Vatican Releases Letter Critical

Of Stance Toward Jews in WWII

VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican, in its latest effort to rebut charges it did little to stop the Nazi persecution of Jews in World War II, on Monday released a 1943 letter from a bishop complaining that the church was helping too many Jews.

The letter was among documents from the Vatican Secret Archives concerning the work of a department called Inter Arma Caritas, set up by wartime pontiff Pius XII between 1939 and 1947 as a clearinghouse for those seeking information about prisoners of war and missing people.

The July 21, 1943, letter, from Archbishop Andrea Cassulo, the Vatican's envoy to Romania, said the "overwhelming portion" of paperwork going through the Vatican Embassy in Bucharest related to requests for information about the fate of "people of the Hebrew race."

The letter cited a complaint from the Roman Catholic bishop of Timisoara, who said the great majority of the faithful in his diocese were ethnic Germans who were "indignant."

He said his faithful were "publicly and openly accusing the church of having a good relationship with the Jews, enemies of the German people."

The letter was bound to add fodder to the long-running debate over whether the wartime Vatican had done all it could to help Jews and avert the Holocaust.

ASIA

* KABUL, Afghanistan -- A U.S. helicopter gunship crash-landed and burst into flames in southeastern Afghanistan, slightly injuring its crew, according to a military statement, which said investigators had ruled out hostile fire as the cause.

* SEOUL -- North Korea praised the "positive progress" made in recent six-nation nuclear talks but dismissed as unrealistic a U.S. proposal to provide energy aid and security guarantees only if the North completely dismantles its nuclear programs. Four-day multilateral talks ended Saturday with no major breakthroughs.

* BEIJING -- A Chinese court sentenced a Japanese aid worker to eight months in jail for trying to help two Japanese-born North Koreans leave China. The worker was the latest foreigner convicted by China of trafficking North Koreans. Takayuki Noguchi, 32, of the Tokyo-based rights group Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, will be deported after serving his sentence, said a judge in Nanning, capital of Guangxi province. Noguchi was arrested in Guangxi, in southern China, last December while trying to help the asylum seekers escape to Cambodia.

EUROPE

* BRUSSELS -- European Union leaders are set to nominate Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso as the next European Commission president and Javier Solana of Spain as Europe's future foreign minister at a brief special summit Tuesday.

* NAPLES -- A standoff that had stranded tens of thousands of travelers ended when residents opposed to the reopening of a local rubbish dump lifted a four-day blockade of the main rail link to southern Italy.

* VENICE -- The Ducal Palace, one of Venice's most famous landmarks, was vandalized Sunday, causing a few small fragments to fall off a 15th-century column on the building's facade, city officials said. The palace overlooks St. Mark's Square, which served as the seat of Venice's rulers for centuries. The vandal severed the arms of the figures of Jesus Christ and Moses, along with a tablet bearing the Ten Commandments.

* VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia -- An alleged leader of last week's rebel attack in the Russian region of Ingushetia was killed and 10 other suspected attackers have been detained, officials said. Magomed Yevloyev was killed when he put up armed resistance to Ingush and Russian troops trying to seize him, said Gelani Myerzoyev, an Ingush prosecutor.

Yevloyev, 32, was believed to be the leader of the strict Wahhabi sect of Muslims in Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya. Russian authorities blame Wahhabis for much of the violence in southern Russia.

Deputy Russian Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky said about 200 rebels had taken part in the attacks. Ingush authorities lowered the toll in the Ingushetia assault to 88 dead, down from 98, and 117 wounded, the Interfax news agency reported.

* ANKARA, Turkey -- A large explosion near a Turkish Defense Ministry building in the capital was not a bomb, police told the state-run Anatolian news agency. Police chief Ercument Yilmaz said the blast, felt over a one-mile area, was caused by an exploding security camera.

The incident took place as more than 40 world leaders, including President Bush, were meeting in Istanbul for a NATO summit. Tensions in Turkey were high after a series of small bombings ahead of the summit, which began Monday. Violent protests have also erupted during the summit. In Istanbul, more than 30 people were injured and dozens arrested on Monday in protests held far from the venue of the summit.

THE MIDDLE EAST

* JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- One of Saudi Arabia's most wanted militants surrendered, the first major suspect to turn himself in under a one-month government amnesty announced last week. Othman Amri, No. 19 on a list of 26 wanted fugitives published by the Saudi government last year, said he gave himself up in response to the amnesty announced by Crown Prince Abdullah five days ago.

* TEHRAN -- Iran's hard-line judiciary dropped a charge carrying the death penalty against dissident academic Hashem Aghajari, his attorney said. Aghajari, whose original death sentence sparked mass student protests in 2002, still faces years in prison after the most serious charge of blasphemy was dropped.

* TEHRAN -- Iran may take two or three years to put its al Qaeda detainees on trial, government spokesman said. Officials said the detainees were mid-ranking al Qaeda members and were still being questioned in jail.

* KUWAIT CITY -- A criminal court has sentenced a Kuwaiti soldier to 15 years in prison for opening fire on American servicemen and expatriate workers in December, but a defense attorney said the sentence would be appealed. Ali Nasser Ajmi, 30, was arrested in December after attacks on two U.S. military convoys outside Kuwait City, in which four soldiers were slightly injured, and on a bus carrying Asian and Arab workers near the port of Shuaiba, in which five people were wounded.

THE AMERICAS

* BOGOTA, Colombia -- The Colombian government removed two paramilitary commanders from peace talks and ordered them arrested after gunmen abducted a former Colombian senator and seven family members.

Former senator Jose Genecco, of the Liberal Party, was driving between the Caribbean cities of Santa Marta and Riohacha when his SUV was intercepted. Genecco, his wife and five children were abducted, along with his niece and bodyguard.

* MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- Mudslides and floods have killed at least 17 people in recent days, most of them children, and left 24 others missing, officials said.

-- From News Services