World briefs: $23 million scandal in South Africa

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JOHANNESBURG -- South African President Jacob Zuma personally benefited from a $23 million state-paid "security" upgrade to his private residence in rural KwaZulu-Natal, according to South Africa's public protector, an official with the duties of an ombudsman.

Her findings are highly damaging to the governing African National Congress with less than two months to an election.

The public protector, Thuli Madonsela, said additions unrelated to security included construction of a swimming pool, a chicken enclosure, a visitor center, a cattle enclosure and an amphitheater.

Shootout at arms cache

CAIRO -- Heavily armed Egyptian forces swooped down Wednesday on a suspected militant arms cache and bomb factory, triggering a firefight that left two high-ranking military officers dead, officials and state media said.

At least five insurgents were killed in the hours-long shootout north of Cairo and four others were arrested, the Interior Ministry said. Officials said the hideout belonged to Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, or Partisans of Jerusalem, an armed Islamist group that has carried out a number of sophisticated attacks in recent months.

Release called key to talks

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- A prominent Palestinian uprising leader imprisoned by Israel could soon emerge as the key to keeping fragile U.S.-led peace efforts alive.

According to several top officials, the Palestinians are seeking the freedom of Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences for his alleged role in killings of Israelis, as part of any plan to extend negotiations with Israel beyond an April deadline.

But Israel seems unlikely to approve the request, setting the stage for a possible breakdown in the talks.

Castro kin named general

HAVANA -- A powerful son-in-law of Cuban ruler Raul Castro, in charge of the military enterprises that dominate the island's economy, has been promoted to general.

Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, in his mid-50s and long identified as a colonel in the Revolutionary Armed Forces, was identified as a brigadier general in a Jan. 29 report in the Web pages of Cubadefensa, a FAR publication.

Infamous gun to be shown

WARSAW, Poland -- The gun used by a would-be assassin to shoot Pope John Paul II will be on display at a museum dedicated to the pontiff as a sign of God's protection of him, say priests in charge of the museum.

Monsignor Jacek Pietruszka said Wednesday that many people wonder why trained assassin Mehmet Ali Agca, firing a Browning HP 9 mm handgun from close range, injured but did not kill the pope in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981.

John Paul II, who died in 2005, is to be proclaimed as a saint April 27 at the Vatican.

Faberge egg recovered

LONDON -- A scrap metal dealer has found one of the eight missing Faberge imperial eggs at a flea market in the American Midwest.

A London antique dealer said Wednesday that the scrap metal entrepreneur bought the egg for about $14,000, thinking he could make a small profit by reselling the piece for its gold content. It turned out the jewel-encrusted piece was worth millions.

Kieran McCarthy of Wartski, which specializes in Russian artifacts, said the man began to suspect he was holding a rare piece after seeing an article online about an imperial Faberge Easter egg made for Russian royalty. The dealer contacted McCarthy, who verified the egg as genuine and negotiated its sale to a collector.


-- Compiled from news services

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