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In brief: Diplomacy with Colombia restored

Venezuela said Sunday that it was restoring full diplomatic ties with Colombia that were broken off in a regional crisis sparked by a cross-border Colombian attack on a leftist rebel camp in Ecuador.

The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said it was reopening its embassy in Colombia and will allow back Colombian diplomats it expelled last week. It cited an easing of tensions at a summit in the Dominican Republic on Friday, where President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa shook hands with Colombia’s U.S.-backed leader, Alvaro Uribe, after a tense debate.

Venezuela described the reconciliation as a “victory for peace and sovereignty.”


Sarkozy allies behind in voting

Partial results showed President Nicolas Sarkozy’s backers losing in key French cities Sunday in the first round of municipal elections seen as a referendum on the increasingly unpopular conservative.

Official results of the total vote nationwide showed candidates from Sarkozy’s UMP party and its allies with 45.5 percent and the Socialists and their allies with 47 percent.

The total was not broken down by city, but projections based on partial results by the polling agencies Ipsos and TNS-Sofres showed Socialists on track to take over key cities previously held by the right, including Strasbourg, Reims, Rouen and Caen.

In Paris, projections showed Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe in the lead. Lyon’s Socialist mayor won re-election outright.

Final results were expected today.

Twenty-two of Sarkozy’s ministers – two-thirds of the government – were running in the elections.


Chief of staff may have aided in bids

Companies headed by a longtime friend of embattled Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick won millions of dollars in contracts while the friend secretly consulted with the mayor’s chief of staff, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The Detroit Free Press said records and text messages it obtained indicated that Bobby Ferguson and companies he partnered with have collected at least $45 million in city contracts.

The text messages from 2002 and 2003 show that then-chief of staff Christine Beatty provided Ferguson with bid strategies and sensitive information on potential projects. The mayor was directly involved in at least one discussion about Ferguson’s bid strategy, the Free Press reported.

Ferguson, the city and a lawyer for Beatty all denied wrongdoing in the handling of contracts.

A prosecutor has been investigating whether Kilpatrick and Beatty lied under oath about having an affair during a trial in a whistle-blower lawsuit.


Storm wreaks havoc in Midwest

Highway and utility crews worked overtime Sunday to recover from the huge storm that buried Ohio and other parts of the Midwest in snow and tore down power lines elsewhere.

Many churches in the Columbus area canceled Sunday services because roads were so slippery.

Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, which shut down Saturday, reopened Sunday, but flight delays and cancellations were common, spokesman Todd Payne said.

Ninety percent of flights were canceled at Port Columbus International Airport on Saturday.

Ohio had five deaths linked to the weather. Two traffic deaths were blamed on the storm in western New York state and one in Tennessee.