Nation and world briefly — Castro appears alert, healthier

Fidel Castro looked alert and healthier in a video taped on Friday, the first images released of the ailing 81-year-old leader in more than three months. In the video aired unexpectedly on Cuban state television Friday evening, Castro spoke slowly and softly and didn’t always look the interviewer in the eye. But he appeared to be thinking clearly. Officials broke into regularly scheduled programming only minutes earlier to announce that an hour-long “conversation” with Castro would be shown.

Finland: Americans seek asylum

An American family with three small children has applied for political asylum in Finland, immigration officials said Friday. The five family members came to Finland on Tuesday from Germany, an immigration official said. “It’s very unusual for a U.S. citizen to apply for asylum,” she said. She declined to comment on local media speculation that the parents possibly were seeking to escape serving in the U.S. armed forces in Iraq.

Louisiana: No release in Jena trial

JENA, La. — A judge on Friday denied a request to release a teenager whose arrest in the beating of a white classmate sparked this week’s civil rights protest in Louisiana. Mychal Bell’s request to be freed while an appeal is being reviewed was rejected at a juvenile court hearing, effectively denying him any chance at immediate bail, a person familiar with the case said. Earlier, Bell’s mother emerged from the hearing in tears, refusing to comment. On Thursday, the case drew thousands of protesters to this tiny central Louisiana town to rally against what they see as a double standard of justice for blacks and whites.

D.C.: $1 billion to fight gangs

The Senate Friday agreed to devote $1 billion over the next five years to combat street gangs and protect witnesses of gang violence. Legislation approved by voice vote also establishes new federal crimes to cover gang recruitment and illegal acts by gangs, and increases penalties for gang-related crimes. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., sponsor of the bill with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said it was aimed at “providing a federal hand of assistance to those on the front lines” in the war against street gangs.

Connecticut: Ban on parole

Gov. Jodi Rell banned parole on Friday for all Connecticut inmates serving prison time for violent offenses following a string of crimes police say were committed by parolees. The parole ban will be in effect until state lawmakers reform its parole process, she said. Critics worried the move would swell the state’s already crowded prisons. “I will not allow public safety to be jeopardized because parolees return to a life of crime,” Rell, a Republican, said.

Kansas: ‘Tribal’ officials arrested

A group that claims to be an American Indian tribe has been indicted for selling memberships to immigrants who were told they would become U.S. citizens, federal prosecutors said Friday. Eleven employees of the Kaweah Indian Nation also were accused in the indictment, which was returned under seal Wednesday. The man who claims to be the tribe’s chief was arrested in the case earlier this month and the group’s offices were raided. Of the charges in the indictment, mail fraud carries the most severe penalty, up to 20 years in prison.

Montana: Park snowmobile plan

Yellowstone National Park officials want to reduce the number of snowmobiles allowed each day in the park as part of its winter management plan, said a congressional aide briefed on the plan. The park is seeking to impose a daily limit of 540 snowmobiles, down from 720 vehicles, said a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. He said a park official met with the senator’s staff Thursday to discuss the plan. A park spokesman declined comment.

Ohio: Boy, 10, held in arson

A 10-year-old boy who lived in a home where five people died in a fire has confessed to setting the blaze, police said Friday. The boy faces five delinquency counts of murder and one delinquency count of aggravated arson in juvenile court, the Greenville police chief said. He said the boy confessed that the fire was intentional, but that he did not intend its outcome. The boy’s relationship to the occupants of the house was not immediately known.

Texas: Bible verse nets $179,250

Buzz Aldrin’s handwritten card with a Bible verse that the Apollo 11 astronaut planned to broadcast from the moon fetched $179,250 at an auction of space memorabilia. The index card-sized note, which Aldrin never read publicly because of legal challenges NASA faced from famed atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, was part of nearly $1.2 million in items sold this week by Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas. Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, read other notes on the card in which he asked for a moment of silence and for listeners to “contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way.”

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