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SOLDIERS WON'T BE CHARGED IN SKULL SCANDAL

Prosecutors on Thursday dropped their investigation of three German soldiers who posed for photos with a skull they found in Afghanistan. Prosecutors in Munich dropped their probe of two soldiers, saying their actions did not rise to the level of the crime of disturbing the peace of the dead, prosecutor Ruediger Hoedl said. The soldiers found the skull and other bones in 2003 in a place long used as a residential area by Afghans, Hoedl said. Only if the remains had been removed from a cemetery would the act have constituted a prosecutable crime, he said. Uwe Wick, a prosecutor in Kiel, said his office had dropped an investigation of another soldier on identical grounds. Several sets of pictures of German soldiers posing with the skull - including one who held it next to his exposed penis - surfaced in October, provoking disgust in Germany and Afghanistan. Their publication also raised concern the images could spark attacks on German troops in Afghanistan. The German Defense Ministry declined to comment on the prosecutors' decision, saying its own investigation was continuing.

RUSSIA

Elections to count with any turnout

Russian elections will be valid regardless of turnout under laws that went into effect Thursday, a major change that critics say is the latest step by the Kremlin to control the political process before key votes in 2007 and 2008. The electoral amendments, signed Tuesday by President Vladimir Putin, appear aimed at neutralizing voter apathy as a potential factor in elections. Previously, presidential elections required a 50 percent turnout to be valid and parliamentary elections 25 percent. With Kremlin having broad state broad control over media and the political process giving government-approved politicians a major advantage in elections, apathy had been one of a dwindling number of threats to Kremlin-backed candidates. Barred by the constitution from running for a third consecutive term in March 2008, Putin has indicated he will groom a favored successor, but his chosen candidate is unlikely to enjoy anything like the popularity he commands. Parliamentary elections are to be held in December 2007.

Elsewhere

Bulgaria: A truck collided with a bus Thursday in northeastern Bulgaria, sending both vehicles off a bridge into a river and killing at least 17 people, police and doctors said. Eleven people, including the truck driver, were injured in the crash in the town of Byala, some 200 miles northeast of the capital, Sofia. The bus plunged 45 feet into the Yantra River.

Saudi Arabia: Armed men shot and killed two guards Thursday outside a prison in the western city of Jiddah, before taking cover in a residential building where they were surrounded by Saudi security forces, state-run media reported. The security forces brought in armored vehicles and helicopters to surround the building where the gunmen had fled, witnesses said.

Philippines: A new storm system is on track to become the second typhoon in 10 days to batter the archipelago, as the country struggles to recover from mudslides that left more than 1,000 people dead or missing, forecasters said Thursday. The tropical depression was forecast to make landfall Saturday, before moving toward the Cebu, where Asian leaders are gathering for a three-day summit starting Monday.

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