China faulted on human rights

BEIJING - China has failed to live up to promises to improve human rights for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, despite reforms to the death-penalty system and more freedoms for foreign reporters, Amnesty International said in a report released today.

The report catalogs a wide range of persistent abuses, from extensive use of detention without trial to the persecution of civil rights activists and new methods to rein in the domestic media and censor the Internet.

The London-based group welcomed the new rules for foreign journalists and the referral of all death sentences to China's Supreme Court since the start of the year.

"Disappointingly, they have been matched by moves to expand detention without trial and house arrest of activists," said Catherine Baber, deputy Asia-Pacific director of Amnesty International.

No Chinese official was immediately available to comment on the report. China has denounced previous Amnesty reports, saying it was fulfilling all the commitments made in its bid for the Games. - AP

Ireland facing May 24 election

DUBLIN, Ireland - Prime Minister Bertie Ahern announced yesterday that Ireland's next general election would be May 24, and vowed to extend his 10-year run in power.

"Once again, the moment has arrived for the people to decide Ireland's future," said Ahern, whose Fianna Fail party has dominated Irish politics since the 1930s.

At stake is whether Ireland will continue to be run by Ahern's center-right coalition or turn leftward. To gain power, the centrist Fine Gael would almost certainly have to form a coalition with Ireland's left-wing Labor Party. - AP

Chavez has oil deal for allies in region

CARACAS, Venezuela - President Hugo Chavez says that Venezuela is ready to become the sole energy supplier to Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Haiti, presenting the countries with his most generous offer yet of oil-funded diplomacy in the region.

Venezuela is ready to finance up to 50 percent of the total oil bill for his main leftist allies in the region, and would also create a matching fund to finance agricultural projects, food production, and small- to medium-size industries, Chavez said. - AP

Elsewhere:

Seven Chinese oil workers and two Africans kidnapped in Ethiopia during a rebel attack on a Chinese oil field near the Somali border were released yesterday. The Ogaden National Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the attack on the Chinese-owned oil-exploration field in eastern Ethiopia Tuesday that left 65 Ethiopians and nine Chinese workers dead.

The U.N. Security Council has voted unanimously to lift a ban on Liberian diamond exports imposed in 2001 when so-called "blood diamonds" were being used to fuel civil wars in west Africa. Diplomats said Liberia had shown progress in a program to certify the legality of its diamond exports.