- - Monday, November 7, 2011

SYRIA

Troops raid homes in bloody battle in Homs

BEIRUT — Syrian troops stormed a restive neighborhood in Homs on Monday, kicking in doors and making house-to-house arrests in an area that has spiraled out of government control after nearly a week of deadly assaults, activists said.

The regime is scrambling to clear out Baba Amr, a major center of resistance and reprisal, as Damascus faces potential fallout from the Arab League for defying a peace plan brokered by the 22-nation body with persistent violence.

According to activists, more than 110 people have been reported killed in the past week in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city.

The Arab League scheduled an emergency meeting for Saturday in Cairo. It was not clear what action the league would take if the bloodshed continues, although it could isolate Syria by suspending or freezing its membership.

That would be a major symbolic blow to a nation that prides itself on being a powerhouse of Arab nationalism.

Despite increasing international pressure, President Bashar Assad still has a firm grip on power and has shown no signs of moving to stop the crackdown on a nearly 8-month-old uprising against his regime.

HONG KONG

Pro-democracy parties lose ground in local voting

Pro-Beijing parties in Hong Kong trounced the opposition as voters in the Chinese territory expressed discontent with pro-democratic parties in local elections that may predict the outcome of more important polls next year.

Results from Sunday’s poll were released early Monday for individual candidates in the neighborhood council elections, but the government did not immediately provide a breakdown by political party.

Candidates from two major parties backed by the central government in China won 124 of 336 contested seats while the two biggest pro-democracy parties lost ground, garnering only 53 seats, the parties said.

Although district councilors wield little power, analysts say, the outcome could foreshadow a tougher struggle for pro-democracy candidates in legislative elections next year, which could make it harder to move toward a fuller democracy.

GREAT BRITAIN

Murdoch tabloid spied on attorneys in hacking case

LONDON — Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper company spied on two lawyers who represent alleged victims of phone hacking by its tabloid News of the World, the firm acknowledged Monday.

News International said lawyers Mark Lewis and Charlotte Harris “were subject to surveillance,” a practice it called “inappropriate.”

The BBC and the Guardian newspaper reported Monday that Mr. Lewis and Ms. Harris were followed and videotaped last year by private investigator Derek Webb, who was hired by the now-defunct tabloid to gather evidence in a bid to discredit them.

Mr. Webb - who ran a company called Silent Shadow - told the BBC that the surveillance began in early 2010 and included following and taping Mr. Lewis’ ex-wife and daughter while they went shopping.

Mr. Lewis told the BBC that spying on his teenage daughter was “nothing short of sick” and accused the newspaper of “Mafia-like” behavior.

News International said surveillance was not illegal, but “was clearly deeply inappropriate in these circumstances.” It said the action “was not condoned by any current executive at the company.”

RUSSIA

Moscow, Beijing boost security pact

MOSCOW — The member states of a security pact dominated by Russia and China pledged Monday to boost their financial and energy cooperation, despite the global economic slowdown.

The members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization praised their economies’ “stability” and “attractiveness for investment” in a joint statement issued Monday in St. Petersburg.

The six-member bloc, which also includes four ex-Soviet nations of Central Asia, will create a joint development bank that will finance projects to improve transportation and infrastructure, the statement said.

The pact is widely seen as a tool that China and Russia use to limit Western influence in the strategic, energy-rich region. It also provides a forum for China to display its rising diplomatic influence and economic might.

SAUDI ARABIA

Iraqis stew as officials get VIP treatment at hajj

MINA — The Muslim pilgrimage of hajj is a moment of equality before God, with millions massed at Islam’s most revered sites asking for forgiveness of sins.

Of course, some are more equal than others.

At VIP tents, Iraqi lawmakers and politicians in their white pilgrim robes enjoyed the luxury of soft red carpets and air conditioning, fruit baskets set up on long tables and two refrigerators with cold water and soft drinks.

It’s conveniently right next to the Jamarat, the site of three walls symbolizing the devil that pilgrims lined up to pelt with stones on Monday.

It’s a stark contrast from the camp of their fellow citizens, several miles away, where Iraqi pilgrims crowd into stuffy tents and take hours to make their way on foot through the hot Saudi sun to reach the ritual site.

“The officials are staying at the best places with best services while we are suffering here,” said Abbas Abid Ali, a 60-year-old Shiite from Baghdad. He sat on a green plastic mattress after sunset near the Jamarat, where he and others spent the day after trekking from their camp.

“Will these officials get the same treatment on Judgment Day?” he said. “God doesn’t differentiate and care about officials and rich people.”

Several million Muslims have converged on Saudi Arabia for this year’s annual hajj, centered around the holy city of Mecca and several sites in the deserts nearby.

During part of the rites, the pilgrims stay for several nights in a gigantic tent city sprawling around the Jamarat at Mina, about 11 miles outside Mecca, and for three days pelt the walls with stones in a symbolic rejection of the devil’s temptations.

SPAIN

Cemetery warns of evictions for nonpayment

MADRID — Pushed for space, a Spanish cemetery has begun placing stickers on thousands of burial sites with lapsed leases as a warning to relatives that their ancestors could face eviction.

Jose Abadia, deputy urban planning manager for Zaragoza in Spain’s northeast, said Monday that the city’s Torrero graveyard already had removed remains from some 420 crypts and reburied them in common ground.

He said the cases involved graves whose leases had not been renewed for 15 years or more.

Torrero, like many other Spanish cemeteries, no longer allows people to buy grave sites, instead leasing them for periods of five to 49 years.

Mr. Abadia said 7,000 of Torrero’s 114,000 burial sites’ leases had expired, often because relatives or caretakers had died or moved away and failed to renew the contracts.

In other cases, family descendants no longer wanted to pay for relatives’ plots, he added.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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