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World Briefs: President’s rivals cement lead in parliament

- - Sunday, March 4, 2012

TEHRAN — Conservative rivals of Iran's president cemented their control on parliament as the count from last week's voting moved into the final stages.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's political opponents clearly had the upper hand Sunday, with more than two-thirds of the seats decided in the 290-member parliament. The full tallies are not expected until Tuesday.

Friday's election highlighted Mr. Ahmadinejad's political tumble after attempts to challenge the authority of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to make all key policy decisions, though their views are similar.

Parliament has no direct sway over critical issues such as Iran's nuclear program, but control by Khamenei loyalists gives the leadership a more united front in the escalating showdowns with the West.

REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Official: 136 killed in explosions

BRAZZAVILLE — A morgue in the capital of the Republic of Congo has taken in 136 bodies of those killed in blasts caused by arms depot fire in the capital.

More bodies were coming into the morgue Sunday afternoon. A local hospital reported at least 237 wounded people.

Sunday's blasts flattened many buildings in Brazzaville and sent more than 2,000 fleeing their homes.

Didier Boutsindi of the presidential office said untold numbers of people were trapped in a church that collapsed.

The explosions shook houses in Brazzaville and echoed across the Congo River to the capital of the neighboring country.

The Republic of Congo is often overshadowed by its much larger neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

YEMEN

Fighting kills 30 troops, 14 militants

SANAA — Intense clashes erupted Sunday between Yemeni soldiers and al Qaeda fighters in the southern province of Abyan, killing at least 30 government troops and 14 of the militants, military officials said.

The officials said the fighting was taking place west of Abyan's provincial capital of Zinjibar, held by militants since May. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The violence in Abyan highlights the challenges facing Yemen after a year of political turmoil that has allowed al Qaeda to seize several towns in the lawless south and withstand repeated army offensives to retake them.

ISRAEL

Official: Israel alone to decide on Iran

JERUSALEM — Israel's foreign minister said Sunday that U.S. pressure will not affect Israeli thinking on how to cope with the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program.

Avigdor Lieberman delivered his assessment on the eve of a key meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama at the White House.

Both countries believe Iran is developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons, but divisions have emerged on how to confront the threat. Israel has sent a series of signals recently that military action may be needed to stop the Iranians.

The U.S., while not ruling out the threat of force, has said that tough new Western economic sanctions imposed on Iran must be given time to work. Iran claims its program is for peaceful purposes.

LIBYA

163 bodies found in mass grave

BENGHAZI — A Libyan committee on missing persons said Sunday it had recovered the bodies of 163 people who were killed in the conflict that toppled the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.

"The discovery of 163 bodies out of 400 missing from the regions of eastern Libya is an incredible achievement," Maher Warfalli of the committee of missing persons told Agence France-Presse, without specifying when the grave was found.

Committee Chairman Omar Abdelkhalek Obeidi, who is also a forensics expert, said the bodies had been extracted from a "mass grave" in the desert town of Bin Jawad, east of Sirte, where Gadhafi was captured and killed Oct. 20.

"The bodies belong to rebels who lost their lives between February and March 2011 in Brega, Ras Lanuf, Bin Jawad and even on the outskirts of Sirte," he said.

IRELAND

Saint's heart stolen from Dublin cathedral

DUBLIN — Somewhere in Ireland, a burglar has the heart of a saint.

Officials at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin said Sunday they're distraught and perplexed over the theft of the church's most precious relic: the preserved heart of St. Laurence O'Toole, patron saint of Dublin.

O'Toole's heart had been displayed in the cathedral since the 13th century. It was stored in a heart-shaped wooden box and secured in a small, square iron cage on the wall of a chapel dedicated to his memory.

On Saturday someone cut through two bars, pried the cage loose and made off with the relic.

"I am devastated that one of the treasured artifacts of the cathedral is stolen," said the Most Rev. Dermot Dunne, the cathedral's dean. "It has no economic value, but it is a priceless treasure that links our present foundation with its founding father."

From wire dispatches and staff reports