World briefs: Syria blasts U.N. envoy

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BEIRUT -- Syria's government appeared to distance itself from further engagement with the special peace envoy of the United Nations and Arab League on Thursday, declaring him "flagrantly biased" even as his efforts aimed at a political transition to end the nearly two-year Syrian conflict were accelerating.

The efforts by the special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, include a planned meeting in Geneva today with top diplomats from the two superpowers on opposite sides of the Syria conflict: the United States, which supports the insurgency, and Russia, which supports the Syrian government but has increasingly displayed ambiguity about support for President Bashar Assad.

A statement from the Foreign Ministry in Damascus denouncing Mr. Brahimi appeared to be a response to remarks he had made to Western news agencies the day before in which he suggested that Mr. Assad must relinquish power and could not be part of any replacement government in Syria.

World's food wasted

LONDON -- Up to half of the food produced worldwide never makes it into a consumer's mouth, according to a new report.

That's as much as 2 billion tons of grub that's wasted, according to a study released Thursday by Britain's Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Part of the problem is in the supply chain, in which inefficient agricultural practices, inadequate infrastructure, limited transportation options and poor storage capacity lead to squandered harvests and misused land, water and energy resources, according to researchers.

In Britain, some 30 percent of vegetable crops are left unharvested because they're not pretty enough, according to the report. In Europe and the U.S., consumers dump half of the food they buy, researchers said.

That's despite the nearly 1 billion people who go hungry globally, and that an additional 3 billion mouths to feed are expected by 2075.

U.N. plans to use drones

UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations, looking to modernize its peacekeeping operations, is planning for the first time to deploy a fleet of its own surveillance drones in missions in Central and West Africa.

The U.N. Department of Peacekeeping has notified Congo, Rwanda and Uganda that it intends to deploy a unit of at least three unarmed surveillance drones in the eastern region of Congo.

The action is the first step in a broader bid to integrate unmanned aerial surveillance systems, which have become a standard feature of Western military operations, into the United Nations' far-flung peacekeeping empire.

India rape, murder case

NEW DELHI -- Indian police manipulated evidence against the men accused of raping and murdering a young woman in New Delhi last month, and even beat one of the suspects to extract a confession, a defense lawyer said Thursday, blaming public pressure to secure a quick conviction and the death penalty for the alleged perpetrators.

A district court in New Delhi on Thursday appointed lawyers to defend five of the accused, despite calls by some lawyers' groups not to participate in the trials.

The horrific gang rape of the woman aboard a bus on Dec. 16 fueled a national uproar, prompting police to move with unprecedented speed and arrest six men who were on the bus that night, including the driver. The sixth suspect, who is a teenager, will be tried separately by a juvenile court.

The next hearing is scheduled for Monday.

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