Group asks probe of Jamaica deaths

KINGSTON, Jamaica - Human Rights Watch is calling for an investigation into allegations that Jamaican security forces executed some of the people killed in the hunt for a reputed drug lord.

The organization's Americas director said Friday that credible reports from local advocates indicated that some of the 73 civilian deaths in last week's street battles were extrajudicial killings.

Jose Miguel Vivanco said that an independent investigation was needed to determine whether police and soldiers used excessive force.

The fighting began when security forces raided the West Kingston stronghold of Christopher "Dudus" Coke, who is wanted by the United States. Coke remains at large. Jamaican authorities had no immediate comment. - AP

A counterpoint in Zimbabwe

HARARE, Zimbabwe - Zimbabwe's first independent daily newspaper to be launched in seven years said Friday it would provide a counterpoint to state media that are fiercely loyal to the longtime ruler, President Robert Mugabe.

NewsDay said in Friday's promotional issue that it would not fall prey to "hate, divisiveness, abhorrent propaganda and personality cults," tactics it said state-run media use.

The paper was approved by a new, more liberal media licensing authority that was formed under reforms agreed to in a unity deal that brought the former opposition into a coalition government with Mugabe's ZANU PF party.

The coalition government has also approved two other independent dailies that are to start publishing in coming weeks. The last independent daily paper, the Daily News, was banned by Mugabe's government in 2003 after its printing presses were wrecked in a bombing. - AP

In Nigeria, scores die of poisoning

LAGOS, Nigeria - More than 160 villagers from Nigeria's north, 100 of them children, have died of lead poisoning and hundreds more have been sickened in trying to leach gold from rock deposits, authorities said Friday.

Henry Akpan, Nigeria's chief epidemiologist, said the victims were from five villages in Zamfara state, a desertlike region of the Sahel that has seen a growing food crisis over recent weeks.

Akpan said the children either played near the leaching process or took part in it, swallowing the lead by putting their hands into their mouths or breathing it in.

Akpan said federal and state authorities, as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were taking part in the quarantine and cleanup. - AP

Elsewhere:

France's top law enforcement official, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, who has pushed to expel illegal immigrants, was convicted of making racist anti-Arab comments and fined, prompting calls for him to quit.

A British taxi driver who killed 12 people and wounded 11 in a shooting rampage in rural England on Wednesday took 10 of the lives within a single hour, police said.