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Chavez Meets a Setback At the Polls

From the hardened slums of this city to some of Venezuela’s most populous and economically important states, many of President Hugo Chavez’s supporters deserted him in regional elections, showing it is possible to challenge him in areas where he was once thought invincible.

The outcome of Sunday’s vote was the second blow dealt to the president in a year, after voters rejected last December his plan to alter the constitution to give himself more power. Although it was unclear whether the results would slow his socialist-inspired revolution or check his power, they could complicate his ambitions to amend the constitution to allow him to run again.

Chavez, who has been in power for 10 years, has focused on raising political consciousness across disenfranchised parts of society. Now, voters in a sizable part of Venezuela have sent him a message that they wanted not a monopoly on power, but solutions to economic and social ills that are glaringly apparent on their streets.

Five Officials of Muslim Charity Convicted of Terror-Related Charges

On their second attempt, federal prosecutors won sweeping convictions on Monday against five leaders of a Muslim charity in a retrial of the largest terrorism financing case in the United States since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The five defendants, all leaders of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, based in Richardson, a Dallas suburb, were convicted of all 108 criminal counts against them, including support of terrorism, money laundering and tax fraud. The group was accused of funneling millions of dollars to the Palestinian militant group Hamas, an Islamist organization the government declared to be a terrorist group in 1995.

The defendants argued that the Holy Land Foundation, once the largest Muslim charity in the United States, was engaged in legitimate humanitarian aid for community welfare programs and Palestinian orphans.

The jury, which deliberated for eight days, produced a starkly different outcome than in the first trial, which ended in a mistrial on most charges in October 2007, after nearly two months of testimony and 19 days of deliberations.

The government shuttered the Holy Land Foundation in December 2001 and seized its assets, a move that President George W. Bush heralded at the time as “another step in the war on terrorism.”

China Attacks U.N. Report Alleging Torture of Detainees

The Chinese government reacted angrily on Monday to what it called a slanderous U.N. report that alleges torture of political and criminal detainees.

The government said the authors were biased, untruthful and driven by a political agenda.

The report, issued Friday by the U.N. Committee Against Torture, documented what the authors described as widespread abuse in the Chinese legal system, one that often gains convictions through forced confessions.

The report recounts China’s use of “secret prisons” and the widespread harassment of lawyers who take on rights cases, and it criticizes the government’s extralegal system of punishment, known as re-education through labor, which hands down prison terms to dissidents without judicial review.

“The state party should conduct prompt, impartial and effective investigations into all allegations of torture and ill treatment and should ensure that those responsible are prosecuted,” said the report, which was written by a 10-member committee of independent experts.

Biden’s Senate Seat Will Go To His Chief of Staff

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware will be succeeded in the U.S. Senate by his longtime aide, Edward Kaufman, when Biden resigns the seat to become vice president.

Delaware’s governor, Ruth Ann Minner, announced Monday that she would name Kaufman, the senator’s chief of staff for 19 years and a close personal friend, to fill the vacancy through 2010. Kaufman, 69, said he intended to retire after two years, leaving open the possibility that Biden’s son Beau, the state’s attorney general, could run in 2010.

In remarks made in Wilmington, Del., after his pending appointment was made public, Kaufman said he wanted “to make clear that I am very comfortable with retiring after two years.”

“I don’t think Delaware’s appointed senator should spend the next two years running for office,” he said.

Aides to Biden, who said he welcomed the appointment, said he intended to resign in the next 40 to 50 days but an exact date has not been announced. He won re-election to a seventh term in November, running simultaneously with his vice-presidential bid, and would begin that term on Jan. 6.

In his statement, Biden did not hide that he would like to see his son take the seat, but Beau Biden, 39, said he would not accept an appointment and wanted to fulfill a military obligation with the Delaware Army National Guard in Iraq.

“If he chooses to run for the Senate in the future, he will have to run and win on his own,” the vice president-elect said in his statement, noting that the appointment of Kaufman would mean a “level playing field” for those who choose to compete for the seat in two years. “The voters will make that decision.”