Jailed American gets visit in Cuba

HAVANA - An American government contractor jailed in Cuba is in good spirits and fine health, but anxious to get home to his family and disappointed he was not included in a prisoner amnesty announced by President Raul Castro last week, a Jewish leader said Wednesday.

Adela Dworin said that she and another Jewish leader spent nearly two hours Monday with Alan Gross at the military hospital where he is being held. They celebrated Hanukkah by lighting candles, eating potato pancakes, and passing around chocolate coins.

"His health is very good," Dworin said. "He has gained some weight. He's not fat, but he's not so thin anymore." Gross, 62, reportedly had lost 100 pounds since he was arrested in December 2009.

Gross, from Maryland, was working on a USAID-funded democracy-building program when he was arrested. He was sentenced this year to 15 years in prison. - AP

China blames crash on officials

BEIJING - A government report said design flaws and sloppy management caused a bullet-train crash in July that killed 40 people and triggered a public outcry over the dangers of China's showcase transportation system.

A former railway minister was among 54 officials found responsible for the crash, a cabinet statement said Wednesday. Several were ordered dismissed from Communist Party posts, but there was no word of criminal penalties.

The crash report was highly anticipated. The disaster near the southern city of Wenzhou also injured 177 people and had triggered criticism over the high cost and dangers of the bullet-train system, a prestige project that once enjoyed lofty status on a level with China's manned space program.

The report affirmed earlier government statements that a lightning strike caused one bullet train to stall and then a sensor failure and missteps by train controllers allowed a second train to keep moving on the same track and slam into it. - AP

Argentine leader is facing surgery

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Argentina's president cracked jokes and sounded optimistic Wednesday after her thyroid cancer diagnosis was announced, but she's clearly struggling with the need to delegate power while she recovers from next week's surgery.

Cristina Fernandez's thyroid removal, set for Wednesday, is expected to be as routine as cancer surgery can be. Doctors predict a speedy recovery, since papillary thyroid carcinoma detected before it spreads is highly curable without chemotherapy.

Fernandez, 58, praised her constitutional successor, former Economy Minister Amado Boudou, for sharing her political ideas, but jokingly warned him to "be careful what you do" as interim president. - AP

Elsewhere:

The annual cleaning of one of Christianity's holiest churches deteriorated into a brawl Wednesday, as dozens of monks feuding over sacred space at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem battled with brooms. The fight between Greek and Armenian clergy was halted by Palestinian security forces.