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.
Railway firm to lose license
The transportation agency said on Tuesday it would suspend the operating license of the US-based rail company whose runaway oil train derailed and exploded in a Quebec town, killing 47 people. The agency said it planned to take away the certificate of fitness for the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway and its Canadian subsidiary, effective Tuesday next week. The transportation agency said it was not satisfied that the troubled company, which has filed for bankruptcy since the July 6 disaster, has demonstrated that its third-party liability insurance is adequate for ongoing operations. The parked train, with 72 tankers of crude oil, was unattended when it began rolling and derailed in the center of Lac-Megantic. Several tankers exploded, destroying 40 buildings. The company has blamed the train’s operator for failing to set enough hand brakes. The agency said the disaster has raised questions about the growing use of rail transport for oil, including important ones regarding the adequacy of third-party liability insurance coverage to deal with catastrophic events,.
Hiccup in soldier’s trial
Lawyers for the US soldier convicted of killing 16 Afghan civilians during nighttime raids last year asked a judge in Washington on Tuesday to remove the prosecution team from the case before his sentencing next week, after at least one prosecutor read compelled statements the soldier gave to army doctors. Emma Scanlan, a civilian attorney for Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, said during a hearing on Tuesday the prosecutors were accidentally given a copy of compelled statements Bales made to army psychiatrists — and at least one read it, even though he should have known better. “The only remedy that makes any sense is to disqualify the government trial members who read it,” she said. However, substitute army lawyers arguing on behalf of the prosecutors said that remedy would be too drastic. Instead, they suggested a series of measures designed to ensure the government does not use the statements in any way during the sentencing.
Surgeon steals heroin
Police say they have arrested a surgeon who stole some of the heroin he had been called on to extract from the stomach of a suspected drug mule. Police in the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk say that after investigators discovered that some of the drugs were missing, they searched the surgeon and found a packet containing 5g of heroin hidden in his clothing. The surgeon, who was not identified, was under the influence of narcotics when he was apprehended, the police statement issued on Tuesday said. If convicted of stealing the heroin, the doctor faces up to 15 years in prison.
Chris Brown sued for assault
A man who claims he was punched and kicked by a member of R&B singer Chris Brown’s entourage during a fight at a recording studio is suing the singer for assault and battery. Sha’keir Duarte sued Brown on Tuesday for unspecified damages in Los Angeles. Brown’s lawyer Mark Geragos called it a frivolous lawsuit and vowed to have it dismissed. Duarte claims he was beaten by a member of Brown’s entourage identified in the suit only as “Hood” during a fight over a parking spot. The fight at Westlake Recording Studios erupted on Jan. 27 between the entourages of Brown and fellow singer Frank Ocean. Duarte’s lawsuit says Brown taunted him and threatened that the fight could escalate into a shooting, which Duarte claims left him afraid for his life.