Castro Speech Rebuts

Reports of Ill Health

HAVANA -- Cuban President Fidel Castro said in a nationally televised speech Friday that he was feeling "better than ever," rebutting reports that he is suffering from Parkinson's disease.

Dressed in his trademark combat fatigues, Castro stood at a wooden lectern for nearly six hours and joked about an American intelligence assessment that he may be suffering from Parkinson's and could deteriorate in coming years.

"They have tried to kill me off so many times," said Castro, who looked fit.

But diplomats and experts say that only Castro's inner circle knows whether the 79-year-old has any chronic ailment or is merely showing signs of age.


* VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican's chief astronomer said that "intelligent design" was not science and did not belong in science classrooms, the latest high-ranking Roman Catholic official to enter the evolution debate in the United States. The Rev. George V. Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, said placing intelligent design theory alongside that of evolution in school programs was akin to mixing apples with oranges.

* MOSCOW -- The prime minister of Russia's conflict-torn province of Chechnya was seriously injured in a car crash late Thursday outside Moscow in what officials said was a traffic accident and not an assassination attempt.

Sergei Abramov is the second-most-senior official in the Moscow-backed administration in Chechnya, which is set to hold parliamentary elections in 10 days as part of the Kremlin's plan to undermine separatist rebels.

* LYON, France -- Festivities marking the arrival of this year's Beaujolais Nouveau turned violent in the southeastern city of Grenoble, leaving more than 30 people injured in clashes between students, firefighters and police.

The violence broke out after between 2,000 and 3,000 people, mostly students, left bars where they had been celebrating the arrival of the popular French wine, which traditionally goes on sale on the third Thursday of November.


* KABUL, Afghanistan -- An explosion tore through a convoy of vehicles from the NATO-led security force, killing a Portuguese peacekeeper and wounding three others. A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force said it was not yet clear whether the explosion on a two-vehicle patrol of Portuguese troops in the Bagrami district, just east of the capital, was a land mine or a remotely detonated device.


* EL FASHER, Sudan -- African Union forces in the western region of Darfur began receiving a shipment of armored vehicles paid for by the Canadian government, after months of diplomatic wrangling with the Sudanese government. A 6,000-member African Union force is monitoring a shaky truce in the desert region.

the middle east

* HEBRON, West Bank -- Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian in the West Bank who the army said had a bomb and intended to blow up the soldiers' vehicle.

An army spokesman said the soldiers heard a blast as they were driving near the town of Hebron while on patrol in search of militants. They saw a Palestinian man lying on the ground, holding a suspicious-looking object.

The army later said the man had a pipe bomb but that it was not clear what had caused the blast.

-- From News Services