- Associated Press - Saturday, January 18, 2014

Main Syrian opposition group votes in favor of attending coming peace talks

ISTANBUL (AP) - The main, Western-backed Syrian opposition group voted Saturday in favor of attending a coming peace conference aimed at ending the country’s bloody civil war, paving the way for the first direct talks between the rival sides in the nearly three-year conflict.

The vote in Istanbul came as food supplies began entering a besieged rebel-held Palestinian refugee camp in Syria’s capital for the first time in months, an apparent goodwill gesture by President Bashar Assad’s government ahead of the peace conference, Palestinian and United Nations officials said.

The Syrian National Coalition was under huge pressure from its Western and Arab sponsors to attend the peace talks, scheduled to open Wednesday in the Swiss city of Montreux. The Syrian government has already said it will attend the U.N.-sponsored talks.

The Coalition’s leader, Ahmad al-Jarba, said in a speech late Saturday that they are heading to the conference “without any bargain regarding the principles of the revolution and we will not be cheated by Assad’s regime.”

“The negotiating table for us is a track toward achieving the demands of the revolution - at the top of them removing the butcher from power,” Jarba said.

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Voters overwhelmingly support Egypt’s new constitution, though results hide divided country

CAIRO (AP) - Almost everyone who cast ballots supported Egypt’s new constitution in this week’s referendum, results announced Saturday show, but a boycott by Islamists and low youth turnout suggest the country is still dangerously divided.

Nearly 20 million voters backed the new constitution, almost double the number of those who voted for one drafted in 2012 under the government of toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Only a narrow sliver of voters - 1.9 percent - voted against the charter, after a massive government-sponsored campaign supporting it and the arrest of activists campaigning against it.

“Despite a milieu of intense social upheaval and acts of terrorism and sabotage that sought to derail the process, Egyptians have now marked yet another defining moment in our roadmap to democracy,” presidential spokesman Ehab Badawy said. “The outcome represents nothing less than the dawning of a new Egypt.”

The expected overwhelming support for the charter is seen as key to legitimizing Egypt’s military-backed interim government, and the political plan put in place since Morsi’s ouster in July. Analysts say it also suggests military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the coup against Morsi, has enough popular support to make a rumored run for the presidency himself.

It was the first vote since the military removed Morsi following massive protests in July. Hundreds celebrated in the streets after officials announced the results, including Hoda Hamza, a housewife who waved an Egyptian flag in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and carried a picture of el-Sissi with an inscription reading: “By the order of the people, el-Sissi is president.”

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Afghan restaurant attack that killed 21 people the deadliest of war for foreign civilians

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