Ex-colonel killed in Moscow hit

MOSCOW - A former Russian tank commander who was paroled early after being jailed for the murder of a young Chechen woman was shot to death in central Moscow on Friday in what police said was probably a contract killing.

The commander, Yuri D. Budanov, 48, once a decorated army colonel, was the highest-ranking officer to be punished for atrocities committed during two wars in Chechnya, and his early release in 2009 was met with widespread outrage there.

Though reviled in Chechnya, he became a kind of hero to Russian nationalists, and the police were put on heightened alert Friday. Budanov never denied having abducted the woman - Elza Kungayeva, who was 18 - from her Chechen village in March 2000. At his trial, he said that Kungayeva was a sniper.

Budanov had stepped outside a notary's office for a cigarette about noon Friday when a gunman shot him four times in the head, according to Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for Russia's Investigative Committee. - N.Y. Times News Service

Croatia is backed on joining EU

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Croatia was given the green light to join the European Union, with membership likely to start in 2013, officials said Friday.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he would recommend that EU nations wrap up talks and prepare to welcome Croatia as the 28th member state.

The commission said the negotiations with the Balkan nation could be concluded because talks on reforming the Croatian judiciary, the last major stumbling block, had been successful.

"Croatia is now ready to move ahead," Barroso said. He suggested that the current member states should add Croatia on July 1, 2013. The EU leaders could give their political backing at a meeting June 24. - AP

Shiite group says it hit U.S. base

BAGHDAD - A Shiite militia group in Iraq said it was responsible for an attack this week that killed five American troops. The Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah posted the claim on its website Thursday and said it would continue to target U.S. bases.

The U.S. military announced the deaths of the five American soldiers Monday, the single largest loss of life for American troops in two years. It said its base was hit by indirect fire, a military term for rockets and mortars.

Kataib Hezbollah, which has links to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah group, is one of three main Shiite militias operating in Iraq. All have vowed to oppose any move for U.S. troops to stay past their expected Dec. 31 departure date. - AP

Elsewhere:

The number of cholera cases is rising in parts of Haiti hit by heavy rains. Alain Legarnec, mission chief for the French aid group Doctors of the World, said Friday that a clinic in the southwestern town of Jeremie treated 77 people for cholera in recent days. That's a fivefold increase from last week and was most likely caused by rising river levels, he said.