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AROUND THE WORLD

239 killed as rains trigger flash floods

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- Torrential rains tearing through Rio de Janeiro state's mountains caused floods that have killed at least 239 people in 24 hours, Brazilian officials said Wednesday.

Rescuers using heavy machinery, shovels and bare hands struggled to dig through tons of mud and debris in a search for survivors. At least 50 remained missing, and officials feared that the figure will rise.

In Teresopolis, a town 40 miles north of Rio, flash floods tossed cars into trees, and mudslides poured tons of red earth over houses below. At least 114 people were killed there, according to a local Civil Defense official, who said 10 inches of rain fell on the town during 24 hours.

Survivors waded through waist-high water, carrying what belongings they could, trying to reach higher ground. Floodwaters continued to flow down the mountains, though rains had stopped.

"I've lived here 25 years, and I've never seen anything like it," Teresopolis citizen Manoel Rocha Sobrinho told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper. "I live on high ground, and when I looked below, I only saw a sea of mud. Most people saved themselves by climbing trees."

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Anti-Islamic comments by bishop condemned

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- The Greek government has condemned anti-Islamic comments by a senior Orthodox Church official after protests from the country's Muslim community.

Government spokesman George Petalotis said the remarks by Serapheim, bishop of Piraeus, "foment racial and religious hatred."

Commenting on the New Year's suicide bombing of a Christian congregation in Alexandria, Egypt, the bishop described Islam as "a catastrophic worship" that's incompatible with Greece's constitution.

Serapheim urged the government to scrap the planned construction of a mosque in Athens for the city's growing Muslim population.

Petalotis said Tuesday that the government condemns such remarks "and rejects the mentality they express."

And a statement Wednesday by the Orthodox Church said that while bishops have the right to express their views, they "also bear the burden of proving them."

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Anti-violence poet falls victim to bizarre killing

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) -- A poet who led protests against the unsolved killings of women in this violent border city has herself become the victim of a bizarre slaying, her body found strangled and her left hand severed after a night of partying with three teens.

The body of Susana Chavez, 36, was left last week in the center of the city but was not identified until Tuesday, authorities said Wednesday. Her head was covered with a bag, and the cause of death was strangulation. The killing was the result of an "unfortunate encounter" and had nothing to do with Chavez's activism, said Chihuahua state Attorney General Carlos Manuel Salas.

Three suspects, all 17, are in custody, including a neighbor who told investigators that they had gotten into a quarrel with Chavez. Because they were intoxicated, they found it "easy" to kill her, said Arturo Sandoval, a spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office.

The teens decided to cut off her hand to make it look as if her death were linked to organized crime, Sandoval said.

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