BEIRUT – Rebels in southern Syria freed 21 U.N. peacekeepers Friday after holding them hostage for four days, driving them to the border with Jordan after accusations from Western officials that the little-known group had tarnished the image of those fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.
The Filipino peacekeepers were abducted Wednesday by one of the rebel groups operating in southern Syria near the Jordanian border and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, where a U.N. force has patrolled a cease-fire line between Israel and Syria for nearly four decades.
Activists with the group, the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, first had demanded that all government forces leave the area. Then they suggested the peacekeepers were human shields against government attacks. Then they declared them honored guests held for their own safety.
Egyptian soccer fans riot over verdict
Egyptian soccer fans rampaged through the heart of Cairo on Saturday, furious about the acquittal of seven police officers while death sentences against 21 alleged rioters were confirmed in a trial over a stadium melee that left 74 people dead.
The case of the Feb. 1, 2012, stadium riot in the city of Port Said at the northern tip of the Suez Canal has taken on political undertones not just because police faced allegations of negligence in the tragedy but also because the verdicts come with Egypt in the grip of the latest and most serious bout of political turmoil in the two years since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.
Blasphemy claim prompts rampage
Hundreds of people in eastern Pakistan rampaged through a Christian neighborhood Saturday, torching dozens of homes after hearing reports that a Christian man had committed blasphemy against Islam’s prophet.
Blasphemy is a serious crime in Pakistan that can carry the death penalty, but sometimes outraged residents exact their own retribution for perceived insults of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
But Akram Gill, a local Christian bishop, said the incident had more to do with enmity between two men, one Christian and one Muslim. He said the men got into a brawl after drinking one night, and in the morning the Muslim man made up the blasphemy story as payback.
Loser disputes result of Kenyan election
Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding father, was named the winner of the country’s presidential election on Saturday with 50.07 percent of the vote, but his opponent, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, refused to concede, alleging multiple failures in the election’s integrity.
Supporters of Kenyatta – a man accused by an international court of helping to orchestrate the vicious violence that marred the nation’s last vote in 2007 – flooded the streets, celebrating in a parade of red, his campaign’s color.
Jordan parliament takes historic move
Jordan’s parliament on Saturday named a former liberal lawmaker as prime minister, the first time in the country’s history that the legislature rather than the king has decided who will be head of government.
Abdullah Ensour, known for fiery criticisms of the government when he was in parliament, was still the king’s choice as interim prime minister in October, when the government was dissolved before elections. He was selected as part of a reform program aimed at defusing political unrest to stave off an Arab Spring-style uprising.
A government official said Ensour will name his Cabinet this week, ahead of a visit by President Obama.
Falkland Islanders to vote on destiny
Britain hopes a referendum on the political status of the Falkland Islands will push the United States and other neutral governments off the fence in its territorial dispute with Argentina over the remote South Atlantic archipelago.
The local Falkland Islands Government is trying to get as many of its 1,650 registered voters as possible to cast their secret ballots today and Monday on a simple yes-or-no question: Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?
Islanders expect the answer to be overwhelmingly in favor of British governance and protection, a result they hope will put their own self-determination at the center of any debate about their future in the face of Argentine claims to the islands.