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Fianna Fail sets leaders as Cowen backs off bid

DUBLIN (AP) -- Ireland's election race kicked into first gear Monday as the governing Fianna Fail party unveiled its new leadership team -- and Prime Minister Brian Cowen confirmed that he won't seek re-election to parliament.

Cowen said he has decided to end his 26-year parliamentary career after battling to save his country from the brink of bankruptcy. His approval ratings have plummeted to record lows after his government in November negotiated an emergency $91 billion rescue from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Earlier, the new Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, presented a 21-member team as his choices for the next Cabinet. Martin led an unsuccessful push two weeks ago to oust Cowen, then was elected leader last week after Cowen quit as party leader. Analysts widely expect Cowen to declare Feb. 25 as the election date -- and for Martin's Fianna Fail to suffer a defeat of historic proportions.


Libya bomber is focus of leaked cable report

LONDON (AP) -- The Daily Telegraph reports that a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable shows Britain advising Libya's government on how to secure the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi.

The newspaper says the cable, released through WikiLeaks, refers to a 2008 letter sent by a British official to the Libyan government outlining how to secure the compassionate release of prisoners held in Scottish jails.

Scotland controversially released al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009.

Officials said he was dying of cancer, but some accuse Britain of acting to protect its commercial interests in Libya.

It isn't clear that the letter offers anything more than a guide to Scottish law, but it does show how closely Britain and Libya were working as Tripoli tried to secure al-Megrahi's release.


500 rally to demand the removal of Putin

MOSCOW (AP) -- About 500 people demonstrated in a central square here Monday to demand the ouster of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin and his "rule of thieves."

The rally took place peacefully, but police detained a separate group of 20 opposition activists nearby. About 60 protesters also were detained in St. Petersburg, one of a number of cities where demonstrations were held.

Prominent opposition leader Boris E. Nemtsov, who was arrested and jailed for 15 days after a similar demonstration a month ago, kept up his criticism of Russia's longtime leader as he addressed the protesters on Moscow's Triumph Square.

He compared Putin to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is facing mass unrest after 30 years in power. "Please, someone tell me how our leadership differs from his," Nemtsov shouted. "Russia has to get rid of Putin." Nemtsov has accused Putin of trashing democracy, allowing corruption to pervade the corridors of power and building up much personal wealth while in power.

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