Hundreds injured by meteorite in central Russia


A large meteorite exploded over an sparsely populated region of Russia's Ural Mountains, leaving nearly 1,000 injured and sparking panic.

The rare event occurred just hours before an asteroid was due to pass Earth at a distance of just 27,000 kilometers (16,800 miles).

"There were several dozen quite large fragments (of the meteorite), several of which fell to Earth," local news agencies quoted Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov as saying.

Russian scientists have set up a laboratory in the area to study the fragments of the so-called "Chelyabinsk Meteor," a reference to the region of the Urals where the incident occurred.




Venezuela releases 1st photos of Chavez in 2 months


The Venezuelan government released the first photographs of President Hugo Chavez since Dec. 10, the day before he underwent a fourth operation in Cuba for the cancer he has been battling for 20 months.

Science Minister Jorge Arreaza, the president's son-in-law, displayed the images during a national television appearance.

Chavez, clad in a Venezuelan military academy warm-up suit, is seen lying in a Havana hospital bed reading the Feb. 14 edition of Cuban Communist Party daily Granma. The 58-year-old president, his face slightly swollen, is smiling as his two adult daughters stand on either side of the bed.




Colombian rebels release 2 captured cops


Colombia's FARC rebels released two police officers taken prisoner last month, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

The handover took place in a rural area of the southwestern province of Cauca and the former captives, Cristian Camilo Yate and Victor Alfonso Gonzalez, are "in good health," the ICRC's Bogota office said in a statement.

Members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, delivered the two officers to representatives of the ICRC and the organization Colombians for Peace.

The leader of Colombians for Peace, former Sen. Piedad Cordoba, said during she and the rest of the humanitarian delegation would be leaving later Friday for the site where the FARC plans to hand over an army officer captured on Jan. 31.




Spain's Iberia says 1,200 flights to be grounded due to strike


Spanish airline Iberia announced that more than 1,200 flights will be grounded next week, when workers are scheduled to go on strike to protest a restructuring plan that includes 3,807 layoffs.

A total of 415, or 39 percent, of Iberia's 1,062 scheduled flights are to be grounded, while its subsidiaries - Vueling, Air Nostrum and Iberia Express - will cancel a combined total of more than 800 flights due to a loss of ground assistance normally provided by the Iberia Airport Services division.

Unions representing ground staff and cabin crew have announced plans for strikes on 15 days to protest the restructuring package, which includes plans to eliminate 3,807 jobs, or 19 percent of Iberia's workforce, this year.




Federer bounced out of Rotterdam


France's Julien Benneteau scored the biggest upset of this week's ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam, knocking off top seed and world No. 2 Roger Federer 6-3, 7-5 Friday in the quarterfinals.

Benneteau, who is ranked No. 39 and has never won an ATP Tour singles title, caught the Swiss great on an off day to score one of the biggest victories of his career.

The 39th-ranked Frenchman showcased an especially effective return game, winning two-thirds of Federer's second-serve points and breaking the Swiss great's serve five times.




Colombia rebel group frees kidnapped mine workers


Five foreign workers kidnapped last month from a mining project in northern Colombia were released by the smaller of the Andean nation's two main guerrilla groups, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

The ELN handed over three Colombians and two Peruvian nationals, the ICRC said in a statement.

All five are employees or consultants with Canada-based Braeval Mining, operator of the Snow Mine project in the northern province of Bolivar. A sixth captive described as a Canadian citizen and company executive was not freed.

The ICRC sent a team to receive the captives from the ELN, which said it targeted Braeval to press demands for the revocation of mining concessions granted to foreign companies.