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Monday, March 20, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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World Digest

Mudslide kills nine Scouts; two missing

A mudslide swept down on a Scouting expedition in central Colombia, killing nine young hikers and leaving two others missing, authorities said Sunday. The Scouts had just been bathing and practicing knots when they were carried away, survivors said.

The Colombian Scouts, ranging in age from 12 to 19, were on an expedition Saturday with two guides near the snowcapped Nevado del Ruiz volcano close to their home city of Manizales, said German Salgado, regional president of the Scouting Association of Colombia.

The Scouts were in a boulder-filled canyon when heavy rains caused the Chinchina River to rise several feet, sending down a crushing load of earth and rock.

"It wasn't raining where they were," said Maria Pilar Perez, emergency coordinator of Caldas province. "They had no idea what was coming from upstream."

Innisfail, Australia

Category 5 cyclone slams Australia

A powerful tropical cyclone ripped the roofs off buildings and uprooted trees in northeastern Australia today. Devastating winds pinned emergency workers inside, despite pleas from terrified residents.

With winds up to 180 mph, Tropical Cyclone Larry smashed into the coastal community of Innisfail, about 60 miles south of Cairns, a popular jumping-off point for the Great Barrier Reef, sending hundreds of tourists and residents fleeing for higher ground.

A Queensland state police spokeswoman at Innisfail said three people had been reported injured, including a woman struck by flying glass.

The Bureau of Meteorology upgraded the cyclone to a category 5 — the strongest category possible — shortly before it crossed the coast, but then lowered it to a category 4 after the storm hit land.

Mogadishu, Somalia

Militiamen deny firing at Navy first

Somali militiamen who skirmished with U.S. Navy vessels denied Sunday that they had fired the first shot, claiming they had been patrolling Somali waters to stop illegal fishing.

On Saturday, two U.S. Navy ships exchanged gunfire with the suspected pirates off the coast of Somalia, killing one and wounding five. No U.S. sailors were injured. The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet said again Sunday that its ships did not fire first, disputing the militiamen's version.

The incident took place in international waters, and the Navy took a dozen suspects, including the wounded, into custody.

Paris

Unions threaten 1-day general strike

French unions threatened a one-day general strike and socialists warned Sunday that protests would increase unless the government rescinds a law weakening job protections for young people. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said the measure will stand.

Protesters who have been demonstrating for weeks have urged President Jacques Chirac against signing the measure into law. Sixteen universities are on strike in protest over the labor measure and dozens of others have been disrupted. The law is to take effect in April if Chirac signs it.

The law is meant to encourage employers to hire because they can more easily fire. It allows for dismissal within the first two years of employment without giving a reason. The French work code contains rigorous standards for firing employees.

Compiled from The Associated Press

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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