JAMAICA: 44 civilians reported dead in raids on gang chief's stronghold
KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) _ Jamaican security forces claimed a tenuous hold over the slum stronghold of a gang leader sought by the U.S., but only after battles that killed at least 44 civilians, the country's official ombudsman said Wednesday.
Officers and soldiers were still fighting holdout defenders of Christopher Coke, known as "Dudus," in pockets of the Tivoli Gardens area. He was still at large after nearly three days of street battles.
Bishop Herro Blair, Jamaica's most prominent evangelical pastor, told The Associated Press that independent evaluations have put the number of civilian dead at 44 in West Kingston alone. Police have said that at least four soldiers and police officers also have died in fighting in West Kingston and elsewhere around the capital.
Police earlier reported at least 26 civilian deaths and the country's embattled Prime Minister Bruce Golding promised an independent investigation into all civilian deaths during the operation.
Blair and Jamaica's public defender were escorted by security forces into Tivoli Gardens, where supporters of Coke began massing last week after Golding dropped his nine-month refusal to extradite him to the U.S.
Coke has ties to Golding's Labor Party, which gets a large number of votes from the Tivoli Gardens area Golding represents in parliament.
In a Tuesday address to legislators, Golding indicated he was taken aback by the intensity of the assault.
CUBA: Top judge says no legal case yet against jailed US contractor nearly 6 months after arrest
HAVANA (AP) _ Cuba has yet to open a legal case against a U.S. government contractor from Maryland nearly six months after he was arrested as a suspected spy, the head of the island's high court said Wednesday.
Alan P. Gross was detained Dec. 3 at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport and has been held without charge at the capital's high-security Villa Marista prison ever since.
Formal charges cannot be filed in Cuba without a judicial accusation and the opening of a court case, so it appears unlikely charges against Gross are imminent even as he approaches a half-year in custody.
It is rare for suspects to be held for extended periods in Cuba without charges or even a case being opened. But Supreme Court President Ruben Remigio said Wednesday that "there still is not a case related to this matter" and he did not know whether prosecutors were working on one.
The general in charge of investigations for the Interior Ministry attended the same event but declined to comment.
Gross, a 60-year-old native of Potomac, Maryland, came to Cuba as part of a little-known program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
President Raul Castro and the speaker of Cuba's parliament allege Gross was distributing banned satellite communications equipment and say his capture proves Washington is still out to topple their communist government.
SURINAME: Former dictator Bouterse's political party gains advantage in election
PARAMARIBO, Suriname (AP) _ Allies of former dictator Desi Bouterse have overtaken Suriname's governing coalition in parliamentary elections, positioning him to run for president despite a pending trial in the execution of 15 opponents in the 1980s.
Bouterse, who previously was convicted by a Dutch court of drug trafficking, has declined to say whether he will seek the South American nation's top job _ a process that would require alliances with other parties.
His Mega Combination coalition won 23 of the 51 seats in parliament to become the largest bloc, according to preliminary results released Wednesday.
Suriname's president is chosen by a two-thirds vote in parliament. Since no faction has that share, the parties must negotiate to choose a new leader. The process could take as long as several weeks because lawmakers must first be sworn in and no date has been set.
Bouterse is chairman of the National Democratic Party, the largest opposition party, which held 15 seats in parliament before Tuesday's vote. He boosted his following, primarily among young and poor people, with populist promises for more jobs and affordable housing.
Bouterse is chairman of the National Democratic Party, the largest opposition party, which held 15 seats in parliament before the vote. He boosted his following, primarily among young and poor people, with populist promises for more jobs and affordable housing.
The 64-year-old former military ruler expressed interest in the presidency in recent years, but he has not been clear about his intentions since the campaign began.
The governing New Front coalition won 14 seats. President Ronald Venetiaan, who was not seeking a third consecutive term in the top job, has said his party will not work with Bouterse's party as long as the former dictator is in control.
Observers with the Organization of American States said voting Tuesday was peaceful and reported no irregularities.
Bouterse seized control of Suriname in 1980, five years after it gained independence from the Netherlands. He stepped down under international pressure in 1987 and briefly seized power again in 1990.
CARIBBEAN: Puerto Rican nationalist sentenced to 7 years for 1983 Wells Fargo robbery in Connecticut
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A Puerto Rican nationalist who lived a double life as a fugitive after participating in a $7 million armored truck robbery in Connecticut in 1983 was sentenced Wednesday to seven years in federal prison.
Avelino Gonzalez-Claudio, 67, a onetime member of the clandestine Los Macheteros independence movement, lived for more than two decades under an assumed name in Puerto Rico until he was apprehended in 2008.
While FBI agents searched for him and others involved in the heist, Gonzalez-Claudio remarried and raised two stepdaughters, taught computer classes as a career, learned to grow exotic plants and made a wide circle of friends who had no idea he was a wanted man.
Several of those friends flew from Puerto Rico for Wednesday's sentencing in U.S. District Court in Hartford, where Gonzalez-Claudio also was ordered to repay the $7 million stolen from the Wells Fargo truck in the West Hartford heist.
Prosecutors say Gonzalez-Claudio conspired with several others to steal the money, then funnel it to Los Macheteros. He had pleaded guilty earlier this year to foreign transportation of stolen money and conspiracy to rob federally insured bank funds.
In a letter read aloud in court Wednesday by attorney Moira Buckley, Gonzalez-Claudio said he takes responsibility for his actions and that today's struggle for Puerto Rican independence has a different tenor than when he was involved.
BAHAMAS: Small plane crashes in water shortly after takeoff from island, killing both occupants
NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) _ Police say a twin-engine aircraft has crashed in the waters off the Bahamas and killed both people aboard.
The Piper Aztec took off from Alice Town on Bimini island on the way to the main island of New Providence. It was found submerged in the water 30 feet (9 meters) from Bimini's shore.
Police Sergeant Chrislyn Skippings said Wednesday that the 50-year-old pilot and 36-year-old woman passenger were killed in the crash. Their identities were not released but they are believed to be Bahamians.
Police said a tourist and her toddler son on a nearby beach were injured by the accident Tuesday evening. Local media reports said they were burned by flaming fuel that spilled from the plane.
JAMAICA: 44 civilians reported dead in raids on gang chief's stronghold