Syria defies cease-fire plan as peace hopes fade
BEIRUT — Syrian troops defied a U.N.-brokered cease-fire plan Tuesday, launching fresh attacks on rebellious areas, but special envoy Kofi Annan said there was still time to salvage a truce that he described as the only chance for peace.
More than a year into the Syrian uprising, the international community has nearly run out of options for halting the slide toward civil war. On Tuesday, Annan insisted his peace initiative remains "very much alive" — in part because there is no viable alternative.
The U.N. has ruled out any military intervention of the type that helped bring down Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, and several rounds of sanctions and other attempts to isolate President Bashar Assad have done little to stop the bloodshed.
Facing a Tuesday deadline to pull back its tanks and troops, the Syrian government had said it was withdrawing from certain areas, including the rebellious central province of Homs. But France called the claims a "flagrant and unacceptable lie," and activists said there was no sign of a withdrawal.
China ousts top politician, accuses wife of murder
BEIJING — A flamboyant and telegenic politician, who until recently seemed destined for the top ranks of China's leadership, was stripped of his most powerful posts Tuesday. His wife was named in the murder of a British businessman as Chinese leaders moved to stem a scandal that has exposed divisive infighting.
The announcement that Bo Xilai was being suspended from the Communist Party's Politburo and Central Committee and that his wife was a suspect in a homicide investigation put an end to a colorful political career. Media-savvy with a populist flair, Bo gained a nationwide following for busting organized crime and for reviving communist culture while running the inland mega-city of Chongqing.
Tuesday's announcement, carried by state media, provided details of what has been a lurid and embarrassing scandal for the leadership.
Bo's removal from top government posts came on suspicion of involvement in unspecified but "serious discipline violations," the Central Committee said, and his case was handed over to internal party investigators.
His wife, Gu Kailai, and an orderly at their home were being investigated for intentional homicide in the death of Briton Neil Heywood, the Xinhua News Agency said. Heywood's death in November in Chongqing was initially blamed on excessive drinking, something his friends have said he was not known to do.
Court: UK can extradite five subjects to U.S.
PARIS — Europe's human rights court ruled Thursday that Britain can send a radical Muslim cleric and four other suspects to the United States to face terrorism charges in a case that has been closely watched as an indicator of whether tough U.S. prisons could influence extradition policy.
The long-running legal battle centered on Mustafa Kamal Mustafa, who is also known as Abu Hamza al-Masri, and is considered Britain's most recognizable extremist, thanks in part to his fiery rhetoric and hook for a hand. He has long been a figure of tabloid newspaper scorn.
Al-Masri and the other men had argued that in the U.S. they could face prison conditions and jail terms that would expose them to "torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" in breach of the European human rights code.
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, rejected those claims, saying in its ruling Tuesday that "detention conditions and length of sentences of five alleged terrorists would not amount to ill-treatment if they were extradited to the U.S.A."
However, the court said the five "should not be extradited" until its judgment becomes final — a move that could take months — or until a possible appeals process ends.
Spain town nixes pot-growing plan to pay off debt
RASQUERA, Spain — What about growing marijuana to pay off crushing municipal debt? One Spanish village put the idea to the vote Tuesday, and a majority of its citizens approved — but not the 75 percent needed.
The referendum in Rasquera, population 960, in the northeastern Catalonia region represented a quirky and legally touchy illustration of Spain's deep financial woes.
For the plan to go ahead, the yes camp needed at least 75 percent of the vote, but just 308 people said 'Si' — only 56.3 percent — while 239 said 'No,' according to results published on the village's website.
The result effectively ends the idea to lease a plot of land to an association of marijuana buffs in Barcelona who wanted to pay Rasquera €1.3 million ($1.7 million) over two years. About 40 jobs — growing, harvesting and packaging the pot — were envisioned.