BEIRUT -- Renewed clashes were reported Monday in the strategic Syrian city of Qusair, where government forces pressed an offensive aimed at chasing rebels from the supply and logistics hub.
There were conflicting accounts from the government and the opposition about the fighting.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency reported that army units "restored security and stability" to most of Qusair, which is situated close to the Lebanese border. The news service reported the surrender of dozens of “terrorists,” the standard government term for rebels fighting to oust the government of President Bashar Assad.
State media also reported the seizure of “huge amounts” of ammunition and improvised bombs, while troops were said to have destroyed tunnels used by rebels to hide and store arms.
Opposition activists said intense fighting continued Monday as rebels held off advancing government forces amid steady bombardment.
At least 90 people have died in two days of fighting...
TEHRAN -- Elections are scheduled in Iran for June 14, the first presidential balloting since the disputed 2009 vote. Iran’s Guardian Council, an oversight body, is expected to release the list of vetted candidates this week. The Times sought out the views of several Iranians as the country awaits the final list of candidates.
Rafsanjani supporter: “Freedom should be sacrificed for bread”
A book seller, a lifelong advocate for individual rights, says now is not the moment to fret about such existential concerns.
“I am not as worried about freedom of speech as I was when I was younger,” explains Hamid Tabrizian, 65, a compact man with a protruding belly, seated in his cluttered shop in a busy arcade amid stacks of secondhand books and magazines, many from before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“Now, we need bread and business to create jobs for these huge numbers of unemployed people,” adds Tabrizian, offering a visitor steaming tea and a seat on a...
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A suicide bomb blast killed a top leader of a northern Afghan province and at least 12 other people Monday, the latest in a step-up of attacks by Taliban insurgents ahead of Washington’s planned troop withdrawal at the end of 2014.
The attack occurred in the city of Pul-e-Khumri at the offices of Mohammad Rasoul Mohseni, chief of the Baghlan provincial council, a government body akin to a legislature, said Mahmood Haqmal, spokesman for the Baghlan governor’s office.
The bomber came on foot to the building, pushed through Mohseni’s bodyguards and detonated his explosives-filled vest as he entered the compound, he said.
Along with Mohseni, six of his bodyguards and six civilians were killed. Nine other people were injured in the attack, Haqmal said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai called the attack “a cowardly act against all Islamic teachings and human values.” The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast.
Architect of exiting autocracy invited to the White House
Monday, May 20 -- Myanmar President Thein Sein’s visit to Washington symbolically celebrates his nation’s embrace of democracy and the rule of law after half a century of dictatorship.
While Sein has overseen impressive progress on reform since his April 2011 election, he is likely to receive a challenging still-to-do list from his U.S. hosts.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, remains mired in ethnic and religious strife and beset by persistent tensions over the pace and scope of reform. Hundreds have been killed in clashes between the military-backed Buddhist majority and Rohingya Muslims and Kachin Christians.
Hundreds of thousands more have fled their homes to escape the violence. Human Rights Watch has accused the government of condoning “a campaign of ethnic cleansing.”
Despite the considerable deficiencies in Myanmar’s post-dictatorship development, the Obama administration has made reconciliation...
BEIJING -- A Chinese fishing boat was seized by armed North Koreans who are demanding a ransom of nearly $100,000 for the release of the ship and 16 Chinese crew members.
The Chinese Communist Party's Global Times newspaper suggested in Monday's editions that the capture of the boat might have been in retaliation for Chinese support of U.N. sanctions on North Korea.
The ship, known as Liaoning Ship No. 25222, was seized May 5 while fishing off the coast of the eastern city of Dalian, but the incident was not publicized due to ongoing negotiations with the captors.
The boat's owner, Yu Xuejun, who is based in Dalian, has been posting increasing desperate messages on a microblog account since Saturday. On Monday morning, he wrote that a deadline had been set for 5 p.m. Monday and that he had spoken by telephone to the captain.
"My captain called me. His voice was shaking. I can feel that he is really scared. ... I fear our crew has been tortured. I can’t imagine what the North...
BEIRUT — Syrian government forces launched a long-planned offensive early Sunday on the strategic city of Qusair and neighboring rebel-controlled villages near the Lebanese border, with heavy shelling that began shortly after midnight, according to opposition and pro-regime accounts.
The attack comes after a period of relative calm in the area, opposition supporters said, but may be a prelude to a larger ground offensive by Syrian army units and Hezbollah fighters coming from neighboring Lebanon, where the Shiite militant group is based.
There was no confirmation Sunday from Hezbollah that its militiamen were involved in the battle to retake Qusair, which has been in rebel hands for more than a year.
Pro-government media reports said President Bashar Assad's troops had entered the town in Homs province, long a rebel stronghold.
Accounts of the fighting in Syria are difficult to verify independently because the government restricts access by international journalists, and the...
BERLIN — Family archives belonging to a descendant of the composer Richard Wagner are expected to be passed to the German government soon, opening access to researchers who have long sought to shed light on their links to the Nazi regime.
With the 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth coming Wednesday, the composer’s great-granddaughter, Katharina Wagner, pledged the “prompt” release of family letters. He was born May 22, 1813.
Although the contents of the letters are unknown, their release raises the prospect of revelations about the degree to which the Wagners admired and colluded with the Nazis.
The letters belonged to Katharina's father, the late Wolfgang Wagner, a former member of the Hitler Youth who ran the Bayreuth festival dedicated to the hallowed German composer from 1951 to 2008. He died in 2010.
During the Nazi era, the festival was run by Wolfgang’s British-born mother, Winifred, who was a close friend of Hitler’s. Several Jewish...
CAIRO — The families and colleagues of seven Egyptian soldiers who were kidnapped last week in North Sinai kept Egypt’s borders with the Gaza Strip closed Sunday for the third day in a row.
Nearly 170 demonstrators have gathered inside the walls of the Rafah border crossing to demand the hasty rescue of the seven, vowing to remain in place and increase in numbers until their return.
“We swore we would not open this crossing or leave this place until these soldiers come back, whether dead or alive,” said Osama Ali, one of the officers participating in the sit-in. “We have enough amenities, food and water that would last us a month even if they close down the port with us inside.”
Local news reports said the soldiers’ captors, who have not been officially identified, are demanding that the authorities release at least six fellow tribesmen convicted for an attack on the Arish city police station in July 2011. The soldiers were abducted Thursday...
JERUSALEM — Fears about a possible escalation of violence between Israel and Syria grew Sunday amid renewed Israeli threats to destroy Syrian weapons caches and Syria's warnings of retaliation.
After decades of relative calm along the two nations’ borders, some Israeli officials say tensions with Syria have reached one of the highest points since the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
During a Cabinet meeting Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would continue to act to prevent Syria’s advanced weapons from falling into the hands of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah or other organizations deemed to be terrorists.
“The Middle East is in one of its most sensitive periods in decades with the escalating upheaval in Syria,’’ Netanyahu said. “We are monitoring the changes there closely and are prepared for any scenario.”
Israel has been accused of launching three air strikes this year against Syrian weapons stockpiles and...
PARIS -- French President Francois Hollande on Saturday signed a law allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt, after months of sometimes violent protests and the vehement opposition of the country's Roman Catholic Church leaders.
The controversial legislation finally passed into the statute books after the country's Constitutional Council rejected a challenge from a right-wing opposition party on Friday, the International Day Against Homophobia.
Officials told journalists they expect the first same-sex marriages to take place toward the end of the month.
“I have taken the decision; this is the law of the republic, it is time to respect it,” Hollande said Saturday. “I want the law to apply throughout the land, in full, and I will not accept any disruption of these marriages.”
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault used Twitter to express his pleasure at the bill becoming law. “I wish all future couples great happiness,” he tweeted.
Jean-Francois Cope of...
BEIJING -- North Korea's latest missile launch comes after months of fiery rhetoric directed against South Korea, Japan and the United States, including threats of an imminent nuclear war.
The provocations eased with the conclusion of annual joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States at the end of April, although fresh naval drills this month prompted renewed warnings from the North.
The three missiles fired off North Korea's east coast Saturday were short-range surface-to-ship or surface-to-surface missiles, rather than the new medium-range Musudan missile that analysts feared could threaten U.S. troops in Okinawa or Guam, according to an initial assessment by the South Korean Defense Ministry.
Short-range missile tests are quite common by the North Korean regime, and Saturday's launch might have been a face-saving move by Pyongyang, which is under intense international scrutiny concerning its next move.
"By launching the short-range missile, the North wouldn't...
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A police chief who had stood up repeatedly to the Taliban was shot and killed in a drive-by attack by four insurgents on motorcycles, officials said Saturday.
The police chief, Abdul Ghani, was leaving his driveway in his car around 8 p.m. Friday when the attackers rode up on two motorcycles and opened fire, officials said.
He was badly wounded in the shooting and died on the way to the hospital, said Abdul Rahman Zhowandai, a spokesman for the governor of Farah province.
Ghani recently led an anti-Taliban campaign in Farah province, including a crackdown against insurgents in his district of Khaki Safad that resulted in several Taliban leaders being captured and killed. That effort was probably why the Taliban targeted him, officials said.
At the launch of the Taliban’s spring offensive late last month, the group said it would target foreign troops and diplomatic targets. The Taliban and the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin -- an affiliate militant group responsible...
BEIJING -- North Korea fired three short-range missiles off its east coast Saturday, following through on months of threats to conduct a missile launch.
The South Korean Defense Ministry reported that it detected two launches in the morning and another in the afternoon. Its initial assessment was that the missiles were short-range surface-to-ship or surface-to-surface missiles with a range of about 72 miles, and not the new medium-range Musudan missile that analysts feared could threaten U.S. troops in Okinawa or Guam."All missiles launched fell into the sea," a Defense Ministry official was quoted telling the country’s official Yonhap news service. He also speculated that the launches were part of a military exercise.
North Korea had been threatening for months to test-fire the Musudan missile, which it had installed on a launcher on the east coast. But the missile -- as yet untested -- was taken away earlier this month without explanation.The shorter-range missiles might have...
ROME -- The Moroccan-born dancer at the center of Silvio Berlusconi’s prostitution trial took the stand in court for the first time Friday, describing how female guests at Berlusconi’s so-called bunga-bunga parties stripped to their underwear and dressed up as nuns, nurses and even Barack Obama.
Karima el Mahroug, better known by her stage name Ruby the Heartstealer, was giving evidence at the trial of three associates of the former Italian prime minister who are accused of procuring prostitutes for him. Berlusconi is on trial separately on charges of paying Mahroug for sex when she was 17, a crime in Italy, as well as trying to cover up the alleged crime.
During six hours of testimony, Mahroug said that Nicole Minetti, a regional councilor who is one of the accused, dressed as a nun at a party at Berlusconi’s mansion near Milan before stripping to her underwear. Marystelle Polanco, a model, dressed as Obama and Ilda Boccassini, the magistrate who has since brought...
BOGOTA, Colombia — The Organization of American States said Friday that countries should consider decriminalizing drug use, a shift backed by several Latin American leaders but opposed by the United States.
Decriminalization could be one of many “transitional methods” in a public health strategy that could include “drug courts, substantive reduction in sentences and rehabilitation,” according to a report released by the OAS on the possible liberalization of drug polices.
The report, presented by OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza in Bogota, was commissioned during the April 2012 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, in response to many leaders’ complaints that U.S.-driven drug prohibition policies of recent decades had failed to stem the illicit drug business.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he favored discussion of the decriminalization or legalization of drugs as a way to try to curb illicit drug use and trafficking.
BAGHDAD — Bombings in Iraq near a Sunni Muslim mosque, a busy shopping street and a funeral procession left at least 70 people dead Friday as the security situation continued to show signs of unraveling.
The explosions brought the week’s death toll to more than 110. That followed the killing of 712 people in April, which according to the United Nations was the deadliest month in Iraq since June 2008.
The bloodshed has increased as the country undergoes its biggest political test since the departure of U.S. troops in late 2011. Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s policies and dominance have alienated Kurdish and Sunni Arab political parties as well as rival groups of fellow Shiites. The nation’s Sunni minority for four months has mounted antigovernment protests.
The war in neighboring Syria has only complicated Iraq’s domestic disputes.
Sectarian tension among Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni elite has soared in the absence of compromise on the issues raised by...
NEW DELHI -- Some 20 political prisoners were released in Myanmar on Friday, just days before a a historic summit between the country's leader and President Obama in Washington, officials and prisoner rights groups said.
President Thein Sein will be the first leader of Myanmar to visit Washington since 1966. In November, Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Myanmar.
Zaw Htay, a senior official in Thein Sein's office, said on social media that the prisoner release was not timed to next week's visit but instead showed that the president was determined to offer an “inclusive political process."
It follows a similar pardon of prisoners last month, a day after the European Union agreed to halt most economic sanctions against Myanmar.
Since coming to power, Thein Sein's government has eased media controls, allowed Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to run for political office and released hundreds of political prisoners.
Human rights groups said the nation’s...
MEXICO CITY -- Same-sex marriage is legal in this city. Gay and lesbian couples can adopt children, and the government touts tolerance and respect for "sexual diversity" in messages posted on subway platforms and bus billboards.
Yet, according to Jonathan Zamora, a 31-year-old psychologist, the advancement of gay rights in Mexico's capital in recent years conceals an ugly, persistent problem: unchecked discrimination and violence in what is, on paper at least, one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world.
Early on March 15, Zamora alleges, he was detained while walking home by police who beat and jailed him for hours.
Zamora says he was not drinking in public, was fully clothed and only blocks from his door after a night out with friends. When he asked officers why he was stopped, Zamora says one of them told him it was for being gay, using a Mexican slur for homosexuals.
When Zamora reached his home later that afternoon -- bruised and without his belongings, which he said were...
BEIRUT -- Three United Nations observers posted in the buffer zone between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights were seized by armed anti-government forces and held for five hours this week before being released unharmed, the U.N. said.
It marked the third time this year that U.N. personnel along the Golan Heights had been abducted, highlighting how the Syrian conflict has been destabilizing the region. All so far have been released unharmed.
The U.N. Security Council on Thursday “strongly condemned” the latest kidnapping, which it blamed on “anti-government armed elements” who detained the three observers and “looted” a U.N. observation post a day earlier.
Also this month, five peacekeepers were seized and held for five days before being released at the Israeli border. In March, 21 peacekeepers were carjacked and detained for three days.
In the two earlier cases, a rebel group, the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, took responsibility for the...
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Security forces in Nigeria have launched airstrikes against encampments of the Islamist militia Boko Haram as part of a major military operation in the country's northeast, military officials said Friday.
The airstrikes hit one of the main rebel bases, in the Sambisa Forest Reserve south of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, according to military officials cited by news agencies.
The Nigerian military have also sent several thousand soldiers to the area in recent days.
Brig. Gen. Chris Olukolade told the Agence France-Presse news service Friday that the air attacks began two days ago. Fighter jets and helicopter gunships are involved in the operation. It was not clear how many people, including Boko Haram fighters, died in the attacks.
"A number of insurgents have been killed. It is not just Sambisa, every camp is under attack. But we have not done the mopping-up operations on the ground to determine the numbers killed," Olukolade told Reuters news...
TEHRAN — Iran’s next president will not be a woman.
No surprise there, but a senior religious figure, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, made it official in comments Wednesday to a group of clerics and theology students, according to the conservative Mehr news agency.
The ayatollah shot down the argument that Iran’s constitution is sufficiently vague on the point to open the door to a female president of the Islamic Republic.
“Women cannot be president,” the ayatollah declared.
More than 30 women are among the almost 700 Iranians who have signed up as potential presidential candidates in June 14 balloting. But the actual number of candidates will be reduced significantly through a strict vetting process, based on criteria such as loyalty to the Islamic Republic, religious standing and experience.
Yazdi, a hard-line cleric from the holy city of Qom, sits on the powerful Guardian Council, a panel of 12 clerics and jurists that vets office-seekers. He is one of six...
MOSCOW -- Russian officials on Friday defended the country’s weapons sales to Syria, saying the country is primarily providing defense systems that are in line with international treaties.
Responding to news reports that Russia has sent advanced anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he did not understand why the media were making an issue of the sales.
“We haven’t concealed that we have been supplying weapons to Syria based on signed contracts without violating any international treaties or Russian legislation, one of the strictest in the world in terms of export control,” Lavrov said at a news conference at the Black Sea resort area of Sochi after meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“We are primarily supplying defensive weapons, antiaircraft systems,” he continued, weapons that he said “don’t upset the balance of forces in the region and don’t create advantages in the...
The bombings occurred in the village of Baz Darrah in the Malakand region, a rugged, mountainous area just west of Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The bombs were detonated just as locals had arrived at the mosques for Friday afternoon prayers, said Malakand Deputy Commissioner Amjad Ali.
Investigators were still trying to determine how the bombs were detonated, Ali said. No group had claimed responsibility for the blasts, but suspicion was likely to fall on the Pakistani Taliban, the insurgent group behind hundreds of suicide bombings and terror attacks that have killed thousands of Pakistanis in recent years.
In the past, militants have struck at mosques known to be attended by leaders of anti-Taliban militias, government officials or security personnel. But police have yet to uncover a motive for the Malakand...
A 100-day-old hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay prison for suspected terrorists has agitated international human rights advocates anew, prompting fresh calls worldwide for closure of the detention center that President Obama vowed to shutter more than three years ago.
The European Parliament, the United Nations’ human rights commissioner, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and U.S.-allied governments with citizens stuck in indefinite detention have stepped up criticism of conditions they see as driving desperate captives to starve themselves.
In spite of obstacles thrown up by Congress and defenders of the offshore anti-terrorism operations, changing politics in the Islamic world may give Obama a new chance to make good on his overdue promise.
Most of the 166 men still imprisoned at the U.S. naval base in southern Cuba are Yemenis -- at least 88, by the Yemeni government’s count, plus a few Saudis of Yemeni descent. Of the 86 prisoners approved by a...
New video surfaced on the Internet on Thursday purporting to show Syrian rebel fighters killing 11 prisoners they accused of taking part in massacres by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.
It was the latest of many grisly videos that have spotlighted the growing sectarianism and brutality on both sides of a conflict that has killed at least 80,000 people since 2011, according to new United Nations estimates.
Another video circulating on the Internet appears to show a Syrian rebel commander mutilating the corpse of a dead soldier while shouting sectarian insults, drawing condemnation this week from New York-based Human Rights Watch.
It was among the most graphic evidence yet of the difficulties faced by Western leaders who are weighing whether to provide more robust support for the Syrian opposition, which includes extremist elements.
The Times could not independently verify the contents of these and other videos posted on the Internet. The U.N. pulled out its observers last year,...
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions against the Syrian government Thursday, blacklisting four senior officials, a private television station that it said had colluded with Syrian authorities and an airline it accused of delivering weapons from Iran.
The state-owned Syrian Arab Airlines carried mortar rounds, small arms, rockets and light antiaircraft guns aboard cargo flights to Syria on behalf of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's elite Quds Force, U.S. officials said.
The TV station, Al Dunya, allegedly provided Syrian intelligence with videotaped interviews of people who criticized the regime, which used the tapes to make arrests, the Treasury Department said. The station later aired interviews with detainees in the town of Harasta who had been tortured into making false confessions, U.S. officials said.
The four Syrian officials added to the sanctions list were Defense Minister Fahd Jassem Freij, Health Minister Saad Nayef, Industry Minister Adnan Sukhni...
JERUSALEM -- Thousands of young ultra-Orthodox men protested Thursday night against a government proposal to, for the first time, draft them into the military.
More than 20,000 protesters gathered at an Israel Defense Forces recruiting office in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Some threw stones at police and set garbage cans on fire, according to a police spokesman. Others carried signs condemning government “edicts” and saying, “Your fate is in your hands.”
“We say ‘no’ to the enlistment of yeshiva students, even if all of us will be forced to go to jail en masse,’’ protest spokesman Pini Rosenberg told the Israeli news website Ynet.
Plans to draft ultra-Orthodox are being debated by a committee set up by Israel’s new coalition government. Most ultra-Orthodox avoid military service, but the law that in effective exempted them from the army was voided last year by Israel’s Supreme Court, which said it was...
WASHINGTON--President Obama on Thursday ruled out any unilateral U.S action in response to the alleged Syrian use of chemical weapons, further reducing the chance of any forceful response to the crossing of what Obama had described as a “red line.”
At a news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president, responding to a question about how he would react to conclusive evidence that the Assad regime had used such weapons, portrayed the issue as a challenge for world powers collectively, rather than his administration alone.
Obama reiterated his long-standing position that "the use of chemical weapons are something that the civilized world has recognized should be out of bounds."
"But," he added, "this is also an international problem, and it's very much my hope to continue to work with all the various parties involved, including Turkey, to find a solution that brings peace to Syria, stabilizes the region, stabilizes those chemical weapons. But...
LONDON – Four hackers who pleaded guilty to a series of high-profile cyberattacks on computers in the U.S. and Britain, including those of the CIA and Sony Pictures, were sentenced Thursday to up to 32 months in prison.
The four men, all Britons, were members of the hacking group LulzSec, which flaunted its ability to break into the high-security computer networks of such targets as the United States Senate.
In 2011, the group claimed responsibility for hacking into the systems of PBS, media baron Rupert Murdoch’s News International and the U.S. Air Force, among other targets. The attacks caused websites to crash and also resulted in the online publication of people’s credit card numbers and private email addresses.
Authorities say that the incidents inflicted serious harm on the companies’ and agencies’ reputations and financial damage of more than $30 million.
“The actions of these LulzSec hackers were cowardly and vindictive,” said Andrew...
BEIJING -- Surrounded and pushed back by police, hundreds of people shouted and marched again in the southern China city of Kunming to protest the construction of a petrochemical plant.
It was the second time this month that demonstrators gathered in large numbers to display their concerns in Kunming, a provincial capital, in what has become a familiar scene in China as citizens demand more accountability for decisions affecting the environment.
The protest crowds Thursday were estimated to number as many as 2,500. Scores of uniformed and riot police looked on and sometimes scuffled with demonstrators, according to photos taken at the scene and comments posted on China's social media. The rally was mostly peaceful but did not disperse until early evening, shortly after the mayor appeared and addressed the protesters.
Kunming officials have said that the refinery project by the state-owned giant China National Petroleum Corp. will meet environmental standards, but the city and company...
KABUL, Afghanistan – The death toll from a powerful suicide car bomb that shook the Afghan capital of Kabul on Thursday morning has increased to 15, including two American troops and four foreign civilian contractors, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.
The attack took place about 8 a.m., said Gen. Mohammad Daud Amin, deputy chief of Kabul police, a time when many people were commuting to work. A suicide bomber in a Toyota Corolla pulled up beside a NATO convoy, Police Chief Mohammad Ayob Salangi said.
Nine civilians were killed and 35 wounded, according to the Afghan Health Ministry. Local authorities said several of the dead were women and children.
Footage of the scene showed the road scattered with debris from torn-apart vehicles in front of several damaged or destroyed houses. Firefighters and police officers were shown combing the wreckage and tending to the injured.
John Manley, a spokesman for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led coalition, said the six foreign...
TAIPEI, Taiwan — The killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippines' coast guard has spiraled into a series of sanctions and sparked a rare anger-fest threatening the normally solid Pacific Rim alliance.
The dispute has not eased despite Philippine President Benigno Aquino III's formal apology Wednesday for the death of the 65-year-old fisherman, a statement that came after two deadlines set by Taiwan to say sorry or suffer consequences had passed.
Taiwanese Premier Jiang Yi-huah called the apology insincere because it didn’t cast the incident in overlapping ocean economic zones of the Luzon Strait as an intentional act.
Philippine authorities admitted last week that one of their coast guard ships opened fire May 9 on the Taiwanese fisherman's vessel, but said they had done so to prevent their own ship from being rammed and only intended to disable the engine.
Taipei recalled its ambassador, froze new applications for Filipinos seeking work in Taiwan and told 88,000...
MADRID -- In another blow to Spain's scandal-plagued royal family, a judge Thursday cleared the way for a new investigation into King Juan Carlos' youngest daughter, rejecting her appeal to have her tax returns shielded from further scrutiny.
The princess, Infanta Cristina, was initially subpoenaed to testify in an investigation of her husband, a former Olympic handball champion who is accused of embezzling millions of dollars in public funds. Cristina, 47, last month became the first direct descendant of a Spanish monarch to be summoned to appear before a criminal court, though the decision was later reversed.
Now the same judge on the Spanish island of Mallorca has approved a fresh probe into the princess' affairs. Cristina had submitted 10 years of tax returns to officials investigating her husband. After she was cleared of suspicion in her husband's case and her subpoena dropped, the royal couple filed an appeal to block any further scrutiny of her tax filings. But Judge José...
BAGHDAD — Car bombs struck Shiite neighborhoods of the Iraqi capital and a northern city Thursday, killing 16 people, while gunmen in Baghdad shot dead the brother of a Sunni lawmaker, officials said.
The attacks followed a wave of bombings Wednesday that also mainly struck Shiite neighborhoods, killing 33 people and raising concerns over a return to the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq.
Baghdad police said the first of Thursday's bombings hit a bus and taxi stop during the morning rush hour in the city's eastern Sadr City neighborhood. Nine people were killed, including a 7-year-old child, and 16 were wounded in that attack, two officers said.
Another car bomb hit a small market at a taxi stop in Baghdad's eastern suburb of Kamaliya, killing three civilians and wounding 14 others there, the officers said.
And in the capital's northern Chikouk district, two civilians were killed and 10 were wounded when a car bomb missed a police patrol that was passing through, two other police...
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A powerful suicide car bomb rocked Kabul on Thursday, killing six foreigners and at least six Afghan civilians, according to local officials.
The attack took place around 8 a.m., a time when many people in the Afghan capital were commuting to work. Six civilians were killed and 35 wounded, said Gen. Mohammad Daud Amin, deputy chief of the Kabul police. Other officials said as many eight people were killed.
Mohammad Ayob Salangi, Kabul’s police chief, said the attack occurred when a suicide bomber in a Toyota Corolla pulled up beside a NATO convoy.
John Manley, a spokesman for the NATO-led international coalition, said the six foreign deaths were two troops and four civilian contractors. He added that it wasn’t immediately clear who was targeted in the blast, which remained under investigation.
In a statement, U.S. military contractor DynCorp International confirmed that the four deceased civilian contractors and three of the wounded were its employees....
In the 65 years since the creation of Israel and the scattering of millions of Palestinians from their historic homeland, hope of resolving the core crisis of the Middle East has risen to joyous pinnacles like Camp David and crashed into despair with deadly outbreaks of violence and bloodshed.
When Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in 2009 launched a two-year program to build up the economy and institutions of democratic rule, his vow to show the world that Palestine was ready for statehood inspired filmmakers Dan Setton of Jerusalem and Elise Pearlstein of Los Angeles to document his mission.
The film, “State 194,” blends scenes of grass-roots activism by idealistic young bloggers and pacifist groups like Parents Circle and J Streetwith Fayyad’s diligent work to build a state from the ground up. It is a chronicle that captures popular yearning for an enduring peace as well as frustration with political leaders on both sides who have repeatedly...
WASHINGTON -- A Chinese military unit that a private U.S. computer security company accused of launching more than 115 cyber attacks against American companies over seven years has resumed hacking after a three-month hiatus, the firm’s chief security officer said Wednesday.
The clandestine army unit, known as Unit 61398, “went quiet for a while -- they changed the nature of their activities, they removed some of the tools that they had been using inside of different companies,” said Richard Bejtlich of Mandiant, which specializes in defending companies from cyber attacks and purging malware from computer networks that have been breached.
“But over the course of the last several weeks it seems they are trying to ramp back up.... They seem to be trying to get back into some of their old targets,” he said.
Bejtlich’s remarks to the Center for National Policy, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, came as the Obama administration weighs how to respond...
MEXICO CITY -- He’s got to be wishing that his daughter had just ordered takeout and gone home.
The head of Mexico's consumer protection agency, Humberto Benitez Treviño, was fired Wednesday by President Enrique Peña Nieto, nearly three weeks after Benitez's daughter sparked a restaurant scandal that made her Internet infamous and sparked a national conversation about the petulance and lingering sense of entitlement of the Mexican ruling classes.
On April 26, Andrea Benitez Gonzalez tried to score a table at one of Mexico City's hottest restaurants, Maximo Bistrot, during the Friday lunch rush, even though she didn't have a reservation. When the staff refused to give her the table she wanted, she threatened to call her father and have the place shut down, according to reports.
Soon, inspectors from the agency, known by its Spanish acronym, Profeco, arrived and alleged that Maximo Bistrot had violated rules regarding reservation policies and the labeling of some of the mescal...
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration said Wednesday that it would add more sanctions on Iran in an effort to dissuade Tehran from continuing its nuclear program, but stopped short of backing tough new penalties that lawmakers are considering.
Wendy Sherman, undersecretary of State for political affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the administration would attempt to tighten pressure on Iran in coming months by seeking to further shrink world demand for the country's oil and make it harder for Tehran to collect foreign currency or precious metals as payment for its petroleum exports.
Sherman said the administration viewed some of Congress’ proposals on Iran favorably, but she did not specifically endorse them. She said further discussion was needed between administration officials and lawmakers.
Washington and its allies have already imposed sanctions on Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, its oil and gas industry, its insurance, banking and...
MOSCOW --The arrest and expulsion of a U.S. Embassy official this week for allegedly attempting, in a ham-handed way, to recruit a Russian intelligence officer was the second such case this year, Russian state television reported Wednesday.
The earlier arrest took place in January, when an embassy official identified as Benjamin Dillon was arrested “in the attempt to recruit a special services officer,” Rossiya-1 TV reported in an interview with a man identified as an officer of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the main successor agency to the Soviet KGB. The officer was not identified and his face was hidden in shadow. He said Dillon was a CIA agent.
“We decided not to make it public and asked this operative to leave the country, which he did,” the officer said. “The number of CIA agents who are conducting work against our country has not decreased since the end of the Cold War.”
A U.S. spokesman, Joseph Kruzich, said the embassy would have no...
RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Palestinians held rallies and protests Wednesday to commemorate 65 years of what has come to be known as the “nakba,” or catastrophe, a reference to their displacement in the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948.
Thousands of Palestinians rallied in several West Bank and Gaza cities, and others clashed with Israeli soldiers at contact points.
Medics said dozens of Palestinians were treated for either tear gas inhalation, minor injuries from rubber-coated metal bullets fired by Israeli soldiers or beatings at various locations in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, and war with the Arab states began that night. Over the following months, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian inhabitants fled or were expelled from their homes as fighting raged throughout the country. Palestinians have adopted May 15 as Nakba Day, their commemoration of the event.
The largest rally this year was held in Ramallah, the de facto capital...
JERUSALEM -- The International Criminal Court will hold a preliminary inquiry to decide whether a full investigation into Israel's deadly 2010 raid on a Turkish ship will be opened, according to a court statement Tuesday.
In May 2010, Israeli naval commandos intercepted the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish vessel that was the lead ship in a flotilla seeking to break the naval blockade Israel imposed on the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip.
The incident turned violent and nine activists aboard the ship, mostly Turks, were killed. The clash dealt a near-fatal blow to relations between Israel and Turkey, onetime allies who were already at odds over Israel's Gaza policies.
The rupture was eased by President Obama during his visit to Israel in March, when he brokered a phone call between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
Netanyahu's apology led to a reconciliation process still underway, as Israel and Turkish delegates negotiate issues of Israeli...
PARIS -- Beleaguered French President Francois Hollande suffered a further setback in his attempts to pull France out of its economic slump after official figures showed Wednesday that the country has entered a double-dip recession.
Figures released by the country's National Statistics and Economic Study Institute showed that gross domestic product in the European Union's second-largest economy contracted 0.2% in the first quarter of 2013, matching a decline in the last quarter of 2012. A recession is defined as two successive quarters of negative growth.
It's the second time in the last five years that France has fallen into recession. The first was in 2008-2009.
The bad news came exactly a year to the day after Hollande of the Socialist Party took office and just two months after the number of French unemployed hit an all-time record in March.
Hollande traveled to Brussels on Wednesday to request an extra two years to reduce France's budget deficit to the European Union's limit of 3% of...
Just when it seemed that Russia was poised to collaborate with Western powers on a new peace mission for Syria, a spy scandal has erupted to revive Cold War-era mistrust and division.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had agreed barely a week ago to use their respective influence with Syrian President Bashar Assad and the rebels fighting him to convene face-to-face negotiations.
On Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron told President Obama that he found "common ground" with the Kremlin on the Syria crisis during his Moscow visit late last week. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Moscow on Tuesday, urged President Vladimir Putin to hold off on delivery to Assad of sophisticated missiles that could encourage him to spurn the peace talks and fight on.
The converging interests on Syria provided some reprieve from a spiraling decline in U.S.-Russian relations in recent months and rekindled hope of a long-sought "reset" in...
BEIJING -- A senior aide to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived Tuesday in North Korea, but neither country gave a reason for the unannounced visit that followed weeks of high tension in the region over the North's nuclear and missile tests.
The sudden trip by Isao Iijima touched off speculation in the Japanese media that Abe was seeking to revive the long-standing issue of North Korea's abduction of Japanese citizens, as well as perhaps to prepare the stage for a visit to Pyongyang by the prime minister.
Japan and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations, and intergovernmental talks between the two sides were suspended after the North launched a long-range rocket in December, followed by a nuclear weapons test in February.
The Japanese government provided no explanation for Iijima's visit. Japan's Kyodo News agency showed video footage of the aide arriving in Pyongyang and being received by someone identified as Kim Chol Ho, vice director of the North Korean Foreign Ministry'...
BEIRUT -- Gruesome video footage purportedly showing a Syrian rebel commander mutilating the corpse of a dead soldier while shouting sectarian insults has drawn condemnation from Human Rights Watch and focused renewed attention on battlefield atrocities in Syria.
A statement by the New York-based rights group cites a video circulating widely on the Internet that appears to show the insurgent leader using a knife to cut the heart and liver from the corpse and then putting the heart in his mouth.
“I swear to God, soldiers of Bashar, you dogs — we will eat your heart and livers!” the commander declares while brandishing the organs, directing his macabre message to Syrian President Bashar Assad. “Oh my heroes of Baba Amr, you slaughter the Alawites and take their hearts out to eat them!”
He is referring to the Alawite Muslim sect, a minority in Syria whose members include Assad and many of his top security personnel. Most Syrian rebels are members of Syria&...
VATICAN CITY -- Centuries after it helped kick-start Western art, the Vatican is seeking to break back into the art world with its first-ever pavilion at the prestigious Venice Biennale. The display includes a very modern mix of photography and interactive works, as well as recycled materials used by an artist based partly in Los Angeles.
The eclectic mix was inspired by the biblical book of Genesis and commissioned by the Holy See in a bid to repair what church officials said Tuesday was a “fracture” between faith and art over the last century.
The Vatican, which in previous eras commissioned such glories as Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, experienced “an interrupted dialogue” with the art world in the 20th century, said Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture.
More recently, the Holy See's relationship with art has suffered because of works it regards as hostile to the Roman Catholic Church,...
NEW DELHI – A boat carrying approximately 100 Rohingya Muslims capsized late Monday off the coast of Myanmar with many of its occupants feared dead, UN officials said, as the region braced for a cyclone expected to slam low-lying areas inhabited by the embattled minority.
The boat apparently ran into some rocks off Pauktaw township in western Rakhine state and sank as people were evacuating, with approximately 40 passengers rescued and 60 still missing, said Ashok Nigam, United Nations director and resident coordinator in Myanmar, based on preliminary information.
The UN and Myanmar government have warned in recent days that Cyclone Mahasen, named after an ancient Sri Lankan king, could endanger large numbers of people living in vulnerable areas as early as Thursday or Friday.
On Monday, Myanmar state television reported that more than 5,000 people, including many Rohingya displaced by communal violence in June and October of last year, had been evacuated from makeshift camps to...
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Three international service members were killed by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, according to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
The soldiers were Americans, said Jawed Faisal, a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar province, who put the number of service members killed at four.
ISAF, following standard procedure, declined to provide the nationality of the troops pending notification of next of kin. A spokesman for the force in Kabul, asked about discrepancy in the number of dead, reiterated that three service members were killed "according to current reporting."
Their vehicle was struck by an explosion in the Zhari district of western Kandahar province about 3 p.m., Faisal said. He was not certain whether the vehicle had just entered or just left a fortified coalition base.
Insurgents have a strong presence in the province, the spiritual home of the Taliban. Over the past three years, according to an ISAF commander in...
BEIJING -- A U.S. consulate in China was forced to suspend some operations after an envelope was found containing a suspicious white power.
The envelope was discovered Monday by a staffer in the office that issues visas and handles American citizen services in the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou. The consulate posted a notice on its website saying that the office would be closed through Wednesday, but an official at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said it is possible that it will be longer.
"That office has temporarily suspended operations until an investigation is completed," Nolan Barkhouse, an embassy spokesman, said Tuesday. There was no indication anybody was injured by the substance in the envelope, he said, but "all precautionary measures have been taken for handling this kind of situation."
According to an article in the Yangcheng Evening News, the envelope was discovered in a staff section of the consulate not open to the public. A bag containing powder was broken and the substance...
MOSCOW -- Russia detained an American citizen accused of attempting to recruit a local intelligence officer into the CIA, the Federal Security Service said.
Ryan Christopher Fogle, the third secretary of the American Embassy in Moscow, was held overnight before being handed back to U.S. authorities Tuesday, according to the Federal Security Service, the Russian intelligence agency known as the FSB. He was carrying a large amount of money, technology, written instructions for the Russian recruit and appearance-changing equipment, the FSB website said.
The agency claimed that Fogle was working for the CIA. The CIA declined to comment, Associated Press reported.
Purported photographs of Fogle disguised in a blond wig and baseball hat were broadcast on the all-news Channel One. Equipment confiscated from him was said to include a recording device, blond and dark wigs, sunglasses, a knife and stacks of 500-euro notes.
The FSB released to Russian media a copy of a letter that Fogle was...
JERUSALEM -- Embarrassing disclosures about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s household spending habits are stoking public anger as Israelis brace for new government-approved austerity measures, including tax hikes and reduced social benefits.
A new report by the watchdog group Movement for Freedom of Information revealed that taxpayer-funded expenses to support Netanyahu’s three residences (one official and two private) rose in 2012 to nearly $1.5 million, up 80% compared with 2009.
Included in the 2012 expenses were $27,000 a month for cleaning (up 119% since 2009), $11,000 a month for food and hospitality (up 124%) and $1,450 a month for various personal expenses such as hairdressers and makeup (up 94%.)
Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying the expenses, including those for his seaside estate in the upscale community in Caesarea, were justified because they were “for official events held in the prime minister's home.”
But the disclosure comes...
NEW DELHI, India -- Thousands gathered Tuesday in the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza garment factory complex in Bangladesh to pray for the 1,127 victims who died in the ruins of the world’s worst apparel industry disaster.
Pictures taken at the Islamic prayer ceremony on the outskirts of the capital of Dhaka showed a rescue worker in yellow headgear affixing a red flag on the factory rubble.
Army crews, who have been working around the clock for almost three weeks, ended their cleanup-and-recovery operation early Tuesday morning, handing over responsibility to civil authorities.
Over 2,400 people were rescued alive, including Friday's miraculous recovery of a seamstress after 17 days in the rubble, but authorities say they still don’t know how many people were in the structure when it imploded.
The military said it believes that all bodies have been recovered. Nearly 100 people are still listed as missing, however, while about 60...
According to a news release issued Monday by the Mexico City attorney general’s office, the waiters, David Hernandez Cruz and Manuel Alejandro Perez de Jesus, worked at a bar called the Palace Club, where Shabazz and a friend had been drinking.
Prosecutors described the Palace Club as “a bar not frequented by tourists,” located near the Plaza Garibaldi, the famous square where visitors and Mexicans alike are serenaded by bands of roving mariachi musicians.
At 3 a.m. Thursday, the statement said, the waiters and two other individuals at the Palace Club demanded that the two visitors pay a $1,200 bar tab.
When they disputed the charge, Shabazz was beaten, and his friend, a labor leader named Miguel Suarez, was...
President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday pressed for a negotiated settlement in Syria, but acknowledged that diplomatic efforts to end more than two years of deadly violence might not be successful.
Speaking after a meeting at the White House, Cameron welcomed an agreement last week between Russia and the United States to try to bring Syria’s warring sides to the negotiating table, saying, “Syria's history is being written in the blood of her people, and it is happening on our watch.”
“There is now, I believe, common ground between the U.S., UK, Russia and many others,” Cameron told reporters. “Whatever our differences, we have the same aim: a stable, inclusive and peaceful Syria free from the scourge of extremism.”
At the same time, he said more needs to be done to support the opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Britain is pushing for greater flexibility in the European Union’s arms embargo and will...
NEW DELHI, India — The Bangladesh army announced Monday it would end its search for bodies in the rubble of a garment factory complex that collapsed nearly three weeks ago in a suburb of the capital, Dhaka.
Saying they believe they have found all the corpses, authorities placed the final death toll at or close to 1,127, making it the worst disaster in the history of the global apparel industry.
The eight-story Rana Plaza collapsed April 24th just before 9 a.m., leading to weeks of frantic rescue efforts as anguished relatives watched and waited under the hot sun.
The disaster has focused global attention on the desperate conditions for workers in Bangladesh making clothes for bargain-hungry Western consumers. On Monday, the Bangladesh government announced several proposed reforms, including the right to form labor unions.
Spirits were buoyed Friday when a 19-year old seamstress identified as Reshma was found aliveafter surviving 17 days under the rubble on crackers and small...
MEXICO CITY -- Mexican officials are preparing evacuation routes and shelters for tens of thousands of people who live in the shadow of Popocatepetl, a giant volcano 40 miles southeast of Mexico City.
"Popo," as the volcano is known, has displayed a "notable increase in activity levels" in the last few days, including tremors and explosive eruptions, according to a statement from the federal government.
Webcams have shown large chunks of molten rock spewing from the crater, and ash has rained down on the nearby city of Puebla. On Sunday, Mexico's National Center for Disaster Prevention elevated its warning level to "Yellow Phase 3," the fifth stage of a seven-stage warning scale.
At the next stage, the government warns, "there is danger. You and your family should be ready for evacuation."
The 17,887-foot Popocatepetl, which means "smoking mountain" in the Aztec language Nahuatl, dominates much of the landscape in central Mexico, along with its nearby "twin" volcano, the dormant...
LONDON – As he met in Washington with President Obama on Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron found himself on the defensive at home against members of his own party who want their country to withdraw from the 27-nation European Union as soon as possible.
Dozens of “Euroskeptic” Conservative lawmakers are backing a measure in Parliament on Wednesday expressing regret over Cameron’s failure to commit to legislation that would bind the government to calling a referendum for voters to weigh in on British participation in the EU. Although the proposal has little chance of passage, the criticism from his own side has heaped pressure on Cameron over an issue that threatens to convulse his party and endanger his leadership of it.
Meeting with Obama, Cameron defended his handling of the referendum issue.
"Look, there's not going to be a referendum tomorrow," he told reporters in a joint news conference with the president. "And there's a very good reason why...
ATHENS -- Greece’s ruling coalition threatened Monday to arrest public high school teachers if they walk off work later this week, a strike that would potentially disrupt university-entrance exams for thousands of students.
But the government's move only stoked the fury of civil servants, whose powerful union called for a nationwide strike Tuesday in sympathy with teachers protesting longer hours and looming job losses. The union also announced a four-hour work stoppage Thursday together with unions for private-sector employees; all told, the labor groups represent about half of Greece's 5-million-strong workforce.
The ruling coalition's "civil mobilization order" forbidding teachers to strike is the third such decree it has issued this year alone, although such emergency measures are normally reserved for natural disasters and other times of national crisis. Until this year, only 10 civil mobilization orders had been issued by successive Greek governments since the collapse of the...
RAIWIND, Pakistan — The Pakistani politician poised to become the country's next prime minister said Monday that Islamabad has “good relations” with the United States, but called the CIA's drone campaign in the country's tribal region a challenge to national sovereignty.
Nawaz Sharif spoke to reporters from his family's estate outside the eastern city of Lahore on Monday, two days after his Pakistan Muslim League-N party won a resounding victory in national elections.
His comments were the first indication since the vote about how he would approach relations with the U.S., a strategic ally with whom Pakistan has often been at odds.
Some of his rhetoric on the campaign trail suggested he could have a more adversarial relationship with Washington than the outgoing government. Sharif also was outspoken in his opposition to drone strikes, which are unpopular in Pakistan.
However, analysts caution that while such rhetoric sells on the campaign trail where anti-American...
Marcos dynasty enhancing its political comeback in the Philippines
Monday, May 13 -- Unrepentant over her role as treasure-squandering first lady, the widow of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos is poised for victory in Monday’s congressional elections to represent the Marcos family stronghold of Ilocos Norte province.
Imelda Marcos campaigned for reelection in ball gowns and jewels, visiting impoverished towns and villages in a flashy entourage that seems to have stirred little resentment over the country’s gaping social divide.
The Marcos family’s return to positions of power has been gaining momentum in recent years: Daughter Imee is governor of Ilocos Norte and son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Jr. has held a seat in the upper house of Congress since 2010.
That a family so reviled as to have spurred revolution has staged such a dramatic comeback may be explained by tradition and the passage of time more than political amnesia. With a median age of 23...
SHANGHAI — China is investigating a senior economic policymaker for alleged "serious disciplinary violations" — the highest-ranking central government official to be targeted in the new Chinese president's anti-corruption crackdown.
The investigation of Liu Tienan, a deputy director of the powerful National Development and Reform Commission, was reported Sunday by the Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, according to China's official news agency.
Although the commission provided no details, the terse statement came five months after accusations were made by a prominent Chinese investigative journalist that Liu had misrepresented his academic credentials and colluded with a private business for personal gain. The accusations were spelled out online by Luo Changping, deputy editor-in-chief of Caijing, a highly regarded financial magazine.
In addition to his post at the economic-planning ministry, which he has held since 2008, Liu was chief of...
JERUSALEM — Israeli officials said Sunday they were watching the Syrian border in the Golan Heights area with growing concern following the reported release of four U.N. peacekeepers held by Syrian rebels for five days.
The Israeli fear is that a deteriorating security situation will prompt countries to pull out their peacekeepers, leaving no buffer between Israeli and Syrian forces.
The officials said Croatian and Japanese troops have already left and they fear Filipinos and Austrians may be next. The four peacekeepers seized last week were Filipinos.
“We want them to stay,’’ said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. “They can’t prevent the war in Syria but they have an important role to play. If they disappear, it will just be Israel facing whatever or whoever is on the other side.”
Israel is also concerned about possible pullouts by U.N. troops monitoring the Lebanese border, where Hezbollah fighters have been reasserting themselves,...
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s overwhelming victory in parliamentary elections this weekend returns to power a seasoned politician who historically has had rocky ties with Pakistan’s powerful military and is viewed by many as soft on militants and extremist groups.
The expected showdown between Sharif, 63, and former cricket star Imran Khan never really materialized, as Sharif swept the elections and put himself in a position to become prime minister for an unprecedented third time.
With much of the vote counted, unofficial results had Sharif winning at least 46% of the seats in the National Assembly, according to Pakistani media projections. It was still unclear whether the final tally would give him an outright majority of seats, but his clear margin of victory meant he would easily be able to bring into his fold the handful of independent lawmakers and winning candidates from the country’s religious parties to form a government.
The strikes have stunned Turkey and exacerbated already-high tensions between the neighboring nations about the civil war raging inside Syria.
Turkish officials have publicly linked the bombings to Syria’s intelligence service -- a charge denied Sunday by Omran al-Zoubi, the Syrian information minister.
“No one has the right in Turkey to issue arbitrary accusations against Syria regarding the bombings,” Zoubi told reporters in Damascus. “Syria has not and will not conduct such behavior.”
Turkish authorities have arrested nine Turkish citizens in connection with the attack, Associated Press reported.
Behind the strikes was an unnamed organization close to the Syrian secret service, known as the mukhabarat, Turkish officials told reporters.
A rebel group reportedly said the four peacekeepers had been freed at the Israeli border. There was no immediate word from officials in Israel, which captured the strategic plateau from Syria in 1967.
The four were released unharmed, according to statements by military authorities in Manila, the Filipino capital.
A Syrian rebel group, the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, said the four had been held for their own safety amid shelling and clashes in the area between Syrian troops and rebels fighting to oust the government of President Bashar Assad.
The United Nations demanded the immediate release of its personnel.
It was the second time in recent months that Filipino peacekeepers had been seized by rebels in the Golan. In March, 21 Filipino peacekeepers were carjacked and abducted for three...
SHANGHAI -- Reflecting growing social tensions over China's high pollution, hundreds of demonstrators marched here Saturday to protest the building of a lithium-ion battery plant, while officials of another major Chinese city where people took to the streets recently over a chemical refinery said they might pull the project.
The Shanghai protest was the third in recent weeks since residents learned that Hefei Guoxuan High-Tech Power Energy Co. would construct a battery factory in the Songjiang district of this financial hub. Last month, a caravan of cars bearing green ribbons drove around the community to call attention to concerns that the plant would pollute the air and local water sources.
Video footage and photos of the march Saturday showed adults and children holding Chinese flags and signs depicting black smoke and saying, "No factory; we love Songjiang." Reuters news service estimated that the demonstration attracted 1,000 people, who walked peacefully while being watched by...
KABUL, Afghanistan – Diplomats from the United States and Afghanistan met formally Saturday for only the second time since the two countries inked a strategic partnership agreement a year ago as they sought to hammer out an agreement defining Washington’s 10-year commitment to the war-ravaged country.
A senior diplomat from each country spoke of progress Saturday, but the talks come at a time of tension over Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s public criticism of U.S. actions in Afghanistan as the NATO combat mission winds down.
The Afghan president has accused the U.S. of scheming to back his political opponents, and in a speech here Thursday, Karzai revealed confidential details of U.S.-Afghan security talks, saying the U.S. is seeking the use of nine military bases in Afghanistan after 2014 when the Western combat mission is scheduled to end.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns stressed in remarks before Saturday’s session that Washington is not backing...
BEIRUT — The death toll from a pair of car bombs Saturday in the southern Turkish town of Reyhanli has risen to at least 40, according to authorities and news reports, the latest apparent example of spillover violence from the conflict in nearby Syria.
More than 100 people were injured, with 29 in critical condition, the Turkish interior minister, Muammer Guler, told reporters.
The blasts reportedly caused panic in the town, where there have been tensions between Syrian refugees and Turkish residents. Reyhanli, in Hatay province, is just a few miles from the Syrian border and has been a magnet for Syrian refugees. The town is also a hub for Syrian rebels.
The midafternoon blasts were caused by a pair of bomb-laden cars, Guler told reporters. Other reports indicated that three or four bombs had detonated. The town's municipal building was heavily damaged, reports indicated.
The BBC quoted local media saying that, following the blasts, Turkish residents attacked Syrian refugees...
TEHRAN -- The run-up to Iran’s June presidential elections took a dramatic turn Saturday when two controversial figures -- former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, top aide to outgoing incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- made last-minute candidacy announcements.
Waiting until minutes before the five-day registration period concluded, Rafsanjani and Mashaei arrived via separate entrances at the Interior Ministry, where all would-be candidates were required to sign up by 6 p.m. Tehran time on Saturday.
After drawing cheers from rival groups of supporters gathered outside, scuffles then erupted between the two groups. Police were called in to restore order.
President Ahmadinejad accompanied Mashaei and the longtime friends held their hands aloft in a show of mutual support. Mashaei thanked the departing president, barred by term limits from running for a third term, for encouraging him to run.
Despite Saturday’s theatrics, neither of the two...
CAIRO — The retrial of former president Hosni Mubarak was postponed Saturday until June 8 after prosecutors told a Cairo criminal court that they intend to present new evidence of his responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of protesters during the uprising that toppled him in 2011.
Wearing brown-tinted shades and a white training suit, Mubarak, who also faces corruption charges, appeared in court for the hearing alongside his former interior minister, Habib Adli, and six ministry aides, as well as his sons Gamal and Alaa. The latter also are accused of financial corruption. Businessman Hussein Salem, currently in Spain, is also implicated.
Yousry Abdelrazek, the chief attorney of Mubarak’s volunteer defense team, questioned the veracity of the prosecution’s claims of having uncovered new evidence.
PHOTOS: Mubarak over the years
“What is this new evidence? A fact-finding committee’s report?” Abdelrazek said. “That’s not right because a...
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani government ordered the Islamabad bureau chief for the New York Times to leave the country on the eve of landmark parliamentary elections, according to the newspaper’s website.
Declan Walsh, 39, was told early Thursday morning that his visa was being canceled and that he had to leave the country within 72 hours, the paper’s website reported. A group of police delivered Walsh a letter from the Interior Ministry telling him that his visa was being revoked “in view of your undesirable activities.”
Pakistan’s parliamentary and provincial assembly elections on Saturday mark the first democratic transition of one civilian government to another in a country with a long history of military coups and political ousters.
Walsh has lived and worked in Pakistan for the last nine years. He worked for Britain’s Guardian newspaper as its Islamabad bureau chief before joining the New York Times in January 2012. The New York...
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — After a bloody campaign season marred by waves of bombings and candidate assassinations, Pakistanis turned out in large numbers Saturday to elect a new parliament in what is slated to be the first democratic transition of civilian governments in a country with a history of military coups and forced political ousters.
The new national assembly that comes out of Saturday’s elections has the responsibility of choosing a new prime minister and charting a course that would lead Pakistan out of economic stagnancy and militancy that has resulted in thousands of deaths in recent years.
Members of the newly formed parliament and the provincial assemblies also will decide in the fall whether to select a new president or retain incumbent Asif Ali Zardari, the latter an unlikely scenario if his Pakistan People’s Party performs poorly in Saturday’s polls. Zardari’s term ends in September.
The campaign became a two-way battle between the PML-N...
BEIRUT — A pair of car bombs left 18 dead and dozens injured in the southern Turkish town of Reyhanli, the latest apparent example of spillover violence from the conflict in nearby Syria, according to authorities and reports in the Turkish press.
The blasts reportedly caused panic in the town, where there have been tensions between Syrian refugees and Turkish residents.
Reyhanli, in Hatay province, is just a few miles from the Syrian border and has been a magnet for Syrian refugees. The town is also a hub for Syrian rebels.
The mid-afternoon blasts were caused by a pair of bomb-laden cars, Interior Minister Muammer Guler told journalists. Other reports indicated that three or four bombs had detonated. The town's municipal building was heavily damaged, reports indicated.
The BBC quoted local media saying that, following the blasts, Turkish residents attacked Syrian refugees and cars with Syrian license plates. Some Turks have objected to the influx of Syrian refugees and fear...
SAO PAULO, Brazil -- A Brazilian government plan to import 6,000 Cuban doctors to practice in needy areas is being greeted with criticism from local medical professionals.
Much of the medical care in Brazil is concentrated in rich, densely populated urban centers, leaving more distant parts of the country, especially the Amazon jungle, underserved.
The presence of Cuban doctors in Venezuelan slums has been one of the flagship social programs of the Chavista governments there. The Cuban-doctor program in Brazil would be proportionally much smaller than that in Venezuela.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota announced the plan after a visit by Cuba's foreign minister Monday. “Given the deficit of medical professionals in Brazil," he said, "this is a cooperation that has great promise and potential, and also has strategic value.”
But Brazil’s Federal Medical Council, or CFM, issued a statement saying foreign doctors would need to have their qualifications...
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistanis went to the polls Saturday to elect a new parliament amid continued violence marring the historic event, as militants detonated a bomb outside a liberal, anti-Taliban party’s campaign office in the southern port city of Karachi, killing 10 people and injuring at least 15.
The elections mark the first democratic transition of one civilian government to another in the nuclear-armed state, which has endured a history of military coups and political ousters. The new national assembly that comes out of Saturday’s elections has the responsibility of picking a new prime minister, and charting a new course that leads the country out of economic stagnancy and militancy that has killed thousands of Pakistanis in recent years.
Members of the newly formed parliament and the provincial assemblies will also decide whether to select a new president or retain incumbent Asif Ali Zardari, an unlikely scenario if his Pakistan People’s Party performs...
MEXICO CITY -- Efrain Rios Montt, the former Guatemalan military dictator who ruled his country during one of the bloodiest phases of its civil war, was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity Friday for the systematic massacre and displacement of ethnic Mayan people. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison.
The landmark ruling by a three-judge panel headed by Yassmin Barrios came after a dramatic trial that featured testimony from dozens of Maya who described atrocities committed by the Guatemalan army and security forces as they sought to clean the countryside of Marxist guerrillas and sympathizers during the 1982-83 period that Rios Montt, a general and coup leader, served as the country’s de facto leader.
The ruling is likely to be derided by Guatemalan conservatives, many of whom see Rios Montt as a hero who prevented the country from being overtaken by communist rebels who had been attempting to foment revolution in the poverty-stricken countryside for decades....
TEHRAN -- Iranians took to the streets Friday in the latest protest against the desecration last week by Syrian rebels of an ancient Shiite shrine outside Damascus, the Syrian capital.
"We have to show our anger," declared Ebrahim Jalili, 80, a carpet merchant who was among about 150 demonstrators marching near Tehran University after Friday prayers.
The destruction May 2 of the mausoleum of Hujr ibn Adi — a close companion of the Muslim prophet Muhammad — shocked Iran, where the population is mostly Shiite, and spotlighted the sectarian agenda of some Syrian rebel factions.
An Al Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel group, Al Nusra Front, claimed responsibility for the destruction of the mausoleum and the exhumation of the remains of the revered Shiite figure.
In a statement, Al Nusra said that its fighters ransacked the memorial because it glorified polytheism, the worship of multiple deities. The remains were dug up and buried elsewhere, the rebel group said.
Photos posted by the...
MEXICO CITY -- Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of slain civil rights leader Malcolm X, has been beaten to death in Mexico City, his battered body dumped near the famed Plaza Garibaldi, in what may have been a robbery gone wrong, police said Friday.
News of the killing of Shabazz began to circulate Thursday, with official confirmation of the details emerging Friday afternoon.
His body was found in a street near downtown about 3:30 a.m. Thursday and transported to a Mexico City hospital, Octavio Campos, spokesman for the capital’s police department, told The Times. He had been badly beaten but there were no gunshot wounds, Campos said.
The city attorney general’s office said Shabazz died at the hospital. He was found in an area known for raucous nightlife. A criminal investigation of possible homicide was ordered, the office said in a statement.
Shabazz, 28, had apparently come to Mexico City to visit a Mexican labor activist who had been deported from the United States this...
SEOUL -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye has dismissed a spokesman over an “inappropriate act” during a state visit to the United States this week, her office said Friday.
Another press aide did not specify what spokesman Yoon Chang-jung was alleged to have done, when he briefed South Korean journalists who were accompanying Park in Los Angeles on Thursday. But the country’s Yonhap News Agency reported that the 56-year-old was accused of groping an intern at the South Korean Embassy in Washington while at a hotel Tuesday.
The scandal cast a pall over what had been seen as a successful trip, during which South Korea and the U.S. presented a united front against recent threats from North Korea.
Park, who took office in February, has faced criticism over her choices for senior government positions, a number of whom had to withdraw following accusations of corruption and other complaints.
The appointment of Yoon, a former journalist and conservative commentator,...
The United Nations commissioner for human rights on Friday warned of possible atrocities in the Syrian town of Qusair, near the Lebanese border, as reports emerged of a major military buildup.Commissioner Navi Pillay said Syrian government forces and pro-regime militias were reportedly surrounding the town and that some civilians could be displaced.
“It appears likely that this is in preparation for a large-scale attack to uproot the armed opposition from Qusair, and local people clearly fear a possible repeat of last week’s killings of civilians,” Pillay said in a statement.
Muhammad Al-Raed, a rebel with the Wadi militia in Qusair, said: “There is fear of a massacre, may God protect us."
The Syrian army along with Hezbollah forces have been besieging the town, which still has about 30,000 residents, for a month and have made daily attempts to storm it, he said.
Rebel groups have been able to fight off forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, but food and...
CAIRO -- Prominent youth activist Ahmed Maher was arrested on Friday as he sought to leave the Cairo international airport, members of his April 6 youth movement said.
Maher, who helped lead the revolution that ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak, will be held for four days pending investigations into charges of resisting authority, insulting the police, and disturbing traffic, the Middle East News Agency reported.
He was arrested only minutes after returning from the United State. The charges were in connection with protests outside the Egyptian interior minister's residence in March against the Islamist government that now controls the nation.
The April 6 movement had called for demonstrations on March 30 to demand the minister be removed and held accountable for the death of protesters at anti-Islamist demonstrations.
The prosecution had already commenced an investigation into the demonstrations and questioned many of those arrested by police forces that night.
Maher is one of...
JOHANNESBURG -- Africa loses the benefit of billions of dollars each year through illegal tax evasion, money transfers and secretive business deals, more than all the money coming into the continent through aid and investment, according to a report released Friday.
About $63 billion is lost annually, the 120-page Africa Progress Report states, and despite the continent's surging economic growth fueled by the global resources boom, poverty and inequality has worsened in many resource-rich African countries.
“It is unconscionable that some companies, often supported by dishonest officials, are using unethical tax avoidance, transfer pricing and anonymous company ownership to maximize their profits, while millions of Africans go without adequate nutrition, health and education,” Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general who heads the panel behind the report, wrote in his introduction.
The African Progress Panel releases a report each May analyzing one aspect of the...
BEIJING -- Beijing and Taipei united in their condemnation of the Philippines on Friday for the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman in disputed waters.
The killing of Hung Shih-cheng, 65, injects a volatile new element in ongoing conflicts over the South China Sea, where fishermen and authorities from competing nations often play dangerous games of chicken at sea.
Philippine authorities admitted that one of their coast guard ships opened fire Thursday on the victim's Taiwanese vessel, but said they had done so to prevent their own boat from being rammed and only intended to disable the engine.
"The ramming of the boat into our vessel was certainly an aggressive act so the [coast guard] responded accordingly," said deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte at a press conference on Friday.
However, another Philippine official, coast guard commander Rodolfo Diwata Isorena, said that 11 law-enforcement officers had been suspended from duty as a result of the shooting.
NEW DELHI -- In a development described as miraculous, a woman emerged alive Friday from the rubble of a collapsed building 17 days after it pancaked just outside the capital of Bangladesh.
In an interview from her hospital bed, the survivor, a seamstress identified with the single name of Reshma by local media, told a Bangladesh television station that she stayed alive by eating dried food -- which ran out after 15 days -- and drinking sparingly from bottles of water she had around her in the wreckage of the Rana Plaza building.
More than 1,000 bodies have been pulled from the wreckage of the illegally constructed structure that housed five garment factories. The disaster has focused a global spotlight on the often-dismal conditions of workers in poor countries making apparel for Western consumers.
But on Friday, when the remains of at least 73 more victims were discovered, the televised rescue helped boost the spirits of the battered nation.
BEIJING — She was a promising student at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University, a talented musician who loved to swim and dreamed of studying German and computer science.
But in her sophomore year, Zhu Ling began suffering acute stomach pains and hair loss, eventually becoming severely disabled. Lab tests showed she had been poisoned with thallium, a toxic metal used in rat poisons, but police made no arrests and quietly closed the investigation.
Today, 19 years after Zhu first fell ill, she remains paralyzed, nearly blind and has the mental capacity of a child. And her case is suddenly generating a firestorm on Internet discussions in China and elsewhere, highlighting the Chinese public's anger over perceived injustices, the powerful force of social media and the deep pains of a family that for two decades has sought answers from secretive authorities.
Zhu's sad story has been publicized before, but a surge of sympathy expressed on the Internet started after the news last...
Kidnappings, suicide bombings and hundreds of violent deaths have bloodied Pakistan’s campaign trail. Still, the parliamentary vote Saturday is being heralded as a milestone in the country’s democratic advancement.
Once the votes are tallied and a new government formed, it will be the first time in Pakistan’s 66-year history that one elected leadership succeeds another, and that the departing government was able to serve out its full term.
Politics remains a dangerous endeavor in Pakistan. On Thursday, a provincial assembly candidate was kidnapped at gunpoint and his bodyguards killed in the southern city of Multan, just days after bombs struck campaign events across the political spectrum. Most of the attacks have been claimed by the Taliban in its open war against secular leaders.
But some political analysts see the deadly intimidation as the religious extremists’ desperate last battle against pluralism as Pakistanis attempt to break a cycle of military...
JERUSALEM -- Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews flooded into the Old City’s Western Wall Plaza early Friday in a boisterous and sometimes violent protest against a group of female activists exercising a newly court-affirmed right to pray at the holy site in a similar fashion as men do.
It was a rare scene of chaos, protest and sporadic clashes by Jewish worshipers in front of what most view as Judaism’s most sacred place after the Temple Mount.
Dressed in black hats and coats, mobs of young ultra-Orthodox men tossed eggs, water bottles and coffee cups at members of Women of the Wall as their leaders led a group of 100 men and women in prayer. Several women from the group wore white shawls and other religious ornaments, such as black tefillin boxes on their heads, traditionally used only by men at the site.
In anticipation of Friday’s service, religious seminaries from all over the country bused in thousands of girls, who filled the fenced-off women’s section of...
BEIJING -- One of China’s most prominent film directors, Zhang Yimou, is under investigation for fathering seven children -- a violation of the country’s strict family-planning laws.
The 61-year-old Zhang directed the opening spectacle of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and some of China’s best-known films. Zhang’s success could expose him to fines of up to $26 million, according to Chinese state media, because penalties is such cases are assessed on the basis of income.
The Global Times, a Communist Party newspaper, reported Friday that Zhang has one daughter who is about 30 years old with his first wife, and three children ages 7 to 12 with his current wife, actress Chen Ting.
The newspaper said Zhang had three other children born out of wedlock.
The investigation was launched by the family-planning commission in Wuxi, a city about 80 miles west of Shanghai that is the hometown of Zhang’s second wife.In an effort to limit population growth, China...
MEXICO CITY -- The former dictator of Guatemala, Efrain Rios Montt, on Thursday took the stand for the first time in his genocide trial and said he did not order the slaughter of hundreds of indigenous Maya.
Rios Montt’s sometimes contentious testimony in a Guatemala City courtroom came amid closing arguments by both the defense and prosecution as the trial winds down. A verdict from a three-judge panel could come within hours or days.
The 86-year-old Rios Montt, a retired army general, faces a sentence of up to 75 years in prison if found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity.
The proceedings -- a rare human rights prosecution of a former head of state by a court in his own country -- began March 19 but were stalled in late April by a series of legal challenges that may yet threaten the outcome.
Rios Montt was installed as president by a military coup and served in that role from 1982 to 1983. He is accused of responsibility in the massacre of more than 1,700 Ixil Maya...
Authorities were searching Thursday for two passengers who were believed to have gone overboard while traveling on a cruise ship off the east coast of Australia.
The couple, a 30-year-old man and 26-year-old woman traveling with family and friends, were discovered missing when the Carnival Spirit docked in Sydney after a 10-night cruise, according to a statement from Carnival Cruise Lines.
Police said footage from the ship’s surveillance cameras showed that the couple, who are from the Australian state of New South Wales, went overboard from the ship’s mid-deck Wednesday night, according to the Associated Press.
It was not immediately clear whether they had fallen or jumped. The statement from Carnival Cruise Lines said there was no evidence of foul play, but the company would not disclose details of what happened, out of respect for the families.
Search boats and aircraft were combing the area where the couple were believed to have gone missing.
“This is a tragic...
CAIRO — An American man was stabbed by an unidentified assailant outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on Thursday, officials said.
The reason for the attack was not immediately clear, though Egyptian officials said it did not appear to be politically motivated. The victim was rushed to a nearby hospital; his condition was not immediately known.
The U.S. Embassy tweeted: “At 12 PM, a private US citizen unaffiliated with the embassy was stabbed nearby. The victim is in the hospital. Police have suspect in custody.”
Embassy officials could not immediately be reached for further details. But an official with Egypt’s Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, said an altercation took place while the American was waiting in line to enter the embassy.
The victim later told investigators that he works at a U.S. research center in Cairo and was waiting to complete paperwork for his wife, said Hamdy Mansour, a senior prosecutor in the capital.
The victim said he was...
In the first public disclosure of the number of bases under discussion in security talks between the U.S. and Afghanistan, Karzai indicated that he would agree to the U.S. request. But he said Washington must provide unspecified "security and economic" guarantees in return.
"If these conditions are met, we are ready to sign the contract with the United States," Karzai said in a speech at Kabul University, referring to the bilateral security arrangement now under negotiation.
He added: "Our conditions are to bring security in Afghanistan, strengthen Afghanistan’s security forces, provide concrete economic support and to have a strong and positive government.’’
Since Nov. 15, American and Afghan negotiators have been hammering out...
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Gunmen on Thursday abducted provincial assembly candidate Ali Haider Gilani, the son of former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, at a campaign gathering in the southern city of Multan -- a dramatic escalation of the wave of campaign violence that has overshadowed national elections scheduled for Saturday.
For weeks, militants have been bombing small campaign rallies and election headquarters belonging to secular parties, but the kidnapping of Gilani’s son shocked the country and renewed fear about security for voters when they head to polling stations this weekend.
Gilani belongs to the same party as his father and President Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistan People’s Party, which has ruled the country for the last five years. His father is one of Pakistan’s most recognized politicians, serving as prime minister from 2008 until last summer, when the Supreme Court forced him to step down after his conviction on contempt charges for failing to pursue...
BERLIN -- A Nazi-themed production of the Wagner opera "Tannhauser" that featured scenes of gas chambers and the execution of a family has been canceled in Germany after some audience members had to receive medical treatment for shock.
The Deutsche Oper am Rhein, a leading German opera house that performs in Duesseldorf, said in a statement that it could not justify artistic work with such an "extreme impact." It said it had asked director Burkhard Kosminski to tone down scenes but that he had refused.
From Thursday onward, the opera was to be performed solely as a piece of music, without the staging, the opera house said.
During the opera's opening Saturday evening, naked performers could be seen falling to the floor in glass cubes filled with white fog. One scene showed a family having their heads shaved and then being shot. The character of Venus, goddess of love, was depicted in a Nazi uniform and accompanied by SS thugs, according to the German magazine Der Spiegel. Audience...
Just weeks after the terrorist bombings at the Boston Marathon, the global leader of the world’s 10-million-plus Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has brought his religion’s message of peace, public service and uplift to the faithful of Southern California.
While those principles are embraced by most of the Muslim world, the Ahmadis' outlook is distinctive. The visiting khalifa, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, is critical of mixing religion and governance and points to the restive Middle East countries in the "Arab Spring" aftermath as examples of discord born of religious rule. He speaks laudingly of Western democracy and praises Israeli President Shimon Peres for his ideas on restoring stability to the conflict-plagued region.
The first West Coast visit of the khalifa was scheduled long before the April 15 attacks in Boston that have newly shaken the American public's sense of security and serenity. But in the nervous aftermath of that latest terror strike, which may or may not...
Shortly before midnight Wednesday, a fire swept through a garment factory in the capital Dhaka, killing eight people including its managing director and a top police official. Initial reports suggested that the fire in the 11-story building was caused by a short circuit on the second floor that spread to the third and fourth floors, where the factory was located.
Mahbubur Rahman, managing director of the Tung Hai Sweater factory, was reportedly meeting with friends including a senior police official around 11 p.m. when the blaze erupted, trapping them. According to doctors and local fire officials, most victims died of suffocation on the staircase.
The death toll might have been far higher if workers hadn’t quit for the day. "The casualty was less as the factory was closed when the fire...
MOSCOW — Vladislav Surkov, a masterful political operative and propagandist known as the “gray cardinal” of the Kremlin, was fired Wednesday in a move that was widely seen as a reflection of a deepening rift in the relationship between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
The decree signed by Putin said that Surkov was being relieved of his duties at his own request. Most Russian political experts, however, agreed that the 48-year-old deputy premier was the victim of larger political forces, although “victim” seems an unlikely term to describe a man who has drawn comparison to Machiavelli and Rasputin.
“The bottom line is that the Kremlin no longer needs to rely on ideologues and propagandists,” said Andrei Piontkovsky, a prominent political analyst. “Putin needs butchers, not image makers anymore.”
Surkov’s ouster dominated radio and TV news and social media and was seen as a message to Medvedev.
ROME -- Rescue workers in Italy scrambled Wednesday to find survivors after a container ship slammed into a 165-foot-tall observation tower at the port of Genoa, toppling it into the sea and killing at least seven people.
Divers searching through rubble-filled water found three bodies trapped underwater inside the tower’s elevator shaft, officials said. Four people were injured, they said, and at least two are still missing.
Italian media reports quoted investigators identifying a possible cause of the incident, which happened late Tuesday night, as engine failure aboard the vessel, the Jolly Nero.
The crash coincided with a shift change at the tower, which meant that more people were in the building than usual, and some were likely using the elevator to reach the glass-fronted observation decks. Perched on the water’s edge at the entrance to the busy port’s inner harbor, the concrete tower was used by port authorities to monitor shipping.
A four-story building beside...
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is providing an additional $100 million for humanitarian aid for displaced Syrians, officials said Wednesday, bringing to $510 million the total U.S. aid commitment since the civil war began more than two years ago.
The new aid, which Secretary of State John F. Kerry will announce Thursday during a visit to Rome, will help support 1.4 million civilians trapped by violence within Syria’s borders, as well as refugees who have fled to camps in neighboring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, they said.
The officials requested anonymity because the aid had not been officially announced.
The decision is not linked to White House deliberations over whether the U.S. should provide weapons and ammunition to rebels fighting the government of President Bashar Assad or to growing suspicions that Syrian forces used chemical weapons.
The administration provides some nonlethal aid to the rebels, such as communications equipment, military-style rations and...
The death toll from a building collapse in Bangladesh surpassed 800 Wednesday, as salvage workers continued to pull bodies from the rubble two weeks after the disaster.
Many bodies were so badly decomposed that DNA samples were collected to identify them, the Associated Press reported.
The building just outside the capital, Dhaka, housed several garment factories and was full of workers when it collapsed April 24. Some workers said they were told to enter the building despite their concern about visible cracks.
By Wednesday afternoon, the number of dead stood at 803, according to salvage officials quoted by the national news agency, Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha.
The disaster spotlighted dismal working conditions in Bangladesh’s $20-billion apparel export industry.
The government has vowed to crack down. A number of people have been arrested since the collapse, including the building’s owner. The government also...
JERUSALEM -- Israeli police on Wednesday detained and questioned a top Palestinian cleric about clashes that took place a day earlier in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Sheik Muhammad Hussein, also known as the mufti of Jerusalem, was released with no charges after six hours.
It was a rare arrest of a senior Palestinian religious figure and drew immediate condemnation from Palestinian Authority leaders. President Mahmoud Abbas described the arrest as “a blatant violation of freedom of worship” and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad called it “a grave escalation.”
The Tuesday clashes occurred when Palestinians began protesting against a group of Jewish visitors to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as Temple Mount. Two police officers were injured and several Palestinians were arrested, Rosenfeld said.
Tensions in the city remained high Wednesday as Israeli Jews mark “Jerusalem Day” to commemorate their capture of...
BEIRUT -- Syria was plunged into Internet darkness for more than 19 hours, the second electronic blackout in six months for the strife-ridden nation.
The shutdown, first reported about 9:45 p.m. Tuesday, fed opposition suspicions of a deliberate government operation, perhaps aimed at masking a coming offensive, or to stymie communications among rebel units fighting to oust President Bashar Assad.
"This is a sign of the regime's weakness and that it is running out of cards to play," said a representative of the Liwa al-Islam Brigade, a major rebel unit inside Syria.
But Syrian authorities attributed the outage to faulty optical fiber cables, according to news agency reports. On Wednesday evening, state media said Internet service had been restored nationwide after repairs were done.
Companies that monitor Internet usage noted signs of activity in Syria shortly after 5 p.m. local time.
Last November, when the Internet went downfor three days, Syria blamed the outage on attacks on...
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Imran Khan, the former cricket star who heads up one of the leading parties in national elections set for Saturday, suffered three fractured vertebrae and a broken rib in a fall in the eastern city of Lahore this week and probably will not be able to return to campaigning, doctors and party leaders said Wednesday.
Khan, 60, and three of his security guards were being lifted up by a forklift to a rally stage in Lahore on Tuesday when they fell about 15 feet, officials said.
Doctors at the Lahore hospital where Khan is being treated said that, in addition to a cut to his head, he suffered the backbone fractures and a minor fracture in a left rib. There was no spinal cord damage, said Dr. Faisal Sultan, who is treating Khan.
Television images showed Khan dazed and bloodied as aides hurriedly carried him away from the rally. Khan’s advisors said he will not make any more campaign appearances on the advice of his doctors. Sultan said Khan is expected to make a...
LONDON -- Authorities in three countries have arrested 31 people in connection with a spectacular diamond heist in February that saw robbers disguised as police steal an estimated $50 million worth of gemstones from a parked plane on a Belgian airport runway.
Anja Bijnens in the Brussels prosecutor’s office said Wednesday that at least some of the diamonds were recovered in Switzerland as well as a stash of money in Belgium. Police arrested 24 people in Belgium on Wednesday morning, plus one person in France and six others in Switzerland on Tuesday, authorities said.
The almost movie-like robbery was one of the most daring in years, a lightning-fast operation that was over before passengers aboard the plane had any idea of what had happened.
The Helvetic Airways jet on the tarmac at the Brussels international airport was ready for takeoff to Zurich on the evening of Feb. 18. As flight attendants went through final safety checks on board, Brinks security guards outside finished...
Israeli airstrikes in Syria on Iranian weapons destined for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia could be seen as heralding wider international involvement in Syria’s intractable civil war.
Reports of sarin gas attacks in Syria also conjure the threat of further foreign intervention. President Obama has said any use of chemical weapons would “cross a red line.”
But Syrian President Bashar Assad and his backers in Iran and Hezbollah have responded to the latest signs of outside intrusion with little more than blustery vows to repel all enemies. The lack of specific threats of retaliation lends plausibility to a prevailing sense that Israel and its adversaries are engaged in a high-stakes game of chicken.
Israel, which hasn’t publicly admitted to bombing the weapons caches, appears to be confident that its airstrikes will be seen as preemptive defensive action to keep the weapons out of Hezbollah hands, not intervention on behalf of the rebels. Many of the...
MOSCOW -- The United States and Russia have agreed to convene an international conference as soon as this month to try to end two years of bloodshed in Syria, U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced after talks Tuesday in Moscow.
The goal is to bring together Syrian rebels and government officials to begin negotiating a transition to a new regime, following a roadmap worked out in Geneva last year that has never gotten off the ground, officials said.
The announcement appeared to reflect a softening of Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, a source of contention with the United States which has demanded that he relinquish power.
“I would like to emphasize that we … are not interested in the fate of certain persons,” Lavrov told reporters. “We are interested in the fate of the total Syrian people.”
Kerry, who also met with President Vladimir Putin, said, “The United States believes...
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Former cricketer Imran Khan suffered minor head injuries Tuesday after falling from a forklift platform that was lifting him to a stage at a campaign rally in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.
Khan, whose political party is expected to be a major force in parliamentary elections scheduled for Saturday, was standing on the platform with several other people when they fell about 15 to 20 feet.
Local television video showed the bloodied politician being carried away by supporters. Waleed Iqbal, a leader of Khan’s Movement for Justice party, later said Khan was conscious and in stable condition at a Lahore hospital.
Iqbal said Khan wanted to return to the Lahore rally but his doctors advised him against doing so. Another top aide, Asad Umar, said Khan got several stitches but was “in high spirits.”
Khan later spoke to reporters from his hospital bed, urging people to vote for his party.
“I have done whatever I could do,” he told...
SAO PAULO, Brazil--Roberto Azevedo of Brazil has been elected the first Latin American director-general of the World Trade Organization, the global body charged with moving forward stalled trade agreement talks.
The choice of Azevedo over close rival Herminio Blanco, from Mexico, was seen as a victory for Brazil’s goal of increasing its influence through multilateral institutions, as well as for Brazil’s focus on a more “gradual approach to removing commercial barriers” and a significant role for the state, said Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo.
At the national level, Mexico is more supportive of the types of free trade agreements favored by the United States and the European Union, who were said to have backed Blanco.
But Azevedo, a trained engineer serving in the Geneva-based WTO since 2008, has said he does not represent the Brazilian model, but rather a bridge between developed and developing countries, and stressed his credentials as an experienced WTO...
WASHINGTON – President Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye presented a united front in their warning to North Korea on Tuesday, saying they would not bend to confrontational behavior and welcomed international pressure on the North’s young leader.
The United States and South Korea “very much share the view that we are going to maintain a strong deterrent capability,” Obama said standing beside the new South Korean leader at a news conference. “But we remain open to the prospect of North Korea taking a peaceful path of denuclearization, abiding by international commitments, rejoining the international community.”
The North Korean security threat was at the top of the agenda for Park’s first trip to the White House since her election, a visit that comes amid heightened tension with North Korea. Park took office in February just two weeks after the North conducted its most recent nuclear test.
Park repeated her warning that North Korea...
Efren Rojas Avila, the Interior Secretary for the state of Mexico, said in a radio interview that the 10 minors had been in their homes when the driver of a truck hauling double gas tanks apparently lost control of his vehicle around 5:30 a.m. on a freeway that connects Mexico City with the city of Pachuca. One of the gas tanks, Rojas said, broke away from the truck and exploded.
The blast and subsequent fires — which in turn caused a number of home gas tanks to explode — turned the neighborhood into a horrific, smoldering ruin.
Rojas said that in addition to the dead, 33 people were injured, and a total of 45 homes and 16 vehicles were damaged. A crew of hundreds, including police, firefighters and members of the Mexican armed forces, worked to put out the fires, evacuate and...
BEIRUT — Four United Nations peacekeepers were seized Tuesday in southern Syria, close to the Israeli border, the international body said, marking the second time this year that its observers have been taken in the volatile area.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the detention, for which he blamed unidentified “armed elements.”
A rebel group calling itself the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade said on its Facebook page that it had taken the four for their own safety, because of intense clashes with Syrian government troops near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The group said the peacekeepers were in danger from Syrian military forces and “criminal elements” in the area, and that heavy shelling was taking place.
The U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, which has monitored the cease-fire between Israel and Syria since 1974, has about 900 troops in the area from the Philippines, Austria and India. The troops maintain an almost 50-mile-long “area of...
LONDON – Ending four decades of perfect attendance, Queen Elizabeth II will skip the biennial meeting of Commonwealth leaders later this year as part of a rethink by palace officials of long-distance travel and public events for the 87-year-old monarch.
Prince Charles will take his mother’s place at the November gathering in Sri Lanka, a boost in the profile of the heir to the British throne. The Commonwealth comprises 54 nations, most of them former British colonies, and promoting it as a vehicle for international understanding and democratic values has been a pet project of the queen, the organization’s titular head.
Her decision to forgo this fall’s meeting of presidents and premiers, which was announced Tuesday by Buckingham Palace, is the most significant indication yet of a determination to pare back her busy schedule as she nears her 10th decade of life. She was hospitalized briefly for a stomach ailment in March and later that month missed the annual...
CAIRO -- President Mohamed Morsi reshuffled his Cabinet on Tuesday, strengthening the Muslim Brotherhood’s hold on power and angering the opposition amid Egypt’s economic turmoil and political unrest.
The naming of nine new ministers underlines the nation’s troubling schisms and how powerless the opposition is in stemming the Brotherhood’s grip on the government. Morsi ignored opposition demands for a consensus Cabinet and the removal of Prime Minister Hisham Kandil.
Two of the new appointments -- Amr Darrag as planning minister and Fayad Abdel Moneim as finance minister – will preside over a sagging economy and critical negotiations for a $4.8-billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Both men are Islamists, which may worry investors concerned about the government’s commitment to free markets.
In addition to Kandil, Morsi retained another key supporter, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, who has been criticized by activists for police...
BEIJING -- China’s largest state-owned bank has closed the account of a North Korean bank accused of funding the North's weapons programs in an apparent sign of Beijing’s growing frustration with its ally.
The Bank of China announced Tuesday that it suspended all transactions by the North Korean Foreign Trade Bank. It did not say how much money was in the accounts or when the action had taken place.
The U.S. Treasury this year called the Foreign Trade Bank a “key financial node” in helping the North Korean regime finance its development of missiles and nuclear weapons.
For years, North Korea has done most of its banking through neighboring China. The suspension of its accounts by Bank of China could lead other banks in the region to reconsider their relationship with the increasingly isolated regime in Pyongyang.
“Bank of China, of all the Chinese banks, has to adhere to international sanctions because they have a reputation to uphold,’’ said...
BEIJING -- China on Tuesday dismissed as groundless the Pentagon's latest and most direct accusation yet that Beijing is engaging in cyber-spying on the U.S. government and businesses to acquire information to strengthen its military capabilities and technology industries.
Responding to the Pentagon's annual report on China's military, released a day earlier, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman insisted that Beijing was "strongly against any form of hacking activities," and said China was willing to start a "rational and constructive dialog" with the United States on Internet security issues.
"This kind of baseless accusations and endless finger-pointing would only hurt the efforts and environment for such a dialog," said the spokeswoman, Hua Chunying.
Beijing's stiff reaction was expected as it has repeatedly denied charges of cyber-espionage, which has become a growing concern in Washington. U.S. officials have recently stepped up complaints about Chinese cyber-warfare as more large-scale...
BEIJING -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toured Shanghai on Tuesday, paying tribute to the city’s role sheltering Jews during World War II and conveniently avoiding Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was visiting Beijing.
The concurrent visits to China of the Middle East antagonists created some diplomatic awkwardness. Although the official Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times suggested the two might hold an impromptu meeting, Netanyahu’s itinerary apparently was arranged to avoid that possibility.
"Abu Mazen is in Beijing," said an Israeli official who requested anonymity, using Abbas' nickname. "They didn’t want to meet on the same ground."
Netanyahu's visit to China was also overshadowed by the bombing of military targets in Damascus over the weekend, reportedly conducted by Israeli forces. Without referring to Israel by name, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying on Monday condemned the “use of military force&...
MEXICO CITY — Nineteen people were killed and 36 injured Tuesday morning when a gas tanker truck crashed and exploded, damaging dozens of homes in the densely populated Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec, according to authorities and news reports.
The accident occurred about 5:30 a.m. on a highway connecting the Mexican capital with Pachuca. [For the record, 12:42 p.m., May 7: An earlier version of this post incorrectly gave the name of this city as Pachuco.] Photos showed cars and trucks on fire. The mayor of Ecatepec, Pablo Bedolla, said on his Twitter account that 27 homes had been affected.
“It was an accident. We’re already responding to the situation,” Bedolla tweeted.
The driver of the truck was injured and taken to a hospital and was being detained by police on suspicion of speeding, according to news reports.
The freeway was closed in both directions Tuesday morning as hundreds of police, firefighters and members of the military searched for bodies,...