WORLD NEWS IN BRIEF: French terror suspect dead; Russia speaks against Syrian president

Thursday, March 22, 2012 | 10:24 p.m. CDT; updated 10:29 p.m. CDT, Thursday, March 22, 2012
Civilians cheer as mutinous soldiers drive past, in front of a backdrop of burning tires, in Bamako, Mali, on Wednesday. Gunshots could still be heard in the Malian capital late Wednesday, hours after angry troops started a mutiny at a military base near the presidential palace. Soldiers stormed the offices of the state broadcaster, yanking both TV and radio off the air.

French standoff ends with terror suspect's death


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TOULOUSE, France — The gunman methodically killed French schoolchildren, a rabbi and paratroopers and faced down hundreds of police officers for 32 hours. Then he leapt out a window as he rained down gunfire and was fatally shot in the head.

Investigators are determining whether Mohamed Merah, who claimed allegiance to al-Qaida, was a lone-wolf terrorist or part of a network of homegrown militants.

Prosecutor Francois Molins said Merah told police he wanted to "bring France to its knees."

Authorities are trying to determine whether Merah's 29-year-old brother was involved, and are searching for accomplices, Molins said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking in Paris, announced tough new measures to combat terrorism. Sarkozy appealed to citizens not to equate the violent acts of extremists with France's estimated 5 million Muslims. Muslim leaders urged against any backlash against believers.


Russia changes stance, says Syrian forces should end conflict

MOSCOW — Syrian President Bashar Assad must take the first step toward settling his country's yearlong conflict by pulling his forces out of cities and allowing humanitarian assistance, a senior Russian lawmaker said Thursday, in a statement that signaled a marked shift in Moscow's stance.

The comments by chairman of the Russian foreign affairs committee Mikhail Margelov indicated Moscow's increasing impatience with Assad and its eagerness to raise pressure on an old ally.

"Assad must take the first step," Margelov was quoted as saying, responding to U.N. proposals, including guaranteed humanitarian access and the pullout of government forces from Syrian cities. That is a departure from Russia's previous position that both the government and opposition's forces need to simultaneously withdraw from cities.

The Syrian government has insisted that the opposition should be the first to end hostilities, while the West has demanded that Assad's military halts its offense first, followed by the opposition.

After coup, the location of Mali's president is still unknown

BAMAKO, Mali — Drunk soldiers looted Mali's presidential palace hours after they declared a coup on Thursday, suspending the constitution and dissolving the institutions of one of the few established democracies in this troubled corner of Africa. The whereabouts of the country's president Amadou Toumani Toure could not be confirmed.

The soldier heading the group said on state television late Thursday that Toure is "doing well and is safe" but refused to say where he is being kept.

The mutineers said they were overthrowing the government because of its mishandling of an ethnic Tuareg insurgency in the country's north that began in January. Soldiers sent to fight the separatists have been killed in large numbers, often after being sent to the battlefield with inadequate arms and food supplies, prompting fierce criticism of the government.

France is suspending all government cooperation with Mali, except for aid. In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said officials were meeting to discuss whether to cut off the $137 million in annual assistance from the U.S.

Argentina warns investors: Falklands oil companies operating illegally

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina has asked stock markets in New York and London to warn investors of its claim that five oil exploration companies are working illegally off the Falkland Islands, which Argentina contends were stolen by Britain more than a century ago.

Foreign Minister Hector Timerman announced Thursday that he sent letters to the directors of both markets urging them to force any company involved in oil exploration near the islands to warn investors that the companies risk civil and criminal penalties in Argentina, which considers the "Islas Malvinas" to be part of its sovereign territory.

Islanders and Britons involved in the Falklands oil business say they have proven they can develop oil no matter what Argentina says or does.

A spokesman for the New York Stock Exchange, Rich Adamonis, confirmed the exchange received the letter and said it had no immediate comment.

One company struck oil north of the islands last year, finding in its Sea Lion field what may be as much as 450 billion gallons of petroleum, and is looking for $2 billion in investment money to begin producing crude oil.

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