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U.N. panel votes to condemn Syria for violent crackdown

November 22, 2011 |  2:43 pm

Syrian protesters in Homs

REPORTING FROM BEIRUT — A United Nations committee voted Tuesday to condemn Syria for its violent crackdown on protesters, stepping up pressure on the country's increasingly isolated president, Bashar Assad, after Turkey's prime minister urged him to step down.

Critics and even some allies are growing increasingly impatient with Syria, where U.N. officials estimate 3,500 people have been killed since anti-government protests erupted in March.

A leading opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees, reported that 32 more people were killed Tuesday, including six children.

Casualty figures are difficult to confirm because Syria has restricted journalists' access into the country. The government blames the bloodshed on armed "terrorists" and says more than 1,000 security force members also have been killed.

"For the welfare of your own people and the region, just leave that seat," Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised address to party members in Ankara, referring to Assad.

A onetime ally of the Syrian leader, Erdogan has grown increasingly blunt in his criticism. He warned  Assad on Tuesday that he risks the same ignominious end as Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi, who was slain last month after his capture by rebels.

"If you want to see someone who has fought until death against his own people, just look at Nazi Germany, just look at Hitler, at Mussolini, at Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania," Erdogan said. "If you cannot draw any lessons from these, then look at the Libyan leader who was killed just 32 days ago."

The U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee voted 122-13 with 41 abstentions in support of a non-binding resolution demanding an immediate halt to human rights abuses in Syria and implementation there of a faltering Arab League peace plan.

Britain, France and Germany drafted the measure after Russia and China last month vetoed a resolution in the Security Council that threatened sanctions against Syria. Moscow and Beijing abstained Tuesday, news services reported.

Six Arab nations were among the co-sponsors of the draft resolution, which must now go before a U.N. plenary session, where it is expected to easily win approval. Among those voting against the measure was Iran, a staunch ally of Syria.

Bashar Jaafari, Syria's ambassador to the U.N., accused the United States of orchestrating the move.

"This draft resolution definitely has nothing to do with human rights," he said, according to Reuters. "It is only a part of the typically hostile policy by the United States against Syria."

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— Alexandra Zavis

Photo: This handout photo is said to show demonstrators marching Monday in Homs against the government of President Bashar Assad. Credit: Reuters

Mexican presidential race takes shape; 'narco-politics' feared

  Manlio Fabio Beltrones, a savvy Mexican politician, has dropped his presidential bid, effectively ceding the Institutional Revolutionary Party's nomination to Enrique Pena Nieto
REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY — Manlio Fabio Beltrones, one of Mexico's most savvy politicians, has dropped his presidential ambitions, a move that simplifies the 2012 contest. (link in Spanish)

Beltrones, a senator and veteran leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), effectively ceded the field to Enrique Pena Nieto, the party's former governor of the state of Mexico and front-runner in the presidential race.

Beltrones, a former governor of Sonora state once linked by media reports to drug traffickers -- an allegation he vigorously denied -- said in a video message that his decision to step aside "is not a sacrifice but is my contribution to the party's victory in 2012." (link in Spanish)

Pena Nieto's rise as virtual party nominee (it won't be official until March under electoral rules; the election is in July) follows the anointment of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as the consensus candidate of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party. Lopez Obrador narrowly lost the last presidential race in 2006.

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International court: Libya can try Kadafi's son at home

Libya's interim justice minister Mohammed Alagi and International Criminial Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo
REPORTING FROM TRIPOLI, LIBYA, AND BEIRUT -- The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor on Tuesday said Moammar Kadafi’s captured son and onetime heir apparent can be tried in Libya, provided that international standards are met.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo was in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, to confer with the country’s transitional leaders about the handling of Seif Islam Kadafi, who was captured Saturday in the southern Saharan hinterlands and is being held in the western town of Zintan.

The international court has charged the younger Kadafi with crimes against humanity committed during attempts to suppress the uprising that toppled his father, who was slain last month while in the custody of his captors during the fall of his hometown, Surt.  But the country’s transitional leaders want Kadafi  to face justice in Libya.

“Our International Criminal Court acts when the national system cannot act,” Moreno-Ocampo told reporters in Tripoli. “If they prosecute the case here, we will discuss with them how to inform the judges and they can do it. But our judges have to be involved."

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South Africa's ruling ANC passes controversial secrecy law

Tutu

REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- South Africa’s ruling African National Congress government overwhelmingly passed a secrecy law Tuesday, ignoring months of protests from activists and editors and criticism from two Nobel laureates.

Critics said the law, which makes it illegal to reveal state secrets, will have a chilling effect on whistle-blowers and investigative journalism. Their main complaint is that the measure doesn't allow a legal defense for acting in the public interest in exposing a secret, for example by revealing criminality, corruption or incompetence on the part of officials or the government.

Instead, anyone revealing a state secret faces up to 25 years in jail.

Activists supporting transparency and freer access to government information wore black Tuesday, in protest against the vote by the ANC-dominated parliament.

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Egypt's military rulers agree to speed up handover of power

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