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Stalin rates high with TV viewers

MOSCOW - Television viewers have voted Soviet dictator Josef Stalin - who sent millions to their deaths in the Great Purge of the 1930s but was instrumental in the defeat of Adolf Hitler in World War II - Russia's third-greatest historical figure.

Rights activists have blasted Stalin's inclusion in the nationwide project by the state-run Rossiya channel. They say authorities are trying to gloss over Stalin's atrocities and glorify his tyranny.

The project, called "The Name of Russia," culminated with the announcement last night that medieval leader Alexander Nevsky had been voted the greatest Russian, with more than 524,000 votes. Stalin garnered more than 519,000 votes, and even led in early voting. Nevsky defeated various European invaders during his 13th-century reign and was canonized.

In second place was Pyotr Stolypin, a prime minister early in the 20th century under Czar Nicholas II. Stolypin was recognized for land reform but gained notoriety for his brutal quashing of leftist revolutionaries. Stolypin received more than 523,000 votes.

- AP

Belgian king selects a leader

BRUSSELS, Belgium - King Albert asked Belgium's parliament president yesterday to take the reins of the government that quit last week after a scandal over the botched bailout of the Fortis bank.

Herman Van Rompuy, 61, is expected to replace Yves Leterme at the head of a quarrelsome alliance of Christian Democrats, Liberals and Socialists. Van Rompuy is seen as providing a steady hand on the wheel after 18 months of squabbling among the Dutch and French-speaking coalition partners under Leterme.

The king named him prime minister-designate at the suggestion of ex-premier Wilfried Martens, who spent six days sounding out political leaders on how to quickly form a new government. Van Rompuy is a Dutch-speaking Christian Democrat.

- AP

Arrest made in nurse's abduction

LONDON - Scottish police said yesterday that they had arrested a 35-year-old man in connection with the abduction of a nurse who was found tied up in the trunk of her car, where she may have been held for as long as 10 days.

Magdeline Makola, 38, had been reported missing after she failed to show up for work at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on Dec. 18. Police said she was last seen Dec. 15. Officers in the Scottish town of Airdrie found her Friday in the trunk of her car. She was bound, in her nightwear, and suffering from dehydration and hypothermia.

Police had said Saturday that they were looking for someone Makola knew in connection with the case. Yesterday, they announced a man had been taken into custody. As is customary in Britain, police did not name him. The suspect is due to appear in a Scottish court today.

- AP


Thousands of red-shirted

supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra surrounded Thailand's parliament today, daring lawmakers to pass through their ranks to deliver a speech outlining the new government's key policies. The demonstration sparked fears of renewed political turbulence, which paralyzed the previous government for months and climaxed with an eight-day seizure of Bangkok's airports.

Hundreds of thousands

of people attended a Mass in central Madrid yesterday designed to promote traditional family values in a predominantly Roman Catholic country that has legalized same-sex marriage and made it easier for people to divorce. The service started with a message from Pope Benedict XVI, who urged Catholics to keep their families strong.