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Debate heated as French vote nears

PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy repeatedly accused his leftist challenger, Francois Hollande, of lying as they faced off in a highly anticipated debate Wednesday ahead of the presidential election.

The heated comments reflected the intensity of the contest, especially for Sarkozy, who is lagging in the polls ahead of Sunday's vote.

It is the only time the two have faced off in the campaign, which has largely focused on domestic issues such as the weak economy, immigration, and integration of French Muslims. Yet the outcome is considered crucial to the rest of Europe as well, because France is a major economic engine at a time when the eurozone is trying to climb out of a debt crisis.

Sarkozy says France needs to do more to cut spending and debts, while Hollande favors government-funded stimulus programs. Both have pushed for similar approaches for the rest of the continent as well. - AP

U.N. targets 3 N. Korean firms

UNITED NATIONS - The Security Council ordered all countries Wednesday to freeze the assets of three North Korean state-owned companies to punish Pyongyang for its failed rocket launch last month.

The April 13 long-range launch, which Pyongyang called a failed attempt to put a satellite into space, violated earlier council resolutions prohibiting North Korea from engaging in nuclear and missile activity. The rocket broke into pieces shortly after liftoff.

The council's committee that monitors sanctions against North Korea approved the sanctions Wednesday and ordered all countries to freeze the assets of the three companies. The European Union, United States, Japan, and South Korea proposed additional entities for sanctions, but the committee acts by consensus, and China, North Korea's closest ally, approved only the three companies.

The three sanctioned companies - Green Pine Associated Corp., the Amroggang Development Banking Corp., and the Korea Heungjin Trading Co. - play a role in financing, exporting, and procuring weapons, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations said.

- AP

17 prostitutes with HIV held

ATHENS, Greece - Greek authorities announced the arrest Wednesday of 17 HIV-positive women who allegedly worked illegally as prostitutes, accusing them of intentionally causing serious bodily harm.

The names and photographs of 12 of the women were published on the Greek Police's website, angering human-rights advocates who said it was unclear whether the women were aware they had HIV.

"This is an appalling violation of human rights and medical confidentiality ... an unprecedented action stigmatization," Positive Voice, a group that helps people with HIV, said in a statement.

The arrests come amid a crackdown on hundreds of unlicensed brothels around Greece, which recently toughened AIDS testing laws for prostitution in response to a sharp rise in AIDS cases last year. Prostitution is legal in Greece, with regular health checks for sex workers required. But authorities say only a fraction of brothels are operating with a license.

- AP