France returns artifacts to Egypt

PARIS - Fragments of an ancient wall painting that caused a feud between Egypt and the Louvre Museum are heading home.

France returned the ancient artwork to Egyptian officials after President Hosni Mubarak inspected one of the fragments following a visit with his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy. The pockmarked slab in sepia and blue tones, from a 3,200-year-old tomb near the ancient temple city of Luxor, shows an offering from a nobleman to a servant.

Egypt's antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass, cut ties with the Louvre in October, saying the famed Paris museum had refused to return the fragments. Egyptian officials said the artifacts had been stolen in the 1980s - chipped from the tomb's walls.

French officials quickly agreed to hand over the fragments after a recommendation by scientific experts. France said the works had been acquired by the Louvre "in good faith" in 2000 and 2003. - AP

Greece in major belt-tightening

ATHENS, Greece - Greece's prime minister announced a barrage of spending cuts and tax increases yesterday, promising to control a ballooning government budget deficit and warning that the country risked drowning in debt if it did not act.

George Papandreou said his Socialist government, elected in October, would take steps over the next few months that were decades overdue. "Greece, with so much potential, is in critical condition," he told business and union leaders in Athens.

The raft of measures include a reduction in defense spending in 2011 and 2012; slashing bonuses across the public sector; reducing social security and government operating expenditure by 10 percent each; and salary caps for public utility directors.

He also called for taxes of up to 90 percent on large bonuses for private bankers and eliminating cost-of-living increases for public-sector workers with salaries of more than $3,000 a month. - AP

Spain convicts 11 in terrorism plot

MADRID, Spain - A Spanish court has found 11 men guilty of belonging to a terrorist organization that was plotting to stage what would have been the country's first suicide attacks, judges said in a statement yesterday.

The National Court, headed by Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez, sentenced the men to up to 14 years in prison. Nine are of Pakistani nationality or origin, and two from India.

The men, whose ringleader was Imam Maroof Ahmed Mirza, 40, were accused of planning attacks in Barcelona, Spain's second-largest city, on orders from the Pakistan Taliban.

Police foiled the plan in January 2008 after a member of the extremist cell designated to blow himself up got cold feet and alerted authorities. Mirza was sentenced to 101/2 years.

Gomez Bermudez and two other judges said the men plotted to bomb Barcelona's subway system. For Spaniards the plot was a chilling reminder of the Madrid commuter-train bombings of March 2004 that killed 191.

- AP

Elsewhere:

Dozens of people led by an Orthodox priest smashed a menorah in Moldova's capital, Chisnau, using hammers and iron bars to remove the candelabra during Hanukkah, officials said. Government officials condemned the vandalism and the menorah was retrieved, reinstalled, and is under police guard.

Thai authorities sought to unravel the mystery of the ultimate destination of a plane that landed in Bangkok with a huge cache of weapons from North Korea, exported in defiance of a U.N. embargo on arms from the communist state. Military analysts said the arms were likely destined for African rebel groups or a rogue regime like Myanmar.