Iran navy drops request to use Suez Canal
CAIRO | Two Iranian naval vessels withdrew a request Thursday to transit the Suez Canal after Israel expressed concerns over the plans, a senior canal official said.
The official said no reason was given for the decision to withdraw the application.
A Suez Canal official identified the two vessels as the Alvand, a frigate, and the Kharq, a supply ship, and said they were en route to Syria.
U.N. rights chief cites setbacks
MOSCOW | The U.N’s top human rights official on Thursday decried violence in Russia against activists and journalists, but said the country has made some small moves toward reform.
Navi Pillay, the high commissioner for human rights, said her four days of meetings with Russian officials, including President Dmitry Medvedev, show there is “some recognition at the top” that Russia’s observance of human rights is seriously flawed.
“There has undoubtedly been some progress, but also some setbacks, including murders, intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders and investigative journalists and independent media, and apparent serious miscarriages of justice,” she said.
Sarkozy plans debate on influence of Islam
PARIS | France’s governing party plans to launch a national debate on the role of Islam and respect for French secularism among Muslims here, two issues emerging as major themes for the presidential election due next year.
Jean-Francois Cope, secretary-general of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement, said Thursday the debate will examine issues such as the finance and construction of mosques, the contents of Friday sermons and the education of the imams delivering the prayers.
The announcement follows the president’s declaration last week that multiculturalism had failed in France.
Iraqi Christians win asylum
VIENNA | Austria is granting asylum to 30 Iraqi Christians fleeing persecution in their homeland.
The Foreign Ministry expected the group to arrive in Vienna on Thursday and said the Christians would receive refugee status.
Iraqi Christians have suffered violent attacks from Muslim militants. Extremists killed at least 68 Christians in October, when attackers stormed a Baghdad church during Mass and took the congregation hostage.
Museum regains statue of King Tut’s dad
CAIRO | Egyptian antiquities officials regained a small limestone statue of the father of King Tutankhamen that went missing from Cairo’s famed Egyptian Museum during recent turmoil.
The Antiquities Ministry said Thursday that an anti-government protester found the statue beside a trash can, and his family contacted officials to arrange its return.
Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass had reported a total of 18 missing museum artifacts, three of which were found on the museum grounds, possibly abandoned by looters making their escape.
The most important missing object was the limestone statue of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, which depicts the standing king with a blue crown, and holding an offering table in his hands.
From wire dispatches and staff reports