World and Nation

Shorts (right)

Global Conflicts Overstretch U.N.

Kofi Annan, the former secretary general, said Thursday that the United Nations was “overstretched” in conflict areas and should resist taking on new responsibilities as long as major powers proved unwilling to supply needed support.

“I don’t think the U.N. is in a position today to go in and take over in Afghanistan; I don’t think the U.N. will get the resources to play a major and active role in Somalia,” he said. “We are already struggling to get the resources in Darfur, where some have declared it a genocide.”

The United Nations, he said, must make clear what it can and cannot do. “To create the impression of action when nothing is happening is, I think, more damaging,” he said, in a conversation with journalists who cover the United Nations.

At Harvard, Students’ Muslim Traditions Are Topic Of Debate

A small controversy over how Harvard practices tolerance has been sparked by two issues relating to Muslim belief — whether the call to prayer should ring out across Harvard Yard and whether women should be granted separate gym hours.

Heated discussions have erupted on dormitory chat rooms, students said, while various opinion articles in the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, have denounced both practices.

“I think that because Harvard is a secular campus, there is a fear among some students that religious beliefs or practices might be imposed on people who don’t want anything to do with them,” said Jessa Birdsall, a sophomore who said she thought the university should accommodate the beliefs of all students.

The debate began in early February, when the undergraduate college restricted one of the three largest gyms on its main campus, the Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center, to women only on Mondays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Tuesdays and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

The college spokesman, Robert Mitchell, would not describe how the decision was reached, but various students said a small group of Muslim women undergraduates living in the Leverett House dormitory asked for the change.

The group of women felt that workout clothes violated the Muslim prescription that both sexes wear appropriate dress in shared environments. So they asked the dormitory to set aside its mini gyms for women a few hours each week. The request eventually made its way to the Harvard College Women’s Center and it was decided that the Quadrangle center, which Mitchell called the college’s least-used athletic facility, would be restricted to women only at certain times. He said the change was an experiment that would be evaluated in June.

The second controversy occurred after the adhan, or call to prayer, was once again broadcast across Harvard Yard at noon from the steps of the Widener Library for several days in late February. The broadcast was part of Islam Awareness Week, sponsored by the Muslim student club, the Harvard Islamic Society.

United Airlines Grounds 7 Planes

United Airlines grounded seven Boeing 747s on Thursday when it was told by the Federal Aviation Administration that a maintenance contractor, Korean Air Lines, had checked the planes’ altimeters using an instrument that was not properly calibrated.

A spokeswoman said Thursday that disruption to flight schedules was “minimal” but she added that some of the planes had not yet been cleared to return to flight.

“All our international flights left on time today,” said the spokeswoman, Megan McCarthy.

United made the announcement two days after the FAA told its inspectors to reconfirm that the airlines were in compliance with all requirements.

This month, the FAA proposed a fine of $10.2 million against Southwest Airlines because it flew dozens of older Boeing 737s without the inspections required by FAA orders called airworthiness directives. According to the FAA, Southwest also misled the agency about the planes.

But United said in a statement that the problem with its 747s was not related to airworthiness directives. It also said that the retesting, conducted Tuesday, “found no issues.”

United said it had “voluntarily disclosed” the problem to the FAA, a step airlines can use to gain immunity from penalties. But the FAA was unable to confirm that Thursday evening.

Immigration Agent Demanded Sex, Officials Say

No problems so far, the immigration agent told the American citizen and his 22-year-old Colombian wife at her green card interview in December. After he stapled one of their wedding photos to her application for legal permanent residency, he had just one more question: What was her cell phone number?

The calls from the agent started three days later. He hinted, she said, at his power to derail her life and deport her relatives, alluding to a brush she had with the law before her marriage. He summoned her to a private meeting. And at noon on Dec. 21, in a parked car on Queens Boulevard, he named his price — not realizing that she was recording everything on the cell phone in her purse.

“I want sex,” he said on the recording. “One or two times. That’s all. You get your green card. You won’t have to see me anymore.”

She reluctantly agreed to a future meeting. But when she tried to leave his car, he demanded oral sex “now,” to “know that you’re serious.” And despite her protests, she said, he got his way.

The 16-minute recording, which the woman first took to The New York Times and then to the Queens district attorney, testifies to the vast power of low-level immigration law enforcers, and to the growing desperation of immigrants seeking legal status.