EU reluctant to sign accord

KIEV, Ukraine - The European Union on Monday balked at signing a landmark cooperation agreement with Ukraine over the jailing of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The move could push Kiev back into Russia's orbit as it lobbies Moscow for lower gas prices.

EU President Herman van Rompuy said that the deal outlining political and economic cooperation between Kiev and Brussels had been finalized, but its signing hinges on Tymoshenko's fate. The EU and the United States have condemned the October sentencing of Tymoshenko, now the top opposition leader, on charges of abuse of office as politically motivated and demanded her release. She contends that her longtime foe, President Viktor Yanukovych, ordered her imprisonment to bar her from elections.

Yanukovych reiterated Monday that Kiev is seeking a lower price on natural gas and expressed hope that a new deal would be reached soon. - AP

Islamists stop backing of reform

RABAT, Morocco - Morocco's powerful Islamist organization said it was suspending its support for the country's pro-democracy movement, dealing a blow to the group that once put tens of thousands of people on streets.

The Islamist Justice and Charity group said it was suspending participation in the weekly protests in this North African monarchy, because it had been taken over by elements that wanted to weaken its demands for change. The absence of the Islamists from the protests will further weaken the reform movement, whose power has diminished since an opposition party won the Nov. 25 elections.

The Justice and Charity group has been a stalwart presence at the weekly democracy protests. - AP

Court refuses to halt release

THE HAGUE, Netherlands - International Criminal Court judges refused Monday to block the release of a Rwandan rebel whom prosecutors accuse of involvement in deadly attacks by a Hutu militia on Congo villages in 2009.

The pretrial judges ordered the release of Callixte Mbarushimana on Friday after dismissing all charges against him for lack of evidence.

Prosecutors had said they would appeal the ruling and asked the court to delay Mbarushimana's release pending the outcome of the appeal. But in Monday's written decision, judges ruled that Mbarushimana can no longer be detained because the 11 charges against him have been dismissed. - AP

Obama criticizes rights record

CARACAS, Venezuela - President Obama criticized Venezuela's rights record and its ties to Iran and Cuba, telling a Venezuelan newspaper in comments published Monday that he is concerned about threats to democracy in the country. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has long feuded with Washington, though Obama's remarks, published by the newspaper El Universal, were some of his most critical. Chavez has repeatedly accused the United States of trying to meddle in Venezuela's affairs.

- AP