Colombian Congress

Grants Leniency

To Paramilitary Leaders

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Congress passed a bill granting reduced punishments to right-wing warlords who disarm, a key step in President Alvaro Uribe's strategy to wind down Colombia's decades-long conflict. Opponents said the bill would let killers off the hook.

The legislation says paramilitary leaders must confess their crimes, return stolen goods and compensate victims. In exchange, prison terms are limited to eight years.

Passage came after Uribe toughened his proposal under pressure from rights groups and U.S. lawmakers who warned it was overly lenient toward leaders of the brutal far-right paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, which is on the State Department list of terrorist organizations.

Uribe has been in peace talks with the 13,000-member group for more than two years. Paramilitary groups, blamed for some of the worst atrocities in the war, were formed as private militias in the 1980s by landowners and cocaine barons to guard against Marxist rebels, who have been waging war since 1964.

EUROPE

* MOSCOW -- A Vatican envoy held talks with a senior Russian Orthodox priest but cautioned that progress in healing the rift between the two churches would be measured in small steps. The head of the Vatican's office for relations with other Christians, Cardinal Walter Kasper, met with Metropolitan Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church's foreign relations department.

* MADRID -- The upper house of Spain's parliament voted against a government proposal to legalize gay marriage, but the legislation will likely become law despite an outcry from Catholics. The bill will return to the lower house, where it is expected to win final approval.

* MADRID -- Spain's ousted center-right government "manipulated and twisted" the March 2004 commuter train bombings in Madrid that killed 191 in a bid to salvage general elections three days after the attacks, a parliamentary commission found.

Despite evidence to the contrary, including a tape by an Islamic group saying the attack was a reprisal for Spain's role in Iraq, Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party insisted Basque separatists were the prime suspects.

AFRICA

* CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- President Thabo Mbeki named Minerals and Energy Minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to succeed his graft-tainted former deputy, Jacob Zuma, but immediately faced questions about the appointment. At a news conference, journalists asked about news reports linking her brother to alleged wrongdoing by oil companies and illicit funding of the ruling African National Congress.

THE AMERICAS

* PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Heavy gunfire erupted near Haiti's presidential palace as interim President Boniface Alexandre spoke at a ceremony to appoint four cabinet members. There no reports of casualties.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to add 1,000 soldiers and police officers to the U.N. peacekeeping mission ahead of November elections.

* A British citizen arrested in Mexico Tuesday for suspected links to the men who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks has been determined not to "represent any threat" and will be released, an official from Mexico's immigration agency said.

U.S. and Mexican officials said Amer Haykel, 45, was arrested because Mexican authorities, acting on information from U.S. law enforcement, believed he was wanted in the United States. Officials in both countries said Haykel had once been wanted for questioning but was no longer. Mexican authorities were apparently working from U.S. information that had not been updated, officials said.

"Amer Haykel does not represent any threat for national security nor is he wanted by the authorities in any country," said Tonatiuh Garcia, an official with Mexico's National Migration Institute.

-- Kevin Sullivan

* QUITO, Ecuador -- Police said Ecuador has broken up a cocaine ring suspected of funneling cash to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim group listed by the United States as a terrorist organization. Police arrested eight members of the ring based in Quito. The ring's alleged leader, Rady Zaiter of Lebanon, was captured in neighboring Colombia.

ASIA

* BEIJING -- Flooding triggered by torrential rains killed at least 27 people and forced the evacuation of more than 300,000 in a mountainous region of southern China, the government said. Twenty people were missing in the flooding in the Guangxi region.

-- From News Services

Commuters pack a platform while waiting for a diesel train in Zurich's main railway station after a blackout shut down Switzerland's entire rail system.