At least 30 people have been killed during artillery shelling of the Syrian city of Hama, opposition activists say, as quoted by Reuters. The shelling purportedly began on Sunday morning in the north of the city, which has been serving as a stronghold for the opposition, from which rebels regularly attack army roadblocks. Shelling resumed in the south of the city in the evening. The alleged attacks came as the UN Security Council met to discuss the recent massacre in Houla, where as many as 116 people, including many children, were killed, according to General Robert Mood, the head of the UN observer mission. The US, the UK and France have blamed the Syrian government for the massacre, while Russia maintains that it is important not to jump to conclusions. The Syrian government denied its involvement and accused armed terrorist of perpetrating the massacre.
In an interview with Fox News Sunday, US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) accused Barack Obama for embracing a feckless policy and punting tough decisions until after the November presidential election. Specifically, he accused the current administration of relying on Russia to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict. Obama has opposed taking military action in Syria, a stance that has been criticized by a number of prominent Republicans. McCain has been one of the most outspoken critics of a lenient approach towards Russia. He heads the Senate Armed Services Committee and was Obama’s main opponent in the 2008 presidential election.
As UN special envoy Kofi Annan is to fly to Syria on Monday over the Houla massacre, Damascus has denied permission for his deputy Nasser al-Kidwa to enter the country. The decision against al-Kidwa, a former Palestinian Foreign Minister, is viewed as Damascus’ unwillingness to deal with the Arab League, a senior Arab League official told the Associated Press.
Iran’s nuclear chief Fereidoun Abbasi says there is no need to halt production of uranium enriched to 20 per cent, as Iran produces “only as much 20 per cent material” as it needs, the ISNA news agency reported. The statement came in response to demands Western powers voiced at recent negotiations in Baghdad. The group of six wants Iran to suspend 20 per cent enrichment in exchange for a US-supported package that would include supplying Iran with radioactive material and spare civilian plane parts. But Tehran said they offered too little in return. Abbasi also touched upon a possible visit to the Parchin military site by IAEA observers, saying that it would not come any time soon. “We haven’t been convinced yet. No reasons and documents have been presented to enable us to arrange a visit to Parchin, which is a military site,” he was quoted by ISNA as saying.
Moscow has called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Sunday to hear the report of Norwegian General Robert Mood, who heads the UN observer mission in Syria. The meeting is scheduled for 3:00pm New York time (19:00 GMT), reports Itar-Tass. The UK has also urged for a meeting following the killing of over 90 civilians in the western town of Houla on Friday night. The French government, who pins the blame on the regime, has circulated a draft statement among the fifteen members of the UNSC demanding the Syrian government “stop using heavy armament in residential areas and pull out troops located in and around residential areas.” Russia reportedly opposes the document saying the situation should be profoundly studied first.
Colombian rebels are to set free journalist Romeo Langlois on Wednesday if their security demands are met. The statement was released by the 15th Brigade of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The rebels are now waiting to hear the proposed security plan. Langlois, working for broadcaster France 24 and the newspaper Le Figaro, was taken hostage in April during a gunfight between guerrillas and regular forces in central Colombia. He was accompanying a military patrol on a mission to destroy drug laboratories in Caqueta. Paris has been increasing pressure for Langlois' release. FARC's campaign for power, launched in 1964, stems on kidnappings and executions.
The Taliban has denied carrying out an attack on a girls’ school where more than a hundred students and three teachers were poisoned. The movement condemned attack of this nature, vowing to punish anyone who carried them out "in line with Sharia [law]", their spokesman told BBC. The Taliban, which strongly opposes the education of girls and women, was initially suspected of being behind the attack.
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Casablanca, Morocco, to demonstrate against the policies of the country’s Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane. Reports say people are tired of deteriorating living conditions. It is the largest anti-government demonstration since mass public protests forced early parliamentary elections this past November. Benkirane for his part came to power following the November poll. The Arab Spring-inspired protests also resulted in limits being put on the powers of Moroccan King Mohammed VI.
Jailed ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has not asked UK authorities to ban some Russians officials from stepping foot on British soil during the Olympic Games in London, his lawyer Yury Schmidt says. He said that the report of a “blacklist” created by Khodorkovsky is “either a mistake or a provocation.” British daily The Telegraph reported that in a letter to the newspaper, Khodorkovsky urged Prime Minister David Cameron to prevent 308 Russian officials from entering the UK. Khodorkovsky, the one-time owner of the largest oil company in Russia, is now serving his second consecutive prison sentence on charges of money laundering and embezzling oil profits.
Zhang Yongming, 56, was arrested by police in Yunnan province on murder charges, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security said in a statement Sunday. The man is accused of killing 11 people and dismembering, burning and burying their bodies to destroy the evidence. Zhang is suspected of attacking male victims who were walking alone on a quiet road near his home in Jinning County. Zhang’s case is believed to be related to the disappearance of at least eight young people who have gone missing across the country.
An Egyptian criminal court has convicted Hosni Mubarak’s ex-chief of staff of corruption, AP reports. Zazaria Azmi received a seven-year sentence and was further fined $6 million. The ruling comes on the heels of a verdict in the trial of Egypt’s former-president. Mubarak has been accused of complicity in the killing of protesters during mass demonstrations that resulted in his ouster last year. He has also been charged with corruption. The final verdict in the Mubarak trial is due on June 2.
Syrian authorities have said regime forces were not behind the Houla massacre that left over 90 people dead, 32 of whom were children. The international community has decried the incident, rushing to pin the blame on the Assad regime. President Obama has put forward the idea of a Yemen-style peaceful power transfer to remove President Assad but keep the Syrian government intact. The oppositional Free Syria Army has warned that it will not honor the UN-Arab League brokered ceasefire if the international community does not take action.
Tehran will build the new plant nearby its lone nuclear power station in the southern city of Bushehr by 2014, AFP reports. The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said construction of the 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plant would begin next year, state television quoted him as saying. Construction of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant began in 1975, but it was not officially opened until September of last year.
Organizers of Lady Gaga’s concert in Jakarta opted to cancel the event after Islamist hardliners threatened “chaos” if she entered the country. The threat was considered too serious not to be taken into account. With a population of 238 million, Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world.
The bodies of four Japanese construction workers who had been trapped in a mountain tunnel following an explosion on Thursday have been recovered. They were transferred to a local hospital where they were confirmed dead. Rescue teams had previously been unable to access the bodies inside the highway tunnel in Minami Uonuma, northwest of Tokyo, because of dangerously high gas levels. Three other workers were also injured in the blast on Thursday.
A naked man who was caught attacking another person on an off-ramp of Miami’s MacArthur Causeway was shot dead by the police, The Miami Herald reports. Witnesses say a police officer ordered the naked man to back away, but ignored their demands and continued chewing on the face of the other person. The officer then opened fire, wounding the man, but the man was able to get up and continue his assault. The policeman then repeatedly shot him again, eventually killing him. The other man was taken to hospital with critical injuries. The police confirmed in a news release that there was an officer-related shooting, but omitted many of the details provided by the witnesses.
A group of employees of al-Furat, a Syrian oil company, have been kidnapped in the city of Deir ez-Zor in the northeast of the country, Syrian news agency SANA reports. The group was traveling in a minibus that was stopped by several armed men, who then took them to an unknown location. The news agency says local authorities are undertaking efforts to find the kidnapped workers.
Two leaders of Quebec’s main student groups protesting planned tuition hikes have indicated their willingness to compromise with the provincial government. Leo Bureau-Blouin, leader of Quebec’s College Student Federation, said in a radio interview he would be willing to accept some form of tuition increase if the government is prepared to make some adjustments. Martine Desjardins, leader of the University Student Federation of Quebec, also stressed that both sides have to be willing to compromise if the crisis is to end. Students in Quebec have been protesting planned tuition cost increases over the past three months. Last Friday, the local government sought to curb the demonstrations by passing a law that banned spontaneous rallies. However, the action had the reverse effect and the movement gained the support of human rights activists, who claimed the law violated constitutionally-guaranteed rights. Over 2,500 people have been detained in the protests overall, with the bulk of them arrested in the past week.
A bicyclist was struck by a white SUV and subsequently shot dead by the driver of the vehicle, police say. The driver then wounded a passerby who tried to flee the scene. The second victim received non-life-threatening injuries and was taken to hospital. Police are on the lookout for three male suspects in a white SUV. The motive of the crime has not been determined.
Four people have been killed after a single-engine Cessna 172 crashed near a municipal airport in southern Utah, local authorities say. The cause of the crash is unknown, and it is unclear whether the plane fell to the ground after takeoff or upon landing.
Hundreds of Salafis attacked a security base, a police station and several shops in the Tunisian town of Jendouba, local police and witnesses say. They were initially reported to have pelted the base with rocks and petrol bombs in retaliation for the arrest of four of their comrades, who were detained for attacking alcohol vendors. Police dispersed the attackers with tear gas, but the Salafis then set fire to the police station and attacked three shops. They then moved to the center of town, where they are reported to have attacked other shops with swords, petrol bombs and rocks. Salafis are an ultraconservative group of Muslims, whose popularity has been on the rise in Tunisia after the overthrow of long-term President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali last year. Groups of Salafis have resorted to violence in the past, attacking a TV station and a cinema that aired films they deemed blasphemous and assailing alcohol vendors on a number of occasions.