Colombia: Rebels blame guards

BOGOTA — Colombian rebels on Friday blamed two guerrillas who were guarding hostages for the success of a rescue mission by the military that freed three U.S. defense contractors, a former presidential candidate and 11 others.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Latin America's last remaining major rebel army, said "the escape of the 15 prisoners of war" on July 2 "was a direct consequence of the despicable conduct of Cesar and Enrique, who betrayed their revolutionary commitment."

Military intelligence agents freed 15 rebel-held hostages — including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt — by posing as aid workers on a mock humanitarian mission that rebels were told would ferry their hostages by helicopter to another camp for talks on a prisoner swap.

Cuba: 'Realistic' communism

HAVANA — President Raul Castro warned Cubans on Friday to prepare for a "realistic" brand of communism that is economically viable and does away with excessive state subsidies designed to promote equality on the island.

Addressing Cuba's parliament in its first session since lawmakers selected him to succeed his older brother Fidel in February, Raul Castro announced no major reforms, but suggested that global economic turbulence could lead to further belt-tightening on the island.

"Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights, of opportunities, not of income," he said.

Egypt: Al-Qaida tape released

CAIRO — An Internet audiotape purported to be from an al-Qaida commander who escaped from a U.S.-run prison in Afghanistan warns of increased attacks against international forces in the violence-plagued nation.

The message allegedly from Abu Yahia al-Libi, who escaped from Afghanistan's Bagram prison in 2005, appeared Friday. Its authenticity could not be verified, but it was posted on an Islamic militant Web site that carries militant statements.

Georgia: Russians warned

TBILISI — A Georgian official warned Russia on Friday that it will have to "collect the shattered fragments" of its planes if they intrude on Georgian airspace again.

Russia has confirmed that four of its planes circled over the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia late Wednesday for about 40 minutes, and that the mission was ordered to head off a possible "invasion" of the region by Georgian troops.

Georgia, which has accused Russia of aiming to annex the province, said the mission was an illegal invasion of Georgian airspace.

Both South Ossetia and another province, Abkhazia, have been outside the Georgian government's control since the end of separatist wars in the mid-1990s.

Lebanon: Hezbollah inroads

BEIRUT — Hezbollah and its allies solidified their hold on Lebanon's government Friday with the formation of a national unity Cabinet that gives them veto power over government decisions.

Still, the Western-backed parliamentary majority managed to deny the Hezbollah-led opposition any of the most important Cabinet positions, except for the one it had already held — foreign affairs.

Venezuela: List denounced

CARACAS — President Hugo Chavez's ex-wife is joining government critics in denouncing an effort to bar nearly 300 potential candidates from running in upcoming elections.

Marisabel Rodriguez said she plans to join a protest march in Caracas today against the list barring would-be candidates, most of them opposition, from running in November state and municipal elections.

The list drawn up by a top anti-corruption official is "disqualifying a large number of citizens in an unjust and absurd way," Rodriguez told reporters Thursday.

Zimbabwe: Sanctions rejected

Russia and China vetoed proposed sanctions on Zimbabwe's leaders Friday, rejecting U.S. efforts to step up punitive measures against the authoritarian regime after a widely discredited presidential election.

Western powers mustered nine votes on the U.N. Security Council, the minimum needed to gain approval in the 15-nation council. But the resolution pushed by the Bush administration failed because of the action by two of the five veto-wielding permanent members.