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March 25, 2013 at 9:05 AM   |   Comments

Syrian rebel army chief hurt in car blast

DAMASCUS, Syria, March 25 (UPI) -- Rebel Free Syrian Army leader Riad Asaad was in stable condition after a bomb attack on his vehicle while he was in eastern Syria, a group spokesman said.

The spokesman said Asaad was recovering in Turkey after suffering a foot injury in the blast Sunday, CNN reported.

No one had claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred several days after a video posted on YouTube showed Asaad defending the al-Nusra Front and criticizing the main opposition coalition group

The United States designated the al-Nusra Front as a terrorist organization tied to al-Qaida but some rebels have said they have no problem fighting with the group against Syrian government forces.

"Nusra Front [fighters] are our brothers. They are 90 percent Syrians and the rest maybe from other Muslim countries," rebel leader Asaad said in the video. "They haven't mistreated anyone in any way. We may have our own differences with them, but we respect them. Their mission is to serve the nation and the faith."

He also criticized the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the main opposition umbrella organization, saying, "The regime keeps killing our innocent civilians while the [coalition] is staying in fancy hotels, begging the world for financial support."

He said rebels made a "big mistake" allowing "politicians to take over and divide our ranks."


Markets rise on $13B Cyprus bailout deal

NICOSIA, Cyprus, March 25 (UPI) -- Asian stocks rallied Monday after Cyprus worked out a $13 billion bailout deal officials said imposes a tax on large deposits but spares smaller depositors.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index advanced more than 1.8 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose about 0.7 percent in mid-afternoon trading. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index added 0.65 percent and South Korea's Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or KOSPI, climbed about 1.4 percent.

European and U.S. stock indexes were expected to rise Monday after finance ministers from the 17 countries that use the euro currency worked out the bailout deal, which beat the European Central Bank's Monday deadline with only hours to spare, keeping the island in the eurozone but likely hurting Cyprus' economy.

"We have a deal," Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said after the early-morning deal was announced.

He called the deal "in the interests of the Cypriot people and the European Union."

Cypriot Parliament President Yiannakis Omirou, a member of the main opposition party, called the deal a "positive" development.


Kerry to Iraq: Help stop Iran-to-Syria arms flow

BAGHDAD, March 25 (UPI) -- Secretary of State John Kerry said he told Iraqi officials future U.S. aid could be at risk if Baghdad doesn't cut off Iranian arm shipments to Syria's regime.

Kerry told reporters at a news conference he informed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in a meeting Sunday -- which was not announced publicly before it was held -- Iranian flights to Syria over Iraqi airspace were "problematic."

"I made it very clear to the prime minister that the overflights from Iran are, in fact, helping to sustain President [Bashar] Assad and his regime," Kerry said after a meeting with Maliki in Baghdad, the first by a U.S. secretary of state since 2009.

"I also made it clear to him that there are members of Congress and people in America who are increasingly watching what Iraq is doing," Kerry said at a news conference that Maliki did not attend.

U.S. lawmakers are monitoring Iranian overflights and could block Washington's assistance to Iraq, which amounts to $1.7 billion this fiscal year, U.S. officials have said.

Kerry said Sunday he argued in his "spirited" meeting with Maliki that Iraq ought to have a role in international discussions about Syria's post-Assad future but he said to secure that role, it was important Iraq stop facilitating aid for Assad.


Death of Miss. legislator Upshaw probed

MENDENHALL, Miss., March 25 (UPI) -- Authorities were investigating the death of Mississippi state Rep. Jessica Upshaw, whose body was found at a former lawmaker's residence during the weekend,

Simpson County Sheriff Kenneth Lewis said it appeared Upshaw. 53, died from a gunshot wound to the head that "appeared to be self inflicted," WLOX-TV, Biloxi, Miss., reported.

Other officials would not comment on the details of her death.

Upshaw's body was found Sunday in the home of former state Rep. Clint Rotenberry in Mendenall, Miss.

Mississippi Bureau of Investigations spokesman Warren Strain said a crime scene unit was conducting interviews and following leads.

"It would be premature to make any statement regarding the investigation at this point," Strain said.

"She's passed; that's all I know at this point," Simpson County Coroner Terry Tutor said. "I've given it to MBI. They're doing their investigation on it."

Upshaw, a Republican, served in the Legislature since 2004 and was chairwoman of the Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.

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