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Freedom House: Russia 'not free'

By Wire reports
Published December 21, 2004

MOSCOW - Russia has restricted rights to such an extent that it has joined the countries that are not free for the first time since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, Freedom House said Monday, marking Moscow's march away from the Western democracies it has embraced as diplomatic partners.

"This setback for freedom represented the year's most important political trend," the U.S. nongovernmental organization wrote in its annual study, Freedom in the World 2005.

Freedom House noted increased Kremlin control over television and other media, limitations on local government, and parliamentary and presidential elections it said were neither free nor fair.

Freedom House said that on balance, the world saw increased freedom in 2004: 26 countries showed gains while 11 showed decline. Of the world's 192 countries, it judged 46 percent free, 26 percent not free, and the rest partly free. Eight rated as the most repressive: Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Turkmenistan.

Taliban attack at military checkpoint kills 6, hurts 4

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A vehicle carrying a group of suspected Taliban fighters attacked a military checkpoint in southern Afghanistan, sparking a firefight that left six dead and at least four wounded, police said Monday.

Kandahar police Chief Khan Mohammed said the attack occurred at 6 p.m. Sunday 90 miles west of Kandahar city.

The exchange of gunfire killed four soldiers and a civilian, and the attackers left behind the body of one fighter as they drove away, police said. Security forces were pursuing them.

Pakistani police detain 6

LAHORE, Pakistan - Police arrested six suspected Islamic militants in the eastern city of Lahore on Monday, hoping they could provide clues about a Libyan al-Qaida operative who is among the most-wanted men in Pakistan.

The Libyan, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, is accused of masterminding two assassination attempts a year ago against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

The six arrested men, all Pakistanis, include Malik Tehsin, 31, who is said to be a member of two outlawed Sunni Muslim militant groups and an aide of al-Libbi.

Elsewhere ...

SENTENCE IN CANADA E. COLI OUTBREAK: Two brothers who ran a water system in Walkerton, Ontario, that became contaminated with E. coli bacteria, killing seven people and sickening 2,300, were sentenced Monday for their role in one of Canada's worst public health disasters. Stan Koebel was jailed for one year, while his brother, Frank Koebel, was sentenced to nine months of house arrest.

SUDAN CEASE-FIRE: Sudan's government has ordered troops in three areas of Darfur to observe a cease-fire, state media reported Monday, and an international observer said the government will ask rebels to do the same.

SENTENCES IN SIERRA LEONE COUP PLOT: Ten men charged with plotting to overthrow Sierra Leone's government last year were convicted Monday of treason and sentenced to death by hanging. The 10, including ex-army officers and rebels who fought during Sierra Leone's brutal 1991-2002 war, have 21 days to appeal.

[Last modified December 21, 2004, 00:32:19]

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