Mexican drug czar held in theft from cartel



MEXICO CITY: Mexico accused its former drug czar yesterday of taking $450,000 from a cartel he was supposed to destroy, going public with a scandal that deals a serious blow to the country's U.S.-backed drug war. Noe Ramirez is the highest-ranking law enforcement official detained yet as part of Mexico's sweeping effort to weed out officials who allegedly shared police information with violent drug smugglers. The corruption scandal is the biggest to rock the Mexican government in more than decade. Although the arrest complicates President Felipe Calderon's nationwide crackdown on the drug trade, Attorney General Eduardo Medina said it also proved the government's commitment to rooting out corruption. That commitment could be key to ensuring continued U.S. support for its drug fight. The U.S. Congress conditioned 15 percent of a still-to-be-released $400 million aid package on Mexico's efforts to clean up its police force.

Neb. closes loophole in child haven law



LINCOLN, Neb.: Nebraska closed a loophole yesterday in a controversial law that had allowed parents to abandon their children at hospitals. The unicameral Legislature voted 43-5 to make abandonment legal only for infants up to 30 days old. Gov. Dave Heineman signed the emergency bill, which took effect at 12:01 a.m. today. Since the state's haven law went into effect in September, 35 children have been left at state hospitals. Most of the youths were 11 or older, and many had severe behavioral problems. The avalanche of abandoned children also revealed inadequate services for families struggling to raise troubled youth. Legislators have vowed to address that shortage during their regular session in January, despite a mounting state budget deficit.

25% of dead in quake identified, China says


BEIJING: A little more than a quarter of the 70,000 people who died in a huge earthquake that struck Sichuan province in May have been identified, a Chinese official said yesterday, as authorities rushed to prepare stricken areas for the coming winter. Wei Hong, vice governor of Sichuan, said 19,065 bodies have been identified since the May 12 quake razed huge swaths of the lush, mountainous southwest province. About 18,000 people are still missing. Wei originally gave that figure when asked how many students were killed in the quake during a news conference organized by the State Council, China's Cabinet. In an official clarification, the State Council later said Wei had been referring to the number of bodies officially identified. The government still has not given a separate toll for children who were crushed when their shoddily built schools collapsed, but has said that about 7,000 classrooms were destroyed. Their deaths have become a sensitive political issue.

Mukasey back at work after fainting spell


WASHINGTON: With briefcase in hand and a smile on his face, Attorney General Michael Mukasey returned to work yesterday after collapsing during a speech the night before and spurring a 14-hour scare about his health. A Justice Department spokeswoman blamed the 67-year-old's dramatic and public fall on a fainting spell. Determined to prove his fitness, Mukasey checked out of George Washington University Hospital shortly after noon, telling reporters he felt "excellent." Arriving at the Justice Department a few minutes later with his wife, Susan, Mukasey climbed out of his security van unassisted and showed no signs of pain or discomfort. In an e-mail to the department's 108,000 employees, Mukasey said he would "continue doing the work I swore to do last November" when he became President George W. Bush's third attorney general.