Chinese leaders cite progress in human rights for citizens

China said Sunday it has made progress on human rights, pointing in particular to improved living standards, but an international rights group quickly described the government’s assessment as unrealistic.

Human Rights Watch said the government failed to mention that since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China has gotten tougher on freedom of speech, has stepped up limits on the media and Internet and cracked down on lawyers and activists.

In a report released Sunday titled “Progress in China’s Human Rights in 2009,” the government highlighted its $586 billion economic stimulus package that helped the country recover from the global financial crisis.

It said per capita income rose 8.5 percent in 2009 for rural residents and 9.8 percent for urban dwellers and that spending on health services and education has increased.

While the report focused less on increasing freedoms, it claimed Chinese people were able to exercise freedom of speech on the Internet, which it said has become a key channel for communication between the authorities and the people.


Iranian forces kill 30 fighters reportedly involved in blast

Iranian forces crossed into neighboring Iraq and killed 30 fighters from a group it says was involved in last week’s bombing of a military parade, state TV reported Sunday.

Gen. Abdolrasoul Mahmoudabadi of the elite Revolutionary Guards said the “terrorists” were killed Saturday in a clash “beyond the border” and that his forces were in pursuit of two men who escaped the ambush.

While Iran has said in the past it would target armed groups on Iraqi soil, this is a rare case of its actually admitting to an attack.

An explosion during a military parade in Mahabad, in Iran’s northwestern Kurdish region, killed 12 women and children Wednesday.

Iran has already blamed the attack on Kurdish separatists, but most Kurdish groups condemned the attack and no one has so far claimed responsibility for it.

CARACAS, Venezuela

Congressional elections seen as challenge to president

Opponents of President Hugo Chavez tried to break his long-standing monopoly on power Sunday in congressional elections, while the firebrand leader rallied his supporters, urging them to “attack” through the ballot box.

After casting his ballot, Chavez said turnout could be as high as 70 percent.

“The people are speaking,” Chavez said, calling it proof the country has a healthy democracy.

Opposition parties were trying to end Chavez’s domination of the National Assembly for the first time in his nearly 12 years in the presidency.


Separatists reportedly willing to permanently end violence

The Basque separatist group ETA reportedly says it is willing to declare a permanent cease-fire, verified by international observers, in a bid to settle the troubled region’s long-running conflict with the Spanish government.

The group did not specify if it would allow observers to oversee the destruction of its stockpile of weapons — the only absolute way of guaranteeing a cessation of violence — but hinted it was prepared to go beyond a mere declaration of a cease-fire.

It said it would act “if the conditions for such moves are created,” suggesting vague conditions about prison terms imposed on its jailed members and other “civil and political rights” issues.

No one was available to comment at the Spanish Interior Ministry.