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World Briefs: Moscow angry at U.S. fines over Jewish WWII booty

- - Thursday, January 17, 2013

MOSCOW — Russia on Thursday harshly criticized a U.S. court ruling fining it $50,000 a day for holding onto tens of thousands of religious books and manuscripts stolen from Jews during the Russian Revolution and World War II.

Russia's State Library and the Russian military archive have refused to give up the books, some hundreds of years old, even after a U.S. court ruled that the Brooklyn-based Chabad-Lubavitch group is the rightful owner. The country says the books are part of its national heritage.

Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court ruled Wednesday that Russia should pay the fine until it complies with his 2010 order to return the collection to the Jewish group.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday called the ruling "an absolutely unlawful and provocative decision," and threatened a tough response if U.S. authorities try to seize Russian property in an attempt to get the fine.

There are two collections at issue: 12,000 religious books and manuscripts seized during the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian Civil War nearly a century ago and 25,000 pages of handwritten teachings and other writings of religious leaders stolen by Nazi Germany during World War II, then transferred by the Soviet Red Army as war booty to the Russian State Military Archive.

IRAN

Official: Opposition leaders excluded from elections

TEHRAN — A semi-official Iranian news agency reported that the country's two main opposition leaders are not competent to run as candidates in the presidential election in June.

Fars news agency quoted state prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehei as saying Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi have committed "atrocities against the ruling system and the nation" and will be barred from running in the June 14 election, unless they repent.

Mr. Mousavi and Mr. Karroubi led massive street rallies in the aftermath of the 2009 election to protest official election results declaring President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner.

Opposition supporters claimed "monumental vote fraud" in Mr. Ahmadinejad's favor, but their peaceful protest was crushed by security forces.

SYRIA

Activists say dozens were killed in village

BEIRUT — Activists said Thursday that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad wielding knives and guns swept through a small farming village in central Syria earlier this week, torching houses and killing at least 37 people, including women and children.

A government official in Damascus denied the reports of carnage in the hamlet of Haswiyeh just outside the city of Homs, saying no such killings took place at all in the area.

Omar Idilbi of the Local Coordination Committees activist group said the government attack took place on Tuesday and left at least 37 people dead.

He said his figure has not been updated since Wednesday and that more bodies have been found since then.

Youssef al-Homsi, an activist based in Homs, also said at least 100 people were killed, including dozens of women and children.

He sent The Associated Press via Skype a list of 100 names said to have been killed on Tuesday. In addition to whole families, the list included individual names of 15 women and 10 children.

HUNGARY

Homeless face winter, fear return of penalties

BUDAPEST — Homeless men and women huddle on street corners amid Budapest's majestic domed palaces, shivering under old blankets and cardboard boxes in frigid winter weather.

It's an image that critics say Prime Minister Viktor Orban doesn't want the world to see.

And if he has his way, the homeless could be fined and even jailed for sleeping outside — even though some of the country's homeless shelters already are overflowing and short of beds.

Mr. Orban's punitive ideas for the homeless have set him up for his latest clash with the constitutional court and civil rights groups as he tries to reshape the country in a hard-line image by centralizing power.

Since winning power in 2010, Mr. Orban and his party have undermined independent institutions and democratic standards in a nation that was once an icon of democratic struggle for throwing off communism in 1989.

Now Mr. Orban is carrying out an informal referendum at town hall meetings around the country to gauge support for a constitutional amendment that would enshrine punishments for the homeless in the charter itself.

Hungary's homeless policy has revived accusations by human rights groups that Mr. Orban's ruling Fidesz party cares little about the country's disadvantaged.

In just one recent controversy, one of the party's founding members, journalist Zsolt Bayer wrote in a newspaper column that many of the country's Gypsies, or Roma — an impoverished minority that faces entrenched discrimination — "are animals" and "unfit for coexistence."

From wire dispatches and staff reports