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Briefly: Middle East

- - Tuesday, November 22, 2011

TUNISIA

Newly elected assembly gets to work amid protests

TUNIS — Tunisia's newly elected assembly held its inaugural meeting Tuesday, ready to start shaping the constitution and the democratic future of the country that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.

And it didn't take long for the legislators to feel one result of free speech: hundreds of people protested outside Parliament, demanding everything from women's rights and a crackdown on security forces to limits on Qatar's influence over Tunisia's affairs.

A moderate Islamist party, Ennahda (Renaissance), won the most seats in Tunisia's Constituent Assembly and has announced a coalition with a liberal and a left-of-center party.

But groups representing the country's secular traditions picketed the assembly's first meeting, expressing their fears of an Islamist takeover.

Lawmakers were elected last month in Tunisia's first free vote - the first resulting from the Arab Spring protests. Tunisian protesters drove out their longtime president in January, setting off revolts in other Arab countries.

Tunisia's new assembly is being watched as an example amid the violence in Egypt ahead of its elections and escalating tensions in Syria.

IRAQ

U.S. hands over detainees except Hezbollah agent

BAGHDAD — The U.S. handed over all of the remaining detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq on Tuesday, except for a Lebanese Hezbollah commander linked to the death of four U.S. troops, Iraqi and American officials said.

The prisoner transfer marks another step toward the U.S. military's withdrawal from Iraq, as it plans for all U.S. troops to be out of the country by the end of this year.

It still leaves the contentious issue of what to do with a prisoner who many in the U.S. worry will walk free if he's handed over to the Iraqi government.

Iraqi Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim said 37 detainees were transferred to Iraqi custody Tuesday morning.

A U.S. military official confirmed that Hezbollah operative Ali Mussa Daqduq is still in American custody while the U.S. weighs his situation. The Lebanese militant from his country's Shiite Hezbollah guerrilla group was captured in 2007 in the Iraqi Shiite holy city of Karbala.

YEMEN

U.N. envoy: All agreed on power transfer deal

SANAA — The U.N. secretary-general's envoy to Yemen said all parties have agreed on a plan under which longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh would step down.

Several times Mr. Saleh has agreed to the plan, sponsored by Gulf nations, but backed away at the last minute.

U.N. envoy Jamal bin Omar told reporters Tuesday that he was working now on setting a date for signing the deal.

"All parties agreed today on the Gulf initiative and the implementation of its mechanism," he said.

The deal calls for Mr. Saleh to transfer power to Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Mr. Saleh has hung onto power despite months of mass protests. Al Qaeda-linked militants have used the turmoil to strengthen their positions in Yemen.

LIBYA

International court: Libya can try Gadhafi's son

TRIPOLI — The International Criminal Court's prosecutor said Tuesday that Libya can put Moammar Gadhafi's son on trial at home, but that The Hague court's judges must be involved in the case.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo was in Tripoli on Tuesday for talks with Libya's new leaders about their plans for Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, who was captured Saturday in southern Libya and is being held by fighters in the mountain town of Zintan, southwest of the capital.

The ICC has charged him with crimes against humanity. Libya's new leaders have said they will try Seif al-Islam at home even though they have yet to set up a court system.

"Seif is captured, so we are here to ensure cooperation," Mr. Moreno-Ocampo told reporters after arriving in Libya. "If they [Libyans] prosecute the case, we will discuss with them how to inform the judges, and they can do it, but our judges have to be involved."

The ICC, which is based in The Hague, Netherlands, also has charged Gadhafi's former intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senoussi, with crimes against humanity.

Libyan officials have said Mr. al-Senoussi was captured over the weekend and is being held in the southern city of Sabha, although Libya's interim prime minister could not confirm the report.

From wire dispatches and staff reports