World briefs (7/20/13)

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Russian opposition leader freed

KIROV, Russia -- A court's abrupt decision Friday to release Alexei Navalny, Russia's most charismatic opposition leader, less than a day after handing him a five-year prison sentence appears to reflect confusion in President Vladimir Putin's inner circle about how to deal with its No. 1 foe.

In an unusual move, prosecutors themselves had requested that Mr. Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger and Moscow mayoral candidate, be let go pending appeal just a few hours after he was led out of a courtroom in handcuffs following an embezzlement conviction that was widely seen as unfair.

Mr. Navalny was a driving force behind a series of massive demonstrations in Moscow against Mr. Putin's re-election to a third presidential term in March 2012.

Lack of inquiry explained

LONDON -- British authorities said publicly for the first time Friday that concern for "international relations" had been a factor in blocking a public inquiry into the poisoning death of Alexander V. Litvinenko, a former KGB officer, an apparent reference to their desire to avoid upsetting the Kremlin.

The admission, in a letter from Home Secretary Theresa May, followed the government's rejection of a request by Judge Robert Owen, a senior judge appointed as coroner in the Litvinenko case, to hold a public inquiry after the authorities formally prevented him from hearing sensitive evidence at an inquest, the more usual form of investigation into suspicious deaths.

Litvinenko, 43, died of radiation poisoning after ingesting a highly toxic isotope, polonium 210, at a central London hotel in November 2006, just weeks after acquiring British citizenship.

Berlusconi aides sentenced

ROME -- Three aides to Silvio Berlusconi were convicted Friday on charges of abetting prostitution, for recruiting female guests to the infamous "bunga bunga" parties once hosted at the villa of Italy's former premier.

A court in Milan handed seven-year jail terms to Emilio Fede, a former news anchor for Berlusconi's TV channels, and to show business manager Lele Mora. Nicole Minetti, a dental hygienist who served as a regional lawmaker for Mr. Berlusconi's party, faces five years in jail.

The verdict came a month after Berlusconi was handed a seven-year jail sentence for soliciting sex from one of his female guests while she was still underage, as well as for abusing his position to cover up the affair.

For and against Morsi

CAIRO -- With the military beefing up security, tens of thousands took to the streets Friday in a determined push for the return to power of Egypt's ousted Islamist leader, while Mohammed Morsi's opponents staged rival rallies, raising fears of a fresh round of clashes.

The army warned it wouldn't tolerate any violence and sent fighter jets screaming over the capital and helicopters hovering over the marches.

The rival gatherings came just days after a new interim Cabinet was sworn in that includes women, Christians and members of a liberal coalition opposed to Mr. Morsi, but no Islamists.

Troop build-up proposed

NEW DELHI -- India, which had a military standoff with China high in the Himalayas in April, proposes to boost its troop strength near the two countries' disputed border, a buildup that may be delayed by funding constraints.

The plan for an additional strike force to be based in the province of West Bengal was confirmed by an official in the Ministry of Defense in New Delhi, who asked not to be named according to government policy.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cleared the deployment of an additional 50,000 troops to the eastern region at a Wednesday meeting of security ministers. The proposal may cost as much as $10.9 billion, it said.

Boat refugees face ban

SYDNEY -- Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia moved Friday to curtail the record number of people trying the dangerous boat journey to claim asylum in the country, pledging that no one who arrives by boat without a visa will ever be granted permission to settle in Australia.

Under the tough policy, all asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat will be sent to a refugee-processing center in nearby Papua New Guinea, which like Australia is a signatory to the U.N. Refugee Convention. If the asylum seekers are found to be genuine refugees, they will be resettled in Papua New Guinea, but forfeit any right to asylum in Australia.

-- Compiled from news services

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