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Gunmen free inmate in brazen jailbreak

Gunmen sprayed bullets at guards and blew out the wall of a prison in the Paris suburbs Wednesday, freeing a reputed gangster suspected of murder and robbery.

The spectacular escape of Antonio Ferrara, 30, was the second high-profile jailbreak in France in less than a week.

Television footage showed flames lapping the walls around part of Fresnes Prison. Judicial officials said the gunmen had set nearby cars afire as a distraction while they carried out their elaborate escape plan.

According to police reports, six or seven gunmen arrived outside the jail about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday.

One group fired at guard posts with automatic weapons while another group set off explosives that blew open a metal gate around the prison and made holes in interior walls. The gunmen blasted their way into an inside courtyard where Ferrara's cell was located.

Judicial officials said it appeared Ferrara then blew out the bars of his cell.

Police found an explosive, a detonator and a portable telephone in Ferrara's ground-floor cell, judicial officials told the Associated Press on condition on anonymity.

The escape from Fresnes came less than a week after Joseph Menconi, a murder suspect, escaped from a prison in Corsica.

In addition to murder, Ferrara is suspected in at least 15 armored car robberies. He was arrested in 1997, but escaped the next year during a hospital visit.

Ferrara was captured again in July 2002.

Israel steps up operations against militants; 2 killed

JERUSALEM _ Israeli forces in the West Bank stepped up operations against suspected Palestinian militants Wednesday, invading villages, arresting 18 suspects and clashing with gunmen. One militant was killed, along with an Israeli soldier.

One of those detained was Mahmoud Hasib, a senior official for Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. Hasib, arrested in Ramallah, was an assistant to Marwan Barghouti, the West Bank Fatah leader captured by Israel in April.

Israeli security sources said Hasib recruited young Palestinians to carry out attacks against Israelis and was involved in two fatal shootings.

Arafat, meanwhile, held a second day of consultations about the new position of prime minister. The Palestinian parliament approved the position and delineated its powers on Monday. Arafat was expected to sign the legislation today.

Dutch focus on dispute between princess, queen

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands _ Parliament put aside issues such as Iraq and the formation of a new government Wednesday to focus on a family quarrel _ the feud between Queen Beatrix and her niece over allegations the queen ordered a secret investigation of the princess' commoner husband.

Lawmakers grilled Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende on why Cabinet ministers were unaware that the intelligence service investigated Edwin de Roy van Zuydewijn, and why bureaucrats initially denied it.

Princess Margarita and her husband watched from the parliament's gallery.

Margarita has filed a criminal case against the intelligence service and has accused the queen of abusing her authority by ordering the investigation to obtain tax and social security files of van Zuydewijn.

The royal house has not responded to Margarita's allegations.

Confidential information from the files that van Zuydewijn had received welfare payments were passed on to Margarita's father and brother before their September 2001 wedding in France, the princess claims.

Balkenende insisted that the investigation was a permissible security measure for anyone marrying into the royal family.

But he conceded that "mistakes were made" in not informing the interior and finance ministers about the investigation.

Trial of Ocalan unfair, human rights court rules

ISTANBUL, Turkey _ The European Court of Human Rights ruled Wednesday that Turkey did not give a fair trial in 1999 to Abdullah Ocalan, a Kurdish rebel leader who is serving a life sentence in an island prison where he is the only inmate.

While the ruling by the court in Strasbourg, France, does not compel the Turkish government to give Ocalan a new trial, it threw a fresh spotlight on Turkey's human rights record, which European leaders have cited as an obstacle to the country's bid to join the European Union.

Before his capture four years ago, Ocalan was the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party, which waged a militant struggle during the 1990s for a separate Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey. The Turkish government blamed Ocalan for the deaths of as many as 30,000 people during that conflict.

He was convicted of treason and sentenced to death, but that punishment was later changed to life in prison.

By six votes to one, the European court ruled that Ocalan's trial was flawed, citing his restricted access to lawyers and the presence of a military judge during part of the proceedings.

Reconnaissance flights over N. Korea to resume

WASHINGTON _ The Air Force prepared Wednesday to resume reconnaissance flights off the coast of North Korea, 10 days after Korean fighter jets intercepted an Air Force plane equipped to monitor missile tests, a senior U.S. official told the Associated Press.

It was not immediately clear whether the Air Force planned to use fighter jets to escort the reconnaissance flights, but officials said earlier this week that escorting was highly unlikely. The United States has always asserted its right to conduct aerial surveillance in international airspace without armed escort, and rarely has encountered hostile interference.

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