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Chechnya abuses persist, report says

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 15, 2003


MOSCOW -- Scores of civilians in Chechnya have been kidnapped, tortured and murdered this year, countering assertions from the Kremlin that order is being restored to the breakaway republic, human rights activists said Monday.

The allegations, made by Human Rights Watch, were based on government data the organization's Moscow office obtained that listed 70 murders and 126 abductions of Chechen civilians in January and February.

Last year, 1,132 civilians were killed in Chechnya, according to government data cited by the human rights group.

In the cases of 64 victims of violent crime in Chechnya during the first two months of the year, "the involvement of Russian servicemen in the crimes is fairly obvious," said Anna Neistat, director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch.

The Kremlin did not respond to inquiries about the report.

Four sentenced to life in deadly Israel bombing

JERUSALEM -- An Israeli military court on Monday sentenced four accomplices in the deadliest Palestinian suicide bombing ever to 29 consecutive life terms each -- one for each Israeli killed in last year's blast at a seaside hotel.

The March 27, 2002, bombing occurred at the Park Hotel in the northern coastal town of Netanya at the start of the Passover holiday. The assailant, Abdel Baset Odeh, from the Islamic militant group Hamas, blew himself up in the hotel's dining room as guests participated in a Passover meal.

The court convicted the four accomplices, also Hamas members, of sheltering Odeh ahead of the attack and providing him with explosives. Each received an additional 20-year sentence for attempting to plan another attack.

Hijacked helicopter flies three inmates to freedom

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France -- A hijacked helicopter swooped low over a prison yard in southern France and three inmates climbed aboard Monday.

The escape began as assailants seized control of the helicopter and forced its pilot to fly to the Luynes prison in Aix-en-Provence. Police and prison union officials said the aircraft hovered over the exercise area while a rope ladder was lowered to the prisoners.

The aircraft landed shortly afterward in a sports stadium and the prisoners, all described as dangerous, fled by car. The pilot was freed unharmed.

Elections . . .

IN QUEBEC: The party created to bring independence to mainly Francophone Quebec lost its bid for a third straight term in provincial elections Monday.

Voters chose the Liberal Party over the separatist Parti Quebecois, according to the projected outcome based on partial returns by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and the news agency Canadian Press.

Official election returns from 9,460 of 20,991 polling sites showed the Liberals with 44.3 percent of the votes to 33.7 percent for the Parti Quebecois. Action Democratique du Quebec had 19.6 percent.

Pollsters said voters wanted change after nine years of PQ rule, including a divisive 1995 sovereignty referendum that failed by less than a percentage point.

IN NIGERIA: President Olusegun Obasanjo's ruling party took a lead in legislative elections, according to partial returns Monday, boosting his hopes for re-election in presidential balloting later this week.

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