- - Tuesday, May 29, 2012

CAIRO — The presidential candidate for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday sought to expand his support base ahead of a tight runoff against an ex-regime figure next month, vowing to ensure the full rights of Christians and women if he is elected.

Mohammed Morsi also tried to reassure the pro-democracy youth groups who drove the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s regime 15 months ago, saying he will protect the right to stage peaceful protests and sit-ins.

Mr. Morsi claimed the top spot in the first round of Egypt’s landmark election last week, putting him in the June 16 to 17 runoff vote against Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander and Mr. Mubarak’s last prime minister.

Both candidates are highly polarizing figures, and are scrambling to broaden their base by appealing to groups that didn’t support them in the first round.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday in Cairo, Mr. Morsi said he planned to appoint Christians as presidential advisers and name one as vice president “if possible,” and said he would not impose an Islamic dress code in public for women.

“Our Christian brothers, they are partners in the nation. They will have full rights that are equal to those enjoyed by Muslims,” Mr. Morsi said. “They will be represented as advisers in the presidential institution, and maybe a vice president if possible.”

Women, he said, will have full rights in jobs and education. “Women have a right to freely choose the attire that suits them,” he said.

YEMEN

11 militants, 5 soldiers killed in south

SANAA — Yemen’s army pressed an offensive on Tuesday against southern towns held by al Qaeda-linked fighters, with 11 militants and five soldiers killed in the clashes, military officials said.

Clashes around the town of Jaar, which fell to the militants more than a year ago, left eight al Qaeda fighters and two soldiers dead, they said.

Another three al Qaeda fighters and three soldiers were killed after militants ambushed an army supply column northeast of Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province.

Yemen’s army claims it has retaken most of Zinjibar, captured in 2011 by militants taking advantage of political turmoil to extend their control over large swaths of territory in the south.

WEST BANK

Israeli court sentences Palestinian protest leader

OFER MILITARY BASE — An Israeli military court Tuesday sentenced a Palestinian protest leader to 13 months in jail, time he already had served for urging youths to throw rocks at Israeli soldiers.

Bassem al-Tamimi, 45, walked free because he already spent that much time in jail while awaiting trial. The activist led weekly marches in his West Bank village of Nabi Saleh for years to protest Jewish settlers seizing a nearby well for their own use, mirroring other protests in Palestinian villages.

The court said he was convicted mostly on the basis of a confession given by a 15-year-old. The teen was interrogated without a lawyer present, his relatives and activists said.

The case against him sparked European Union criticism of Israel’s policy of imprisoning Palestinian protest leaders.

Many of those protests turn into clashes between stone-throwing youths and Israeli soldiers firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Typically, youths appear to act on their own, while protest leaders do little to halt them.

Mr. al-Tamimi said the sentence highlighted the “absurdity” of the case, matching the time he spent in prison before his 85-year-old mother suffered a stroke, prompting his conditional release in April.

Mr. al-Tamimi said he was at the mercy of statements taken from vulnerable youths interrogated by Israeli forces.

QATAR

Mall fire probed as victims mourned

DOHA — Investigators in Qatar carried out their first extensive probes through a fire-ravaged daycare center and other charred areas inside the country’s biggest mall Tuesday after a blaze that killed 19 people, including 13 children.

The blaze and equipment failures that hampered firefighting raised questions about safety measures in the megastructures across the wealthy Gulf.

The findings from the state-ordered inquest are expected within a week, the official Qatar News Agency said.

But commentators quickly called for extensive safety reviews after the sprinkler system malfunctioned during Monday’s fire.

The tragedy also is likely to push authorities across the Gulf to further examine fire safety rules in a region where the drive to build fast and big has brought concerns about the level of emergency planning.

Rescue crews in Qatar’s capital Doha had to hack through the roof of the mammoth Villaggio mall to reach the child care facility, where the victims included 2-year-old New Zealand triplets and three Spanish siblings. Two firefighters also were killed.

“What happened is similar to murder because of the lack of safety measures in such complexes,” said wrote Saleh al-Kuwari, editor of the Al Raya newspaper in Doha.

An editorial in the newspaper Al Arab urged officials around the Gulf to consider creating special firefighting and civil defense units for the energy-rich region’s huge malls.

The Villaggio includes an ice skating rink, theme park, movie theater and indoor Venice-style gondola rides.

“Safety requirements must be stressed,” said the editorial. “They also need regular review.”

Qatar’s Interior Ministry said the mall’s sprinkler system malfunctioned, and rescue efforts were hampered by a lack of floor plans. Other Gulf nations also have confronted concerns about whether public safety planning can keep pace with the rapid construction.

From wire dispatches and staff reports