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UA News
Tuesday October 9, 2001

News Briefs


Colombian congressman assassinated in Bogota

Associated Press

BOGOTA, Colombia - Gunmen on a motorcycle assassinated a Colombian lawmaker as he drove his car in the capital yesterday, the second member of congress slain in a week.

The shooting of Rep. Luis Alfredo Colmenares along an avenue of upscale shops in north Bogota came three days after a government-rebel agreement raised hopes of an eventual cease-fire in Colombia's 37-year conflict.

Police have not said who they believe killed Colmenares, but he is an opposition Liberal Party representative from Arauca, an oil-rich but violent state near the Venezuelan border.

The right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, has been moving into the state, long a bastion of leftist guerrillas. Last Tuesday, another Arauca congressman, Octavio Sarmiento, was shot and killed by suspected AUC gunmen near his farm.

Defense Minister Gustavo Bell blamed Monday's attack on "dark forces who are silencing the voices of democracy."

Colmenares, 48, was a former state governor.

The shooting brings to six the number of congressmen killed in the past year. Four lawmakers are hostages of leftist guerrillas.

"Life in this country is worthless," a fellow member of congress, Jose Alfredo Escobar, said at the scene of the assassination.

The congressmen was found slumped in his car, which had swerved to the side of the road after the attack.

Yesterday's shooting underscores rising tensions even as the government and rebels claim to be making progress in peace negotiations.


Passenger tries to enter plane cockpit

CHICAGO - Air Force fighter planes were sent to escort an American Airlines jetliner yesterday after a passenger tried to enter the cockpit of the plane, federal officials said.

Preliminary reports indicated there was not an attempted hijacking aboard the plane, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Marcia Adams. No one was injured, and the plane was escorted safely to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

The passenger, described later by his father as having a history of mental illness, was subdued aboard Flight 1238 from Los Angeles to Chicago after trying to get into the cockpit, said FBI spokesman Ross Rice.

"The male individual was physically restrained by other passengers," American Airline spokesman Al Becker said. "This appears to be an isolated incident."

The captain of the Boeing 767, which was carrying a crew of nine and 153 passengers, declared an emergency. The F-16s were then dispatched to escort the plane, Chicago Aviation Department spokeswoman Monique Bond.

The passenger was taken into custody but was not immediately charged with a crime.


Group hiring lobbyist to work against death penalty for kids

TUCSON, Ariz. - Death penalty opponents and child advocates are strengthening their efforts to end executions of juvenile offenders.

The Coalition of Arizonans to Abolish the Death Penalty recently obtained a $7,500 grant from the Arizona Social Change Fund to hire a lobbyist to work at the state Capitol. The position would be filled as lawmakers consider a state commission's recommendation end death sentences for juveniles. Arizona is one of 24 states that allows such executions.

The coalition also will work to keep mentally incompetent offenders off Death Row. Under current law, incompetent prisoners are restored to competency and then executed.

The Children's Action Alliance has joined the effort as well. "In almost every one of these cases, what we see are children who have had terrible abuse inflicted on them," said Penelope Jacks of the alliance. "So if we put them to death, we're blaming the child for the failure of adults."

Last year, lawmakers agreed not to put mentally retarded prisoners to death.

As part of its latest efforts, the coalition is inviting Sister Helen Prejean, who gained fame as the protagonist in "Dead Man Walking," to Tucson today. The title of her speech is "Childhood's End: Juveniles and the Death Penalty."



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