Justice watch: keeping an eye on the law

China changes property rights law

China is changing its constitution to protect private property rights for the first time since the 1949 communist revolution - a key step in making capitalism its economy's driving force.

A constitutional amendment endorsed by the Communist Party went before legislators on Monday and their approval seemed certain.

Party leaders who control the legislature already say private property is essential to advancing economic reforms that have let millions of Chinese lift themselves out of poverty.

Such changes would bring China's legal framework in line with its market orientation, analysts say. Entrepreneurs who play a critical role in creating jobs and wealth have been lobbying for the constitutional protection.

"The leadership has recognized that the private sector will be the major engine of [economic] growth in the coming years," said Joseph Cheng, a political scientist at City University of Hong Kong. "I think there's a strong consensus and this is largely uncontroversial."

Despite a lack of constitutional protections so far, millions of Chinese have plunged ahead in starting businesses and buying homes and stock shares issued by state companies.

Migrants say return home safer

NUEVO LAREDO, MEXICO The holiday trip home for many Mexican migrants has become easier as President Vicente Fox has moved to protect families on the annual trek that used to be plagued by police demanding bribes and confiscating gifts.

President Fox has tried to strengthen the Paisano program, a 14-year-old federal plan to safeguard the annual trip home before Christmas, when most migrant families return to Mexico - clogging highways with pickup trucks and sedans overflowing with bicycles, television sets, and computers.

For the second year, police have organized migrants into caravans and guided them through the city to ensure they are not mistreated or robbed.

To discourage corruption at the border, Fox's government has posted more than 1,000 independent observers at major crossings, from the Pacific coast to the Gulf of Mexico. Migrants can call government hot lines to report harassment.

But while many migrants said the changes have made the trip home better, others found plenty of reason to stay north of the border. Undocumented workers, for example, are staying in the United States because illegal crossings have become harder and more dangerous under increased security measures. And some migrants say that police still prey upon them in central Mexico, beyond the focus of the Paisano program.

Paisano program director Florencia Martinez said 1 million migrants made the trek home last year during the holidays. Most of the migrants crossing earlier this week were legal US residents.

Fox reached out to Mexicans living in the US during his presidential campaign and after taking office. He has strengthened Mexico's system of consulates in the US and often calls migrants "national heroes."

Push to protect boreal forest

NEW YORK Four natural-resources companies on Monday plan to say they will join environmental groups to push the Canadian government to protect the country's boreal forest, The Wall Street Journal said on Monday.

One of the companies, pulp producer Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries, also is expected to agree to have its forestry practices certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, an association that promotes responsible forest management.

The boreal forests are one of the world's few intact natural areas big enough to help buffer the effects of climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels, the paper noted.

Canada's boreal forests, spanning from the Alaska border to the Atlantic coast, have been increasingly disturbed as forestry companies advance farther north, the report said, adding that most of the paper and wood products from the area are consumed in the US.

Two other companies involved in the boreal effort, Tembec and Domtar, have accepted the certification system, the report said. The other company participating is Suncor Energy, which extracts oil from northern Alberta.

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