76 journalists killed in 2009

NEW YORK - Covering wars and elections proved dangerous to journalists in 2009 - a year that saw the largest massacre of media workers ever killed in one day, a watchdog group said yesterday.

Reporters Without Borders said that 76 journalists were killed in 2009 - 30 in a single incident, covering an election on the Philippine's Mindanao Island. The 2009 killings represented a 26 percent increase over 2008, when 60 journalists were killed, the group said.

Bloggers and "cyber-dissidents" also found themselves increasingly targeted in 2009 as the Internet and social-media sites became an increasingly important source of news and information in countries where traditional media are often censured or run by the state.

According to the report, arrests of bloggers and cyber-dissidents rose by 139 percent to 141 cases in 2009 from 59 a year ago. "No one should be surprised that, as bloggers and Web sites continue to flourish, censorship and repression have surged proportionally," the report said.

- AP

Hundreds flee fires in Australia

PERTH, Australia - Wildfires possibly sparked by fallen power lines roared yesterday across a swath of western Australia, razing almost 40 homes and sending hundreds of people fleeing, officials and witnesses said. At least three people were injured.

Two fires burned out of control overnight after breaking out Tuesday afternoon in a wheat- and sheep-farming district north of the coastal city of Perth, forcing the evacuation of the township of Toodyay and threatening a second town farther north.

The two fires scorched a total of more than 33,000 acres of forest and farmland before cooler conditions yesterday helped hundreds of firefighters contain them. Two firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation, and a third was treated for a heat-related illness.

- AP

7 women on trek reach South Pole

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Seven women on a 562-mile Antarctic ski trek reached the South Pole today, 38 days after they began their adventure to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Commonwealth.

"I'm incredibly proud of the team and I think . . . if we can do this then you can do anything that you like to and that's the message that we really want to send to everyone," team leader Felicity Aston said in a message from the South Pole.

Skiing six to 10 hours a day, the Commonwealth Women's Antarctic Expedition trekked an average of 15 miles a day, each hauling a 176-pound sled of provisions and shelter to reach the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station science base. The 53-nation Commonwealth links mainly former colonies of Britain.

- AP

Elsewhere:

Panama has made $4.75 billion from the Panama Canal since taking over operations a decade ago, more than twice what it received in the 85 years the United States operated the waterway, the operating authority said yesterday. Today marks the 10th anniversary of the canal's handover.