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WORLD NEWS IN BRIEF: Syrians holds pro-government rallies; Swiss crash victims identified

Thursday, March 15, 2012 | 8:49 p.m. CDT; updated 9:10 p.m. CDT, Thursday, March 15, 2012

Relatives identify bodies of family members killed in Swiss bus crash

SIERRE, Switzerland — Relatives of the 28 people killed when a bus from Belgium crashed inside a Swiss tunnel endured a heartbreaking task Thursday: identifying the bodies of their loved ones ahead of their repatriation. Most of the dead were children.

Family members, some sobbing, were driven from a hotel in the southern Swiss town of Sion to the nearby morgue, where the bodies of some of the 22 schoolchildren and six adults killed in Tuesday's crash were being kept. The fatalities included the two drivers aboard the bus.

Afterward, relatives visited the site of the crash inside the Tunnel de Geronde near the Swiss town of Sierre.

— Frank Jordans/The Associated Press

Iran isolated from global financial system

BRUSSELS — Dozens of Iranian banks were blocked from doing business with much of the world as the West tightens the financial screws on a country it wants to prevent from developing nuclear weapons.

The Belgium-based company that facilitates most international bank transfers on Thursday took the unprecedented step of blocking 30 Iranian banks from using its service. The move is likely to hurt Iran's all-important oil industry and make it difficult for citizens to receive money from relatives living abroad.

There was no immediate reaction from the Iranian government or the banks involved.

— Don Melvin and Jonathan Fahey/The Associated Press

Syria holds rallies, demonstrates public support on uprising anniversary

BEIRUT — Thousands of Syrians rallied Thursday in Damascus in a display of loyalty to President Bashar Assad, waving flags under a slate gray sky to protest the anniversary of a rebellion that the government says is driven by terrorists, gangsters and extremists.

Outside the Syrian capital, however, tanks and snipers besieged opposition areas, including the southern city of Daraa where the uprising began a year ago, touched off by the arrest of a group of youths who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall.

One year into the Syrian revolt, the fight to oust Assad is cascading toward civil war with more than 8,000 killed and no end in sight to the bloodshed. Worst-case scenarios are playing out in a country where many remain shackled by corruption, a suffocating security apparatus and a family dictatorship that rules over 22 million people.

— Elizabeth A. Kennedy/The Associated Press

Cuban dissidents vow to stay in church

HAVANA — A group of 13 Cuban dissidents who have occupied a Havana church for two days are no longer demanding an audience with Pope Benedict XVI when he visits this month but vowed Thursday to continue their protest.

Calderon said his group wants Benedict to speak with authorities about freeing people imprisoned for political crimes, ending intimidation of dissidents, increasing access to information, expanding private property rights, doing away with travel restrictions and establishing a transitional government to end a half-century of Communist rule under Fidel and Raul Castro.

Benedict's Cuba trip is scheduled for March 26 to 28.

— Andrea Rodriguez/The Associated Press


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