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WORLD IN BRIEF: Russian head pardons 4 spies for US swap

Russian head pardons 4 spies for US swap

MOSCOW -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed a decree pardoning four convicted foreign spies so they can be exchanged for 10 people accused of spying for Russia in the United States, the Kremlin said Friday.

The Kremlin statement carried by the Russian news agencies said that Medvedev has pardoned Russian citizens Alexander Zaporozhsky, Gennady Vasilenko, Sergei Skripal and Igor Sutyagin.

Medvedev's spokeswoman Natalia Timakova said in the statement that all four had submitted a plea for pardon admitting their guilt.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also issued a statement saying that Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service and the CIA acting on orders from the countries' leadership are conducting a swap of 10 Russian citizens who were arrested in the United States for the four earlier convicted Russian citizens.

It said that the exchange was conducted in the context of ''overall improvement of the U.S.-Russian ties and giving them new dynamics.''

Church: Cuba agrees to free 52 prisoners

HAVANA -- Cuba has promised the Roman Catholic Church it will free 52 political prisoners, slashing the number held by nearly a third in what would be the communist-led island's largest release of dissidents since Pope John Paul II visited in 1998.

Five are to be released initially and sent into exile in Spain, while the others would be freed over the next three or four months, said Havana's archbishop, Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

Bombs kill 15 in Baghdad

BAGHDAD -- At least 15 people were killed Thursday by bombs targeting the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who defied violence to take part in the final day of a Shiite religious holiday, officials said.

The deaths came one day after nearly 60 people were killed in attacks in and around the Iraqi capital, most of them by a suicide bomber who targeted pilgrims heading to a mosque in northern Baghdad to mark the anniversary of the death of a revered Shiite figure.

The attacks come as Iraq is struggling to seat a government a little over four months after the March 7 election failed to bring about a clear winner to lead the country.