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CAIRO — The leader of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Mehdi Akefon, Sunday credited public mistrust, frustration and anger with President Hosni Mubarak's regime for his group's fivefold increase in parliamentary seats with one round of voting still to go. The Interior Ministry said the fundamentalist group's loyalists won 29 more seats in Saturday runoffs, continuing an unexpectedly strong showing. While Mubarak's party will maintain a big majority, the Brotherhood is assured of being the second biggest legislative bloc.


BERLIN — New German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to strengthen relations with the United States in remarks released Sunday. In an interview with Focus magazine, Merkel promised that Berlin would have "a more intensive" relationship with Washington. Those ties suffered from former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's vocal opposition to the war in Iraq. "With the United States of America, we are anchored together in a military alliance, NATO," Merkel said.


TEGUCIGALPA — Honduran police recaptured a 16-year-old boy who is accused of killing a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent and has escaped five times in three years from a crumbling prison, an official said Sunday. More than 1,000 officers had been hunting for Herlan Colindres, who was carrying a gun when he was caught in the capital Tegucigalpa, Security Minister Armando Calidonio said. Colindres, a gang member implicated in 16 other killings, slipped out of a Tegucigalpa juvenile rehabilitation center Nov. 17. It was his second escape in less than four months and the fifth in three years.


TOKYO — Thousands of residents were evacuated in Tokyo on Sunday while authorities dug up an unexploded 550-pound bomb, believed to have been dropped by the United States during World War II, a local official said. The bomb, about 14 inches in diameter and 47 inches long, was detected earlier this month in a residential area in Tokyo's Katsushika ward by Self-Defense Force investigators, said Katsushika spokesman Takanori Kato. About 3,900 residents within a 985-feet radius of the site were evacuated for 1.5 hours while troops removed the bomb, according to Kato.


AMMAN — King Abdullah II swore in a new Cabinet headed by a prime minister who pledged Sunday to restore Jordan's reputation as a haven of stability in the Middle East, an image shattered by this month's triple suicide attacks in the capital.


GROZNY — Chechens voted Sunday in their first parliamentary elections since Russia sent troops back to the Caucasus region six years ago to crush a separatist insurgency. Moscow has touted the vote as the latest step toward restoring normalcy in the violence-wracked southern republic, but critics fear the new parliament will amount to a rubber stamp for Chechnya's Kremlin-backed governing elites. Few international observers were monitoring the election for flaws that have marred three previous votes.

Vatican City

Pope Benedict XVI ushered in the Christmas season Sunday, calling it a time for joy when Christians should find it within themselves to hope that they can change the world. The pontiff addressed the crowds in St. Peter's Square during his traditional Sunday blessing that also marked the beginning of Advent, which starts four Sundays before Christmas and is the beginning of the ecclesiastical year.


SAN'A — A suspected al-Qaida ally was executed by a Yemeni firing squad Sunday after being convicted of killing a prominent politician and plotting a deadly attack on three American missionaries in 2002. Ali al-Jarallah was blindfolded and shot in the courtyard of the central prison in the capital city.


HARARE — Zimbabwe's ruling party cemented its grip on power Sunday, sweeping an overwhelming majority of seats in a new Senate amid bitter and potentially irreconcilable divisions in the main opposition group. Partial results from Saturday's vote gave President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front at least 49 of 66 seats in the Senate. Voting was marked by a record-low turnout blamed on voter apathy and the main opposition leader's call for a boycott.