Afghan Warlord to Run

In Presidential Election

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A powerful Afghan warlord will challenge President Hamid Karzai in the country's historic October election, his spokesman said Thursday.

Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum decided to run after securing support across the war-riven country's deep ethnic divides, said his spokesman, Faizullah Zaki. Dostum was feted by thousands of supporters at a rally Thursday in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.

Dostum lacks the national appeal to pose a direct threat to Karzai at the ballot box. A former communist and commander of a feared militia during the country's civil wars, he is widely mistrusted.

But he could win support among his fellow Uzbeks, who live mainly in the north of the country, and help force a runoff if Karzai fails to secure more than 50 percent of the vote in the election scheduled for Oct. 9.

Asia

* KABUL, Afghanistan -- The U.S. military in Afghanistan acknowledged it had held but later released an alleged Taliban official handed over by an American vigilante group operating in the country.

The vigilantes, led by Jonathan Idema, a former U.S. soldier, are now under arrest, charged by Afghan authorities with illegally detaining Afghans and torturing them at their private jail in Kabul. Idema claims to have been working for the U.S. government. The U.S. military and NATO peacekeepers had previously said he had no connection with them.

A U.S. military statement did not clarify this point but said U.S. forces had received a detainee from Idema's group at Bagram air base, north of Kabul, in May. It said the detainee was freed this month after it was established that he was not a wanted former Taliban official.

* SEOUL -- Up to 400 North Koreans will travel to South Korea next week in what would be the single largest group allowed to defect to the capitalist South, news reports said Friday.

Seoul's daily Kyunghyang Shinmun, quoting unnamed government sources, reported that South Korea has struck a deal with an unidentified Asian country to allow 300 to 400 North Koreans living in hiding in that country to travel to the South next week.

Europe

* ROME -- Italy deported on Thursday 25 of the African migrants who arrived on a ship operated by a German relief agency, putting them on a plane to Ghana and drawing protests from humanitarian agencies and opposition politicians.

A handful of others who were taken off the plane for causing a disturbance will also be expelled, officials said.

The deportees were part of a group of 37 Africans permitted to dock in Sicily on July 12 after a diplomatic stalemate. Five of the Africans on board were flown out Tuesday night.

* SOFIA, Bulgaria -- Dissident Bulgarian priests complained of brutality after police forced them out of hundreds of churches to try to end a decade-long schism dividing the Balkan state's Orthodox Christians.

Prosecutors defended the operation, which began Wednesday, saying the priests had illegally occupied property owned by Bulgaria's Orthodox Church, but those ousted said they would pursue criminal charges against police.

"We have been shut out of 220 churches, monasteries, chapels and other places of worship," said Inokentii, a dissident leader who, like many Bulgarian Orthodox priests, goes by one name. Officials said one priest and four civilians had been arrested in Sofia and at least 49 churches had been seized.

* MOSCOW -- Malik Saidullayev, the main rival to the Kremlin's candidate for president of Chechnya, was barred from running on a technicality. He said it was a sign the election would be biased and fail to bring peace to the war-torn republic.

Ela Vakhitov, secretary of the Chechen election committee, said Saidullayev's passport was ruled to be invalid because it listed his place of birth as a village in Chechnya rather than in "the Chechen-Ingush republic, which was the name of the region in Soviet times, when he was born."

The Americas

* HAVANA -- Cuba freed the dissident economist Martha Beatriz Roque, the only woman among 75 people arrested 16 months ago.

"I didn't expect to be let out. I will continue my opposition work. They can't change my ideas," Roque said at the home of a relative in Havana.

Roque, 58, who said she had spent the last year in a military hospital suffering from diabetes, hypertension and heart problems, was released on health grounds.

The Middle East

* GAZA CITY -- Israel killed two Islamic militants in a missile strike on a car in Gaza City. Meanwhile, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, raised pressure on the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, to implement reforms demanded by Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, hinting that the E.U. would reconsider relations if the prime minister quit.

Palestinian security sources said an Israeli helicopter gunship fired a missile into a Gaza City district known to be a militant stronghold, killing two Islamic Jihad members. An Israeli army spokesman said the target was a high-ranking Islamic Jihad militant responsible for many attacks, including an ambush in May that killed six Israeli soldiers.

-- From News Services