17 Spanish Peacekeepers Killed

In Helicopter Crash in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A helicopter carrying NATO peacekeepers crashed Tuesday in a western Afghan desert, and another flying with it made an emergency landing. Seventeen Spanish troops were killed and five were injured in the crash, the biggest loss of life for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

A spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force said the crash and emergency landing in Herat province were believed to be accidents, but Spain's defense minister said he did not rule out hostile fire.

An Afghan army commander, Abdul Wahab Walizada, whose troops provided security at the crash site, said the helicopters were flying too close together and the rotor blades of one clipped the other. One helicopter burned, and the other was severely damaged, he said.

EUROPE

* VATICAN CITY -- Attorneys for Pope Benedict XVI have asked President Bush to declare the pontiff immune from liability in a lawsuit that accuses him of conspiring to cover up the molestation of three boys by a seminarian in Texas, according to court records.

Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, is named as a defendant in the civil lawsuit, which accuses him of conspiring with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to cover up the abuse during the mid-1990s. The suit is seeking unspecified monetary damages.

The Vatican's embassy in Washington submitted the request to the State Department on May 20, arguing that the pope should be given immunity as a head of state.

* MOSCOW -- The Russian Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling banning the radical National Bolshevik Party, an anti-Kremlin group of mostly young activists known for street protests and occupying government buildings. Prosecutors had alleged that the party was intent on violently overturning the constitutional order. Party lawyers rejected the charges, saying that the initial ban was orchestrated solely to remove a political irritant. Prosecutors plan to appeal the ruling.

-- Peter Finn

ASIA

* JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A radical cleric and 17 others convicted in the 2002 bombings that killed 202 people on the resort island of Bali have received sentence reductions of several months to mark Indonesia's independence day, wardens said.

Abubakar Baasyir, the alleged spiritual head of Jemaah Islamiyah, a group linked to al Qaeda, was originally given a 30-month prison sentence, which was reduced by 4 1/2 months, said Dedi Sutardi, the chief warden at Cipinang prison in Jakarta. Seventeen others received three-month reductions.

THE AMERICAS

* ESCUINTLA, Guatemala -- Members of a violent Central American gang claimed they routinely pay prison guards to provide them with weapons, and they blamed a rival group for starting coordinated riots at seven prisons that left 31 inmates dead.

Interviewed as they recovered from gunshot and stab wounds, members of the Mara 18 gang blamed Monday's near-simultaneous uprisings at Guatemalan prisons on the rival Mara Salvatrucha gang.

Herman Ivan Aguirra, 19, a two-year member of Mara 18 from Guatemala City, said he and other prisoners were exercising when Mara Salvatrucha members seemingly came out of nowhere wielding knives, guns and grenades. "They hit me hard," Aguirra said. "There was blood everywhere, people dying, people screaming."

Monday's violence began with two grenade explosions at a prison for gang members known as El Hoyon in Escuintla, officials said. The blasts were followed by coordinated attacks by Mara Salvatrucha gang members against the Mara 18 gang at six other prisons, they said.

-- From News Services