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UPI NewsTrack TopNews

May 26, 2012 at 10:00 PM   |   Comments

90 killed, many children, in Syria attack

DAMASCUS, Syria, May 26 (UPI) -- At least 90 people, many of them children, were killed in a town in the restive province of Homs in Syria in an attack by government forces, activists said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan issued a statement saying U.N. monitors inspected the scene and confirmed dozens of civilians were killed in the shelling, The Washington Post reported.

"This appalling and brutal crime involving indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force is a flagrant violation of international law and of the commitments of the Syrian Government to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centers and violence in all its forms," the statement said. "Those responsible for perpetrating this crime must be held to account."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said "the international community" would step up pressure on "Assad and his cronies, whose rule by murder and fear must come to an end."

The attack in Houla prompted opposition activists to plead for international help in stopping the government attacks, CNN reported.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported Saturday government forces opened fire on international observers in Al-Quseir, Homs, to prevent them from getting to the area, and the observers returned to their hotels.

The opposition Local Coordinating Committees said 43 people were killed elsewhere in Syria Friday.

"We in the Local Coordination Committees are pained by the international community's apparent blindness to the bloodshed, and believe the United Nations Security Council bears the responsibility for its inability to protect Syrian civilians," the group said.

"It's unbelievable that we have 7 billion people on this planet, and they all can't do anything about what they are seeing on TV," activist Abu Emad told CNN.

"Do something," he said in a plea to the international community.

The LCC said most of those killed in Houla were women and children.

Activists said security forces had killed entire families, some in heavy shelling, others who were caught and summarily executed, the BBC reported.

Six members of one family were killed when their house was shelled, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Daily Telegraph said footage posted online shows bodies of civilians, many of them children, lying on a floor, some covered with blankets.

The Syrian government said 16 people had been killed by "terrorists" Friday but did not mention violence in Houla.

The government routinely blames outside terrorists for violence in the country.

The United Nations says at least 10,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011.


Lawsuit threatened in Egypt election

CAIRO, May 26 (UPI) -- A Muslim Brotherhood candidate and a former member of Hosni Mubarak's regime will compete to become Egypt's next president, first-round election results show.

Observers predict tension and possibly violence in the weeks leading to the runoff between Mohammed Morsi of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and Ahmed Shafiq, a former general and Mubarak's last prime minister, The Guardian reported Saturday.

In the first round, Morsi captured 24.9 percent of the vote to 24.5 percent for Shafiq, the Egypt Independent said.

Hamdeen Sabbahi, a leftist who finished third in the voting, said he planned to file a lawsuit seeking to suspend the June runoff, The Washington Post reported. At a news conference Saturday, Sabbahi alleged there had been voting irregularities and cited a pending legal matter involving Shafiq, the newspaper reported.

Sabbahi and former Arab League head Amr Moussa -- who also failed to qualify for the runoff -- called for an investigation into claims that an estimated 900,000 Egyptian military personnel and police officers were permitted to vote in violation of a ban on voting by security personnel, the Post reported.

Morsi said at a news conference Saturday his campaign was Egypt's best opportunity to advance the revolution.

"We are certain that the runoff will go in the revolution's favor," he said.

At a separate news conference, Shafiq said his campaign "sought to achieve for Egypt a democracy it thirsted for."

"Our visions differed, our methods varied," he said. "That is the nature of democracy."

Some political observers lamented the choices in the runoff, set for June 16 and 17.

"It feels as if the revolution never took place," said George Ishaq, a founder of the left-wing Kifaya Party. "The Brotherhood are despotic and fanatical, and Shafiq is the choice of Mubarak. It is a very bad result. The revolution is not part of this contest."

Hisham Kassem, a publisher who had backed Amr Moussa, the former head of the Arab League who was knocked out, said of the results: "It's a disaster. Shafiq will try to restore the Mubarak regime. And my trust of the Brotherhood is minus zero."

The Brotherhood-dominated Parliament had passed a law preventing the ousted Mubarak's former aides and prime ministers from running for public office. But the judicial Presidential Election Commission declined to enforce the law, casting doubt on its constitutionality.

Analysts say the Brotherhood's political machine is expected to work to get out the vote for Morsi while the army and police are expected to support Shafiq, even though they're supposed to be officially neutral, The Guardian said.

Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed, a political science professor at Cairo University, called the first-round outcome "the worst-case scenario."

"The revolution happened to establish a civil state. The two candidates who won are the furthest from that civil state. Shafiq comes from the military and a civil state cannot be run by a military man. And the Muslim Brotherhood, they are still opposed to considering Egypt a civil state in the sense of a state not ruled by religion."

Turnout in the first round was reported to be about 40 percent.


12 Taliban militants killed

ANDKHOI, Afghanistan, May 26 (UPI) -- At least 12 Taliban militants were killed in clashes between militants and local residents in northern Afghanistan, local authorities said.

Deputy provincial council member Abdul Jame Jame said 15 other Taliban militants were detained after the clashes in the Andkhoi district in Ghazni province, Khaama Press reported.

Jame said the clashes began Friday afternoon and continued until Saturday morning.

The local residents were backed by the Islamic Party of Afghanistan, Jame said.

He said the clashes occurred in Ganderi, Gadwal Mullah Mohammad, Adro Khel, Payenda and Kanosuf villages.

After the clashes, a resident was killed and another person was injured, said Sher Khan Yousufzai, district chief for Andkhoi.


Can police back up Etan Patz confession?

NEW YORK, May 26 (UPI) -- New York police may have difficulty corroborating the confession of a man who says he killed 6-year-old Etan Patz more than 30 years ago, legal analysts say.

The suspect, Pedro Hernandez, was arrested this week after a relative reported he had talked of killing a boy. He was being held in a hospital on suicide watch.

When Etan disappeared on his way to the school bus stop in 1979, Hernandez was an 18-year-old stock clerk in a store near the boy's home.

"A confession in and of itself is not legally sustainable for a conviction; it needs to be corroborated," CBS Senior Correspondent John Miller said. "How often did he make these statements? To how many family members? What exactly did he say, and over how many years? Are there people who worked in the store with him back then who remember on this day 'I remember he disappeared for half an hour and when he came back I said, 'Where were you' and he said X'?"

Hernandez has a history of mental illness, and family members say he has been known to hallucinate. Miller said the lack of a motive and Hernandez's apparently crime-free life since 1979 may be problematic for prosecutors.

In his confession, Hernandez said he lured Etan to the basement of the store where he worked with a soda, killed him and then dumped the body in the trash.


Beryl downgraded to subtropical storm

CHARLESTON, S.C., May 26 (UPI) -- U.S. forecasters issued a tropical storm warning Saturday from the Volusia/Brevard County line in Florida to Edisto Beach in South Carolina.

In its 8 p.m. EDT update, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Beryl -- which had been downgraded Saturday to subtropical storm -- was about 220 miles southeast of Charleston, S.C., and about 290 east of Jacksonville, Fla. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph and was moving southwest at 6 mph, threatening to drench Memorial Day weekend beach-goers.

A tropical storm watch was posted for north of Edisto Beach to South Santee River in South Carolina.

Beryl, the second named storm of the season, was expected to turn west and approach the warning area late Sunday, with little change in strength expected Saturday or Sunday, the center said.

Forecasters said Saturday it appeared Beryl was fading and unlikely to become the first Atlantic hurricane of the season.

Amy Godsey, a meteorologist with the Florida Department of Emergency Management, said Beryl might bring "quite heavy" rain and gusty winds to the area, Bay News 9, Tampa, Fla., reported.

"Residents and visitors along the Northeast coast should closely monitor this system and use caution on roadways," Godsey said. "Also, all Floridians should use this as a reminder to update their family disaster plan and emergency supply kit."

One noticeable effect will be lower temperatures for the holiday weekend following steamy weather this week.

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