Around the world

DISSIDENTS: Nine dissidents were sentenced Friday to up to 20 years in prison for taking part in underground pro-democracy and labor groups. Five others were convicted but released and another person was put under surveillance for two years, said Fan Shumin, spokeswoman at the Beijing Intermediate Court. The 15 dissidents had already spent 21/2 years in jail awaiting trial.MEZCAL: Mexican officials said Thursday that 39 people have died owing to consumption of methanol-tainted mezcal, an alcoholic drink made from cactus plants. Hospital officials and authorities in the state of Morelos, which borders southern Mexico City, said six Mexico City residents and 33 from Morelos have died so far from drinking the tainted mezcal. Eight others survived but were blinded by the alcohol. The clandestine distilleries in the Morelos community of Temixco where the mezcal was produced have been closed, seven people have been arrested and 1,040 gallons of the drink have been confiscated.

Across the nation

FIREBOMBS: Firebomb attacks on two abortion clinics on the same day may be related, the FBI said. A firebomb did minor damage to the roof of Central Family Medicine in Kansas City, Kan., on Thursday, authorities said. About five hours later, a plastic basket decorated with Christmas ribbon was found at the front door of Planned Parenthood of Greater Kansas City, FBI agent Jeff Lanza said. It held two firebombs, but the wicks had apparently fizzled without setting off the flammable liquid inside.

THROWN OUT: A judge has thrown out an $89.5 million jury award to a black engineer who accused Hughes Aircraft Co. of job discrimination and the white supervisor who backed him up. The damages awarded were "so disproportionate it shocks the conscience of this court," Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Malcolm Mackey wrote in his order Thursday. "Runaway verdicts such as this have to be reversed." Mackey said that Jeffrey Lane never proved that discrimination was the reason he was not promoted and that his supervisor, David Villalpando, didn't prove he was unfairly ousted from the company for supporting Lane.