Briefly: Mideast

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EGYPT

Egyptians decry ‘virginity tests’

CAIRO — Activists and bloggers are pressing Egypt’s military rulers to investigate accusations of serious abuses against protesters, including claims that soldiers subjected female detainees to so-called “virginity tests.”

Bloggers say they will hold a day of online protest Wednesday to voice their outrage, adding to criticism of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took control of the country from ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February.

The virginity-test allegations first surfaced after a March 9 rally in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that turned violent when men in plainclothes attacked protesters and the army intervened forcefully to clear the square.

One woman who was arrested spoke out about her treatment, and Amnesty International further documented the abuse allegations in a report that found 18 female detainees were threatened with prostitution charges and forced to undergo virginity tests. They also were beaten up and given electric shocks, the report said.

Egypt’s military rulers have come under heavy criticism from the youth protest movement, which is upset at the pace of reforms that they hope will lead Egypt to democracy.

SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi denies intent to deport workers

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia’s labor minister said Tuesday that only private-sector companies that fail to employ enough Saudi nationals would face restrictions on the renewal of their foreign employees’ work permits, clarifying earlier comments that jolted the business community in the oil-rich country.

Adel Fekieh was quoted by the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat on Monday as saying that foreigners who had been in the kingdom for six years would not have their permits renewed - a move he explained as part of Saudi Arabia’s push to boost job opportunities for its citizens.

Late Monday, the ministry sought to clarify his remarks, saying there was no blanket policy barring the renewal of work permits for long-term foreign employees and that the restrictions were targeting companies not complying with regulations requiring that at least five percent to 10 percent of their laborers be of Saudi nationality.

“Companies that, after requests by the ministry over long years, do not comply with their obligations will not have work permits renewed,” Mr. Fekieh said in an interview with the Arabic satellite channel Al-Arabiya.

Saudi labor officials are looking to begin implementing a new incentive program for the private sector. Under the program, companies would be divided into four categories: “excellent” and “green” for those that comply with the nationality quotas and “yellow” and “red” for those that do not.

The initial remarks sent a ripple of unease through the Saudi business community, which relies heavily on foreign labor in a range of sectors.

YEMEN

Security official: Islamists kill five soldiers

SANAA — Radical Islamists who overran a south Yemen town killed five soldiers in an ambush on Tuesday, security officials said, while fresh clashes broke out in the capital between security forces and fighters from the country’s most powerful tribal confederation, edging the country toward civil war.

Almost four months of mass street protests across Yemen calling for democratic reforms and the ouster of longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh have rocked the stability of this impoverished corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Mr. Saleh’s security forces fatally shot four protesters in the southern city of Taiz on Monday, medics said, bringing the two-day death toll there to at least 25.

The upheaval in Yemen has sparked fears that militant groups will take over. al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operates in its weakly governed provinces along with several other radicals, like the ones who overran the town of Zinjibar near Yemen’s south coast over the weekend.

A Yemeni security official said militants ambushed an army unit driving toward the town Tuesday, killing five soldiers and injuring 12. The militants fired on the army convoy from behind, forcing them to speed into an ambush where other gunmen fired on their cars.

The soldiers killed two militants before fleeing the area, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

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