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Good Friday a holiday again after pope’s visit

HAVANA — Cuba has honored an appeal by Pope Benedict XVI and declared this week’s Good Friday a holiday for the first time since the early days following the island’s 1959 revolution, though a decision on whether the move will be permanent will have to wait.

The communist government said in a communique Saturday that the decision was made in light of the success of Benedict’s “transcendental visit” to the country, which wrapped up Wednesday. It said the Council of Ministers, Cuba’s supreme governing body, will decide later whether to make the holiday permanent.

Benedict’s appeal was reminiscent of his predecessor John Paul II’s 1998 request that Christmas be restored as a holiday. Religious holidays were abolished in the 1960s after brothers Fidel and Raul Castro came to power, ushering in a Marxist government.

COLOMBIA

Helicopter departs to retrieve captives

VILLAVICENCIO — A helicopter took off Monday to pick up the first of a group of hostages to be released by leftist Colombian guerrillas.

The Brazilian air force Cougar helicopter left the Villavicencio airport some 70 miles south of Bogota for an undisclosed jungle location as part of the planned release.

The mission, delayed more than two hours because of bad weather, included members of the International Committee of the Red Cross and mediator Piedad Cordoba of Colombians for Peace.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia had announced it would free 10 military hostages held in the jungle for at least 12 years in two stages Monday and Wednesday.

Two Brazilian Air Force helicopters arrived Sunday in the city of Villavicencio for the mission.

The Cougar aircraft, on loan by neighboring Brazil, flew in members of a humanitarian commission that is to meet the hostages upon their release.

CANADA

Lebanon frees farmer who sold bad potatoes

TORONTO — A government official says a Canadian farmer has been released from a Lebanese jail after being held for a year on allegations he exported rotten potatoes to Algeria.

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