Russian pledges more democracy

MOSCOW - President Dmitry A. Medvedev said yesterday that Russia was taking steps toward "a modern, more democratic political system," defending electoral changes that Kremlin critics dismiss as window dressing while Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin wields real power.

Medvedev met with leaders of three small political parties and offered hope they will someday win seats in parliament, which is dominated by Putin's United Russia party.

Medvedev has spoken in favor of pluralism and lowered some of the barriers Putin put up to keep opponents out of parliament and other power structures during Putin's eight-year presidency.

In televised remarks, he suggested the changes he had initiated - including a law to give one or two seats to parties winning 5 percent to 7 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections, instead of shutting them out - marked slow but sure democratic progress. - AP

Kenya charges 17 piracy suspects

MOMBASA, Kenya - Kenya charged 17 Somalian men with piracy yesterday, a day after the U.S. Navy handed them over to authorities in this East African nation.

Kenya is holding more than 100 piracy suspects from neighboring Somalia, a country in tatters and with no functioning government or legal system after two decades of anarchy.

The suspects denied the charge and requested lawyers. The prosecutor's charge sheet says the men were arrested May 13 off the Gulf of Aden with weapons including seven AK-47 rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade.

Pirates are able to operate freely because Somalia has had no effective central government in nearly 20 years. Nearly every public institution has crumbled, and the weak, U.N.-backed government is fighting an Islamic insurgency. - AP

Suu Kyi to press appeal in case

YANGON, Myanmar - Lawyers for jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi filed an appeal yesterday to Myanmar's High Court to reinstate two key defense witnesses in a case that could put her in prison for five years.

Suu Kyi gave her legal team instructions to pursue a second appeal during a 90-minute meeting Wednesday at Insein Prison, where she is being held while on trial on charges of violating the terms of her house arrest, lawyer Nyan Win said. The charges stem from the intrusion of an American man who swam across a lake to her house.

The District Court trying Suu Kyi allowed only one of four defense witnesses to take the stand. On appeal, the Yangon Divisional Court on Tuesday ruled that a second witness could be heard. Two senior members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party remain barred from testifying.

The Nobel Peace laureate also told her lawyers the case against her was "politically motivated" but that this wouldn't stop her from continuing her fight for democracy, Nyan Win said. - AP

Elsewhere:

The Nigerian military said it had arrested Bernard Wilcox, the alleged leader of a gang that has kidnapped foreigners and attacked army positions in the town of Bonny in the oil-rich Niger River delta.