64,000 flee clashes in eastern Congo

DAKAR, Senegal - Renewed clashes between militia and government forces in eastern Congo have forced more than 64,000 people to flee their homes in recent weeks, U.N. agencies said yesterday.

The fighting in North Kivu province has pushed people into the nearby bush or into makeshift camps, the U.N. World Food Program and the High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement. The statement did not say when the newest skirmishes started.

The Central African country has been trying to reestablish government authority since President Joseph Kabila took office in January, becoming the country's first democratically elected leader in more than four decades. He has met resistance in integrating local militias into the national army. - AP

Italy will return statue to Libya

ROME - Italy will return to Libya an ancient Roman statue taken from its former North African colony, a gesture Rome hopes will help its campaign to retrieve allegedly looted antiquities from museums worldwide.

The second-century statue of Venus, now in Rome's National Roman Museum, was found in 1913 by Italian troops near the ruins of the Greek and Roman town of Cyrene on the Libyan coast, the Culture Ministry said yesterday.

The headless marble figure of the goddess of love is a copy of a Greek statue that has never been found. Libyan authorities requested the statue in 1989, but a protracted judicial battle ensued with a group that considered the work part of Italy's heritage. Last week, a court ruled for returning the statue to Tripoli. No date has been set. - AP

President tightens grip on Ecuador

QUITO, Ecuador - Ecuador's popular president tightened his hold over all branches of government yesterday, sending police to prevent the return of opposition lawmakers as his tentative majority in Congress dismissed all nine members of the nation's highest court.

The Constitutional Tribunal on Monday ordered the reinstatement of opposition lawmakers who had tried to block a constitutional referendum.

An overwhelming 82 percent of voters last week approved the election of a special assembly to write a new constitution that leftist President Rafael Correa hopes will reduce the power of political parties.

Correa scorned the tribunal's authority, surrounding Congress with police officers yesterday to prevent ousted lawmakers from returning.- AP

Elsewhere:

China's chief censor, Long Xinmin, has been removed from his post after an outcry over a plan to ban eight books, state media reported yesterday.

Brazil's highest electoral court ruled that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was not involved in an alleged plot to buy damaging information about opposition politicians before his reelection last October.

Canadian troops will keep handing over Taliban prisoners to Afghan police despite allegations of abuse, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday.