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Afghanistan: 15 are executed

KABUL — Ending a three-year moratorium on the death penalty, Afghanistan executed 15 prisoners by gunfire, including a man convicted of killing three foreign journalists during the U.S.-led invasion, the prisons chief announced Monday.

The United Nations protested the executions, which could complicate the missions of some NATO nations here.

The mass execution took place Sunday evening according to Afghan law, which calls for condemned prisoners to be shot to death, said Abdul Salam Ismat, who oversees Afghanistan's prisons.

The crimes committed by those executed included murder, kidnapping and armed robbery, but officials said no Taliban or al-Qaida fighters were among the prisoners.

Canary Islands: Whale attack

SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE — A killer whale at a marine park hit its trainer and dragged her underwater repeatedly until it finally freed the woman with a badly bruised chest and a broken arm, park officials said Monday.

The trainer, 29-year-old German national Claudia Vollhardt, remained hospitalized Monday after her weekend scare at Loro Parque, a zoo on Tenerife, one of Spain's Canary Islands.

Vollhardt was working with a 1.5-ton male orca named Tekoa on Saturday, rehearsing a trick in which they swim together with the whale pushing her feet from behind with its snout, when something went wrong.

Costa Rica: Trade pact

SAN JOSE — Costa Ricans prepared on Monday to join a controversial free trade agreement with Central American neighbors, the Dominican Republic and the United States after a thin majority apparently backed the pact in a national referendum.

But even Sunday's vote on the Central American Free Trade Agreement did not end a yearlong battle over the agreement.

Opponents said they will wait for a mandatory recount, set to begin Tuesday, before recognizing the referendum's results. The ballot-by-ballot recount is required by Costa Rican law, and can last no longer than two weeks.

With 97 percent of precincts reporting Monday, 51.5 percent of Costa Ricans voted in favor of the trade deal, which is known as CAFTA.

Cuba: Guevara honored

HAVANA — Fidel Castro paid homage to Ernesto "Che" Guevara as an "exceptional combatant" while many of the Argentine guerrilla's relatives and former comrades gathered in central Cuba Monday to mark the 40th anniversary of his capture and killing in Bolivia.

Castro, who has not been seen in public since undergoing intestinal surgery and ceding power to his brother Raul more than 14 months ago, did not attend the low-key ceremony in Santa Clara — one of several tributes to Guevara around the Americas.

Still, the ailing leader's presence was felt when a government presenter read his message to several thousand people gathered before the towering bronze statue of Guevara in Santa Clara.

Guatemala: Election violence

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — A presidential security guard and the secretary of Guatemala's leading presidential candidate were shot and killed Monday, extending a plague of election-related violence as the country prepares for a runoff vote.

The candidate, Otto Perez, blamed organized crime for killing guard Valerio Castanon and secretary Aura Salazar.

Both victims were sitting in a car parked a block from Congress in Guatemala City when they were killed.

Iran: Students protest

TEHRAN — About 100 students staged a rare protest Monday against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, calling him a "dictator" as he gave a speech at Tehran University marking the beginning of the academic year.

While the demonstrators and hard-line students loyal to Ahmadinejad scuffled in the auditorium, the president ignored chants of "Death to the dictator" and gave his speech on the merits of science and the pitfalls of Western-style democracy, witnesses said.

The hard-line students chanted "Thank you, president" as police looked on from outside the university's gates without intervening. The protesters dispersed after Ahmadinejad left the campus.

Pakistan: Copter crash kills 4

ISLAMABAD — A helicopter carrying aides to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf crashed Monday as the Pakistani leader flew to Kashmir. Though blamed on a technical fault, the accident revived concern for Musharraf's safety as his war with Islamic militants intensifies.

The army said four people died when the craft attempted an emergency landing, but the U.S.-allied leader was never in danger. Still, with new fighting against extremists raging along the Afghan border, it was a reminder that Musharraf has survived several assassination attempts.