1 thrust reverser was turned off when plane crashed

SAO PAULO, Brazil - One of the two thrust reversers on an airliner carrying 186 people that crashed in a fireball was turned off when the plane landed, the jet's owner said, as officials tried to determine why it raced down a runway instead of slowing down.

The airline TAM, however, said late Thursday the thrust reverser used to slow jets after they touch down had been deactivated earlier in accordance with proper procedures and planes in such condition are considered safe to fly.

Brazil's Globo TV reported an unidentified problem in the Airbus 320's right thrust reverser emerged four days before the crash and was under investigation by authorities.

Israel frees 250 Palestinians to boost leadership

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Family and friends joyously hugged 255 Palestinians freed by Israel on Friday, hoisting them on shoulders for a boisterous heroes' welcome meant to give President Mahmoud Abbas a political boost in his power struggle with Hamas.

But thousands more Palestinians remained in Israeli jails, and aides to Abbas said Israel must do more to help the moderate leader after years of failed peace efforts.

The Islamic militant Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip by force last month, belittled the prisoner release. Most of those let go were members of Abbas' largely secular Fatah movement and none belonged to Hamas.

Taliban threaten to kill 18 abducted South Koreans

KABUL, Afghanistan - Taliban militants threatened Friday to kill at least 18 kidnapped South Korean Christians, including 15 women, within 24 hours unless the Asian nation withdraws its 200 troops from Afghanistan.

In the largest abduction of foreigners since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, several dozen fighters kidnapped the South Koreans at gunpoint from a bus in Ghazni province Thursday, said Ali Shah Ahmadzai, the provincial police chief.

Pakistan's high court restores chief justice

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan's highest court dealt President Pervez Musharraf the biggest political blow of his eight years in power, blocking the U.S.-allied general Friday from removing the country's chief justice.

The surprise decision to throw out Musharraf's case against the jurist spurred new demands from democracy campaigners that the president step down, clouding his future just as Pakistan faces a surge in violence by Islamic militants.

Recent fighting had overshadowed the judicial dispute, and the ruling likely will ease public anger over the ouster, at least for now. Musharraf said he would respect the decision, but analysts said Pakistan could be in for turbulent times if he sticks with his drive to stay in power.

Storm kills more than 50 people in Pakistan villages

PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Lightning and heavy rain caused landslides that destroyed homes in two villages in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, killing more than 50 people, officials said.

Seven houses were destroyed and others damaged in remote villages in Dirbala district, local official Nisar Khan Wardak said. The villages are 150 miles north of Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier province.

He said more than 50 bodies had been recovered, several villagers were missing and the death toll was expected to rise.

Iraqi official casts doubt on speed of security takeover

BAGHDAD - Iraq's national security adviser expressed doubt Friday that Iraqi forces will be able to assume security control of the whole country by the end of the year, a goal of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.

In April, al-Maliki said Iraqi soldiers and police would take over security responsibility from U.S. and other international forces in all 18 provinces by the end of 2007, allowing the American-led coalition to shift into a support role and possibly begin sending troops home.

China shuts down some companies at heart of food scares

BEIJING - Ahead of high-level visits by U.S. and European officials, China moved to sharpen its product safety image Friday, shutting down a chemical plant linked to dozens of deaths in Panama from tainted medicine and closing two companies tied to pet deaths in North America.

The measures come as Beijing fights to reassure global customers it takes food and drug safety seriously amid concerns over chemicals and toxins that have been found in its products.

The closures come months after links between the companies' products and the deaths became known but only days before the European Union and U.S. visits.