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World Briefs: U.S. official arrives in Somalia’s capital

- - Sunday, June 10, 2012

SOMALIA

MOGADISHU — The highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Somalia's capital in years landed in Mogadishu on Sunday in another sign of improving security in the Horn of Africa's most chaotic nation.

Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, arrived at the seaside airport Sunday morning, said Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda, a spokesman for the African Union military force in Somalia.

African Union troops pushed al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab fighters out of the capital in August, allowing markets and even the arts to flourish for the first time in years. The U.N.'s top official visited in December - the first visit by the U.N. secretary-general in nearly two decades.

The U.S. does not have an embassy in Somalia, though embassy officials from neighboring Kenya have visited Somalia in recent months and years. The last senior U.S. government official to visit Mogadishu appears to have been a visit by Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni in 1997.

Al-Shabab, which only two years ago controlled most of Mogadishu, now faces military pressure on three sides.

FRANCE

Socialists win first round in parliamentary elections

PARIS — Leftist candidates won strong support in the first round of parliamentary elections Sunday, according to polling agencies, in a vote that is crucial to President Francois Hollande's Socialist agenda.

Mr. Hollande needs leftists to take control of the lower house of parliament - currently dominated by conservatives - to carry out his plans to redirect France's economy, with repercussions around debt-laden Europe.

It remains uncertain who will end up in control of the National Assembly after the decisive second round of voting June 17.

Projections from four French polling agencies show diminished support for former President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative UMP party compared to the last elections in 2007, and growing support for the left.

EGYPT

Government pulls warnings about foreigners

CAIRO — Egypt's government has pulled public service announcements that warned against talking to foreigners who may be spies after criticism that the spots fueled xenophobia, a media official said Sunday.

The two spots ran on both state and private television stations for a few days before Minister of Information Ahmed Anis ordered them off the air. One opens with a blond-haired young man scanning a cafe while a narrator says:

"From the beginning, he knows why he is here and sets up his goal. He won't have to spend much time getting to know the people in the place."

The foreigner then spots three young Egyptians and heads over to them, saying in broken Arabic: "I love you so much." The narrator says: "Our generosity has no limits," as one of the Egyptians stands up, shakes hands and invites the foreigner to sit with them.

It goes on to show the foreigner smiling slyly and narrowing his eyes while listening intently to young Egyptians complaining about the economy and talking about overhearing a plot against the ruling military council while in the subway. The narrator warns Egyptians not to share with outsiders their woes about the country's economy or political situation.

NIGERIA

Boko Haram kills three in church attacks

JOS — A suicide bomber blew his car up outside a church and gunmen opened fire on another service in Nigeria on Sunday, killing three people and wounding dozens in attacks claimed by Boko Haram.

The assaults were the latest in a series targeting churches in Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer, with many of the previous attacks also claimed by the Islamist group, whose insurgency has killed hundreds.

A purported spokesman for Boko Haram claimed responsibility for Sunday's attacks and threatened further violence.

""The Nigerian state and Christians are our enemies and we will be launching attacks on the Nigerian state and its security apparatus as well as churches until we achieve our goal of establishing an Islamic state in place of the secular state," the spokesman said.

The attacks took place at evangelical churches in the central city of Jos and the northeastern town of Biu, both of which have been hit before by violence blamed on Boko Haram.

TUNISIA

Court convicts Libyans for killing soldiers

TUNIS — A Tunisian military tribunal Sunday convicted two Libyans accused of belonging to al-Qaeda's north African division of being accomplices in the murder of two Tunisian soldiers in May 2011, and sentenced them to 20 years in prison.

Imed Ben Meftah Youssef and Hafedh Ben Meftah Dh'baa also were convicted of possession of illegal weapons and ammunition, explosives and other charges.

The Libyans are suspected members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an Algeria-based offshoot of the terrorist network.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports