Argentina: Ex-leader gets life

BUENOS AIRES — A court sentenced one of Argentina's most feared former military leaders to life in prison on Thursday for the 1977 kidnapping, torture and killing of four leftist activists.

Luciano Benjamin Menendez, 81, was commander of the Third Army Corps in Cordoba for five years during Argentina's 1976-83 military dictatorship and controlled one of the regime's most notorious torture centers.

Hours before the sentencing, an unrepentant Menendez read a statement in front of live television cameras saying the regime's repression had been justified in the face of a leftist militant threat.

Croatia: Hijacker returns

ZAGREB — A man who served 32 years in a U.S. prison for hijacking a plane and planting a bomb that killed a policeman returned home to Croatia on Thursday after being paroled.

Zvonko Busic, 62, was welcomed at the airport by several hundred supporters, who consider him a national hero who fought for Croatia's independence from communist Yugoslavia long before it was achieved in 1991.

Busic led a group that hijacked a TWA jetliner in 1976 as it left New York's LaGuardia Airport. They forced the plane to fly to Montreal, London and Paris, planning to drop leaflets to draw attention to communist repression of national and religious beliefs.

Police shot out the plane's tires and persuaded the five — who were not armed — to surrender. But a bomb they stashed in a locker at New York's Grand Central Terminal exploded when police tried to defuse it, killing one officer and blinding another.

France: Military cutbacks

PARIS — France's military will slash its ranks by 54,000 personnel and close dozens of air, army and other bases in an overhaul meant to slim forces at home while making it easier and faster to deploy troops abroad, the prime minister announced Thursday.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the 15 percent cut in manpower and base closings will save billions of dollars but still permit an agile military suited to the country's security needs.

Like other European countries, France is grappling with aging military equipment and budget constraints while facing new threats such as terrorism.

India: Plane evacuated

NEW DELHI — A plane taking off from New Delhi's main airport caught fire, forcing all 241 passengers to escape through the emergency exit, according to media reports today.

The Air Mauritius pilot braked when a bird apparently hit the plane, sparking a fire that spread to the jetliner's undercarriage, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported.

Rescue workers and firefighters rushed to evacuate the plane and put out the blaze Thursday afternoon.

Mexico: Prison official killed

CIUDAD JUAREZ — A Mexican police official says gunmen have killed a state prison director in the border city of Ciudad Juarez.

City police spokesman Jaime Torres says prison chief Salvador Barreno was shot Thursday as he drove in Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas. His bodyguard was also killed.

Russia: Cuba report denied

MOSCOW — The Russian Defense Ministry has denied a newspaper report that Russia was considering basing nuclear-capable bombers in Cuba, Russian news agencies reported Thursday.

The newspaper Izvestia this week cited an anonymous top air force official as saying the bombers could be based in Cuba as a response to U.S. plans to place elements of a missile-defense system in Eastern European countries.

Defense Ministry spokesman Ilshat Baichurin dismissed the report Thursday, according to the Interfax and RIA-Novosti news agencies.