Briefly: Justice minister says corruption growing

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But some Scots want to go further and make the nation of 5 million people an independent country within the European Union.

RUSSIA

Opposition aims for headway in local elections

KHIMKI — Opposition activists hoped to make gains in thousands of local elections held in Russia on Sunday, but supporters of President Vladimir Putin appeared likely to retain their hold on the positions despite somewhat looser election rules.

The Kremlin eased stiff election laws in response to massive winter protests against Mr. Putin’s rule, but it introduced new restrictions after the demonstrations abated.

As things stand, Kremlin-approved governors and mayors are expected to preserve their seats, and the ruling United Russia party will likely keep dominating local legislatures.

In one of the most visible races Sunday, opposition activist Yevgeniya Chirikova was challenging the Kremlin-backed mayor of Khimki, a town just outside Moscow.

Ms. Chirikova, an organizer of the anti-Putin protests, has complained that authorities tried to thwart her meetings with voters, among other obstacles.

Her campaign reflected challenges also faced by opposition candidates in nearly 5,000 local elections held Sunday in 77 of Russia’s 83 regions.

The lack of real competition has contributed to public apathy, and voter turnout was expected to be low in many regions.

UNITED KINGDOM

Thousands of troops to exit Afghanistan in 2013

LONDON — Britain’s defense secretary says thousands of troops will leave Afghanistan next year, a major reduction in U.K. forces there.

Britain has said 500 of its 9,500 troops in Afghanistan will be withdrawn this year, and all will be brought home by the end of 2014, when international troops are scheduled to hand security over to Afghan forces.

But it has not announced exactly how many will come home in 2013.

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