Leaders of Syria, Cuba meet to talk about cooperation

President Bashar Assad of Syria sat down with Cuban leader Raul Castro on Monday as part of his first tour of Latin America, a trip that is taking him to meetings with many of the region’s left-leaning governments.

There was no word on what Raul Castro and Assad discussed at the stately Palace of the Revolution, but Cuban state media have said Assad was coming to promote cooperation between his Mideastern nation and the communist-run island.

Earlier, the governments of Cuba and Syria announced they had reached an agreement to jointly battle drug trafficking and help each other dismantle international smuggling syndicates working between both countries.

Cuba and Syria are on a list of nations the U.S. considers state sponsors of terrorism, an allegation Havana has denied for decades.


American Embassy disputes $5.75 million in traffic levies

Britain’s Foreign Office named the U.S. embassy Monday as the worst offender among diplomatic missions that have racked up $54 million in disputed traffic congestion charges.

Foreign Secretary William Hague published figures that show the U.S. owes $5.75 million after declining to pay a London traffic levy 35,602 times between the introduction of the charge in 2003 and this January.

Some diplomats claim they shouldn’t need to pay the charge because it is a local tax. Under diplomatic rules, embassy officials are exempt from local taxes.

Under the levy, drivers who enter central London during business hours must pay $12 a day — a policy aimed at reducing congestion.

The embassy said in a statement that it declines to pay the congestion charge under diplomatic rules.


Officer accused of torture is guilty of perjury, obstruction

A decorated former Chicago police lieutenant accused of suffocating, shocking and beating confessions out of scores of suspects was convicted Monday of federal perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges for lying about the torture.

Former Lt. Jon Burge did not react as the guilty verdicts were read.

None of Burge’s lawyers or supporters spoke to reporters after the verdict. He will remain free on bond until his Nov. 5 sentencing, when he faces up to 45 years in prison.

For decades, dozens of suspects — almost all of them black men — claimed Burge and his officers tortured them into confessing to crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald wouldn’t comment on specific cases, but said the investigation into torture at the hands of Chicago police remains open.

The allegations of torture and coerced confessions eventually led to a still-standing moratorium on Illinois’ death penalty and the emptying of death row.

Chicago police declined to comment on the verdict.


Man charged in four killings had been paroled early twice

A convicted murderer charged in the weekend stabbing deaths of four people was freed from prison in 2006 but was put back behind bars two years ago for failing to complete anger management therapy.

Michael Ballard, 36, who is charged with four counts of homicide in Saturday’s rampage in Northampton, was paroled again on April 19. He was living at a halfway house in Allentown when authorities said he attacked his former girlfriend, her father, her 87-year-old grandfather and a neighbor.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, who has long railed against the state’s parole system, said he was outraged that Ballard won early release from prison. He likened Ballard to a rabid dog that needs to be put down.

Leo Dunn, spokesman for the state Board of Probation and Parole, declined to comment about the decision.