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Tuesday, March 8, 2005; Page A12

Dominican Prison Fire Kills at Least 134

HIGUEY, Dominican Republic -- Rival gangs battling over the drug trade in an overcrowded, vermin-infested prison set their bedding ablaze Monday and blocked the entrance to their cellblock, killing at least 134 inmates in one of Latin America's worst jailhouse blazes.

Some died in a stampede to escape the flames after guards forced open the jammed door in the cellblock known as Vietnam, one survivor said, while others were killed by smoke inhalation.

Only 26 prisoners were rescued from the jail in Higuey, 75 miles northeast of the capital on the eastern tip of the island, police said.

The disaster underscored the terrible prison conditions in the Dominican Republic, which has the most overcrowded jails in the Western Hemisphere, according to U.N. figures.


PARIS -- The last three French detainees held at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, returned to France and were detained by authorities, judicial officials said.

Mustaq Ali Patel, Ridouane Khalid and Khaled Ben Mustafa were being held by the French counterterrorism agency known as DST, the officials said on condition of anonymity. The U.S. Defense Department confirmed the transfer but declined to give details, citing operational and security considerations.

The three men were among seven French citizens captured in the U.S.-led campaign that toppled Afghanistan's Taliban rulers in late 2001. They spent more than two years at Guantanamo.

OSLO -- Three stolen works of art by Edvard Munch -- including a watercolor titled "Blue Dress" -- were recovered less than 24 hours after thieves with crowbars pried them from the walls of an upscale restaurant. It was the second theft of the Norwegian master's work in less than seven months.

CHISINAU, Moldova -- Moldova's ruling Communist Party, once allied with Russia but now favoring closer ties to the European Union, won a parliamentary majority in national elections, but fell short of taking enough seats to ensure the reelection of President Vladimir Voronin, according to final results.

ROME -- Pope John Paul II's health is improving and he is expected to be released from the hospital before the start of Holy Week celebrations leading up to Easter, the Vatican said.

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the pontiff, 84, is likely to be back in the Vatican by Palm Sunday, March 20. He said the pope had suffered no complications from the tracheostomy he underwent to ease his breathing on Feb. 24 at Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic hospital.

The Vatican said that there had been "continual improvement" in the pope's ability to speak since the throat surgery but that "doctors have prescribed a prudent limitation in the pope's use of his voice" to help with his recovery.

-- Alan Cooperman


BUNIA, Congo -- Government soldiers and rebels have raped tens of thousands of women and children in eastern Congo and are going unpunished as conflict simmers in the lawless region, a leading rights group said.

Fighters on all sides of Congo's war have raped civilians on a massive scale since the conflict broke out in 1998 but only a handful have ever been tried, Human Rights Watch said.

-- From Staff Reports

and News Services

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