Putin rejects EU critics of crackdown

VOLZHSKY UTYOS, Russia - President Vladimir V. Putin, emboldened by Russia's vast oil and gas wealth, bluntly rejected European criticism of his crackdown on political foes, saying yesterday that "like it or not" Russia's Western neighbors would have to accept it as a partner.

His remarks came hours after police prevented chess master Garry Kasparov from attending an opposition rally in Samara, near the Volga River resort where Putin held a summit with European Union leaders.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the current EU president, objected at a post-summit news conference to the treatment of Kasparov and other Kremlin opponents, while Putin sought to take the subject of Russian political rights off the table.

Putin questioned whether Europe was really concerned about the human-rights records of its allies - citing the alleged abuse of terrorism suspects at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. - AP

Taliban targeted in Afghan strikes

KABUL, Afghanistan - Air strikes targeted a convoy of suspected Taliban extremists who had left a meeting in western Afghanistan, killing 14 and wounding 10, a provincial governor said yesterday.

The Taliban had met Thursday to appoint a leader in western Farah province, Gov. Muhaidin Baluch said. As they left the meeting in Bakwa district, air strikes hit seven of their vehicles, he said.

In eastern Khost province, coalition and Afghan forces detained five suspected extremists and destroyed a cache of weapons, the coalition said. - AP

Ruling party loses ground in Algeria

ALGIERS, Algeria - The long-dominant National Liberation Front party lost 67 seats in Algeria's parliamentary elections, according to results announced yesterday, but it kept its leading position despite a record-low turnout reflecting widespread despair and apathy.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika may respond to the results of Thursday's vote with a change of government, although nothing has been announced.

The turnout among the 18.7 million eligible voters was only 36.5 percent - 10 points lower than the poor showing in 2002 parliamentary elections. The FLN, which has ruled the country for nearly three decades, took 136 seats in the 389-seat lower house, losing 67. However, two FLN-allied parties gained seats. Together, the three parties form a strong alliance backing Bouteflika with 249 seats. - AP

Elsewhere:

Sudanese authorities have detained the editor in chief and a columnist of an independent daily newspaper that was ordered closed after publishing a column criticizing the justice minister.

A Vatican official has confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI plans to loosen restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass, reviving a rite that was essentially swept away by the revolutionary changes of the Second Vatican Council.