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By Compiled from wire service reports by Robert Kilborn / March 27, 2006



The widely watched case against an Afghan who converted from Islam to Christianity was dismissed by the court that was to hear it, officials said. They said the dismissal was ordered because of "problems with the ... evidence" and that Abdul Rahman will be released as soon as Monday.

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Confronting possible defeat in Sunday's parliamentary election in Ukraine, President Viktor Yushchenko had prepared a last-ditch strategy, The Times (London) reported. Citing "a senior ally" of the pro-Western leader, it said he'd dissolve the legislature rather than let the opposition appoint a new government. Results of the election were expected to be announced Sunday night, with the pro-Russian Party of the Regions leading in the latest opinion polls. The party is led by Viktor Yanu-kovych, whose rigged 2004 presidential election victory was overturned in the Orange Revolution, resulting in the win by Yuschenko.

Two hundred separate demonstrations are planned for Tuesday by union members and students as France braces for a general strike to protest the new youth-employment law. The action is expected to disrupt air and rail travel and cut subway train service in Paris by half. Over the weekend, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin offered a dialogue to student groups, saying he was ready to discuss modifications to the law. Instead, four student leaders rejected the invitation, signing a letter outside his office that called for a "massive mobilization" on the day of the strike.

Opposition leaders said they'd have no comment until Monday on the offer by embattled Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of jobs in the cabinet if his party wins next month's national election. The election is being boycotted by the three main competitors. An estimated 10,000 people marched on Bangkok shopping malls Sunday in another rally demanding Thaksin's resignation, following a demonstration perhaps five times larger Saturday night. But to the disappointment of the anti-Thaksin forces, King Bhumibol Adujladej was showing no sign of granting their request to fire him and appoint a replacement.

Human rights activists were pressuring the government of Nigeria to place the exiled Charles Taylor under immediate arrest after it said Saturday that it was ready to hand him back to authorities in Liberia. Taylor, they claimed, is a flight risk. The ex-Liberian president was given residence in Nigeria in 2003 under a deal that ended his country's civil war. But earlier this month, new President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf asked for his extradition to face war-crimes charges. He's also accused of aiding the rebel side in the 10-year civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Eight sailors were missing and presumed dead by Sri Lanka's Navy after their patrol craft was destroyed by suspected Tamil rebels off the northwest coast. The incident was the most serious since the rebels and the government met for talks last month to try to salvage their shaky cease-fire. Reports said six Tamils chose to blow up their own boat late Saturday rather than be boarded by a party from the naval vessel, killing themselves. Eleven other sailors survived, the Navy said. The rebels denied involvement.

Smoking indoors in all public places became illegal Sunday in Scotland, making it the first part of Britain to adopt such a ban. An estimated 30 percent of Scots smoke, and a BBC survey found that about one-quarter of them were planning to defy the new law, even though violators can be fined $87 on the spot. The Scottish law was inspired by the Republic of Ireland, which enacted an identical ban two years ago.

Angry hunters pelted animal-rights activists with seal entrails Sunday and tried to capsize their boat in Canada's Gulf of St. Lawrence as the latter tried to disrupt the first day of the annual harvest. The government, which maintains that the seal population is abundant, is allowing the slaughter of 325,000 pups, over the protests of the activists. The hunters claim they need the seal season to supplement their income from a declining fishing industry.

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