Cuba reassures public on reform

HAVANA, Cuba - Authorities on Wednesday tried to reassure the public that a raft of economic reforms allowing for more private enterprise will not spell the end of the communist island's hallowed social protections.

The overhaul - which includes the slashing of half a million government jobs and the legalization of 178 private activities - is the biggest change to Cuba's economic system since the early 1990s.

Since the changes were announced this fall, President Raul Castro has taken pains to stress they are necessary to save Cuba's cash-strapped economic system - not meant to dismantle it.

In the state-run newspaper Granma, the government underscored that workers who take up one of the newly legal private-sector jobs will continue to receive free health care and education, as do all Cuban citizens. - AP

Belarus may jail 7 election losers

MINSK, Belarus - Seven presidential candidates who ran against the country's authoritarian leader could face up to 15 years in prison, and one was beaten so badly in the election's aftermath he is unable to walk, his attorney and the Belarusian human-rights organization Vesna said.

Pavel Sapelko said Wednesday that he suspected his client, Andrei Sannikov, had a broken leg, yet he was refused an X-ray. Sannikov received the most votes among the opposition candidates - 2.4 percent, compared with winner Alexander Lukashenko's 79.6 percent.

Overall, about 700 people were arrested after Sunday's election that returned Lukashenko to a fourth term in office. International monitors labeled the election fraudulent. Lukashenko, often called Europe's last dictator, has been in power in Belarus for more than 16 years. - AP

Chavez allies act to bar NGO funds

CARACAS, Venezuela - A congress dominated by President Hugo Chavez's allies passed a law barring foreign funding for nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and political parties, adding to a series of measures that critics say aim to stifle dissent.

The law approved by the National Assembly late Tuesday puts in jeopardy human-rights groups and other organizations that get money from abroad, providing for fines up to double the amount received.

It is one of many controversial laws Chavez's government is pushing through in the final weeks of an outgoing congress that had only a token opposition presence. A new legislature with a much larger opposition bloc takes office Jan. 5. - AP

Elsewhere:

A planeload of children

from Haiti arrived in France on Wednesday to start new lives with their adoptive families - an event some parents described as an early Christmas present. Many of the 113 children were bundled up in bright new winter coats, and some were wrapped in silvery reflective blankets to keep out the unaccustomed cold, as they arrived at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport from their Caribbean homeland.