Putin calls for smooth transition

MOSCOW - President Vladimir V. Putin urged the government yesterday to work hard before the March presidential election to ensure a smooth transition if he takes over as prime minister.

Putin has said he would accept the prime minister's post if his protege, Dmitri A. Medvedev, is elected president in March. Putin is constitutionally barred from seeking a third consecutive term as president.

"The task for [Prime Minister] Viktor Zubkov's government is to ensure work of such intensity that even my possible arrival at the White House would seem like a holiday to everyone," Putin said during a cabinet meeting at the Russian government headquarters, known as the White House.

- AP

Germany to ban online gambling

Online gambling will be banned in Germany as of Jan. 1 after German states ratified an accord that preserves the country's state monopoly for lotteries and most forms of betting.

At least 13 of Germany's 16 states have submitted the ratification documents, Eric Braum, a spokesman for the Hesse government, which monitors the process, said in an interview yesterday. "That's the required majority, and we expect to have all the rest coming in by New Year's Eve."

All 16 state legislatures voted by mid-December to approve the new online-betting laws, which the states negotiated after the Federal Constitutional Court ruled in 2006 that the former model was unconstitutional. The new rules, which expire at the end of 2011, have drawn criticism from Internet betting companies and lottery brokers.

- Bloomberg News

Hindu extremists attack churches

NEW DELHI - Hindu extremists attacked village churches and burned down the home of a prominent Christian politician yesterday, officials said.

Gangs of Hindus and Christians defied a curfew imposed after two days of attacks by Hindu hard-liners. Local police have been unsuccessful in halting the attacks, and the federal government announced it was sending in a paramilitary force.

Superintendent of Police Narsingh Bhol said that several churches and prayer houses had been ransacked in the Kandhamal district of Orissa state and that some had been set on fire. He could not give an exact number. The Press Trust of India news agency quoted unidentified police officials as saying that 11 small churches and prayer houses were ransacked and burned by Hindu hard-liners in the area.

- AP

Elsewhere:

The Afghan government

expelled two senior European diplomats yesterday over accusations that they held unauthorized meetings with Taliban militants, officials said.

The death toll

in the collapse of a 12-story building in Alexandria, Egypt, rose to 23 yesterday with the recovery of four more bodies from the rubble, a senior police official said.

France asked Chad

yesterday to hand over six French charity workers sentenced to eight years forced labor for trying to kidnap 103 children from the central African country.