BRIEF-Delaware judge says will deny motion to transfer Energy Future bankruptcy to Dallas

Energy Future: * Delaware judge says will deny motion to transfer energy future holdings'

_0">

class="mandelbrot_refrag">bankruptcy to Dallas

Bankruptcy of Texas power firm Energy Future to stay in Delaware

The Chapter 11 class="mandelbrot_refrag">bankruptcy of Texas's largest power company, Energy Future Holdings, will remain with a U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware, the judge handling the case ruled on Thursday.

_0">

Energy Future filed one of the largest nonfinancial bankruptcies ever in April in Delaware, where the company's subsidiaries are incorporated. The company has $42 billion in debt.

U.S. class="mandelbrot_refrag">Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Sontchi rejected arguments by a trustee for junior creditors that the case should be in Dallas, where the company is headquartered, because it would better serve employees and regulators. (Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware)

UPDATE 1-Bankruptcy of Texas power firm Energy Future to stay in Delaware

Texas's largest power company, Energy Future Holdings, overcame the first challenge to its huge class="mandelbrot_refrag">bankruptcy on Thursday when a Delaware judge ruled the Chapter 11 case should stay in his court rather than be transferred to Dallas, as some creditors wanted.

Judge Christopher Sontchi said Energy Future could have filed in several courts, and that it was clearly forum shopping, but he said that doing so was not "insidious".

"Given that it is a financial restructuring and given that the parties are in the Northeast, I think that favors Delaware," he said, accepting the company's main argument for filing in Wilmington.

 
 
 

The Dallas-based company has said it plans to restructure its $42 billion in debt, not its operations. It argued that most parties involved in the restructuring are class="mandelbrot_refrag">hedge funds and other sophisticated investors that are based in New York, a two-hour train ride from Wilmington.

Seeking the transfer was Delaware-based Wilmington Savings Fund Society (WSFS), trustee for second-lien notes issued by the Energy Future unit that owns the generating class="mandelbrot_refrag">business Luminant and TXU Retail.

"All the employees work and live in Texas, not in Delaware. All the assets are in Texas, none in Delaware. All the customers are in Texas, none in Delaware," Jeffrey Jonas, a partner in Brown Rudnick and an attorney for WSFS, told the court.

Sontchi rejected the focus on the location of employees and customers, noting that none of them objected to having the case in Wilmington.

Energy Future filed for class="mandelbrot_refrag">bankruptcy in April in Wilmington. The company was burdened by debt stemming from its record 2007 leveraged buyout of TXU Corp, led by KKR & Co, TPG and the private equity arm of Goldman Sachs.

Energy Future has subsidiaries incorporated in Delaware, which allows it to file in the state's busy U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The court has handled many big bankruptcies with no real connection to the state, such as that of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

Cases can be transferred if the transfer is seen to be in the interest of justice and fairness to the parties involved.

Only two cases with at least $1 billion in assets have been moved out of Wilmington in the past 30 years: Harrahs Jazz Co, in 1995, and Hawaiian Telecom Communications Inc, in 2008, according to Lynn LoPucki, a professor at UCLA Law School.

Earlier on Thursday, an attorney for Energy Future said the company will delay seeking court approval of a restructuring support agreement from June 6 to June 30 after creditors said they need more time to study the deal.

The plan involves splitting off the Luminant and TXU subsidiary, and turning those businesses over to senior creditors in return for forgiving some of the $24 billion the creditors are owed.

The plan also proposes that a separate Energy Future subsidiary that owns Oncor, a power transmission class="mandelbrot_refrag">business that is not bankrupt, would emerge from bankruptcy under the control of the subsidiary's junior unsecured creditors.

The case is In re Energy Future Holdings, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware, No. 14-10979 (Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Jan Paschal and Peter Galloway)

UPDATE 1-Michigan House passes bill package for bankrupt Detroit

Detroit's plan to adjust its debts and exit class="mandelbrot_refrag">bankruptcy as soon as this fall got a boost on Thursday when the Michigan House of Representatives approved a package of bills that includes state money to aid the city's retirees.

Under the so-called grand bargain in Detroit's debt adjustment plan, Michigan's nearly $195 million lump sum contribution, along with $466 million pledged over 20 years by philanthropic foundations and the Detroit Institute of Arts would be used to ease pension cuts for city retirees. The deal would also protect city art works from being sold to raise money to pay city creditors and includes commitments from two unions to raise money for retiree healthcare costs.

 
 
 

All of the contributions are contingent on each other and on members of Detroit's two retirement systems agreeing to accept minimal cuts to their pensions to help the cash-strapped city deal with $18 billion of debt and other obligations.

The legislation approved by the Republican-controlled House would allow Michigan to take the money out of its rainy day fund. The money would be paid back to the fund over time from Michigan's share of a national settlement with U.S. class="mandelbrot_refrag">tobacco companies.

The bills also create a nine-member oversight panel that would stay active until Detroit meets certain financial thresholds and require the city hire a qualified chief financial officer and submit four-year financial plans. The 11 bills now head to the Republican-controlled Senate.

Kevyn Orr, Detroit's state-appointed emergency manager, said the House's action brought the city "a crucial step closer" to protecting pensions and exiting the biggest municipal class="mandelbrot_refrag">bankruptcy in U.S. history.

"The state of Michigan's willingness to participate in a negotiated settlement that will limit financial impact to the city's two pension funds and protect the city-owned treasures at the Detroit Institute of Arts is a critical component to the city's proposed plan of adjustment," Orr said in a statement.

Ahead of the voting, some Republican and Democratic lawmakers said unless the state participates in the settlement, Michigan could be hit with big legal and social service costs in the wake of larger pension reductions.

But State Representative David Nathan, a Detroit Democrat, argued that the legislation "tramples on democracy."

"I do not trust this will work out for the betterment of my community," he said.

A special, bipartisan House committee initially approved the bills on Wednesday.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes has set July 24 for the start of a hearing on Detroit's debt adjustment plan to determine if it is fair and feasible. (Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Eric Walsh)

Spanish court approves banks' takeover of Pescanova

Spanish class="mandelbrot_refrag">fishing company Pescanova came out of administration on Friday after a court approved a deal with creditors that leaves the company in the hands of its class="mandelbrot_refrag">banks.

_0">

Pescanova - which filed for class="mandelbrot_refrag">bankruptcy last year - will be controlled by creditors including Spanish class="mandelbrot_refrag">banks Sabadell, Popular, Caixabank, BBVA, NCG Banco and Bankia.

Under the deal proposed by the banks, and accepted by the court, creditors will retain 1 billion euros ($1.36 billion) of debt and will inject 125 million euros of capital into the company, the frozen fish products of which are among Spain's best-known brands. ($1 = 0.7336 Euros) (Reporting by Emma Pinedo; Editing by Fiona Ortiz and David Goodman)

Momentive's $570 mln bankruptcy loan package approved by judge

A class="mandelbrot_refrag">bankruptcy court judge on Friday approved a $570 million financing package to get Momentive Performance Materials through bankruptcy, over the objections of unsecured creditors who say the deal will threaten their recoveries.

Momentive, the maker of silicone and quartz products that is owned by private equity group Apollo Global Management LLC , filed for Chapter 11 protection in April with a prearranged restructuring that had the support of key stakeholders. The plan, which still needs court approval, includes a $600 million rights offering and $1.3 billion in exit loans from class="mandelbrot_refrag">JPMorgan Chase & Co.

To get Momentive through Chapter 11, JPMorgan also arranged financing in the form of a $300 million loan and a $270 million credit facility.

The bulk of that package had already been approved by Judge Robert Drain of U.S. class="mandelbrot_refrag">Bankruptcy Court in White Plains, New York, but unsecured creditors, including Aurelius Capital Management, objected this month to the approval of the rest.

The fight is less about the financing than being a precursor to a potentially contentious battle in the coming months over Momentive's restructuring.

Rather than taking issue with the size or necessity of the loan, the unsecured creditors objected to provisions of the deal they see as limiting their ability to challenge Momentive's bankruptcy exit plan.

The provisions are inappropriate in light of the high likelihood of a legal fight over the plan, specifically as to whether Aurelius and other subordinated debtholders are entitled to recovery, Kenneth Klee, a lawyer for the unsecured creditors, told the judge on Friday.

Klee's group balked at provisions that would pick up some of Apollo's professional fees and set a 90-day limit for the unsecured creditors to launch challenges to certain protections for Momentive's secured creditors.

Drain rejected the challenge on fees, but granted that the unsecured creditors should have the right to request his permission to extend the 90-day window if necessary.

According to David Stern, another lawyer for the unsecured creditors, Apollo's financial advisory firm, Moelis & Co, will make $150,000 a month in the case, plus a $1.5 million bonus if the restructuring is approved. Moelis Managing Director Bill Derrough, who testified on Friday, said he was not sure if the numbers were accurate.

Aurelius, an investment fund specializing in bankruptcy law, buys heavily distressed debt and sometimes litigates through bankruptcy to boost recoveries. (Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Overseas Shipholding says near deal to advance bankruptcy plan

An attorney for class="mandelbrot_refrag">Overseas Shipholding Group Inc, one of the world's largest publicly traded tanker holding companies, told a U.S. judge on Friday a deal was close with noteholders that would clear the way for creditors to vote on its class="mandelbrot_refrag">bankruptcy exit plan.

Noteholders agreed to drop their objection to the company's $1.5 billion rights offering for a chance to participate in the stock sale, said Luke Barefoot, an attorney with Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, which represents the company.

The rights offering is a key component to Overseas Shipholding's exit plan and would allow existing stock holders to buy newly issued stock in the company. The plan is also backed with $1.35 billion in financing from Jefferies Finance.

Barefoot told a U.S. class="mandelbrot_refrag">Bankruptcy Court hearing in Wilmington, Delaware, that the parties had a few more details to work out. He said they would return to court on Tuesday and ask Judge Peter Walsh to issue orders clearing the way for the rights offering and approving the company's disclosure statement.

The document must be approved so it can be sent to creditors along with ballots to start voting on the bankruptcy exit plan.

Holders of notes due in 2024 were unhappy that the company planned to reinstate their $150 million in securities without making an added "change of control" payment the noteholders said was triggered by the bankruptcy plan.

If creditors approve the plan and Walsh approves it, Overseas Shipholding will emerge from bankruptcy under control of its current stockholders. That group includes affiliates of Cerberus Capital Management, Paulson & Co and Silver Point Capital, according to court filings.

The company's pink sheet shares rose more than 10 percent in Friday trading, to around $5.88 each. Bankruptcy usually renders a company's stock worthless, but Overseas Shipholding has rebounded in Chapter 11 thanks to a key deal with tax authorities.

The company filed for Chapter 11 as its operations were squeezed by new ships coming into the market just as an energy boom in the United States depressed demand for tankers.

In addition, Overseas Shipholding was unable to borrow money because it was investigating the accuracy of its financial statements and the possibility that it faced a large unexpected tax liability.

However, the company resolved its dispute with Internal Revenue Service to cut its tax liability to about $255 million from an original demand for $463 million.

The case is In re class="mandelbrot_refrag">Overseas Shipholding Group Inc, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware, No. 12-20000. (Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Egyptian crackdown risks spreading instability abroad, Islamist says

A former Muslim Brotherhood leader has warned that government oppression in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Egypt is fanning militancy that will pose a threat abroad unless the army-backed authorities start respecting freedom and human rights.

Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, who left the Brotherhood in 2011,

said that once former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi wins a presidential election this week - as is widely expected - he had

two choices: restore Egypt's path to democracy, or risk more instability that will dash hopes for economic development.

In an interview with Reuters, Abol Fotouh predicted wider consequences flowing from the crackdown launched last year after the military overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi, Egypt's first democratically-elected president.

He noted, for example, how past oppression in the Middle East had bred radicalism of the type that led to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

"The world around us must recognize that it will not be stable unless class="mandelbrot_refrag">Egypt is stable, and what is going on now is producing terrorism for which Egyptians are paying the price, and for which the world will pay the price," he said in the interview, which was conducted on May 21.

The security forces killed hundreds of Mursi's supporters and jailed thousands more after his removal from power. Members of secular pro-democracy groups have also been jailed.

The state, claiming a popular mandate for crushing the Brotherhood, says it is in a war against Islamist militants who have killed several hundred members of the security forces in bombings and shootings that followed Mursi's removal.

Abol Fotouh said the government was using that fight to repress legitimate political opposition, including the Brotherhood which denies that it has turned to violence.

This contrasted to tactics used by autocrat Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown in a popular uprising in 2011. "Hosni Mubarak didn't do this. He repressed the politicians on one hand, and the terrorist groups on the other," said Abol Fotouh. "The current regime is mixing them all together."

"This regime is generating terrorism. If this oppression and injustice does not stop, the base of terrorism will expand."

The long struggle between the Egyptian state and the Islamists played a part in the evolution of militant Islam in its present form. Some of the Islamists who suffered during the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood under President Gamal Abdel Nasser, starting in the 1950s, and his successors contributed to the rise of radicalism.

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri came from Egypt. So did Mohamed Atta, one of the leaders of the September 11 attacks. Abol Fotouh and Zawahri spent time in adjoining jail cells in 1981.

"THE INJUSTICES MUST STOP"

Abol Fotouh, who was bitterly at odds with the Brotherhood's current leadership, presented himself as a moderate centrist in his 2012 bid for the presidency. He came fourth.

_0">

The 62-year old doctor was an opponent of Mursi's rule and called for the protests that led to his downfall, though he had sought early elections. He also opposed the army's decision to unseat the elected president, who is now on trial.

_1">

The state has declared the Brotherhood a terrorist group.

_2">

Abol Fotouh said all Egyptians backed the fight against militants, but the "Brotherhood was no terrorist organization", and the same applied to secular groups also being repressed.

_3">

Abol Fotouh estimated the number of detainees at 25,000.

_4">

Listing examples of recent injustices, he cited a court that had sentenced about 1,200 Brotherhood members and supporters to death "as if they were chickens" after trials criticized as grossly unfair by human rights groups.

_5">

"The injustices must stop," he said. "You cannot find an Egyptian village, or institution, or district, or person that has not had a friend or relative killed, jailed or wounded."

_6">

"There is no option for any government in Egypt other than to bring about national reconciliation," he said.

_7">

While the Brotherhood says it remains committed to peaceful activism, members say it is struggling to contain the anger of its youth base. Many of the attacks on the police and army have been claimed by radicals espousing the ideas of al Qaeda.

_8">

Abol Fotouh said he had tried to promote reconciliation between the Brotherhood and the army, but neither had the will.

_9">

He said Sisi had been Egypt's de facto leader since last July, but did not want to prejudge his presidency.

_10">

"We want Egypt to turn into a productive country, with good education, and health ... for factories to work, .. but this can only happen in an atmosphere of freedom, where there is respect for human rights, and justice," he said.

_11">

"Sisi has no other path. He either chooses the path of destroying the nation with oppression and terrorism and so on, or he chooses the path of respecting rights and freedoms."

_12">

(Editing by Michael Georgy and David Stamp)

_13">

Italy's woeful waste management on trial with Il Supremo trash king

Italian businessman Manlio Cerroni thinks a monument would be a fitting recognition of his services to Rome. Instead, the 86-year-old, who spent 60 years building a global empire and a personal fortune on trash, is facing trial on a string of charges.

Italian prosecutors say Cerroni - "Il Supremo" to his aides - oversaw a web of companies and individuals colluding to defend his monopoly over trash disposal in and around the Italian capital, including his Malagrotta landfill, Europe's largest, which closed last year after European Union authorities ruled it unfit to treat waste.

Cerroni's lawyer, Giorgio Martellino, says his client denies all charges, which also include fraud and improper waste treatment, but declined to be interviewed.

Several local politicians from the Lazio region, of which Rome is the capital, are also due to stand trial for collusion.

Cerroni was earlier this year put under preventive detention at home, but has since been released on bail, on condition he doesn't set foot in Rome, his lawyer said.

While being questioned, he told prosecutors: "You should build me a monument for everything I've done for this city," according to a judicial source familiar with the questioning.

The European Commission takes a dim view of Italy's waste industry. It estimates that trash is treated and disposed of unlawfully in 100 of Italy's 250 official waste-management sites. Italian police estimate there are also 1,000 illegal sites.

In and around the city of Naples, for example, the Camorra organized crime group has since the 1990s taken over lucrative waste-management contracts, dumping trash from all over the country and other parts of Europe in unauthorized fields or landfills, according to testimony and documents from various legal cases. Industrial waste has often been illegally stored or burned, releasing toxins that have contaminated much of the area.

Last month, an Italian police officer who had spent many years in and around the so-called Land of the Fires - a vast area south of Naples where toxic trash has long been dumped and burned - died of a tumor that the Italian state officially recognized was related to his work there.

Rome, Italy's biggest city, also has its trash problems.

Collection, treatment and disposal of its garbage has largely been in the hands of a small group of private owners - Cerroni and his associates - for decades, with public contracts rarely opened to competition or new entrants.

There are not enough sites to treat and dispose of the 1.775 million tons of trash the city produces every year, even though its residents pay among the highest trash-management taxes in the country.

Some is shipped to northern class="mandelbrot_refrag">Italy or class="mandelbrot_refrag">Spain for treatment.

Fearing a build-up of trash in the streets of the capital, the mayor of Rome recently ordered that Cerroni's treatment and disposal sites continue to operate, even though prosecutors wanted them closed during their investigation.

TRASH LIKE US

It was back in 1946, after getting a law degree, that Cerroni first began his career in the unglamorous world of garbage, at a small company that handled waste disposal, including animal carcasses, according to his lawyer.

_0">

"In the 1950s and 60s, those of us who worked in the garbage class="mandelbrot_refrag">business had trouble even finding wives, because we were considered trash ourselves," Cerroni said during a hearing before Italy's parliament years ago. "Only when the environmentalists came along did people say, ‘Hey! these people help our lives, too'."

_1">

In 1960, Rome handed management of the city's trash disposal to four small private companies, including Cecchini & Co, owned by Cerroni, according to a history of his class="mandelbrot_refrag">business dealings that is part of the prosecutors' arrest warrant. Cerroni eventually took over all four companies.

_2">

First working alone, and later with his two daughters, he gradually built up a business with revenues that media reports estimate at 2 billion euros. His closely held companies do not release financial figures.

_3">

Among his holdings are trash disposal companies or firms that build machines to treat trash in Sydney, Oslo, Abu Dhabi and Edmonton, according to a company website. In some cases, he owns the companies outright, in others he holds stakes.

_4">

Cerroni's big break came in 1984 when the city of Rome decided to make Malagrotta, Rome's main garbage dump, which Cerroni had bought.

_5">

Businesses in which he is the main shareholder are still partners in a consortium that runs the landfill and its waste-treatment machinery.

_6">

It was rewarding work - enough to buy a volleyball team, a local television station and a villa in a leafy neighborhood of Rome.

_7">

It also gave him access to politicians of all hues.

_8">

"I had relations with everyone; prime ministers, ministers, councilors. They couldn't reject my proposals. They would ask me to find solutions," Cerroni said in an interview published earlier this month in Rome daily Il Tempo.

_9">

"The person who decides here is him (Cerroni), no one else. And that's the way politicians want it," said Fabio Altissimi, a competitor, according to the transcript of a wire-tapped call that is part of prosecutors' warrant for Cerroni. Altissimi, who is not under investigation, was not reachable for comment.

_10">

But in 2011, EU authorities came down hard on Cerroni's biggest asset. In a letter to Rome that year, the European Commission warned that 100 trash disposal sites were illegal, because they did not pre-treat waste with chemicals that reduce their volume and toxicity, as required by European guidelines. It ruled that Malagrotta, the worst offender among the illegal sites, could no longer collect garbage. Two years later, in September 2013, it found the situation had not improved.

_11">

It ordered class="mandelbrot_refrag">Italy to pay 61.5 million euros, plus a daily fine of 256,000 euros, until it complies with EU regulations, though neither fine has taken effect yet.

_12">

Though garbage no longer arrives in Malagrotta, the site is still brimming with mountains of trash up to 80 meters high. Prosecutors over the past two years have been investigating whether any toxic material has seeped into the water table.

_13">

According to the city of Rome's plans, it will in 30 years be transformed into a park, with 340,000 trees.

_14">

"It will become Buonagrotta for the service that this place has rendered Rome," Cerroni joked to the parliamentary hearing.

_15">

UNDISPUTED MASTER

_0">

In their arrest warrant, prosecutors said Cerroni was the "undisputed master of a criminal organization" that kept the entrepreneur's competitors at bay, giving him for decades a monopoly over the Lazio region's trash disposal business.

_1">

Prosecutors said certain towns in the Lazio region would pay Cerroni's companies a higher price for a disposal service that would turn garbage into high-quality refuse. Cerroni's company would pocket the cash but not provide the extra service, they said.

_2">

The prosecutors' documents allege that Cerroni used his political ties to exercise pressure on public officials to keep getting public contracts to treat trash in a town in Rome's outskirts. They also allege that Cerroni-owned companies that convert trash into fuel inflated their charges.

_3">

Cerroni dismisses the charges with characteristic swagger.

_4">

"This is a conspiracy," he said in the il Tempo interview. "They wanted to go after il Supremo, the man who even in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Australia is considered to have no equal. When it comes to waste management, I am considered universally as the best in the world."

_5">

(Writing by Alessandra Galloni; Editing by Will Waterman)

_6">

Exclusive: Fugitive Thai minister says army led government into trap

Thailand's top generals lured the former government and its supporters into a trap by arranging peace talks between political heavyweights then seizing power in a coup moments later, a deposed minister said on Sunday.

Speaking to Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location, ousted Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang said he was suspicious of army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha's motives for declaring martial law on Tuesday, then calling all key players in the crisis to the negotiating table two days later.

"I felt something wasn't right. I tried to warn cabinet members, but I couldn't get the message across in time," Chaturon said.

"It was a trap. They'd planned it earlier, then they staged the coup and ordered the other Puea Thai Party members to report to them. I knew something was wrong," he said, referring to the ruling party of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Chaturon was describing Thursday's meeting at the Army Club, a military social venue that's now the de facto seat of government. Sources at those talks described how gun-toting troops rushed in to secure politicians, activists and even journalists as Prayuth abruptly left, then appeared on television to say negotiations had collapsed, so the army had seized power.

"This must have been prepared for some time," Chaturon said, adding he suspected the opposition Democrat Party, an anti-government protest group and the royalist establishment had colluded with the army to overthrow the government.

The whereabouts of Yingluck, her cabinet members, other senior party members and their so-called red shirt supporters remain unknown. [ID:nL3N0O85O3] They formed the bulk of political players summoned to report to the junta, although some of their opponents, who led six months of protests to bring Yingluck down, have also been detained.

Chaturon, a close ally of self-exiled billionaire and former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother and the driving force behind the deposed government, said he was unable to make contact with any of his associates and feared most were in military custody.

FEARFUL OF OPPRESSION

He raised doubts about whether the "red shirts", the formidable pro-Thaksin protest movement, would be able to regroup and fight against the takeover, as they had vowed, because their leaders were being held.

He said the coup was unlike others in Thailand's recent history because the army was stamping out dissent, muzzling the media and deploying swift measures to arrest anyone with potential to disrupt their rule.

"This is very serious indeed, it's very bad," Chaturon said. "There are several military units out to arrest me. It seems they'll detain a lot of people and we don't know for how long. It's going to be very oppressive."

The military has said it would detain people for a week at most.

"I don't want to stay underground, neither do I plan to join any rebellion against the coup-makers. This must be resolved by peaceful means," Chaturon said.

Chaturon was a minister and member of the Thai Rak Thai party that Thaksin led to two landslide election victories before the generals, Prayuth among them, staged the last coup in 2006, accusing Thaksin of graft and disloyalty to the monarchy.

He said the political climate had changed significantly since then and the junta would face a lot more resistance, as shown by protests in days since the coup in Bangkok and in north and northeastern provinces.

_0">

"The resistance from the people has already started, very early, and it seems to be spontaneous, not organized. There's no leaders left," he said.

_1">

"No one wants this suppression of the people. I hope there won't be oppression and harsh measures against them. We don't want to see violence or casualties because those who will be suppressed are those who want democracy and did nothing wrong."

_2">

Chaturon raised doubts about Prayuth's political reform path and said any constitution or new legislation would be designed to sideline the Shinawatra family and its allies and end their more than a decade of electoral dominance.

_3">

"Any election after that would be meaningless," he said. "The system will be designed so no matter which party people vote for, it won't be able to form a government."

_4">

(Editing by Robert Birsel and Ian Geoghegan)

_5">

Taliban free most of 27 hostages in Afghan province

The Islamist Taliban have freed most of the 27 prisoners captured last week in Afghanistan's northern Badakhanshan province, a local official said on Sunday, but three remained captive because of their senior rank.

_0">

The prisoners, most of them police officers, were taken in a battle for Yamgan district, after several days of fighting.

"They still hold the prison chief, police chief and a NDS (intelligence agency) agent," district governor Nawroz Mohammad Haidari said by telephone.

Yamgan initially appeared to have fallen to the Taliban, but local officials say it has since been recaptured by Afghan security forces.

 
 
 

Violence has intensified since the Taliban launched the start of the summer fighting season on May 12 in advance of the planned withdrawal of most foreign troops by the end of the year.

The country's presidential election to replace Hamid Karzai, who cannot run for a third term, is underway, with a run-off round between the two top finishers set for June 14.

(Reporting by Mirwais Harooni, Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Ron Popeski)

Thai protesters test military's resolve

Thailand's military tightened its grip on power on Sunday as it moved to quell growing protests, saying anyone violating its orders would be tried in military court.

It also took its first steps to revitalize a battered class="mandelbrot_refrag">economy, saying nearly a million farmers owned money under the previous government's failed rice-subsidy scheme would be paid within a month.

The military overthrew the government on Thursday after months of debilitating and at times violent confrontation between the populist government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the royalist establishment.

Critics say the coup will not end the conflict between the rival power networks: the Bangkok-based elite dominated by the military and the bureaucracy, and an upstart clique led by Yingluck's brother and former telecommunication mogul Thaksin Shinawatra. The Shinawatras draw much of their influence from the provinces.

The military detained numerous people including Yingluck and many of her ministers, party officials and supporters. Leaders of anti-government protests against Yingluck were also held.

The military said anyone detained would be freed in a week and on Sunday it relaxed restrictions on Yingluck, allowing her to go home though she remained under military supervision, a senior military official said.

"She is free to come and go as she pleases but will have to inform us as a sign of mutual respect and we will have soldiers guarding her home," said the officer, who declined to be identified.

The military has thrown out the constitution, censored the media and dismissed the upper house Senate, the last functioning legislature. On Sunday, it said anyone accused of insulting the monarchy or violating its orders would face military court.

Power lies in the hands of army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha and his junta and their priorities are stamping out dissent and tending to the class="mandelbrot_refrag">economy.

An army spokesman warned against protests and told the media to be careful in its reporting too.

"For those who use social media to provoke, please stop because it's not good for anyone," deputy army spokesman Winthai Suvaree said in a televised statement.

Despite the warnings, a small crowd of protesters, some holding handwritten signs such as "Get out Dictators", formed outside a Bangkok shopping center and grew through the day.

Hundreds of soldiers, most with riot shields, lined up to contain the crowd and there was some shouting and pushing and at least two people were detained, a Reuters reporter said.

By late afternoon about 1,000 people had gathered at the Victory Monument, a central city hub, confronting soldiers at times but there were no clashes.

In his first public comments since the coup, Thaksin said on Twitter he was saddened and he called on the army to treat everyone fairly. Thaksin was ousted as prime minister in a 2006 coup and has lived in self-exile since a 2008 graft conviction.

"QUICK SOLUTIONS"

_0">

The military on Sunday met leaders of state and private commercial agencies, economic ministry officials, central bank and stock market officials and class="mandelbrot_refrag">business leaders.

_1">

"The economy needs to recover. If there is something wrong, we have to find quick solutions," Thawatchai Yongkittikul, secretary general of the Thai Bankers' Association, told reporters, citing General Prayuth.

_2">

"The burning issues that need to be solved are the rice-buying scheme and the budget plan for the 2015 fiscal year."

_3">

A rice-subsidy scheme organized by Yingluck's government failed, leaving huge stockpiles of the grain and farmers owed more than $2.5 billion. The military said all farmers should be paid in a month.

_4">

The military also said King Bhumibol Adulyadej will on Monday endorse Prayuth as leader of the ruling military council, an important formality in a country where the monarchy is the most important institution. On Saturday, the army said the king had acknowledged the takeover.

_5">

An undercurrent of the crisis is anxiety over the issue of royal succession. The king, the world's longest-reigning monarch, is 86 and spent the years from 2009 to 2013 in hospital.

_6">

Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn does not command the same devotion as his father, but some Thaksin supporters have been making a point of showing their loyalty to the prince.

_7">

PROTESTS

_8">

The military, which has launched 19 successful or attempted coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, has banned gatherings of more than five people and imposed a 10 p.m to 5 a.m. curfew.

_9">

But that has not deterred critics who since Friday have held small protests, not just in Bangkok but in the north and northeast, Thaksin's main strongholds.

_10">

But former Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang, who is now in hiding, told Reuters by telephone that he doubted the ability of Thaksin's loyalists to oppose the takeover.

_11">

"This is very serious indeed, it's very bad," Chaturon said. "It seems they'll detain a lot of people and we don't know for how long. It's going to be very oppressive."

_12">

The latest turmoil in a nearly decade-long clash between the establishment and Thaksin has hurt Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy. In the first quarter, the economy shrank 2.1 percent.

_13">

Many countries have issued travel warnings for class="mandelbrot_refrag">Thailand, damaging tourism which accounts for about 10 percent of the economy.

_14">

The United States condemned the coup and suspended about $3.5 million in military aid and various training exercises and visits by commanders.

_15">

(Additional reporting by Paul Mooney, Erik De Castro, Martin Petty; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Alison Williams)

Iran hangs first of four men over Ahmadinejad-era bank scandal

class="mandelbrot_refrag">Iran has hanged the first of four men sentenced to death for a massive financial scam that tainted the government of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, local media reported on Sunday.

_0">

Mehafarid Amir-Khosravi, described as a self-made tycoon, was hanged in Tehran's Evin Prison on Saturday after the supreme court upheld the four death sentences, the reports said. There was no word on the fate of the other three.

Exposed in 2011, the 30 trillion-rial ($2.7 billion) scandal involved embezzlement, bribery, forgery and money-laundering in 14 state-owned and private class="mandelbrot_refrag">banks between 2007 and 2010 by people close to the political elite.

Coming to light as normal Iranian were being hit by the impact of Western economic sanctions, the affair severely damaged the reputation of Ahmadinejad and his entourage towards the end of his eight-year presidency.

Ahmadinejad's supporters said he had nothing to do with the crime and blamed his political enemies for using it to ensure his allies had no chance in last year's presidential election.

In March, Ahmadinejad's former vice president, Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, was indicted in connection with the case.

Chief Prosecutor Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei said last week that, besides the four death penalties, 33 senior bureaucrats and bankers had been given long prison sentences, including two for life.

At the height of the scandal, the then head of Iran's biggest bank, state-owned Bank Melli, Mahmoud Reza Khavari, fled to Canada.

(Reporting by Mehrdad Balali; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Robin Pomeroy)

Car bomb kills 13 in Syria's Homs: monitoring group

At least 13 people were killed when a car bomb exploded on a busy roundabout in the central Syrian city of Homs on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

_0">

Another 40 people were wounded in the explosion in the mainly Alawite Zahraa neighborhood, it said. Some of the dead were security forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite, who is fighting a three-year revolt against his rule.

Car bombs have become frequent in Homs in the past weeks, in particular since Assad's forces moved into previously rebel-held areas of the city this month.

The uprising against Assad began as peaceful protests but became militarized after heavy crackdown by his forces, taking on an increasingly sectarian nature, pitting majority Sunni Muslims against Alawites, followers of an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

class="mandelbrot_refrag">Syria became a magnet for foreign al Qaeda-linked fighters who now control some rebel-held areas of the country.

(Reporting by Mariam Karouny; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Colombians vote for president with peace talks in the balance

Opposition candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga won most votes in Colombia's presidential election on Sunday but fell short of a first-round victory and will face President Juan Manuel Santos in a runoff that casts doubts over peace talks with Marxist rebels.

Zuluaga had 29.3 percent support and Santos trailed on 25.6 percent with returns in from almost 99 percent of voting tables. They had needed more then 50 percent for victory so will now go to a runoff on June 15.

The election was largely seen as a plebiscite on Santos' strategy of negotiating a peace deal with Marxist guerrillas to end a 50-year-old war that has killed some 200,000 people.

Zuluaga, a right-wing former class="mandelbrot_refrag">finance minister, accuses Santos of pandering to terrorists and has suggested he would scrap the peace talks in favor of U.S.-backed military campaigns similar to those led by his mentor, former President Alvaro Uribe.

"Security is important to us; we are 100 percent with Zuluaga," said Jose Gomez, 39, as he left a Bogota polling station with his wife and daughter.

Santos, 62, fell out with Uribe after launching peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) instead of sticking to Uribe's strategy of forcing the group's surrender on the battlefield.

Santos appeals to Colombians who hope the guerrillas will negotiate peace and lay down their weapons after seeing top leaders killed and their numbers halved to about 8,000 fighters over the last 12 years.

The talks in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Cuba have yielded agreements on three items of a five-point agenda, including one deal just signed in which the FARC agreed to step away from the drug trade and another which would allow the FARC to take part in politics.

Zuluaga, 55, has galvanized conservative Colombians who believe the talks will fail like three similar attempts since the 1980s, including one that allowed the FARC to bolster its ranks and extend its involvement in the cocaine trade.

Although the results on Sunday were a blow to Santos, he could receive the backing of two other candidates, Enrique Penalosa and Clara Lopez, who both support negotiations with the FARC and together garnered close to 24 percent Of the vote.

The fifth candidate, Martha Lucia Ramirez, is skeptical of the talks and her supporters may swing behind Zuluaga. She had about 15 percent support on Sunday.

Santos launched the peace talks in 2012 and said they will likely collapse if he does not win a second term but Zuluaga - and Uribe behind him - says the government is negotiating from a position of weakness.

If he wins the runoff, Zuluaga says he will give the FARC eight days to lay down their weapons and will halt the peace talks if they refuse.

That appeals to many Colombians outraged at the possibility that rebel leaders could eventually hold seats in Congress and potentially avoid prison sentences for crimes committed during the war.

Zuluaga's critics, including Santos, dismiss him as a puppet of Uribe who would effectively allow the hardline former president to rule from behind the scenes. Others note Santos faced similar criticisms before his break with Uribe.

The election campaign was rocked by a series of scandals, including accusations that Zuluaga's team sought to sabotage the peace talks by hacking negotiators' email accounts and allegations that Santos took drug money during his 2010 campaign.

_0">

Both men deny any wrongdoing.

_1">

(Additional reporting by Peter Murphy and Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Kieran Murray)

_2">

Suspected Islamists kill 20 in Nigeria market attack

Suspected Islamist gunmen opened fire on a market in a Nigerian village on Sunday, killing 20 people in the latest violence against civilians in the northeast of Africa's top oil producer.

_0">

The assailants surrounded the village of Kamuyya, a military source based in the nearest town told Reuters. The militants shot people as they gathered to trade in its open air market.

Villages in Borno state, the epicenter of Boko Haram's violent campaign to carve an Islamic caliphate out of religiously mixed Nigeria, have been under almost daily attack.

On Thursday, suspected Boko Haram gunmen rampaged through three villages in northern Nigeria, killing 28 people and burning houses to the ground.

Boko Haram made world headlines when it claimed the abduction of more than 200 school girls from the village of Chibok last month, prompting international outrage and persuading President Goodluck Jonathan to accept foreign help to try to free them, including a team of around 80 U.S. troops deployed to neighboring Chad, and surveillance drones.

Since the girl were snatched on April 14, at least 470 civilians have been killed by the insurgents in various attacks, according to a Reuters count.

A spate of bombings across north and central Nigeria has killed hundreds, including two in the capital Abuja and one in the central city of Jos on Tuesday that killed 118 people.

A suicide bombing on Saturday that was meant to strike an open air viewing of the Champions League soccer final match in the central Nigerian city of Jos killed four people but failed to hit its target, the National Emergency Management Agency said.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan travelled to South Africa over the weekend, his office said, to discuss ways of tackling Islamist militancy across the continent with African heads of state.

The meeting "defined a stronger framework for cooperation among African states to deal with this menace", presidential spokesman Reuben Abati said, giving no details.

A presidential team tasked with locating the girls returned from Borno state to the capital Abuja on Sunday, they said in a statement. It did not say if any progress had been made.

(Reporting by Lanre Ola; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Alison Williams)

Yemeni forces kill senior al Qaeda leader: Defence Ministry website

Yemen's security forces killed an al Qaeda leader suspected of attacks on foreign diplomats on Sunday, the Defence Ministry's news website said, in a raid north of the capital Sanaa in which four other militants died and four were captured.

A government official said an intelligence officer also died when anti-terrorism units raided a house in Bayt al-Othdri, in the Arhab region, and fought a gunbattle with its occupants.

Four other militants were captured alive, the official said.

The raid was part of an escalating campaign against militants responsible for a wave of attacks across the country.

"The forces exchanged fire with the wanted men who were holed up inside a house," the official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters. "Five were killed and four were captured."

The Defence Ministry's www.26sep.net website quoted "informed sources" as saying that one of the dead was Saleh al-Tais, who it said was involved in the killing in January of Ahmad Sharafeddin, a delegate at national reconciliation talks representing the Shi'ite Muslim Houthi group and a former dean of the law faculty at Sanaa University.

The website said Tais had also been involved in attacks on diplomats and other foreign targets, but gave no details.

President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi said last month that class="mandelbrot_refrag">Yemen was at war with al Qaeda, as the militants have stepped up attacks on government facilities after being driven out of strongholds in southern Shabwa and Abyan provinces.

TRIBAL MILITIA

class="mandelbrot_refrag">Yemen has been in turmoil since 2011, when mass protests forced long-ruling president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

As well as the al Qaeda threat, the country faces challenges from separatists in the south and an emboldened Shi'ite tribal militia trying to cement its control of the northern highlands.

Clashes have repeatedly erupted in the past months between government troops and members of the Houthi group - named after the Shi'ite tribe of its leaders - as Sanaa struggles to restore nationwide control.

Yemeni troops killed five Houthi members on Sunday in fighting outside the city of Omran in the northern province of the same name, tribal sources and local officials said. Three soldiers were killed.

The fighting followed two days of clashes outside Omran city last week in which a total of 24 from both sides died.

Government forces killed scores of al Qaeda militants last month in a campaign against their strongholds in southern Shabwa and Abyan provinces.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, regarded by the United States as one of the most active wings of the network founded by Osama bin Laden, has responded with a series of hit-and-run attacks across the country.

_0">

In the latest attack, dozens of militants in army uniforms hit government buildings and army and police outposts in Seyoun, the second biggest city in southeastern Hadramout province, early on Saturday. Authorities said 12 soldiers and 15 militants were killed.

_1">

The stability of Yemen, which shares a long border with the world's top oil exporter, class="mandelbrot_refrag">Saudi Arabia, is an international concern. The United States has stepped up its support for the government and military, including conducting drone strikes.

_2">

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Lynne O'Donnell)

_3">

Poland's last communist ruler Jaruzelski dies at 90: agency

General Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's last communist leader who imposed martial law to crush the Solidarity movement only to hand over power less than a decade later, died aged 90 on Sunday after a long illness, the state news agency PAP said.

_0">

In public a stern, enigmatic figure in his trademark dark glasses, Jaruzelski's record defies easy judgment and still divides Poles almost a quarter century after the fall of communism.

Lech Walesa, who was detained by Jaruzelski as Solidarity leader but eventually succeeded him as president, described the communist as a tragic figure who should be judged only by God.

For many Poles, Jaruzelski was a Soviet stooge who, with Moscow's backing, announced military rule on December 13, 1981, after the first independent trade union behind the Iron Curtain, Solidarity, threatened communist rule.

Others accepted his argument that the decision helped to avert a Soviet-led military intervention like those that crushed similar protests in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

"The general was accompanied by his daughter Monika until the last moment" the Military Medical Institute hospital, where he died, said in a statement carried by PAP.

Under martial law, which lasted until 1983, dozens of demonstrators were killed and thousands more, including Walesa, were jailed.

Decades later, on trial for declaring martial law and for human rights violations, Jaruzelski defended his decision.

"Martial law was evil but it was a far lesser evil than what would have happened without it," he told a court in 2008, adding that he regretted the "social costs" of the decision.

But as Polish president in 1989, Jaruzelski also convened talks that led to the legalization of Soldarity and the first partially free elections in the Soviet bloc that finally broke the communists' monopoly on power.

Walesa, who succeeded Jaruzelski as president in 1990, had partially reconciled with his former arch-foe and visited Jaruzelski at the hospital and his home in recent years.

TIMES OF TREASON

"Judging is always hard. We should leave it in God's hands," Nobel Peace Price winner Walesa told TVP Info.

"In private talks he was a different man. A joker, he told beautiful jokes, he was at ease, sympathetic, and very intelligent, not at par with his other image. There were two images. A tragic figure, because he lived in times of treason."

Walesa compared Poland's negotiated transition from communism to democracy favorably with class="mandelbrot_refrag">Ukraine, which has been plagued for months by deadly violence in a struggle between pro-Western and pro-Moscow political forces.

"We had to take responsibility for Poland and for the people. It could have ended like in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Ukraine. We acted wisely, but in the direction of freedom so that Polish blood was not spilled," he said.

Jaruzelski was born in 1923 into a landowning family in eastern Poland. His family was deported to Siberia after Soviet troops invaded Poland and divided it with Nazi class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany at the beginning of World War Two.

_0">

He wore dark glasses to protect his eyes from the snowblindness he suffered during his Siberian exile, in the days before he joined the Soviet-led Polish army which helped Moscow to install the post-war communist regime in Poland.

_1">

Jaruzelski received military training in the Soviet Union and in the 1950s became Poland's youngest-ever general.

_2">

He became the chief of staff in 1965, three years before the Polish army helped the Warsaw Pact to crush the "Prague Spring" movement in what was then Czechoslovakia.

_3">

A political survivor, Jaruzelski weathered successive leadership crises to rise from defense minister in 1968 to prime minister in February 1981 and Communist party chief later that year.

_4">

After the fall of communism, Poland's parliament decided that Jaruzelski should not face court proceedings for declaring martial law, saying that history would be the best judge.

_5">

Jaruzelski faced a trial over the fatal shootings by security forces and the army in 1970, when he was defense minister, of dozens of demonstrators during protests against food price rises.

_6">

The proceedings were repeatedly delayed due to technicalities and the prosecution's case lost momentum.

_7">

The conservative government of then Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose party was in power between 2005 and 2007, began pushing again for his trial over the 1981 crackdown.

_8">

The trial started in 2008 and was sponsored by Poland's Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), which supervises the country's communist-era files and is empowered to pursue legal action against those it considers to have committed "crimes against the Polish nation".

_9">

Jaruzelski was ultimately excluded from the list of defendants because of his poor health.

_10">

Finding some of his former co-defendants guilty, the court said there had been no clear danger of a Soviet invasion and the communist rulers who imposed martial law were part of a "criminal enterprise" clinging to power at all costs.

_11">

Like Walesa, the center-right government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk also adopted a warmer tone towards the ailing Jaruzelski, who spent his last years mostly at his Warsaw home and in the hospital, only rarely appearing in public.

_12">

(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Pawel Florkiewicz, and Adrian Krajewski; Editing by Alison Williams and David Stamp)

_13">

Police hunt Brussels Jewish Museum gunman, France tightens security

Belgian police on Sunday were hunting a gunman who shot dead two Israelis and a French woman at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, in an attack French President Francois Hollande said was without doubt motivated by anti-Semitism.

Security around all Jewish institutions in Belgium was raised to the highest level following Saturday's shooting, while French authorities stepped up security after two Jews were attacked near a Paris synagogue.

Belgian officials released a 30-second video clip from the museum's security cameras showing a man wearing a dark cap and a blue jacket enter the building, take a Kalashnikov rifle out of a bag, and shoot into a room, before walking out.

"From the images we have seen, we can deduce that the perpetrator probably acted alone and was well prepared," said Ine Van Wymersch, a spokeswoman for the Brussels prosecutor's office.

"It's still too early to confirm whether it's a terrorist or an anti-Semitic attack; all lines of investigation are still open," she told a news conference.

Officials appealed for witnesses to the attack in the busy tourist district which is filled with class="mandelbrot_refrag">restaurants and antique shops. The entrance to the Jewish Museum was lined with flowers and candles, and will remain closed to the public on Monday.

"The anti-Semitic nature of the act - a shooting, with intent to kill, in the Jewish Museum of Brussels - cannot be denied," said Hollande, speaking about the Brussels attack.

"We must do everything to fight against anti-Semitism and racism," he told news channel I-Tele on Sunday.

Hours after the Brussels shootings, two Jews were attacked and beaten in Paris as they left a synagogue in the suburb of Creteil wearing traditional Jewish clothing.

POPE CONDEMNS 'SAVAGE ATTACK'

The two Israelis, Emmanuel and Miriam Riva, both in their 50s, were described by friends as former Israeli civil servants who were in Belgium on vacation.

A Belgian man who was also injured in the shooting remained in critical condition in hospital, authorities said.

Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo spoke by telephone with Hollande and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and held talks with the Jewish community in Belgium.

Netanyahu, in a statement from his office, strongly condemned the Brussels killings. They were, he said, "the result of endless incitement against the Jews and their state". He offered Israeli cooperation in the Belgian investigation.

An Israeli official said Emmanuel Riva had formerly worked for Nativ, a government agency that played a covert role in fostering Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union.

Along with the Mossad and Shin Bet intelligence services, the agency was under the authority of the prime minister's office.

_0">

Miriam Riva also formerly worked for the prime minister's office, the official said without elaborating.

_1">

Friends of the couple interviewed by Israeli media said they both worked as accountants in government service.

_2">

Pope Francis, in Tel Aviv on Sunday, condemned the attack in Brussels, where about half of Belgium's 42,000-strong Jewish community lives.

_3">

"With a deeply saddened heart, I think of all of those who lost their lives in yesterday's savage attack in Brussels," he said.

_4">

"In renewing my deep sorrow for this criminal act of anti-Semitic hatred, I commend to our merciful God the victims and pray for the healing of those wounded."

_5">

At some 550,000, France's Jewish community is the largest in Europe, though violence such as the 2012 murders of three Jewish children and a rabbi by Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah have prompted higher emigration to class="mandelbrot_refrag">Israel or elsewhere.

_6">

France's Agence Juive, which tracks Jewish emigration, says 1,407 Jews left class="mandelbrot_refrag">France for class="mandelbrot_refrag">Israel in the first three months of this year, putting 2014 on track to mark the biggest exodus of French Jews to Israel since the country was founded in 1948.

_7">

(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell and Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Leila Abboud in Paris, Justyna Pawlak and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels; Writing by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Lynne O'Donnell, Sophie Hares and Eric Walsh)

_8">

Niger arrests opposition members it says trying to incite coup

Niger has arrested some 40 armed opposition supporters on suspicion of attempting to destabilize the West African nation in order to incite the army to stage a coup, the country's interior minister said.

_0">

Political tensions have risen in Niger since August after a reshaping of President Mahamadou Issoufou's ruling coalition that saw National Assembly leader Hama Amadou and his Nigerien Democratic Movement (Moden) party enter the opposition.

The arrests came after unidentified gunmen on a motorbike, machinegunned the home of Mohamed Ben Omar, a vice president of Niger's parliament and member of the ruling coalition on May 20.

"All those arrested have links with a premeditated attempt to create a campaign of terror which to them would lead to a military coup," Hassoumi Massaoudou said during a news conference on Saturday, adding 40 party members were detained.

"The opposition party members were caught red-handed notably with Molotov cocktails, machetes and clubs in their possession," he said. "These successive attacks are part of a campaign that has been launched."

There was no immediate comment from Moden, but it has previously denied trying to destabilize the country and accuses the government of trying to silence critics.

Issoufou was elected in 2011, returning the country to civilian rule after a military coup the previous year. However, he angered former allies and opposition figures by naming a national unity government in August without consultation.

Hama, the National Assembly president whose Moden party broke away from the ruling coalition, has helped found a new opposition coalition and is regarded as the main challenger to Issoufou for the 2016 presidential election.

Niger, with a fast-growing population of 17 million people, is one of the world's poorest countries. It has some of the lowest government revenues per capita in Africa despite being a uranium producer and also started oil production in 2011.

(Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalaki; Writing by Bate Felix)

Even before he is crowned, India's Modi struts the global stage

Narendra Modi will be sworn in on Monday as India's prime minister at a glittering ceremony that will be as much a show of his determination to be a key player on the global stage as a celebration of his stunning election victory.

For the first time in India's history, a clutch of South Asian leaders will be among the guests watching Modi's inauguration at the presidential palace in New Delhi - including the prime minister of arch-rival class="mandelbrot_refrag">Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif.

Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies swept India's elections this month, ousting the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in a seismic political shift that has given his party a mandate for sweeping economic reform.

Even before his inauguration, Modi made waves on the global stage, where once he was treated by many with suspicion - and by some as a pariah - for a rash of Hindu-Muslim violence that erupted 12 years ago in Gujarat, the western state he ruled.

Modi, 63, has spoken with the presidents of the United States and class="mandelbrot_refrag">Russia, and he has become one of only three people that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe follows on Twitter. The U.S. administration denied Modi a visa in 2005, but President class="mandelbrot_refrag">Barack Obama has now invited him to the White House.

The low-caste son of a tea stall-owner, Modi has given class="mandelbrot_refrag">India its first parliamentary majority after 25 years of coalition governments, which means he has ample room to advance reforms that started 23 years ago but have stalled in recent years.

Many supporters see him as India's answer to the neo-liberal former U.S. President Ronald Reagan or British leader Margaret Thatcher. One foreign editor has ventured Modi could be so transformative he turns out to be "India's Deng Xiaoping", the leader who set class="mandelbrot_refrag">China on its path of spectacular economic growth.

The BJP has long advocated a tough stance on neighbor class="mandelbrot_refrag">Pakistan, with which class="mandelbrot_refrag">India has fought three wars since independence from Britain separated them in 1947, and Modi has been seen as a hardliner on issues of national security.

In that respect, Modi's decision to invite Sharif for his inauguration and bilateral talks came as a surprise and raised hopes for a thaw in relations between the nuclear-armed rivals, particularly frosty since 2008 attacks on the city of Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants.

"Modi has already displayed his political dexterity and diplomatic skills in inviting Nawaz Sharif, among other leaders, to his swearing in," wrote columnist Prashant Jha in the Hindustan Times on Monday. "But will he be able to stay the course? What happens after the first terror attack?"

Vikram Sood, former head of India's external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, told Reuters that inviting all the leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was "an astute" diplomatic gesture.

"This augurs well for the region, and an improvement of relations all over the region is possible if these moves are followed by other steps, bilaterally and multi-laterally," he said.

(Editing by Peter Graff)

South Africa's Zuma turns to Gordhan's deputy as new finance Minister

South African President Jacob Zuma promoted deputy class="mandelbrot_refrag">finance minister Nhlanhla Nene to finance minister on Sunday, replacing the widely respected Pravin Gordhan in a new cabinet line-up to start a second five-year term in office.

The day after a glitzy inauguration in Pretoria, the 72-year-old Zuma also confirmed millionaire businessman Cyril Ramaphosa as his deputy president, a decision likely to go down well with investors and the private sector.

Mining minister Susan Shabangu, who has been criticized for her handling of a strike in the platinum mines now in its fifth month, was replaced by Ngoako Ramatlhodi, a lawyer and former deputy minister in the prison service.

Nene, 55, has been number two at the Treasury in Africa's most advanced class="mandelbrot_refrag">economy since 2008 and is seen as a capable technocrat familiar to domestic and international investors. His first name means 'Luck' in Zulu.

He was a union shop steward in the early 1990s but since the end of apartheid in 1994 has worked his way up through the ranks of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), first in local government and then on parliamentary financial committees.

Although there are no doubts about his technical ability, some analysts said his lack of political muscle - especially compared to Gordhan and his predecessor Trevor Manuel - could undermine the Treasury's ability to continue to reduce South Africa's budget deficit after a 2009 recession.

"What I question about him is if he can hold his own in terms of policy ideology or if he is going to be imposed on more by the ANC," said Peter Attard-Montalto, an economist at Nomura in London.

However, others said Nene's succession to Gordhan, who is being sent to tackle South Africa's shoddy local government as minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, should not cause too many ructions.

"Given Nene's longstanding Treasury experience, there will be a sense of policy continuity," said Razia Khan, head of Africa research at Standard Chartered in London.

"Investors will be reassured that not much is likely to change in terms of overall policy direction - that its essential centrist, market-friendliness will remain in place."

Renowned as an engaging communicator, Nene may even ease some of the distrust that exists between the government and private sector.

"He's a good listener and more than anything else we need to open up communications between class="mandelbrot_refrag">business investors and government," said Chris Hart, an economist at Investment Solutions in Johannesburg. "Nene will be able to facilitate that very, very strongly."

As he announced his new cabinet, Zuma stressed the need to breathe new life into the flagging class="mandelbrot_refrag">economy in order to make a dent in 25 percent unemployment and address the many destabilizing social legacies of decades of white-minority rule.

Zuma's main strategy is to promote a National Development Plan drawn up as a blueprint for long-term growth during his first term but slated by South Africa's powerful union movement as too business-friendly.

More immediately, 58-year-old new mining minister Ramatlhodi faces the daunting task of resolving a strike in the platinum mines that is now in its fifth month - the longest bout of industrial action in South African history.

Five people have been murdered in communities around the platinum mines northwest of Johannesburg in the last week, and the latest round of wage negotiations, mediated by a labor court judge, have made little headway.

(Additional reporting by Zandi Shabalala and Stella Mapenzauswa; Editing by Alison Williams, Lynne O'Donnell, Jeremy Gaunt)

In pointed moves, Pope prays at Bethlehem wall, invites leaders to Vatican

Pope Francis completes a tour of the Holy Land on Monday, paying homage to Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust and looking to affirm Christian rights at a disputed place of worship in Jerusalem.

After visits to Jordan and the Palestinian Territories - including praying at the wall dividing Bethlehem from Jerusalem, Francis spends the third and final day of his trip in the latter with a slate of political and religious encounters and visits to some of the most sensitive holy sites in the world.

Francis has used his trip so far to plea for an end to the generations-old Middle East conflict, inviting the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to join him in the Vatican early next month and pray for peace.

Both Shimon Peres, who plays no decision-making role in Israeli diplomacy, and Mahmoud Abbas accepted the offer. It follows the collapse of U.S.-backed peace talks last month, and there was little hope that the highly unusual encounter could break decades of mutual mistrust and deadlock.

The pope, risking dismaying Israeli leaders, made a surprise stop in Bethlehem on Sunday at the wall Palestinians abhor as a symbol of Israeli oppression.

In an image likely to become one of the most emblematic of his trip to the holy land, Francis rested his forehead against the concrete structure that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and prayed against the backdrop of anti-Israeli graffiti.

Francis is due to meet both Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, after spending time at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum which commemorates some 6 million Jews slaughtered during World War Two.

Speaking minutes after landing in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Israel on Sunday, the pope said the Holocaust was "an enduring symbol of the depths to which human evil can sink", adding: "I beg God that there will never be another such crime."

In a decision that delighted his hosts, Francis is also set to lay a wreath at the tomb of Theodor Herzl, who is seen as the founder of modern Zionism that led to Israel's foundation.

The Catholic Church initially opposed the creation of a Jewish state, and the three other pontiffs who have come to Jerusalem over the past 50 years did not visit the site.

"We commend and appreciate your decision to lay a wreath on the grave of Binyamin Zev Herzl," Netanyahu said on Sunday, using Herzl's Hebrew name.

LAST SUPPER

Religion plays a high profile role in Monday's timetable, with the pope due to celebrate Mass in the Cenacle - a room just outside the walls of the Old City where Christians believe Jesus held the Last Supper with his disciples.

It is located on the second floor of an old stone building, above a cavern where some Jews believe King David is buried.

Speculation that Israeli officials were set to hand the Cenacle over to the Church has sparked protests by Jewish nationalists. Police arrested 26 people at a rowdy demonstration early on Sunday ahead of the pope's visit.

class="mandelbrot_refrag">Israel denies it plans to relinquish control of the site.

_0">

Some 8,000 police are on hand to guarantee the pope's security following recent vandalism of church property blamed on Jewish extremists. Roads will be closed and shopkeepers in parts of the Old City have complained of being forced to shutter their stores all day to keep the stone streets empty.

_1">

Looking to strengthen inter-religious ties, Francis will see the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem early on Monday at the site Muslims call the Nobel Sanctuary and which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount - a source of constant friction over the years.

_2">

He will then visit the Western Wall, believed to be a remnant of a perimeter wall of the biblical temple complex, the holiest shrine of the Jewish world, and later hold talks with the two chief rabbis of Israel.

_3">

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams. Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)

_4">

Poland's last communist ruler Jaruzelski dies at 90

General Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's last communist leader who imposed martial law to crush the Solidarity movement only to hand over power less than a decade later, died aged 90 on Sunday after a long illness, a military hospital in Warsaw said.

In public a stern, enigmatic figure in his trademark dark glasses, Jaruzelski's record defies easy judgment and still divides Poles almost a quarter century after the fall of communism.

Lech Walesa, who was detained by Jaruzelski as Solidarity leader but eventually succeeded him as president, described the communist as a tragic figure who should be judged only by God.

 
 
 

For many Poles, Jaruzelski was a Soviet stooge who, with Moscow's backing, announced military rule on December 13, 1981, after the first independent trade union behind the Iron Curtain, Solidarity, threatened communist rule.

Others accepted his argument that the decision helped to avert a Soviet-led military intervention like those that crushed similar protests in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

"The general was accompanied by his daughter Monika until the last moment," the Military Medical Institute hospital in Warsaw, where he died, said in a statement.

Under martial law, which lasted until 1983, dozens of demonstrators were killed and thousands more, including Walesa, were jailed.

Decades later, on trial for declaring martial law and for human rights violations, Jaruzelski defended his decision.

"Martial law was evil but it was a far lesser evil than what would have happened without it," he told a court in 2008, adding that he regretted the "social costs" of the decision.

But as Polish president in 1989, Jaruzelski also convened talks that led to the legalization of Solidarity and the first partially free elections in the Soviet bloc that finally broke the communists' monopoly on power.

Walesa, who succeeded Jaruzelski as president in 1990, had partially reconciled with his former arch-foe and visited Jaruzelski at hospital and his home in recent years.

'TIMES OF TREASON'

"Judging is always hard. We should leave it in God's hands," Nobel Peace Prize winner Walesa told TVP Info.

"In private talks he was a different man. A joker, he told beautiful jokes, he was at ease, sympathetic, and very intelligent, not at par with his other image. There were two images. A tragic figure, because he lived in times of treason."

Walesa compared Poland's negotiated transition from communism to democracy favorably with class="mandelbrot_refrag">Ukraine, which has been plagued for months by deadly violence in a struggle between pro-Western and pro-Moscow political forces.

"We had to take responsibility for Poland and for the people. It could have ended like in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Ukraine. We acted wisely, but in the direction of freedom so that Polish blood was not spilled," he said.

_0">

Jaruzelski was born in 1923 into a landowning family in eastern Poland. His family was deported to Siberia after Soviet troops invaded Poland and divided it with Nazi class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany at the beginning of World War Two.

_1">

He wore dark glasses to protect his eyes from the snow blindness he suffered during his Siberian exile, in the days before he joined the Soviet-led Polish army which helped Moscow to install the post-war communist regime in Poland.

_2">

Jaruzelski received military training in the Soviet Union and in the 1950s became Poland's youngest-ever general.

_3">

He became the chief of staff in 1965, three years before the Polish army helped the Warsaw Pact to crush the "Prague Spring" movement in what was then Czechoslovakia.

_4">

A political survivor, Jaruzelski weathered successive leadership crises to rise from defense minister in 1968 to prime minister in February 1981 and Communist party chief later that year.

_5">

After the fall of communism, Poland's parliament decided that Jaruzelski should not face court proceedings for declaring martial law, saying that history would be the best judge.

_6">

Jaruzelski faced a trial over the fatal shootings by security forces and the army in 1970, when he was defense minister, of dozens of demonstrators during protests against food price rises.

_7">

The proceedings were repeatedly delayed due to technicalities and the prosecution's case lost momentum.

_8">

The conservative government of then Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose party was in power between 2005 and 2007, began pushing again for his trial over the 1981 crackdown.

_9">

The trial started in 2008 and was sponsored by Poland's Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), which supervises the country's communist-era files and is empowered to pursue legal action against those it considers to have committed "crimes against the Polish nation".

_10">

Jaruzelski was ultimately excluded from the list of defendants because of his poor health.

_11">

Finding some of his former co-defendants guilty, the court said there had been no clear danger of a Soviet invasion and the communist rulers who imposed martial law were part of a "criminal enterprise" clinging to power at all costs.

_12">

Like Walesa, the centre-right government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk also adopted a warmer tone towards the ailing Jaruzelski, who spent his last years mostly at his Warsaw home and in hospital, only rarely appearing in public.

_13">

(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Pawel Florkiewicz, and Adrian Krajewski; Editing by David Stamp and Sophie Hares)

_14">

Libyan premier wins congress backing after renegade general's threats

Libya's new Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq won a vote of confidence from parliament on Sunday in defiance of a renegade former army general who has challenged the assembly's legitimacy.

Maiteeq, backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, was initially elected two weeks ago after a chaotic parliamentary session that some lawmakers had rejected as illegal.

Libya's legislature is at the center of a growing standoff between rogue former general, Khalifa Haftar, with a loose alliance of anti-Islamist militias, and pro-Islamist factions positioning for influence in the North African country.

The Europe Union's special envoy on Sunday called the crisis Libya's worst since the 2011 war ousted Muammar Gaddafi, with the fragile government struggling to control brigades of former rebels and militias who are now key powerbrokers.

Lawmakers met on Sunday under heavy security to vote to approve Maiteeq's government, a week after militia forces claiming loyalty to Haftar attacked the congress to demand lawmakers hand over power.

"The congress has granted Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq its confidence. Out of 95 members, 83 voted in favour of his government," Abdulhamid Ismail Yarbu, an independent lawmaker told Reuters.

Another lawmaker confirmed the votes for Maiteeq, a businessman who will be Libya's third premier since March after months of unrest in the OPEC oil producer.

There was no immediate response from a spokesman to Haftar, a former Gaddafi ally who broke with the Libyan autocrat in the 1980s, sought exile in the United States and returned to help fight in the 2011 war to end his one-man rule.

Three years after a NATO-backed revolt toppled Gaddafi, class="mandelbrot_refrag">Libya still has no national army, no new constitution and its parliament is caught up in infighting that has delayed the country's transition to full democracy.

Powerful rival brigades of former rebel fighters, still heavily armed with anti-aircraft cannons and armored vehicles, often make demands on the weak state. Each is loosely allied with competing Islamist and anti-Islamist political forces squaring off for control.

In March, the parliament ousted one premier, and his successor also asked to step down after his family was attacked by gunmen.

EU CONCERNS

Sunday's vote took place in a former Libyan royal palace because the parliament building was closed after the attack a week ago. Tripoli military brigades stationed their armored trucks around the building and surrounding roads.

The coastal capital was calm after the vote.

Western governments are concerned Libya's instability may worsen and spill over into its North African neighbors, who are still emerging from the political unrest following the 2011 Arab Spring revolts.

The European Union's special envoy to class="mandelbrot_refrag">Libya, Bernardino Leon, visiting Tripoli on Sunday urged the rival factions to work toward some consensus to overcome the "worst crisis" since the civil war to oust Gaddafi.

_0">

A week ago, Haftar started what he called a military campaign against Islamist militants in the eastern city of Benghazi. He also later claimed responsibility for the attack on parliament in Tripoli.

_1">

Several military units have allied with him, threatening to split the nascent regular forces and network of different militia whose complex allegiances often mix tribal, regional and political loyalties.

_2">

Haftar's call for a campaign against extremists has touched a nerve with many Libyans fed up of violence, especially in Benghazi where hardline Islamist groups like Ansar al-Sharia have been blamed for bombings and assassinations.

_3">

Supporters are even making comparisons to Egypt's former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who forced the Muslim Brotherhood from power. But it is not clear how much broader militia and army support Haftar can win.

_4">

Any attempt to form a wider anti-Islamist alliance threatens to provoke a reaction from powerful rival brigades who allied with the Islamist politicians tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.

_5">

Complicating alliances, tens of thousands of former fighters are also on the government payroll in semi-official security positions with the ministries of defense and interior in a fragile bid to co-opt them.

_6">

(Additional reporting by Ulf Laessing; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Sophie Hares)

_7">