- - Tuesday, February 28, 2012

SYRIA

U.S. slams Syria over rights meeting walkout

GENEVA — The United States criticized Syria’s envoy Tuesday for storming out of an emergency U.N. meeting on the crisis in his country, saying the walkout and a fiery speech that preceded it demonstrated the “delusional” nature of President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Fayssal al-Hamwi, accused members of the U.N. Human Rights Council of promoting terrorism and prolonging the crisis in his country by holding an urgent meeting on Syria.

“Anybody who heard the Syrian ambassador should be aware that his comments were borderline out of touch with reality,” Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, the U.S. representative to the 47-nation council, told reporters.

Mr. al-Hamwi took the floor shortly after the U.N.’s top human rights official called for an immediate cease-fire in Syria and unhindered access for aid agencies to deliver emergency supplies and evacuate the sick and wounded.

Calling it part of “a pre-established plan,” the ambassador said the meeting was “aimed at attacking the Syrian state and its institutions under the pretext of humanitarian needs.”

As diplomats and government officials from 70 countries lined up to express their concern about the deteriorating situation in Syria, Mr. al-Hamwi announced that his delegation would withdraw from what he called “this sterile discussion.”

Before storming out of the room, he denounced a planned resolution on Syria as “malicious and prejudiced.”

TUNISIA

Tunisia ready to offer asylum to Assad

TUNIS — Tunisia’s president has told a local paper he is ready to offer asylum to Syrian leader Bashar Assad as part of a negotiated solution to end Syria’s conflict, the paper’s website announced said Tuesday.

President Moncef Marzouki said the offer would extend to Mr. Assad’s associates, in an interview set to appear Wednesday in the French-language daily La Presse.

Tunisia would be a surprising choice for Mr. Assad’s retirement as it was the first Arab nation to topple a longtime autocrat when its former president fled the country a year ago in the face of protests.

Tunisia was the first country to recall its ambassador from Syria, and it hosted an international conference Friday that called for an immediate cease-fire and the delivery of humanitarian aid to the country.

EGYPT

Islamist chosen as speaker of upper house

CAIRO — Egypt’s newly elected upper house of parliament picked an Islamist as its speaker on Tuesday, consolidating control by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party over the two legislative chambers.

The election of pharmacology professor Ahmed Fahmy as speaker of the Shura Council came during the chamber’s inaugural session.

Saad el-Katatni, like Mr. Fahmy a member of the Freedom and Justice Party, was elected speaker of the more powerful lower house, or People’s Assembly, on Jan. 23.

The Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt’s oldest and most powerful Islamist group. Its Freedom and Justice Party members hold just under half of all seats in the 508-seat lower house and 106 of the Shura Council’s 180 elected seats.

An additional 90 lawmakers are due to be appointed by the ruling generals who took over power when Egypt’s longtime President Hosni Mubarak was ousted after a popular uprising a year ago.

The generals are expected to leave the appointments to the nation’s next president, due to be elected before the end of June. Then the generals say they will hand over power to a civilian government.

Ultra-orthodox Islamists known as Salafis made strong showings in elections for both chambers, finishing second behind the Freedom and Justice Party and giving parliament a distinct Islamist character.

The two houses are due to hold a joint session later this week to select a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution.

From wire dispatches and staff reports