Pakistani leader may pardon Christian facing execution

Pakistan’s president may pardon a Christian woman facing a death sentence for blasphemy against Islam, officials said Saturday, as the mother of five tearfully denied the charge.

The case of Asia Bibi, 45, has drawn appeals from Pope Benedict XVI and human rights groups to free her. She was sentenced to death this month.

The verdict has drawn attention to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which critics say are used to persecute Christian and other minorities and fan extremism. They are also often exploited to settle personal grudges.

Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister for minority affairs, said Saturday that President Asif Ali Zardari has asked for a report on the case.

Her husband says Bibi’s original spat was in June 2009 with a group of Muslim women who refused to drink from the same water bowl as a Christian when they were picking fruit in an orchard in their village in Punjab province.

After Bibi argued with them, the women told the local imam that Bibi had insulted the Prophet Mohammed. The imam told the police, and she was arrested. A local court sentenced her to death Nov. 8.


Alleged trafficker charged, may be extradited to U.S.

Mexican authorities said Saturday they have filed formal charges against alleged drug kingpin Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villareal and are weighing a request to extradite him to the United States.

The Texas-born Valdez, considered one of Mexico’s top drug traffickers in recent years, faces charges including drug trafficking, kidnapping and arms possession, according to a statement issued by the Mexican Attorney General’s Office.

He also now faces a formal extradition process based on a U.S. warrant for drug-trafficking charges in Louisiana, the statement said.

Valdez, who had been held pending charges since his Aug. 30 arrest, is described as a former ally of Mexico’s most-wanted kingpin, Joaquin Guzman, and he allegedly had been fighting for control of the Beltran Leyva gang after Mexican marines killed its leader in late 2009.


Returning home to vote, refugees stranded, hungry

Many Southern Sudanese who have returned home to vote in a January independence referendum are stranded and hungry in overcrowded camps, residents said Saturday.

About 1.5 million residents fled oil-rich Southern Sudan during the 20-year civil war, and the government is eager to bring as many of them home as possible to vote in the Jan. 9 poll. That vote could give the south independence from the north.

Some southerners arrived from the northern Sudanese capital on long convoys of buses laid on by the government of Southern Sudan as part of its $25 million “come home to choose” program. They are entitled to some aid from the World Food Program and other agencies.

But others, like Elizabeth Nyapuka, 30, a mother of five, trickle home individually and are not included in official counts or entitled to any help.

Nyapuka said she was forced off a bus for questioning by northern Sudanese soldiers as she traveled through a contested border zone. Now that she’s arrived in the Unity state capital of Bentiu, Nyapuka says she can’t afford to feed her children and doesn’t know how she’ll make the rest of the journey to her village, more than 100 miles to the west.

The top U.S. official in Southern Sudan said that the conditions returnees faces are dire.