- - Sunday, November 18, 2012

TEHRAN — Iran held a conference Sunday to reconcile Syria’s government with opposition factions and end the country’s civil war, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The report said the one-day meeting of some 200 opposition members and Syria’s National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar could be a step toward a future, broad-based opposition gathering, although it did not say if any of Syria’s major rebel or exile groups had attended.

Most of those groups distrust Iran, a key ally of their adversary President Bashar Assad.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi warned at the opening of the meeting that providing opposition groups with heavy arms could put the entire region at risk of “organized terrorism.”

He said that arming Mr. Assad’s opponents, as Damascus accuses Qatar and Saudi Arabia of doing, violates international law and principles of non-intervention in countries’ domestic affairs.

Mr. Salehi reiterated Iran’s traditional stance on Syria, blaming “foreign intervention and irresponsible armed groups” for the country’s uprising. He said Iran supports peaceful solutions to end the crisis.

The conference is seen as a reaction to last week’s meeting in Qatar in which opposition groups formed an umbrella coalition to topple Mr. Assad.

GREECE

ECB: Greece will need more aid through 2014

BERLIN — Greece will need yet more international financial assistance beyond the agreed bailout programs through 2014, a European Central Bank board member said Sunday.

The government in Athens probably won’t be able to return to finance its debt on financial markets in 2015 and 2016, thus requiring another assistance program, Joerg Asmussen told German public broadcaster ZDF.

Many of Greece’s partners in the 17-nation eurozone loathe granting Greece yet more funds and more long-term assistance, not least German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is heading into an election year.

International creditors have kept debt-ridden Greece afloat since 2010 and have pledged rescue loans worth $306 billion through 2014 because the country could no longer refinance its debt on markets.

Investors demanded prohibitive interest rates from Greece as they feared the country might default on its debt.

But a much deeper than expected recession and delays in implementing austerity measures and reforms have created a new budget shortfall of some $38 billion under the current bailout program.

The finance ministers of Greece’s eurozone partners, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund will meet Tuesday to decide how to plug that hole.

CHINA

Angry protesters overturn police vehicles

BEIJING — Thousands of residents protested in a southeastern Chinese city after a traffic accident, smashing police cars and overturning three police vans, police and residents said Sunday.

The reason for the protest in Fuan city in Fujian province was unclear.

Police said the incident was instigated by “a handful of lawless people.” One resident said people became angry because police and paramedics took nearly an hour to arrive to help the injured, while a Hong Kong-based human rights group said it was to do with corruption.

But such protests have become increasingly common in China, and Saturday’s violence is another reminder that the country’s new leadership has to deal with underlying social discontent that often boils over.

People are fed up with corruption and high-handed officialdom, pensions that have not kept pace with inflation, and families being forced from their homes to make way for developments.

Residents said police were stopping cars and checking people for driving after drinking on Saturday evening when the accident happened on a main road in Fuan.

KENYA

Bus explosion kills at least 5

NAIROBI — An explosion on a bus in Kenya’s capital killed at least five people and hurt 29 on Sunday, a police official and the Red Cross said.

Nairobi police Chief Moses Ombati said there would likely be more casualties after the explosion on a 25-seater public transportation vehicle.

“There are more casualties coming in but what I can confirm is that five people have been killed,” he said, adding that 10 men and three women were among the injured.

Kenya Red Cross said 29 people had been hurt in the blast.

Chief Ombati could not give further details about the cause of the blast in the Eastleigh suburb of Nairobi that is sometimes referred to as “little Mogadishu,” because of the number of Somali immigrants who live there.

A U.N. security official at the scene of the explosion said the blast was caused by an improvised explosive device. Ball bearings could be seen, which likely could have wounded bystanders in the busy area, according to the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to the press.

Kenya has been hit by a string of grenade attacks that are blamed on sympathizers of al-Shabab, Somalia’s Islamist extremist rebels who are linked to al Qaeda.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Dubai police: High-rise safely cleared after fire

DUBAI — Rescue crews in Dubai safely evacuated a 34-story residential tower Sunday after a fire gutted portions of the building, police said.

The blaze charred the outside of the structure and sent gray smoke drifting over a major development known as Jumeirah Lakes Towers, a cluster of high-rise apartment buildings and shops on the southern edge of Dubai.

Residents, some wearing pajamas and clutching passports and other belongings, stood on roadways watching flames pour from windows on high floors. Pieces of fiery debris fell from the facade.

A statement from Dubai Police said the fire was brought under control and no casualties were reported.

The blaze, however, is likely to add to calls for greater fire safety and evacuation planning in the United Arab Emirates, where hundreds of thousands of people live in high-rise buildings.

In June, hundreds of residents were evacuated safely from a 76-story tower after a fire broke out on the 36th floor. In November, firefighters in Sharjah, north of Dubai, struggled to battle a blaze in a 25-story tower without equipment to reach the flames.

The UAE is considering bans on flammable panels in high-rise buildings.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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