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Pope, at La Scala, praises performance

MILAN (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI praised the performance of Beethoven's Ninth symphony on Friday evening at Milan's La Scala theater as "a moment of elevation of the soul."

Benedict's three-day trip to Milan for events focusing on the institution of the family is a welcome pastoral respite from an embarrassing and damaging leaks scandal at the Vatican that has engulfed the pontiff's personal butler.

In contrast to the strains at home, the pontiff was welcomed by tens of thousands of cheering well-wishers in the square outside Milan's emblematic Cathedral earlier Friday and received a standing ovation when he entered La Scala.

The pope, an accomplished pianist known for his keen appreciation of music, sat raptly in a seat placed specially in the main aisle of the orchestra section. He joined in a standing ovation for conductor Daniel Barenboim, the orchestra and chorus, then walked to the conductor's pit to address the audience.

"It is not a distinctly Christian joy of which Beethoven sings, rather of the joy of coexistence of the people, victory over egoism," the pope said.


Notorious landlord dies in hail of bullets

NEW DELHI -- Brahmeshwar Singh, a wealthy landlord known as the "Butcher of Bihar," was killed in a hail of bullets Friday while out taking his morning walk, ending a notorious chapter in Indian history.

Singh, 67, the leader of a banned militia of upper caste members known as Ranvir Sena, hit the headlines in the 1990s after he and fellow landlords were accused of the massacre of scores of lower-caste Dalits, or so-called untouchables, in central Bihar state.

As news of the shooting spread Friday, supporters gathered in his hometown of Arrah, yelling anti-government slogans, torching vehicles and chasing away police who sought to recover his body for an autopsy.

Singh took over leadership of the group a few months after it was formed, suspected of planning or participating directly in as many as 29 bloody incidents in which more than 200 Dalits were killed.

Little effort was made to hide the murders in a state with a significant law-and-order problem and a centuries-old feudal structure.

-- Los Angeles Times


Attackers firebomb snack company truck

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Assailants in western Mexico burned another delivery truck of a PepsiCo-owned Mexican snack company, shortly after a drug cartel claimed responsibility for last week's arson attacks against the company, police said Friday.

The truck belonging to Sabritas, which sells potato and corn chips in Mexico, was torched with gasoline bombs on a rural highway late Thursday, police in Michoacan state said in a statement. The attackers fled the scene.

Earlier Thursday, the cult-like Knights Templar drug cartel hung banners in a Michoacan city claiming credit for firebombing five Sabritas distribution centers last week. Dozens of trucks were burned in those attacks.

The banners accused Sabritas of letting law enforcement agents use its trucks for transportation and surveillance.

"We have been affected by companies that allow themselves to be used to transport people throughout Michoacan, to carry out activities against our brotherhood," the banners read. While the cartel traffics in methamphetamine and carries out kidnappings and killings, it often tries to cast itself as a pseudo-religious "brotherhood."

"These are government intelligence agents who pass themselves off as sales agents for this company," the banners said, referring to Sabritas. "We are telling all companies that lend themselves to these activities that they will be punished for offenses."