Rival marches draw 40,000
About 40,000 secularists rallied in Tunis on Tuesday to call for the departure of the Islamist-led ruling coalition, but there were no reported clashes with another demonstration by thousands of Islamists elsewhere in the capital. Beset by a severe economic downturn, a suspension of parliament and a surge in Muslim militant attacks, the government, led by the moderate Islamist an-Nahda party, is grappling with secularists’ calls for its resignation. The rival demonstrations had raised fears of violent confrontation in the birthplace of the Arab uprisings.
Group suicide attempted
A group of at least 10 people attempted suicide together in Beijing by drinking pesticide, local media reported yesterday. Some of the group wore T-shirts reading: “Harbin Railway Bureau,” the Beijing Youth Daily said, quoting a reporter. China’s railway ministry — a major employer — was abolished in March and absorbed into the transport ministry, leading to fears of job cuts. Police and ambulances took the victims to hospitals, according to the newspaper report, which said the incident occurred on a street near Beijing’s west railway station — a major transport hub — on Tuesday. It did not state whether any died. A spokeswoman for one of the hospitals said that the patients involved had already been discharged. China’s suicide rate is 22.23 people out of every 100,000, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said in 2011, one of the highest rates in the world.
Female MP taken hostage
An unknown gang has kidnapped a female Afghan member of parliament (MP), officials said yesterday, in the latest example of prominent women being targeted in the country. Fariba Ahmadi Kakar and her three children were taken at gunpoint on Saturday in Ghazni Province on the main highway from Kandahar city to Kabul. “The security forces released her children [two girls, one boy] in an operation on Monday, but she has been kept in another location, we are still searching for her,” Ghazni Deputy Governor Mohammad Ali Ahmadi said.
Mosque expansion approved
The government said on Tuesday it would give the go-ahead to plans to develop a mosque in central Colombo, despite objections from Buddhist hardliners who have targeted members of the minority Muslim community in a spate of recent attacks. Requests to expand the mosque had been repeatedly rejected, Muslim clerics said, because the building work would mean having to cut down parts of a large bo tree, considered sacred by Buddhists. A three-story mosque was built in its place around a month ago, but it was attacked late on Saturday, triggering clashes between Muslims and Sinhala Buddhists and a two-day curfew in the center of the capital.
US willing to engage on Bae
The US is signaling a willingness to engage the country to secure the release of an American sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf would not be drawn on whether the US might send a high-level official to Pyongyang to seek freedom for 45-year-old Kenneth Bae. However, she told reporters on Tuesday the US is “willing to consider a number of different options to secure his release.” Bae is a tour operator and Christian missionary accused of “hostile acts” against the country and detained nine months.