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In brief: Opposition scores major state victory

BERLIN – Voters in Germany’s most populous state inflicted an embarrassingly heavy defeat on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives Sunday and strengthened a regional government that the German leader’s party had portrayed as irresponsibly spendthrift.

The outcome boosted Germany’s center-left opposition, and was a bitter pill to swallow for Merkel’s Christian Democrats as the country looks toward national elections due late next year.

The center-left Social Democrats and Greens – Germany’s main opposition parties – won combined support of 50.4 percent in the election in North Rhine-Westphalia. That gave them a majority in the state legislature, which they narrowly missed in the last regional election two years ago.

Meanwhile, support for Merkel’s party plunged to 26.3 percent from 34.6 percent in 2010.

Troops kill 30 al-Qaida militants

SANAA, Yemen – Government troops backed by warplanes and heavy artillery pounded al-Qaida positions in southern Yemen on Sunday, killing at least 30 militants, officials said.

The army launched its assault on the al-Hurur region of Abyan province at dawn Sunday, pushing out al-Qaida-linked fighters who have controlled the area since last year. Abdullah Ahmed, who lives in the area, said the militants fled by foot after government soldiers destroyed nearly a dozen tanks and vehicles mounted with rocket launchers seized by the militants last year and kept in al-Hurur.

Official: Top Kony commander caught

KAMPALA, Uganda – Ugandan forces captured a senior commander of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army after a brief fight with rebels near the Congo-Central African Republic border, an army official said Sunday.

Lt. Col. Abdul Rugumayo, intelligence chief for Uganda’s military operation against the LRA, said Caesar Acellam was captured Saturday with two other rebel fighters as they tried to cross a river.

Although Acellam is not one of the LRA commanders indicted along with Kony by the International Criminal Court, Ugandan officials say he was one of Kony’s top military strategists.

In 2005 the ICC indicted Kony, along with four other LRA commanders, for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Two of them have since died.


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Backchannel, ‘Dracula’ help free Utah man in Venezuela

new  A secret backchannel led by a veteran Republican Senate staffer and a flamboyant Venezuelan official nicknamed “Dracula” broke through hostile relations between the two governments to secure the release of American prisoner Joshua Holt, who traveled to the South American country for love and ended up in jail, without a trial, for two years.