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Singapore: no apologies

The government on Friday rejected American criticism of a court decision to sentence an Ohio teenager to be flogged for spray-painting cars, saying the country's tough laws have saved it from the fate of New York, "where vandalism is commonplace."

The government also rejected foreign pleas for clemency for four foreigners who were sentenced to death for drug trafficking.

A Thai and three Hong Kong nationals were hanged Friday at Changi Prison, after Amnesty International called on thousands of supporters to send appeals for clemency to Singapore President Ong Teng Cheong. Singapore has hanged 52 people for drug offenses since the death penalty was imposed in 1975.

Another human rights dispute appeared to be brewing in the case of Michael Fay, the 18-year-old American who was sentenced Thursday to six strokes of a cane and four months in prison after pleading guilty to two charges of vandalism, two charges of mischief and one count of possessing stolen property. Fay, of Dayton, Ohio, was freed on $48,000 bail while his attorneys prepared an appeal.

Ralph Boyce, the U.S. charge d'affaires who attended the sentencing, took the rare step of publicly criticizing the court's sentence as too harsh.

But the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement: "Unlike some other societies which may tolerate acts of vandalism, Singapore has its own standards of social order as reflected in our laws."

The ministry added: "It is because of our tough laws against anti-social crimes that we are able to keep Singapore orderly and relatively crime free. We do not have a situation where acts of vandalism are commonplace as in cities like New York where even police cars are not spared the acts of vandals."

Cuban convicted

in 1980 hijacking

MIAMI _ A hijacker who said he would rather be in jail in the United States than free in his native Cuba was convicted Friday of air piracy. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Elvis Rafael Fonseca Machado hijacked a National Airlines plane to Cuba in 1980, weeks after arriving in the United States as part of the Mariel boatlift. He told reporters he had been ordered to leave his country and decided to return after hearing his mother had suffered a heart attack.

He returned on a raft in June 1993 and was arrested when an FBI check turned up the hijacking charge.

U.S. District Judge Edward Davis convicted Fonseca after a non-jury trial. Sentencing is scheduled for May 11.

Elsewhere . . .

PANAMA CITY, Panama _ A jury has convicted deposed dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega of ordering the murder of an army major who tried to overthrow him in 1989. The verdict Thursday night is the third conviction for Noriega, who is serving 40 years in the United States for drug trafficking.

WASHINGTON _ The U.S. operation in Somalia will cost $1.2-billion by the time the last Marines withdraw later this month, according to a Pentagon estimate.

HELSINKI, Finland _ A cruise liner ran aground in icy waters off Finland's southern coast Friday, forcing the evacuation of all 1,100 passengers and nearly 160 crew members. The Sally Albatross was on its way to Helsinki from Tallinn, Estonia.

WASHINGTON _ Libya is constructing an underground chemical weapons facility 40 miles southeast of Tripoli, the State Department said Friday. It would be Libya's second known plant. The other is at Rabta, outside the capital. The department said it has been dormant for several years.

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