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1st July 2001
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Divided opinions in US Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The US Supreme Court wrapped up the 2000-2001 term with a series of rulings touching on immigration, wetlands protection and tobacco advertising. 

Over the past year, the nine justices also tackled the death penalty, civil rights, states' rights, disabilities and police powers in the 77 decisions they issued. 

But the case that will likely define this past term was one that effectively settled the question of who would occupy the White House after the disputed November presidential election. 

"I think, inevitably, this will be remembered as the year of Bush v. Gore," said Steven Shapiro, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union. "In the judgement of history, that case will loom over the entire year. You have to begin there." 

That sentiment was shared by legal experts across the political and ideological spectrum. While conservatives, liberals and various interest groups each pointed to specific cases they deemed noteworthy, all agreed that the high court's foray into the bruising post-election presidential battle was the most significant. 

"I think it's one of the biggest cases because it's the first time the court actually chose the President of the United States," said Susan Low Bloch, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University. 

On the night of December 12, 2000, the court brought the presidential recount in Florida to a halt with a 5-4 decision hailed by Republicans and condemned by many Democrats. 

The term which officially comes to a close Friday with a list of orders for the next term was also marked by a series of 5-4 decisions, a reflection of competing ideologies on a bench where conservatives appear to hold a narrow margin in most cases. 

"It's a closely divided court, but a conservative court," Bloch said. 

Among its decisions, the Supreme Court upheld limits on the amount of money political parties can spend in coordination with their candidates, ruled that term limits for members of Congress are unconstitutional, and concluded that congressional district lines may be drawn grouping minorities together provided the reason is not their race, but the way they vote. 

The court focused at times on defining individual rights, ruling that police could not set up roadblocks to sniff out drugs. In a separate case, the justices said officers must have a warrant before using thermal imaging to detect marijuana being grown in a private home. 

But the court also ruled that people might be arrested and handcuffed even for minor traffic offences. 

Delving into the death penalty, the court asked a Texas jury for the third time to consider whether a condemned inmate's mental retardation was sufficient reason to spare his life. 

In a highly publicized decision, the court ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act means that disabled golfer Casey Martin must be allowed to participate in a tournament using a cart. 

In Thursday's decisions, the court touched on a number of areas. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that U.S. immigration officials could not indefinitely hold aliens they intend to deport when there is no country willing to accept them. 

In a unanimous ruling, the court said states did not have a right to restrict outdoor tobacco advertising close to schools and public parks, beyond limitations set by federal law. And in a complicated, fractured decision, the court weighed in on the case of a Rhode Island man who wanted to develop wetlands property he owned. 

The court found that government restrictions on the land did not constitute a 100 per cent "taking" of it, but also sent the case back to lower courts and recognised the man had a right to challenge the government . 

The term was noteworthy as well for what didn't happen; despite widespread speculation, there were no resignations from the high court. 

But courtroom observers said they didn't want to look too far ahead on that front, noting the age of many justices. 

"It could still happen," said Glenn Lammi, chief counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, a pro-business group. 


WORLD NEWS

  • Government collapse splits Yugoslavia 
  • Karunanidhi arrested on graft charges
  • Bush apologizes for clash with Muslims
  • Annan starts second term after unanimous election
  • American soldiers face rape probe
  • In brief
  • Government collapse splits Yugoslavia 

    Some analysts said Yugoslavia technically ceased to exist after its prime minister, Zoran Zizic, resigned and led his Montenegrin allies out of the government in protest at Thursday's spiriting of Mr Milosevic to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague. 

    About 6,000 Milosevic supporters, some shouting "treason" and "let's rise up", massed in front of Belgrade's federal parliament to protest against the decision to hand over their former leader. 

    "This is outrage. This is banditry. This is a blatant violation of all laws," said Miodrag Sekulic, 56, a retired teacher from Belgrade and a staunch Milosevic supporter, as he painted a fresh banner saying: "We will arrest the traitors." 

    The protesters, hurling plastic water bottles, vented their anger at television crews and passersby who watched them with disapproval. 

    However, western leaders yesterday praised the extradition for securing Yugoslavia's return to the European family. As expected, they pledged $1.25bn in aid. 

    A new, fuller indictment de livered to Mr Milosevic in his cell in the Netherlands detailed his alleged involvement in atrocities in Kosovo during the 1999 war. Carla del Ponte, the chief UN war crimes prosecutor, said other indictments for crimes in Bosnia and Croatia were being prepared. She did not rule out the possibility of charging the former Yugoslav president with genocide. 

    Thanking the US, Britain, France and Germany for clinching the extradition, Mrs del Ponte said that the trial would probably begin in a few months. It would be presided over by three judges, including a Briton, Richard May. 

    "Not everyone in Yugoslavia agreed with the decision [to hand over Mr Milosevic]," she said. "Some spoke of a defeat for Serbia. But there is no question of defeat or victory today. The Serbian people are not on trial here. The history of Serbia is not under examination. It is Slobodan Milosevic as an individual." 

    She hoped that the former Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, and his wartime army commander, Ratko Mladic, implicated in Bosnia's horrors, would be caught soon. "Nobody is above the law or beyond the reach of international justice," she said. 

    The Yugoslav federation, comprising Serbia and the much smaller Montenegro, was ruled by a coalition of Serb reformers and the Socialist People's party, a Montenegrin group which opposed the extradition of Mr Milosevic. 

    Its leader, Mr Zizic, said he resigned as federal prime minister because the handover was unconstitutional. "The price was beyond any dignity. I cannot accept this in my name and in the people's name." 

    Early elections are likely to be held which could give Montenegro's separatists the chance to quit the remnants of a federation forged by Josep Tito after world war two. 

    The crisis also engulfed the Serbian government by exploding into the open a power struggle between the federal president, Vojislav Kostunica, who wanted his predecessor tried in Belgrade, and Zoran Djindjic, the prime minister of Serbia, who engineered the handover in defiance of a constitutional court ruling. 

    Mr Kostunica, humiliated and furious at being sidelined, withdrew his party from the ruling parliamentary group. 

    "Kostunica is very popular with the people but he needs to turn that into political muscle, and quickly," said one diplomat. 

    His rival, Mr Djindjic, has emerged strengthened by delivering western aid to the devastated economy. Those infuriated by the extradition loathed him already. 

    Lord Robertson, Nato secretary general, said the transfer of a man associated with the darkest periods in the modern history of the Balkans would enable Yugoslavia to rejoin the European family of nations. 

    However, Russia warned that the extradition could inflame separatism in Kosovo and Montenegro. 

    Amid the tumult one of the calmest players appeared to be Mr Milosevic himself. 

    When told in his Belgrade cell that he was to be transferred to the Hague, he asked: "Already?" before putting on some fresh socks, packing his slippers and entering a police van without protest. 

    Read a summarised indictment by a Hague prosecutor immediately on arrival in the Netherlands, he said: "I don't recognise your court." His legal team is expected to arrive there today. - The Guardian, London


    Karunanidhi arrested on graft charges

    Chennai, Saturday, (AFP) - Protests erupted in the southern Indian city of Chennai today after police arrested a former chief minister of Tamil Nadu province on charges of corruption.

    In a pre-dawn operation, Muthuvel Karunanidhi was picked up by city police for alleged corruption in the construction of ten flyovers in Chennai during his term in office which ended in May.

    Karunanidhi, 77, clad in a traditional white waist-cloth, was seen on television, shouting: "Oh God, they are trying to murder me" as he was dragged out of his house by two policemen.

    "My wife and I were fast asleep in our first floor bedroom when we were rudely woken up by loud commotion below," Karunanidhi told reporters before he was taken away.

    "Suddenly, about 10 policemen forced open the door and dragged me from the bed. I was dragged all the way down the steps and thrown into the police car. You can see for yourself my shirt is torn," he added.

    He said his arrest was spurred by a desire on the part of his arch rival and current Tamil Nadu chief minister, Jayalalitha Jayaram, to settle political scores.

    As news of the arrest spread through Chennai, people gathered on the streets and scuffles broke out between police and DMK supporters. Shops in the city remained shut for fear of further trouble.

    The arrest also evoked a strong reaction from Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

    "The prime minister has conveyed his strong reaction to Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha about the arrest," a spokesman from the prime minister's office said.

    Karunanidhi's DMK party has 12 members in India's parliament and is an ally of Vajpayee's ruling coalition.

    Actress-turned politician Jayalalitha stormed to power in provincial elections in May and took charge of the state's anti-corruption portfolio.

    She has herself been convicted on charges of corruption relating to her 1991-1996 tenure as Tamil Nadu chief minister.

    In February 2000 when Karunanidhi was at the helm, she was sentenced to one-year's hard labour but only served two months in jail.

    A city magistrate ordered Saturday that Karunanidhi remain in police custody till July 10.

    His nephew and federal commerce minister, Murasoli Maran, was injured in a scuffle with police and admitted to hospital under arrest, it was reported.

    Media reports said Karunanidhi's son and mayor of Madras, M.K.Stalin, who had gone underground following the arrest of his father, had surrendered to police who were looking for him in connection with the same charges.

    Several former bureaucrats who served the Karunanidhi government were also arrested by the police Saturday.

    According to political analyst, Mahesh Rangarajan, today's police action against Karunanidhi and his colleagues was the largest crack down against the party in recent years. It would polarise the already sharp political divide in the state, he said."

    This is a new chapter in Tamil Nadu's history of political vendetta," Rangarjan said."

    When Karunanidihi was in power, Jayalalitha was sent to prison where she was put into a cell with common prisoners. There was also an incident when she was assaulted in the provincial assembly."


    Bush apologizes for clash with Muslims

    WASHINGTON President Bush, described as very upset about a Muslim leader being ordered out of the White House, issued an apology Friday for the incident. 

    "The president is very concerned that an action was taken that was wrong, inappropriate and the president apologizes for it on behalf of the White House," press secretary Ari Fleischer said. 

    A group of Muslim leaders walked out of a White House meeting Thursday, angered when a uniformed Secret Service officer ordered one of them Abdullah Alarian, a congressional intern out of the building. 

    Secret Service spokesman Jim Mackin later said his agency erred in ordering Alarian out. Once the Secret Service realized its mistake, it offered Alarian re-entry, but the group declined. 

    "In this one instance, the Secret Service made a mistake. The president is concerned about it to the point where he does apologize," Fleischer said. Alarian is the nephew of Mazen Al-Najjar, a Palestinian who was jailed in Florida for three years after the government alleged he used an Islamic think tank as a front for terrorism. He was released last December after a panel of judges and Attorney General Janet Reno agreed there was no reason to keep him behind bars. - CNN


    Annan starts second term after unanimous election

    New York - Pledging to bring the United Nations closer to the people it was created to serve, Kofi Annan swore himself in for a second term as secretary-general Friday after being re-elected by acclamation by 189 member countries. 

    The unusually quick decision to reappoint Mr. Annan so far in advance of the year-end deadline and without a hint of the political squabbling that normally attends this process was hailed as "a unique show of solidarity and support" by Arthur Mbanefo, Nigeria's ambassador. 

    "We in the African group are all proud of this great son of Africa," he said. Mr. Mbanefo's speech was followed by congratulatory remarks by ambassadors from every other region, and by the General Assembly president, Harri Holkeri of Finland, who praised Mr. Annan for his "vision and wisdom." 

    The secretary-general gave a characteristically low-key acceptance speech, in which he incorporated his oath of office and also quoted Dag Hammarskjold, perhaps the most reflective of his predecessors. Speaking to reporters afterwards, Mr. Annan chose not to be expansive when asked about his second-term agenda. He plunged directly into a discourse on management reform, results-based budgets and sunset clauses. 

    Mr. Annan was formally nominated Friday morning by Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury of Bangladesh, June's president of the Security Council, which decided unanimously on Wednesday to recommend that the secretary-general be given a second term. 

    "He has excelled in his office, delivering under trying circumstances," Mr. Chowdhury said. "His reform efforts of the United Nations have made the organization ready for the challenges of the 21st century. He has made the United Nations more relevant in today's world." 

    Mr. Annan, in his acceptance speech, reaffirmed his determination to keep a focus on human rights, which he called "the touchstone of my work" - a commitment that makes some countries nervous, as does the secretary-general's repeated pledge to protect the welfare of people, even at the expense of overriding their governments. 


    American soldiers face rape probe

    TOKYO, Saturday (AFP) Japanese police resumed questioning members of the US military based on the southern island of Okinawa today over the rape of a local woman, an official said.

    "We resumed questioning people concerned, including US soldiers," said an official of the Okinawa Police Department's first criminal investigation division."

    We are not at a stage to say more than that," said the official, who asked for anonymity.

    Police questioned five members of the US military on Friday over the rape, which took place early Friday in Chatan, around 18 kilometres (11 miles) north of Naha, the capital of Okinawa.

    A police spokesman said Friday that the victim, a woman in her 20s, was raped in a parking lot and that her attackers were believed to be foreigners.

    Police suspect one of the US soldiers they questioned on Friday had a direct role in the crime, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper and Kyodo News agency said, quoting investigators.

    But the unidentified man in his 20s, stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, denied the allegations during police inquiries, Kyodo said.

    So far, no major protest has been staged in Okinawa, which has in recent years seen large-scale demonstrations by residents following sexual assaults carried out by US servicemen.

    The rape occurred just a day before the scheduled first summit between US President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who voiced his concern over the incident.

    "We have to take measures to prevent the US forces and residents of Japan from having unnecessary friction or antagonism," said Koizumi, who arrived in Washington on Friday.

    The United States needed to treat crimes with "grave concern", he said.


    In brief

    Dead son back as lucky lizard
    BANGKOK - Residents of a Thai town are flocking to the home of a bereaved mother to touch and see a 1.5-metre (five-foot) monitor lizard she says is a reincarnation of her 13-year-old son and a bringer of good fortune.

    Chamlong Taengniem, whose son Charoen died in a motorcycle crash, told Reuters that the lizard followed her home after her son's June 17 cremation, slept on his mattress in the house and loves his favourite beverage fresh milk and drinking yoghurt.

    Crowds of up to 200 people have been thronging outside the house in Nonthaburi, 30 km (20 miles) north of the capital Bangkok, offering their respects and showering the creature with gifts.

    Some scratch the lizard's back and stomach and hunt for numbers for Thailand's state lottery on its skin.

    Sheepish contract
    LONDON - As soccer transfers go, Spencer Prior's £700,000 ($985,500) move to Cardiff City will be remembered more for what has to be one of most bizarre contract clauses in the history of the sport.

    In agreeing terms to join the newly-promoted second division club, the former Manchester City central defender will honour his contract by eating sheep's testicles and a cooked sheep's brain.

    The clause was the idea of the Welsh club's Lebanese-born owner Sam Hammam, who believes that eating the Middle Eastern delicacy helped his players win promotion last season. Prior refused to eat them raw. "It must be the strangest contract in the history of football," he said. "But I'll try anything once."

    Cut in defence deal
    KUWAIT - Kuwait is to launch an inquiry into how its Defence Ministry managed to pay $290 for a single pastry knife and $4,000 for a meat tenderiser.

    The latest row over prices of supplies to government departments emerged during an 11-hour parliamentary session in the Gulf Arab state on Wednesday during which MPs made claims of state corruption, especially in the Defence Ministry. MP Waleed al-Jerri showed the chamber what he said were original tender documents, reminding the house of a scandal in the mid-1990s when a supplier sold the ministry lettuces at some $40 each.

    Red faced banker
    EDINBURGH - The multi-millionaire chairman of one of Europe's largest banks was robbed at one of his own automatic teller machines after falling for a cheap street hustle, a bank spokesman said.

    Sir George Mathewson, chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland and a pillar of the Scottish financial establishment, was drawing some cash from a central London machine when two conmen approached him from behind.

    They carefully noted his personal ID number and waited for the machine to spit out his card, before tapping him on the shoulder to tell him he had dropped a five-pound note ($7).

    The canny Scot's natural instincts kicked in and he bent down to pick up the supposedly spilt money, whereupon his assailants reached over to grab the bank card and ran off.

    A spokeswoman for the Edinburgh-based bank said Sir George was left red-faced but unhurt and never actually lost any money. - Reuter

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