Bahrain's envoy to U.S. is a first

MANAMA, Bahrain - Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has appointed a woman believed to be the Arab world's first Jewish ambassador as the country's envoy to Washington.

Lawmaker Houda Nonoo said she was proud to serve her country "first of all as a Bahraini," adding that she was not chosen because of her religion.

"It is a great honor to have been appointed as the first female ambassador to the United States of America, and I am looking forward to meeting this new challenge," she said by phone.

Bahrain - an island nation with Sunni rulers and a Shiite majority - does not have diplomatic relations with Israel but is a close U.S. ally and hosts the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. It has about 50 Jewish citizens among a population of half a million. Nonoo has served as a legislator in Bahrain's all-appointed 40-member Shura Council for three years.

- AP

Balkans listed among safest

BELGRADE, Serbia - The Balkans, a hotbed of crime and violence during the Yugoslav wars and the chaotic transition from communism, have become one of the safest areas in Europe to live, according to a U.N. report released yesterday.

The report concluded that nine Balkan countries - including Bosnia and Croatia, which saw vicious ethnic bloodletting in the 1990s - now boast lower levels of homicide, robbery and rape than Western Europe.

"The Balkans is departing from an era when demagogues, secret police and thugs profited from sanctions-busting and the smuggling of people, arms, cigarettes and drugs," the report said. It was compiled by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

- AP

Turkish ruling targets gay group

ANKARA, Turkey - A Turkish court yesterday ordered a gay-rights organization to shut down because it said the group's name violated public morality, the group said, though homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey.

The Lambda Istanbul Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transvestites Solidarity Association said it would appeal the decision within a week. The court's decision was not final and the association based in Istanbul continues its activities, said Baran Ergenc, a member of the association.

Gays in Turkey say they lack legal protections and face social stigma in the Muslim nation with a secular tradition. Turkey's government has implemented broad reforms in its bid to join the European Union but remains heavily influenced by conservative and religious values.

- AP

Elsewhere:

The joint U.N.-African Union

mission in Darfur, Sudan, said a Ugandan member of the peacekeeping force was shot dead by unknown assailants. The officer is the first member of the mission slain since it deployed five months ago amid concerns it does not have adequate numbers or arms even to protect itself.

A strong earthquake

shook southern Iceland yesterday, causing more than a dozen injuries, none serious, as it rocked buildings in Reykjavik, touched off landslides, and forced evacuations in outlying towns, officials and local media said. The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-6.1 quake hit at 3:46 p.m.

Chile's national police chief

, Gen. Jose Alejandro Bernales, 59, and 10 others were killed yesterday when the aging Panamanian government helicopter they were riding in crashed into a three-story building in Panama City.