshrine its strict Islamic interpretation into law. Outcry over the bill forced parliament to postpone a vote scheduled for Tuesday so lawmakers could debate it further in a committee. Under Islam, a man can have up to four wives, and countries around the Mideast allow polygamy. However, Iran is one of the few - along with Syria and Tunisia - that require the consent of the first wife before a husband can take another. Still, polygamy is rare in Iran.

Troop suicides in 2008 could surpass '07 rate

WASHINGTON: Soldier suicides this year could surpass the record rate of last year, Army officials said yesterday, urging military leaders at all levels to redouble prevention efforts for a force strained by two wars. As of the end of August, there were 62 confirmed suicides among active-duty soldiers and Guard and Reserve troops called to active duty, officials said. Another 31 deaths appear to be suicides but are still being investigated. If all are confirmed, that means that the number for 2008 could eclipse the 115 of last year - and the rate per 100,000 could surpass that of the civilian population, Col. Eddie Stephens, deputy director of human resources policy, said at a Pentagon news conference.