- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 22, 2011

CUBA

Cuba to release last dissidents

HAVANA | The Roman Catholic Church announced Tuesday that the Cuban government would release the last two political prisoners held since 2003.

The decision will clear Cuban jails of the last of 75 prominent intellectuals, opposition leaders and activists whose imprisonment on charges including treason has long soured relations with the outside world.

The last two men to be released are Felix Navarro and Jose Daniel Ferrer, activists who had each been sentenced to 25 years in jail.

ISRAEL

Ex-president Katsav sentenced to 7 years

TEL AVIV, Israel | An Israeli court sentenced former Israeli President Moshe Katsav to prison for seven years Tuesday for a rape conviction, rejecting his attorneys’ request for leniency and making him the highest-ranking Israeli official sentenced to prison.

In December, the Tel Aviv District Court convicted Katsav, 65, of raping a former employee and sexually harassing two other women who used to work for him. He also was convicted of indecent acts and obstruction of justice.

The court ordered him to report to prison May 8, giving him time to prepare an appeal.

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan forces to lead in securing 7 areas

KABUL | An emboldened Afghan president said Tuesday that his nation’s security forces will take over from the U.S.-led coalition in seven parts of the country, a first step toward his goal of having Afghan police and soldiers in charge by the end of 2014 so foreign combat troops can go home.

The tenuous step comes despite NATO predictions of bloody fighting this spring and Afghans’ fears that their forces aren’t up to the task.

In a speech peppered with criticism of the international military and civilian effort, President Hamid Karzai presented himself as a national leader and said the Afghan forces were on a path toward self-sufficiency.

UKRAINE

Ex-president probed in reporter’s death

KIEV | Former Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma is to be questioned in a 10-year investigation into the slaying of an investigative journalist, prosecutors said.

Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin said Tuesday that Mr. Kuchma is suspected of abusing his office powers by giving orders to Interior Ministry officials that “eventually led to the journalist’s killing.”

The former president has been banned from leaving Ukraine as part of the probe, he added.

Journalist Heorhiy Gongadze - well known for exposing high-level corruption - was kidnapped in September 2000 at the age of 31. His headless body was discovered outside the Ukraine capital, Kiev.

GERMANY

Brain problems led to polar bear’s death

BERLIN | Brain problems apparently caused the surprisingly early death of Knut, Germany’s 4-year-old celebrity polar bear, the Berlin Zoo said Tuesday.

Initial findings from a necropsy performed Monday by an institute in the German capital showed “significant changes to the brain, which can be viewed as a reason for the polar bear’s sudden death,” the zoo said in a statement.

From wire dispatches and staff reports