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SPAIN / Terror group's chief held

The leader of the armed Basque group ETA was arrested in France on Sunday, officials said, the separatists' fifth commander taken into custody in the last two years. ETA chief Ibon Gogeascoechea and two other suspected separatists were arrested in a joint French-Spanish police operation, said Spanish Interior Minister Alferdo Perez Rubalcaba. The two others were part of an ETA "commando unit" that was preparing "to enter Spain almost certainly with the worst of intentions," Rubalcaba said. Gogeascoechea, 54, is accused of helping to place 12 explosive devices around the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain, in 1997 on the eve of the gallery's inauguration by King Juan Carlos I. The plot was discovered before the bombs exploded.

TAJIKISTAN / 80 percent voter turnout

Voting was brisk Sunday in a parliamentary election that is expected to strengthen President Emomali Rakhmonov's nearly two-decade grip on power. But the vote also could increase the influence of the only legally registered Islamic party in former Soviet Central Asia. Two hours before polls closed, more than 80 percent of the 3.5 million eligible voters had cast their ballots, the Central Elections Commission said. Many of those voting in the capital, Dushanbe, said they backed the Islamic Revival Party, which so far has only two deputies in the 63-seat parliament. The governing People's Democratic Party is expected to run away with the election.

IRAQ / PM defends candidate ban

Iraq's prime minister on Sunday defended a ban of candidates with alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's regime, calling it a legitimate decision that would not affect Sunni turnout March 7. Nouri al-Maliki told AP: "The decision was taken because some of these people were blatantly propagating Baath Party ideas, and there is information that some of them are involved in actions that serve the Baath Party." He also said he did not see any need at this point for U.S. forces to stay in the country past their planned 2011 departure date.

Compiled from news reports

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