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Briefly: No new Tunisian constitution before February

- - Tuesday, August 14, 2012

TUNIS — Tunisia's new constitution will not be adopted before February, the head of the drafting committee said Tuesday after having announced that it would be delayed until April.

"I believe that in all reality there can be no final reading of the constitution before February 2013," committee leader Habib Kheder, who is also a lawmaker and member of the ruling Islamist party Ennahda, told Tunisian radio station Mosaique FM. "There can be no hastening."

On Monday, Mr. Kheder said parliament would vote on the final draft of the national charter "at the end of April."

The government previously insisted that it would meet an October deadline for ratifying the constitution in order to hold general elections in March.

Mr. Kheder has declined to comment on whether he now expects the elections to take place on schedule. He said Monday that it is "the responsibility of the government."

IRAN

Defense minister dismisses threats from Israel

TEHRAN — Iran's defense minister is dismissing Israeli threats against his country as psychological warfare.

The semiofficial Mehr news agency on Tuesday quoted Gen. Ahmad Vahidi as saying that Israeli leaders are resorting to "psychological war" against Iran.

Israel has not ruled out a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. The West suspects Iran is aiming to produce nuclear weapons. Iran denies that.

Gen. Vahidi warned that Israel is moving toward destruction of its "war machine" through its "warmongering" remarks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday called Iran his country's most dangerous threat, as the debate in Israel over whether to attack Iran gains strength.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmhmanparast told reporters Tuesday that Iran would not respond seriously to "baseless" remarks.

EGYPT

Egyptian forces clash with gunmen in Sinai

CAIRO — Egypt's security forces exchanged fire Tuesday with militants in the Sinai Peninsula, sources said, as the military continued its campaign against Islamists in the lawless region.

A patrol comprising army soldiers and police came under attack from unidentified gunmen and fired back, the security sources said, adding that no casualties or arrests were reported.

The clash erupted as Egyptian security forces were hunting militants in Sinai after an Aug. 5 attack on an army outpost that killed 16 soldiers.

The army has strengthened its presence in Sinai by sending helicopters and tanks in pursuit of Islamist extremists who are thought to be behind the Aug. 5 attack.

On Sunday, Egyptian security forces killed six gunmen in a raid on a northern Sinai village, witnesses said.

Security officials said they found chemicals used to make explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns with the militants in El-Jurah village.

BAHRAIN

Police disperse Shiite protests

DUBAI — Bahraini security forces fired birdshot and tear gas to disperse protesters in Shiite villages across the capital, witnesses said Tuesday, as police announced the arrests of 11 "saboteurs."

Several protesters were wounded as police dispersed demonstrations overnight that were called by the Youth Coalition of February 14 to mark the Sunni-ruled, Shiite-majority Gulf state's independence, witnesses said.

The number of casualties was difficult to assess because protesters stayed away from hospitals for fear of being arrested.

The Interior Ministry said: "Several areas of Bahrain witnessed riots and vandalism and attempts to block vital roads."

An "illegal demonstration" took place in the village of Bani Jamra, where protesters hurled "petrol bombs and metal rods," it added. "Security forces managed to arrest 11 saboteurs, who are currently being referred to the public prosecution."

Sporadic demonstrations in Shiite villages have intensified since last year's crackdown, which ended monthlong protests dominated by Shiites in the capital, Manama.

From wire dispatches and staff reports