- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2011

EGYPT

Military leaders apologize, vow elections as scheduled

CAIRO | Egypt’s military rulers apologized Thursday for the police killings of demonstrators and vowed to maintain security at next week’s elections despite mass protests and deadly street violence.

“The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) presents its regrets and deep apologies for the deaths of martyrs from among Egypt’s loyal sons during the recent events in Tahrir Square,” it said on its Facebook page.

After a truce negotiated by Muslim clerics, an uneasy calm gripped crowds gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the scene of days of deadly clashes between security forces and protesters demanding an immediate end of military rule.

The SCAF said stepping down would amount to a “betrayal” of the Egyptian people and insisted that parliamentary elections scheduled to start Monday would take place on time.

At least 38 protesters have been killed and more than 2,000 injured since Saturday, when the clashes first erupted, prompting concern from Western governments and a U.N. call for an independent inquiry into the “excessive use of force.”

SYRIA

Arab League gives ultimatum on observers

BEIRUT | An Arab League committee on Thursday gave Syria 24 hours to agree to allow an observer mission into the country, or face sanctions that include stopping financial dealings and freezing assets.

The bloodshed in the country continued. Activists reported at least 15 people killed, including civilians and security forces.

The threat was a humiliating blow to Damascus, a founding member of the Arab League.

President Bashar Assad is under mounting international pressure to stop the brutal crackdown on an uprising against his regime.

The U.N. says has at least 3,500 have been killed since mid-March.

Syria is the scene of the bloodiest crackdown against the Arab Spring’s eruption of protests. Deaths in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen have numbered in the hundreds. Libya’s toll is unknown and is likely higher than Syria‘s, but that conflict differed. Early on, it became an outright civil war between two armed foes.

The Cairo-based Arab League called on Damascus to agree to an observer mission by Friday, or else the league will meet Saturday to decide on sanctions.

In a statement released after the committee met, the group said punishment could include ceasing trade with the Syrian government apart from strategic goods that affect the Syrian people. Other sanctions could include stopping flights to Syria and ending dealings with Syria’s central bank.

IRAQ

Triple bombings kill 11, injure dozens

BASRA | Iraqi officials said 11 people were killed and more than 70 injured by bombings in a southern Iraqi city.

Police in Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, said three bombs went off in a popular open-air market Thursday evening.

Many police and army officials were among the dead.

The head of the Basra Provincial Council, Ahmed al-Sulaiti, confirmed the incident.

The police officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

MIDDLE EAST

Palestinian rivals talk, but fail to resolve rifts

CAIRO | Rival Palestinian leaders on Thursday held their first detailed talks on reconciliation since the Islamic militant Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip more than four years ago, declaring that they made progress toward sharing power but failed to resolve key issues.

Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal talked for two hours in Cairo but did not reach agreement on touchy matters such as the composition of an interim unity government and a date for elections.

The meeting renewed questions about whether the rivals were serious about sharing power or just going through the motions.

The split, leaving competing governments in the West Bank and Gaza, has complicated peace efforts with Israel.

The rift is unpopular among Palestinians, but the political camps have benefited from the status quo and would have to give up positions of power for reconciliation.

Both leaders described the atmosphere in Thursday’s meeting as positive, suggesting that they are ready to embark on a partnership despite the animosity of the past.

MYANMAR

Parliament guarantees right to protest

YANGON | Myanmar’s parliament approved legislation guaranteeing the right to protest, one of a series of reforms under the newly elected government.

The law is significant because the right to protest had not existed in Myanmar, Thein Nyunt of the opposition New National Democracy Party said Thursday.

President Thein Sein has pushed forward reforms after Myanmar experienced decades of repression under military regimes.

The government that took office in March is still dominated by a military-proxy political party, but changes have been made in areas such as media, the Internet and political participation.

The protest law says would-be participants must seek permission five days before the event and provide details about slogans and speakers. Protests are prohibited at factories, hospitals and government offices. Staging a protest without permission carries a penalty of one year in prison.

The reforms have been greeted with cautious warmth internationally.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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