- - Thursday, April 28, 2011


Explosion hits cafe in Marrakech, killing 14

RABAT | A massive explosion ripped through a cafe popular among tourists in the Moroccan city of Marrakech on Thursday, killing 14 people, including foreigners and wounding 20 in what the government called a criminal attack.

The blast in the Djemma el-Fna Square was Morocco’s deadliest attack in eight years.

The explosion just before noon tore the facade off the two-story, terra cotta-colored Argana cafe, leaving awnings dangling. Panicked passers-by dragged away bodies and tried to put out flames with fire extinguishers, witnesses told the Associated Press.

The square, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a focal point for the hordes of Western tourists who visit the central city of Marrakech seeking a taste of the exotic in this Muslim kingdom on the Atlantic Ocean. The square is known for its snake charmers, fire-breathers and old town, or medina.

Moroccan government spokesman Khalid Naciri said that the 14 slain people came from a variety of countries, but he did not say which ones. Twenty others were injured.


European rights group decries newspaper closings

VIENNA | Europe’s leading human rights group Thursday condemned Belarus for moving to close two independent newspapers critical of the authoritarian government.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe “expressed alarm over the lawsuits filed by the Belarusian Information Ministry aimed at shutting down [the newspapers] Nasha Niva and Narodnaya Volya.

“This move by the Belarusian government to silence a few remaining critical voices will further diminish media pluralism in the country.”

On their websites, the newspapers said an official told them they had exceeded the maximum number of warnings allowed for a media publication within a year.


Police arrest, beat opposition leader again

KAMPALA | Police dragged opposition leader Kizza Besigye from his car at gunpoint and threw him into a pickup truck, during a fifth round of protests against high food and fuel prices.

Mr. Besigye later appeared in court, slumped forward in his chair, his ear bandaged and eyes covered with tissues. Plainclothes police had repeatedly sprayed him with pepper gas as they forced him from his car.

Mr. Besigye’s attorney, David Mpanga, said he was unable to make a plea because he could neither open his eyes nor talk. The judge adjourned the case until May 2 and released him on bail.

The arrest was the fourth in three weeks for Mr. Besigye, runner-up to veteran President Yoweri Museveni in a disputed February election.


Belgium moves closer to banning burqas

BRUSSELS | Belgium has taken a major step toward banning burqa-type Islamic dress in public Thursday, when its lower house of parliament overwhelmingly backed the measure.

After Thursday’s approval, the Senate still has several weeks to decide whether to put the bill up for further discussion and another vote.

The Belgian legislature already came close to approving such legislation last year, but the process was held up at the last moment when the governing coalition collapsed.

On Thursday, the bill was approved by an overwhelming majority of 136-1 and two abstentions.

A similar ban went into effect in France earlier this month.


Fidel Castro backs Gadhafi, slams NATO campaign

HAVANA | Former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro praised Moammar Gadhafi on Thursday and warned that the NATO bombing in Libya is “fanning a flame that can burn everyone.”

If the Libyan dictator withstands the NATO-led bombardment, he will “go down in history as one of the great figures of the Arab world,” Mr. Castro said in a newspaper column in the state-run media.

“These crude attacks on the Libya people, which have a neo-fascist character, are fanning a flame that can burn everyone.”


Poles joyful over John Paul’s beatification

WARSAW | Poles already are calling him John Paul the Great.

Across the heavily Roman Catholic country, the faithful are voicing joy and pride as Sunday’s beatification of Polish-born Pope John Paul II draws closer.

Many pilgrims are boarding buses and trains for the roughly 30-hour journey to Rome for the ceremony, while many more are expected to fill squares in Warsaw, Krakow and his hometown of Wadowice to follow it on large video screens.

The atmosphere of celebration contrasts sharply with the deep sense of mourning after John Paul died in 2005. At the time, black ribbons of mourning fluttered everywhere and full churches expressed the widespread grief felt at the country’s loss of its most respected moral authority and a figure credited with helping end communism.

Now many here repeat a common refrain: that the beatification is largely a formality because they already consider their native son the holiest of men.

Beatification is the last formal step before possible sainthood, and many in Poland hope that the fast beatification will be followed by a speedy canonization as well.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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