World and Nation

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Prosecutors: Khmer Rouge leaders’ brutality ‘defies belief’

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Opening statements in the most significant stage of a U.N.-backed trial of Khmer Rouge leaders began Monday with a horrifying account of the atrocities of a regime that a prosecutor said was responsible for the deaths of one-fourth of the population during its four-year rule from 1975 to 1979.

The three defendants, former leaders of the Khmer Rouge, listened as one of two prosecutors, Chea Leang, accused them of turning the country into “a massive slave camp producing an entire nation of prisoners living under a system of brutality that defies belief.”

The defendants include Nuon Chea, 85, the party’s chief ideologue, who the prosecution said received reports and gave specific directions as to “who would be arrested and who would be killed.”

The other prosecutor, Andrew Cayley, said one witness who would testify to receiving these instructions was Kaing Guek Eav, commandant of the movement’s main prison, who was sentenced in July 2010 to 35 years in prison, later commuted to 19.

—Seth Mydans, The New York Times

King of Jordan visits the West Bank

RAMALLAH, West Bank — King Abdullah II of Jordan visited the Palestinian West Bank for the first time in a decade Monday and conferred with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority as both men begin risky reconciliation efforts with the Islamists of Hamas.

Abbas is to hold power-sharing talks with Khaled Meshal of Hamas this week in Cairo to try to put an end to a four-year-old bitter division within the Palestinian movement. Meshal, who is based in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and has been barred from official visits to Jordan since 1999, has been invited there next week.

As popular upheavals across the Middle East grant Islamist parties more influence, both Abbas and the king are being pressed to soften their policies toward Hamas.

—Ethan Bronner, The New York Times

As Wall Street downsizes, a dry spell for young workers

NEW YORK — Steve Ferdman celebrated getting a job offer this fall from Credit Suisse in the usual Wall Street fashion. Over oysters and dark rum cocktails at a trendy Manhattan restaurant with his parents.

A week later, Ferdman, 28, sat alone at the same place with a gin and tonic, lamenting getting laid off by the bank, for the second time since 2008.

“I did everything right. I came into work every day, I put in long hours, and I still got punched in the face,” Ferdman said. “People shouldn’t want to work in this industry anymore.”

Being young on Wall Street once meant having it all: style, smarts and too much money. Now, 20-somethings in the finance industry are losing cash and cachet.

Three years after the global financial crisis nearly brought Wall Street firms to the brink, the nation’s largest banks are again struggling. As profits wane, layoffs have claimed thousands of jobs and those still employed have seen their compensation shrink.

—Kevin Roose, The New York Times

Failure absorbed with disgust and fear, but little surprise

Does the U.S. political system even work anymore?

Variations on that question kept coming up Monday as Americans — at least those paying attention — absorbed the news that the congressional committee charged with reducing the deficit had failed to even meet very often, let alone come up with a plan to get the country back in the black. From shoppers in Los Angeles to tourists in Atlanta to traders taking cigarette breaks outside the Chicago Board of Trade, the eye-rolling that often accompanies doings in Washington gave way to something bordering on dismay.

“My reaction when I heard they failed was more emotional than anything,” Elizabeth Weinraub, a 25-year-old retail manager, said as she got her morning fix at a Los Angeles Starbucks. “I’m not even sure what that means in the grand scheme. But it was a bum-out.”

People were not just annoyed: they were worried. Khalfani Lawson, a 23-year-old student at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, said the lack of progress was breeding apathy among the young.

A record 84 percent of Americans said they disapproved of the way Congress was handling its job in the most recent New York Times/CBS News poll last month, the most since The Times first began asking the question in 1977. Congress’ approval rating has sunk to 9 percent, the poll found, a record low.

—Michael Cooper, The New York Times

Gilead will buy Pharmasset for $11 billion

Gilead Sciences made a bold move Monday to capture the lead in developing the next generation of hepatitis C drugs, agreeing to pay $11 billion in cash for Pharmasset.

The treatment of hepatitis C has undergone a revolution this year, with new pills from Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Merck sharply increasing the cure rates and also often cutting the required duration of treatment. But those new drugs still must be used with alpha interferon, a type of drug injected once a week that can cause severe flulike symptoms and other side effects.

Pharmasset, based in Princeton, N.J., is pushing to develop the first all-oral treatment regimen, doing away with the need for interferon. Its drug candidate, PSI-7977, has just entered the final phase of clinical testing and could be on the market by 2014, Gilead said.

Pharmasset is “way ahead of everybody else,” Norbert W. Bischofberger, Gilead’s executive vice president for research and development, told analysts in a Monday morning conference call.

—Andrew Pollack and Michael J. De La Merced, 
The New York Times