Australian officials seek possible victims of fires

Canadian who sheltered
U.S. diplomats dies at 88

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

John Sheardown, a former Canadian diplomat, who sheltered fugitive American Embassy staffers in his Tehran home during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, has died. He was 88 years old.

Sheardown had been treated for Alzheimer’s disease and other ailments before his death Dec. 30 in Ottawa.

The rescue of the Americans has become known as the “Canadian caper” and is depicted in Ben Affleck’s Oscar-contender film “Argo.” However, Sheardown is not portrayed in the film.

Affleck has said Sheardown’s role in the hostage crisis was omitted in the film due to time constraints and plot developments.

Sheardown and his wife, Zena, housed four of the six fugitive Americans in their 20-room home in Tehran. The group had escaped from the American Embassy after militant Iranian radicals seized the U.S. Embassy on Nov. 4, 1979, holding 52 American hostages for 444 days in retaliation for U.S. support for the recently deposed shah. The two other Americans were taken in by Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor.

Sheardown received a telephone call from one of the Americans about a week after the embassy takeover, asking for help and Sheardown agreed.

His wife said “it was just not in John’s nature to refuse help to anyone.”

In a story posted in October on the Slate magazine Web site, one of the rescued American diplomats, Mark Lijek, said without Sheardown’s “enthusiastic welcome we might have tried to survive on our own a few more days. We would have failed.”

Sheardown was made a member of the Order of Canada for his role in the rescue.

Father names the victim
of brutal Indian rape

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The father of the Indian woman who was brutally gang-raped and later died from severe injuries says he wanted to reveal his daughter’s identity in order to embolden other sexual crime victims.

Jyoti Singh Pandey is her name, her father, Badri Singh Pandey, said.

The father told Britain’s Sunday People newspaper that his daughter “didn’t do anything wrong” and that “she died while protecting herself.”

He said he is proud of her and that by revealing her name, he hopes it will give courage to other women who have survived similar attacks.

Alongside the numerous protests in India against the gruesome crime, there have been public calls to identify the 23-year-old woman, including a proposal to name a new anti-rape law after her.

However, Indian law forbids the naming of sex-crime victims with the intent of protecting them from social stigma associated with rape. So far, authorities have already filed a case against one media outlet, Zee TV, after it ran an interview with the male friend who was with the victim during the attack. They say the interview could lead to identifying the victim.

In the interview, the woman’s companion accused police in New Delhi of wasting time arguing about who had jurisdiction and then taking the couple to a hospital that was not the closest one available. This came after the victim’s friend said it took nearly half an hour before anyone stopped and helped the couple after they were dumped naked and bleeding on the side of the road.

The Joint Commissioner of Delhi Police, Vivek Gogia, has defended the speed of the police response, telling reporters that police took less than 30 minutes to get the couple to the hospital after the distress call.

Indian authorities have charged five men with murder, rape, kidnapping and other charges in the Dec. 16 attack. Officials say they will push for the death penalty if the men are convicted. A sixth suspect is under 18 and will be tried separately in a juvenile court.

Authorities say the accused used the rod to beat the two victims and to violate the woman during the rape.

The unidentified woman died more than a week ago in a hospital in Singapore, where she had been taken for treatment. Her father has backed calls to hang the men charged, if they are convicted.

The Zee interview marked the first time the man, who has not been named, has spoken publicly about the Dec.16 attack. The Committee to Protect Journalists has urged Indian officials to refrain from pressing the charges against the media outlet.

India has set up a so-called “fast-track” court to try the men accused of the crimes. The fast-track court is one of five being set up in New Delhi, known by some as the rape capital of India. The courts will hear cases of sexual assault and other crimes against women in an effort to bypass India’s overwhelmed regular court system, where cases can often take many years to be resolved.

Australian officials seek
possible victims of fires

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Raging wildfires are continuing to burn through southern Australia, where concerns are focused on about 100 people who may be missing.

Australian firefighters, using helicopter and planes, are battling the blazes across the state of Tasmania, where the fires flared Friday after a record summer heat wave that pushed temperatures above 40 degrees C.

Acting Tasmanian Police Commissioner Scott Tilyard says in areas hit hardest by the fires, officials are trying to make sure that everyone is okay.

“We have teams on the ground now focusing particularly on Dunalley and Boomer Bay today going through the process of having to go door to door, literally on every fire-damaged property, some are shacks, some are houses, some are outbuildings, and confirming that there are no people who have lost their lives at that particular location,” he said.

While officials are hopeful, Tasmanian Fire Service Chief Mike Brown says the battle is not yet over.

“The fact that we’ve got many, many kilometers, possibly hundreds of kilometers of uncontrolled fire in very remote and heavily forested country, is still going to be problematic for us over the next few days,” he said.

Several communities were evacuated as the fires approached. Residents like Roger Sparrow, who escaped with his two daughters, said he was happy to get out alive.

Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. In February of 2009, hundreds of fires across Victoria state killed 173 people.

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