S. Africa targets false documents

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa yesterday suspended dozens of officials being investigated for giving citizenship to mainly Pakistani foreigners, nearly a year after Britain warned that corrupt officials were handing out false South African passports.

Britain began requiring visas from South Africans in February, saying terrorists and criminals were exploiting the availability of stolen or forged passports to gain access to other countries.

Home Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said 59 officials had been suspended in the last two weeks for issuing South African birth certificates to foreigners.

Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said investigations would ensure that all those implicated "face the full might of the law."

- AP

Austria approves same-sex unions

VIENNA, Austria - Austria's parliament passed legislation yesterday allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, a move hailed by proponents as a historic win for gay rights in the country.

The bill, slated to become law Jan. 1, will give same-sex couples many of the rights enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts, including access to a pension if one partner dies and alimony in the event of a split.

"We are living in the 21st century and I'm very glad this step is being taken today," Justice Minister Claudia Bandion-Ortner said.

The legislation, considered a compromise among the governing coalition, passed 110-64.

- AP

Zelaya refuses Honduran offer

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - Honduras' coup-installed government says ousted leader Manuel Zelaya is free to leave the country, but he can't go as president. Zelaya says he won't go as anything else.

And so he remained holed up yesterday in the Brazilian Embassy, where he has been staying since he slipped back into the country three months ago.

On Wednesday, the goverment agreed to a Mexican request to allow safe passage for Zelaya so he could fly to Mexico as a "distinguished guest."

But the government quickly said Zelaya could go only as a private citizen requesting political asylum, which would bar him from political activity and require him to concede he is no longer president.

- AP

Elsewhere:

A 21-year-old man

has been charged with robbing two groups of cruise-ship passengers in the Bahamas with a shotgun as they toured the capital of Nassau on Segways. Court officials say Dekota Von Lockhart of Nassau was arraigned on 16 counts of armed robbery. At least three cruise-ship companies have canceled excursions into some parts of Nassau since police reported the two robberies.

Pieces of old Paris from a lamp post to a park bench go on the auction block Monday, with the piece de resistance 40 iron steps from the Eiffel Tower, all 25.6 feet of them. Among the 301 items is a section of glass broken during the 1987 construction of the glass pyramid now standing at the entrance to the Louvre Museum.

Pope Benedict XVI, welcoming Cuban ambassador Eduardo Delgado Bermudez to the Vatican, said there are growing signs of religious freedom in Cuba and an opportunity for reconciliation between the communist nation and the United States.

Chinese police detained two gold miners accused of causing serious damage to one of the oldest sections of the Great Wall. The Hohhot Kekao Mining Co. is suspected of destroying about 330 feet of the wall while prospecting for gold in Inner Mongolia. Company officials could face up to 10 years in prison depending on the degree of damage.