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NICARAGUA: Court to release American

A U.S. citizen jailed for nearly two years on money-laundering and drug charges will be freed after a court in Managua unanimously upheld his appeal, his lawyer said Wednesday. Attorney Fabbrith Gomez said the court vacated the charges against Jason Puracal, 35, of Tacoma, Wash., who was charged with using his real estate business as a front for money laundering in a region used to transport cocaine from Colombia to the United States. Gomez had argued that Puracal's home sales were legitimate business deals and were not related in any way to drug traffickers.

CZECH REPUBLIC: Bad booze kills 19, sickens 24

At least 19 people are dead and 24 others hospitalized. Some of them have been blinded, while others have been induced into comas in the hope that doctors can save them. All had drunk cheap vodka or rum laced with methanol, a toxic substance used to stretch alcohol on the black market. The Czech Republic announced emergency measures Wednesday as the death toll from the methanol poisoning mounted, including two women aged 28 and 21. Kiosks and markets were banned from selling spirits with more than 30 percent alcohol content and police raided outlets nationwide. At 410 sites, they found 70 cases of illegal alcohol. Authorities feared the death toll would rise further. Little is known about the culprits other than that they work in the country's depressed northeast, a former heartland of industry under communism.

RUSSIA: Punk rockers to be freed

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev criticized as "too hard" Wednesday last month's sentencing of three members of a punk rock band to two years each in jail for staging a public punk prayer against President Vladimir Putin. Medvedev said he was offended by the performance, but he said probation would have been a more-than-sufficient punishment.

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