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Briefly: Captives return home from Syria

- - Sunday, July 29, 2012

ROME — Two Italian engineers who were kidnapped and held captive for eight days in Syria have returned to Italy.

Domenico Tedeschi, 36, and Oriano Cantani, 64, told reporters at Rome's Fiumicino airport Sunday that they still don't know the identity of their captors.

The two were seized by a group of masked men who intercepted their car en route to the airport July 18.

Mr. Cantani said the Syrian army organized their release but did not give further details.

The two had been working for subcontractors of the Italian company Ansaldo Energia, which supplies and installs power generation plants.

The men were in good condition. They were met at the airport by family members and Foreign Ministry officials.

ROMANIA

Voters to decide whether to oust president

BUCHAREST — Romania's unpopular president was fighting for his political life Sunday as Romanians voted on whether to oust him, part of a political battle that has raised questions about the rule of law in the fledgling European Union member.

President Traian Basescu's rivals in the government are seeking to push him out for the second time in five years. They claim the 60-year-old populist violated the constitution by meddling in government business, coddling cronies and using the secret services against enemies.

Mr. Basescu, a former ship captain whose popularity has plummeted over economic challenges, says he's the victim of a political vendetta and has urged his supporters to boycott the vote — a tactic that may help him survive thanks to a rule requiring turnout to be more than half of the total electorate.

The political turmoil has dented Romania's credibility, with the U.S. and EU expressing doubts about the left-leaning government's respect for the independence of the judiciary.

Critics accuse Prime Minister Victor Ponta, himself the subject of a plagiarism scandal, of orchestrating the move as part of a power grab.

Parliament, dominated by Ponta allies, impeached Mr. Basescu this month, setting up Sunday's national referendum on his future. About 18 million Romanians were eligible to vote, including many living abroad.

Most voters are expected to opt to oust Mr. Basescu, but it is uncertain whether the government can muster the necessary turnout to make the result binding.

SPAIN

Hundreds protest toughening of abortion law

MADRID — Several hundred people held a demonstration against a government proposal to make it harder for women to get abortions in Spain.

The protesters in Madrid included one young woman who wrote the slogan "Judges and priests away from my body" on her stomach.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardon has said he will ask parliament to change the law, including a new requirement for parental permission in cases where 16- and 17-year-olds want to end pregnancies.

In 2010, Spain's Socialist government changed the law to allow abortions without restrictions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, and for 16- and 17-year-olds without parental permission.

Mr. Gallardon's right-leaning Popular Party won a landslide victory in November, and has promised to carry out its campaign pledge to tighten abortion laws.

From wire dispatches and staff reports