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CASTRO RENEWS BLASTS AT U.S. AFTER RETIRING

CUBA

If anyone thought Fidel Castro was going to slip into quiet retirement, he dispelled that notion on Friday when he published a broadside against American politicians who have called for democracy in Cuba. The letter published in official newspapers was the first word from Castro, 81, since he announced Tuesday that he would step down as president of the country he ran with absolute control for nearly 49 years. The country is waiting for Sunday, when the National Assembly, a rubber-stamp group in the opinion of most experts, will choose a new president at the direction of Communist Party leaders. Most people expect Castro's brother Raul, the defense minister, to step into his shoes. Five years younger, Raul has been acting president since Fidel fell ill in July 2006.

Venezuela

46 killed as plane hits mountainside

A Venezuelan passenger plane slammed into a steep mountainside in the Andes, killing the 43 passengers and three crew members on board, officials said Friday. The French-made ATR 42-300 twin-engine plane was shattered to bits upon impact Thursday, shortly after takeoff from the Andean city of Merida, a popular tourist destination. The victims included a U.S. citizen, Vivian Guarch, 53, an employee of a Miami branch of Stanford Bank.

PAKISTAN

Bhutto ally favored to become premier

A veteran politician with a reputation as a consensus builder emerged Friday as the favorite to become Pakistan's next prime minister under an agreement by the two biggest opposition parties to form a new government together. Makhdoom Amin Fahim, 68, is a longtime Benazir Bhutto loyalist from Sindh province who turned down President Pervez Musharraf's offer of the premiership in 2002. In new violence, 12 people died when a bomb ripped through a truck carrying wedding guests in an area where al-Qaida-linked militants operate.

Elsewhere

Turkey: President Abdullah Gul approved on Friday a pair of constitutional amendments that would allow female students to wear Islamic head scarves at universities. The legislation is expected to face a legal challenge from opponents on grounds the amendments violate Turkey's secular constitution.

Sudan: The difficult humanitarian situation in the Darfur region of Sudan has worsened as a result of new fighting and increased banditry, U.N. aid agencies said Friday.

North Korea: The country opened its main nuclear reactor to foreign media for the first time Friday in a bid to show that it is complying with a disarmament accord to disable the facility.

United Nations: Major commercial fish stocks could collapse within decades as global warming compounds damage from pollution and overfishing, U.N. officials said Friday in a report.

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