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EU backs 2 nations' membership talks

BRUSSELS -- European affairs ministers agreed Tuesday to allow Albania and North Macedonia to begin European Union membership talks, paving the way for the bloc's leaders to sign off on the move that could end years of setbacks and disappointment for the two Balkan nations.

Croatia's European Affairs minister, Andreja Metelko Zgombic, said after chairing a meeting of the ministers held by video conference that the decision was "good news, historic news, for those two countries" and said EU leaders were likely to rubber-stamp it on Thursday.

No date was announced for the start of the membership negotiations, which can take several years.

Albania and North Macedonia were meant to begin talks last year on joining the EU. French President Emmanuel Macron blocked the action and said he would continue to do so until the process for allowing countries into the 27-nation bloc had been reformed.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama hailed the decision to launch membership negotiations as "beautiful news, though delayed not because of us."

North Macedonia, previously known as Macedonia, has been a candidate for EU membership since 2005, but a long-running dispute with Greece over the country's name stood in the way of accession negotiations. The two neighbors struck a deal for Macedonia to rename itself North Macedonia in exchange for Greece dropping its objections to the country joining the EU.

8 in Germany convicted of far-right plot

BERLIN -- A court in eastern Germany has convicted eight extremists who were accused of planning to violently overthrow the state.

The regional court in Dresden on Tuesday convicted one of the men on a charge of forming a "terrorist organization" and the other seven of being members of the group, called Revolution Chemnitz.

Five of the men were also found guilty of serious breach of the peace, while one was convicted of bodily harm.

The court sentenced the defendants to prison terms that ranged from 27 months to 5½ years. The men are between 22 and 32 years old.

Federal prosecutors argued in court that the men tried to obtain firearms and plotted to overthrow the democratic order in Germany. They said the suspects were leading members of the neo-Nazi, skinhead and hooligan scene in the German city of Chemnitz.

3 Poles sentenced for '18 arson attack

WARSAW, Poland -- A court in southern Poland has convicted three Polish men of terrorism charges related to the torching of a Hungarian center in Ukraine in early 2018.

The court in Krakow sentenced two of the men to prison terms and one to supervised release and community service.

Ukrainian officials have suggested Russian links to the two attacks in February 2018. Ukraine's then-foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, said at the time that the attacks on the Hungarian center in Ukraine's western Transcarpathia region, where more than 100,000 ethnic Hungarians reside, were attempts to destabilize the country.

An armed conflict in Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland flared up in April 2014, weeks after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

The Hungarian center in the city of Uzhhorod was attacked with Molotov cocktails and partially destroyed by fire.

The group's leader, Michal Prokopowicz, 29, was given a three-year prison term. Tomasz Szymkowiak, 23, was sentenced to two years in prison. Both had pleaded not guilty. The third man, Adrian Marglewski, 26, cooperated with investigators and was given two years of supervised release and 40 hours of community service.

The verdict is subject to appeal.

Nigerian soldiers killed by extremists

MAIDGURI, Nigeria -- Boko Haram extremists killed at least 50 Nigerian soldiers in an ambush near Goneri village in northern Yobe state, according to military officials.

The attack, one of the deadliest against troops recently, came as the military tried to launch an offensive against the militants that began over the weekend, according to a military official with knowledge of the operation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the press about the matter.

Boko Haram militants inflicted heavy casualties by firing on the vehicles with rocket-propelled grenades and guns, he said. Those who survived are being treated at hospitals in Damaturu and Maiduguri.

A senior army officer also confirmed the attack, saying he lost a friend and calling it a huge setback for Nigeria's army.

The military did not respond immediately to requests for confirmation of the attack and death toll.

Boko Haram has killed tens of thousands in its 10-year insurgency in northern Nigeria.

A Section on 03/25/2020

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