Sixty-one soldiers performing cleanup work after the earthquake in southwestern China were hospitalized Thursday after sacks of bleach they were using as a disinfectant caught fire and filled the air with fumes. The urgent cleanup efforts were further limited by rains, which kept helicopters from delivering heavy equipment to relieve pressure on a dam in danger of bursting. The government raised the number of fatalities from the quake to 68,500 and said more than 19,000 other people remain missing.

Survivors of cyclone Nargis "can stand on their own," the ruling junta of Burma (Myanmar) insisted Thursday. It approved visas for 45 foreign aid workers, but scorned demands for access to the hard-hit Irawaddy Delta, accusing donors of being stingy and providing mainly "chocolate bars." UN aid officials estimated that fewer than half of those affected by the powerful storm have had any help since it struck May 2. Against that backdrop, the junta announced the adoption of the rewritten Constitution, which it said won 92.5 percent approval in a national referendum shortly after the cyclone.

The supreme commander of Thailand's armed forces refused to rule out another coup amid rising tensions caused by an aide to the prime minister. The aide will be charged with insulting beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej, prosecutors said. If convicted, he could serve 15 years in prison. Opponents of the government scheduled a mass protest Friday in Bangkok, the capital, in part because of the aide's remarks. The military seized power in 2006 after months of street protests against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Despite daily demonstrations, the government of South Korea OK'd the resumption of beef imports from the US as soon as next week. The announcement was expected to generate a new protest Thursday night by tens of thousands of opponents, who claim that the controls on imports don't adequately protect public health. The US and South Korea struck a deal April 18 that would relax the rules on shipments, although they'd be subjected to quarantine until they can be inspected. After a four-year hiatus, imports were allowed to resume last year, but then were halted again due to a new "mad cow" disease scare.

Thousands of protesters from one of India's poorer castes blocked highways and trains, smashed windows, and hurled rocks at police Thursday, carrying their demand for special recognition to the capital, New Delhi. The demonstrators, from the Gujjar minority, seek reclassification that would allow easier access to government jobs and admission to colleges. Their on-again, off-again campaign resumed last week in Rajasthan State and brought a harsh police response, resulting in at least 39 deaths. Below, police push burning tires off a New Delhi street.

Police broke up protests by students and teachers in Chile's largest cities Wednesday, arresting more than 300 in new violence over the proposed overhaul of public education. The protesters are unhappy about legislation that they say doesn't meet their demands for state control over the schools or for free public transportation. Chile's schools educate only 8 percent of poor children, while 72 percent of those from more prosperous families go on to college. The government appealed for calm, arguing that the measure has yet to be voted on by legislators. Protests over the issue have been staged periodically since 2006.

Almost 65,000 children in Colombia will be among the first in developing countries to receive cheap computers under the acclaimed One Laptop Per Child program, reports said Thursday. Fifteen thousand will go to small towns in the coffee-growing Caldas region; the rest will be distributed in larger cities. The program, based in Cambridge, Mass., sells touch-screen laptops for $188 each but hopes to bring the price down to $75 by 2010.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.