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World Briefs: Opposition agrees on united front against Assad

- - Sunday, November 11, 2012

DOHA, Qatar — Syria's opposition agreed Sunday to unite against Syrian President Bashar Assad and elected a cleric as its first leader after four days of marathon talks in Qatar.

The Syrian National Council finally signed up to a wider, more representative bloc centered on a government-in-waiting, as demanded by Arab and Western states.

Muslim cleric Ahmed al-Khatib, 52, a moderate originally from Damascus who fled Syria three months ago, was elected to head the newly formed opposition group.

Leaders of the Syrian National Council prompted repeated delays over their concerns they would be sidelined in a broader opposition coalition.

After negotiations ran into the early hours of Sunday and resumed in the afternoon, the opposition factions agreed to form a "National Coalition of Forces of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition."

IRAN

Parliament to investigate death of jailed blogger

TEHRAN — Iran's parliament announced Sunday it will probe reports that a jailed blogger died suspiciously in custody last week, according to the official IRNA news agency.

This was Iran's first official reaction to the death of Sattar Beheshti, in a rare example of parliament taking up allegations of human rights abuses first raised internationally. The case gained publicity over the weekend when the U.S. State Department and a press-freedom group called for an inquiry.

It was known that the blogger died in custody, but how he died was not disclosed.

Deputy parliamentary speaker Mohammad Hasan Abutorabifard said that the legislature's influential committee on national security and foreign policy has been assigned to look into the circumstances of Mr. Beheshti's death.

AFGHANISTAN

Gunman in army uniform kills coalition soldier

KABUL — A gunman wearing an Afghan army uniform on Sunday fatally shot a member of the U.S.-led coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan in the latest in a spate of insider attacks that are fracturing the trust between NATO and Afghan forces.

U.S. Army Maj. Martyn Crighton, a spokesman for the coalition, said the service member was killed in the south. His identity and nationality were not disclosed.

Mohammad Zarak, spokesman for the governor of Helmand province, said the shooting took place in Nad Ali district after an argument between an Afghan soldier and coalition service members.

Coalition figures show at least 60 NATO troops have been killed so far this year and others have been wounded in about 45 insider attacks, where members of the Afghan security forces or insurgents dressed in their uniforms turn their guns on U.S. and allied troops.

SRI LANKA

Opposition calls prison deaths a massacre

COLOMBO — Sri Lanka's main opposition party has described the deaths of 27 inmates after a prison riot as a "cold-blooded massacre" and demanded a parliamentary investigation. Authorities have said the prisoners died in a shootout.

Mangala Samaraweera, a lawmaker for the United National Party, said Sunday that he has information that most of the prisoners killed during Friday's clash had been fatally shot by police commandos and soldiers.

The party has called for a parliamentary committee to be appointed to investigate.

Officials have said the clash erupted when prisoners attacked a search team that went into the Welikada Prison facility in Colombo looking for narcotics and communication devices. The prisoners armed themselves by breaking into the armory, they said.

Forty-two others, including police commandos and soldiers, were wounded.

KENYA

Officers killed chasing cattle rustlers

NAIROBI — Cattle rustlers killed 12 police officers in an ambush, a police spokesman said Sunday.

The officers were killed early Saturday morning in northwestern Kenya, as they were pursuing the cattle thieves, said spokesman Eric Kiraithe. He said nine other officers were wounded in the attack and have been flown to Nairobi for treatment at Kenyatta National Hospital.

Mr. Kiraithe said that hundreds of cattle were stolen from the Samburu community by raiders suspected to be from Turkana. He said police officers and reserves pursued the raiders when they were caught in the trap.

Cattle raiding is an ongoing source of friction between communities in northwestern Kenya.

NIGERIA

West African nations to send troops to Mali

LAGOS — A bloc of West African nations has agreed to send 3,000 troops to stabilize Mali, Nigeria's state-run TV reported Sunday.

The decision came late Sunday at the end of an emergency meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Nigeria's capital.

Military experts from the United Nations, ECOWAS, Europe and the African Union have drafted a plan to recapture northern Mali from Islamic terrorists, but it would need final approval from the African Union and the U.N. Security Council before it could be carried out.

Mutinous soldiers overthrew Mali's democratically elected president more than seven months ago, creating a power vacuum that paved the way for Islamists to grab the north.

Security analysts and diplomats say that even if the deployment of troops to north Mali is approved by the United Nations, the deployment of troops could take months.

From wire dispatches and staff reports