Food ban cited in famine
NAIROBI, Kenya -- A decision by extremist Islamic militants to ban delivery of food aid and a "normalization of crisis" that numbed international donors to unfolding disaster made south-central Somalia the most dangerous place in the world to be a child in 2011.
The first in-depth study of famine deaths in Somalia in 2011 was released Thursday, and it estimates that 133,000 children under age 5 died, with child-death rates approaching 20 per cent in some communities.
That's 133,000 under-5 child deaths out of an estimated 6.5 million people in south-central Somalia. That compares to 65,000 under-5 deaths that occurred in all industrial countries in the world combined during the same period, a population of 990 million, said Chris Hillbruner, a senior food security adviser at FEWS NET, a U.S.-sponsored famine warning agency.
The new study put the total number of famine deaths at nearly 260,000.
No Maryland death penalty
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Maryland has become the first southern U.S. state to abolish the death penalty.
Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley signed the measure Thursday. Attending was former Maryland death-row inmate Kirk Bloodsworth. He is the first person in the country freed because of DNA evidence after being convicted in a death penalty case.
Maryland is the 18th state to abolish the death penalty and the sixth state in as many years to do so.
The bill will not apply to the five men the state has on death row, but the governor can commute their sentences to life without parole. O'Malley has said he will consider them on a case-by-case basis.
The state's last execution was in 2005.
N. Korean amnesty urged
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. is calling for North Korea to grant an amnesty for the immediate release of a Korean-American sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for "hostile acts" against the state.
The 44-year-old Kenneth Bae is at least the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009. The others eventually were deported or released without serving out their terms, some after trips to Pyongyang by prominent Americans, including former presidents.
Analysts say Bae's sentencing could be an effort by Pyongyang to win diplomatic concessions in the ongoing standoff over its nuclear program.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Thursday the U.S. was still seeking to learn the facts of the case. He said the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which handles consular matters there for the U.S., did not attend Tuesday's trial.
U.S. weighs arming rebels
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is rethinking its opposition to arming Syrian rebels, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday.
At a Pentagon news conference, Hagel said the administration is considering a range of options. He said he personally has not decided whether it would be wise to provide weapons to the rebels.
"Arming the rebels -- that's an option," he said. "We must continue to look at options." He said the U.S. is considering a range of options in consultation with allies.
-- from the wire services