Syrians vote to pick legislators

DAMASCUS, Syria - Syrians voted yesterday in a tightly controlled election to pick a new legislature, a vote that President Bashar Assad hopes can consolidate his rule, soften his government's authoritarian image, and ease its international isolation.

The result of the election, which under the constitution guarantees the ruling Baath Party and its allies a two-thirds majority, was not expected before tomorrow. But there was no doubt about the outcome.

A priority facing the rubber-stamp parliament is approving Baath's nomination of Assad for a second seven-year term in office. The president is expected to easily win a July referendum.

Government opponents and the United States had dismissed the balloting Sunday and yesterday. - AP

Shelling continues in Somali capital

MOGADISHU, Somalia - Ethiopian forces backing Somalia's weak transitional government shelled insurgents in the Somali capital for the fifth straight day yesterday, adding to the death and destruction and sending hundreds more families fleeing from Mogadishu.

Human rights organizations and health officials said 220 civilians had been confirmed dead and 300 had been wounded since Thursday. The shelling has been so intense that families have been unable to take the wounded to hospitals. In some parts of the city, decomposing corpses litter the streets.

Entire city blocks have been emptied as more than 320,000 people have fled Mogadishu since February. - AP

Three sentenced in Munch art theft

OSLO, Norway - Three men who worked together to steal Edvard Munch's masterpieces

The Scream

and

Madonna

were sentenced yesterday to prison terms ranging from 51/2 to 91/2 years for their roles in the brazen daylight heist carried out by masked gunmen in 2004. Both paintings were recovered, but were damaged.

Two years after the theft, police recovered the paintings, which were scraped and punctured, their paint dislodged. Oslo's Munch Museum is considering using an eye surgeon to remove glass shards embedded in the canvas after the frames were broken.

There are four versions of The Scream, probably Munch's best-known work, depicting a waif-like figure apparently screaming or hearing a scream. The image has become an icon of modern human anxiety. - AP

Elsewhere:

Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, a veteran dissident leader who wrote a book about Cuban prison conditions while imprisoned, was freed during the weekend after serving his entire 17-year sentence, rights groups said yesterday.

Denmark's newborn princess slept soundly during her first public appearance yesterday as her parents - Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary - showed off their second child to reporters.

Authorities in India's remote northeastern Assam state launched a crackdown on rhinoceros poachers yesterday, rushing in armed paramilitary soldiers to a sprawling game reserve, officials said.