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Abbas supports Palestinian gunmen

Gaza City, Gaza Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said in an Associated Press interview Saturday that he wants to protect militants from Israel, rejecting Israeli demands that he crack down on them. It was his latest campaign gesture to court gunmen seen by many Palestinians as resistance heroes and by Israel as terrorists.

Also Saturday, Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a group of militants in Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip. There was no immediate word on casualties or other details. Israeli troops have been operating in the area in recent weeks, trying to halt mortar attacks launched from the area on nearby Jewish settlements.

In the interview, Abbas defended a series of recent public appearances with gunmen, saying the Palestinian leadership has a responsibility to protect its people.

Families try to ID club fire victims; owner jailed

Buenos Aires, Argentina Anguished families struggled Saturday to identify the bodies of relatives killed in a Buenos Aires nightclub fire that left at least 186 people dead, many after being trapped inside by locked emergency exits.

The club’s owner, Omar Chaban, was being held by authorities pending an investigation into Thursday’s inferno. Judicial officials said they were looking into claims the building was overcrowded at the time of the blaze, which also injured more than 700 people.

Authorities raised the death toll from 175 after 11 more deaths were reported. Some 100 people remain in critical care in city hospitals, and police warned the death toll could rise.

Several hundred people later Saturday marched near the Cromagnon Republic nightclub, calling on city officials to toughen safety codes for concert halls and rock clubs.

Haitian leaders mark nation’s anniversary

Gonaives, Haiti Haiti’s leaders marked the country’s 201st anniversary of independence Saturday while protesters demanded more help in this flood-ravaged city where political tensions still linger almost a year after a revolt that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In the northern city of Gonaives where the country’s declaration of independence from slave-holding France was signed Jan. 1, 1804, Interim President Boniface Alexandre urged Haitians to help pave the way for “free, honest, transparent and democratic elections” this year.

Earlier, Alexandre and Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue listened to a church sermon while about 200 protesters gathered outside the cathedral. Some demanded the U.S-backed government deliver on promises made in October to rebuild the battered city.

Uganda says rebels rejected cease-fire deal

Gulu, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni on Saturday said the army will resume all-out war on rebels in northern Uganda, charging that the insurgents rejected a cease-fire deal that had been expected to open the way for political talks on ending the 18-year civil war.

The government, however, will continue negotiating with the rebels in an effort to find a political solution to the conflict in which thousands have been killed and more than a million forced from their homes, Museveni said during New Year’s celebrations.

The Lord’s Resistance Army rebels have waged a campaign of murder, rape and abductions in northern Uganda. Led by the elusive Joseph Kony, they replenish their ranks by abducting children and forcing them to become fighters, porters or concubines.

Rebels broke the truce first early Saturday, according to a government spokesman, ambushing an army supply truck in Alero, a village 2 miles west of Gulu, injuring four soldiers.

Putin hails as hero man convicted in Latvia

Moscow Russian President Vladimir Putin issued New Year’s greetings Saturday to a former pro-Soviet partisan convicted in Latvia of killing civilians during World War II.

Vassily Kononov, 80, was convicted last year of war crimes for ordering the killing of nine civilians, including a pregnant woman, in 1944 when Latvia was occupied by Nazi troops. He was a leader of a small band of partisans fighting the Nazis.

Kononov was sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment, but was freed because he had served that much time in pretrial detention.

Many Russians consider Kononov a legitimate war hero and Moscow criticized the trial as a witch-hunt targeting an ailing, elderly man. Russian-Latvian relations have been tense since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, with Russia expressing strong resentment of Latvia’s efforts to spread use of the Latvian language and limit Russian, the mother tongue of about a third of Latvia’s people.

“You have defended not only your honest name, but historical justice and the honor of your fighting comrades,” Putin said in the greetings statement released by the Kremlin. “From my soul I greet you and your loved ones on the coming New Year.”


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