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Charges for prank call?

SYDNEY, Australia -- The Australian radio station behind a hoax phone call to the London hospital where the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was being treated could face criminal charges for airing the conversation, legal experts said Tuesday.

Last week's prank was widely condemned days after it aired, after the still-unexplained death of a nurse who answered the phone and helped two DJs get confidential information about the former Kate Middleton's health. But when it comes to a potential criminal case, the question is not about the death; it's whether a private conversation was broadcast without the permission of the participants.

Violators could be sentenced to prison, but it's unclear who at radio station 2DayFM or its parent company, Southern Cross Austereo, made the decision to air the call. The DJs have said executives above them made the decision, but a former 2DayFM host who orchestrated many pranks for the station said DJs were always involved in such decisions while she was there.

Egyptians stage rallies

CAIRO, Egypt -- Thousands of opponents and supporters of Egypt's Islamist president staged rival rallies in the nation's capital Tuesday, four days ahead a nationwide referendum on a contentious draft constitution.

The demonstrations got underway just hours after masked assailants set upon opposition protesters staging a sit-in at Tahrir Square, firing birdshot and swinging knives and sticks, according to security officials. At least 11 protesters were wounded in the pre-dawn attack, according to a Health Ministry spokesman quoted by the official MENA news agency.

The violence served as a stark reminder of the stakes in Egypt's political battle over the disputed draft constitution, which goes to a nationwide referendum on Saturday. The charter has deeply polarized the nation and triggered some of the worst street violence since President Mohammed Morsi took office in June as Egypt's first freely elected president.

On one side of the divide, there is Morsi, his Muslim Brotherhood and ultraorthodox Salafis, while on the other there is a collection of liberals, leftists and Christians who claim the draft charter restricts freedoms and gives Islamists vast influence over the running of the country.

HSBC to pay $1.9 billion

NEW YORK -- American authorities on Tuesday cited "astonishing" dysfunction at the British bank HSBC and said it had helped Mexican drug traffickers, Iran, Libya and others under U.S. suspicion or sanction to move money around the world.

HSBC agreed to pay $1.9 billion, the largest penalty ever imposed on a bank.

The U.S. stopped short of charging executives, citing the bank's immediate, full co-operation and the damage an assault on the company might cause on economies and people, including thousands who would lose jobs if the bank collapsed. Outside experts said it was evidence that a doctrine of "too big to fail," or at least "too big to prosecute," was alive and well four years after the financial crisis.

Union power threatened

LANSING, Mich. -- Two laws that would weaken union power in the labour stronghold of Michigan awaited the governor's expected signature after the Republican-dominated House of Representatives passed them Tuesday, a devastating and once unthinkable defeat for organized labour in a state considered a cradle of the union movement.

The House passed the anti-union bills Tuesday as hundreds of protesters shouted "shame on you" from the gallery and huge crowds of labour backers massed in the state capitol halls and on the grounds. Gov. Rick Snyder says he will sign the laws -- one dealing with private sector workers, the other with government employees -- as early as today.

Foes of the laws, including U.S. President Barack Obama, are trying to keep the spotlight on this latest battleground in the war over union rights. Democrats offered a series of amendments, one of which would have allowed a statewide referendum. All were swiftly rejected.

Three die in mall shooting

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A gunman opened fire in a suburban Portland shopping mall Tuesday, killing two people and wounding another before apparently killing himself as people were doing their Christmas shopping, authorities said.

Witnesses described a scene of chaos and disbelief as the gunman wearing some sort of camouflage outfit and what looked like a hockey mask fired rounds fire from a military-style rifle near the food court at Clackamas Town Center.

Parents with children joined other shoppers rushing to stores' backrooms for safety as teams of police officers began entering the mall to find the shooter.

-- from the news services

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 12, 2012 A12

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