World briefs (1/20/13)

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Syria fighting war crimes call

BEIRUT -- The Syrian government reacted with outrage Saturday to a petition from 58 countries asking that it be investigated for war crimes, even as reports of new atrocities surfaced a day after the United Nations' top human rights official called forcefully for the case to be referred to the International Criminal Court.

"The Syrian government regrets the persistence of these countries in following the wrong approach and refusing to recognize the duty of the Syrian state to protect its people from terrorism imposed from abroad," the Foreign Ministry said.

The Syrian government uses the word terrorists as a blanket term for its opponents, many of whom took up arms after the government fired on demonstrators early in 2011.

Detainee releases weighed

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan plans to release more Afghan militant detainees in an attempt to boost the peace process in neighboring Afghanistan ahead of the departure of international troops next year, a top Pakistani official said.

Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani said Pakistan has initiated the process of releasing those Afghan detainees in its custody who they think will help facilitate the reconciliation process. His comments were made during a news conference Friday in Abu Dhabi and relayed by the Foreign Ministry on Saturday. He did not give a timetable.

Myanmar, rebels clash

BANGKOK -- A cease-fire ordered by the Myanmar government failed to take hold Saturday, with rebels and the government blaming each other for fighting that continued through the day.

But ethnic Kachin rebels and at least one independent observer said the fighting was less intense than in previous days and that the government's aerial bombardments had stopped.

Both the government and the rebels called for a negotiated settlement.

Another Gandhi elevated

NEW DELHI -- The latest heir apparent to India's oldest and most powerful political dynasty was elevated Saturday to the ruling Congress party's second-highest post, a move that the party hopes will revive its fortunes ahead of national elections expected later this year.

Rahul Gandhi's highly anticipated appointment as vice president, made at a Congress gathering in the northern city of Jaipur, marks a significant generational shift in the 127-year-old party, which his mother, Sonia Gandhi, 66, heads as president.

The move follows several years of hesitation by the 42-year-old scion.

Opposition chief threatened

SOFIA, Bulgaria -- The leader of Bulgaria's opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms, Ahmed Dogan, gave up the chairmanship of his party after being threatened on stage with a gun earlier Saturday.

Mr. Dogan's deputy, Lyutvi Mestan, was elected by the MRF convention as the new party leader. Mr. Dogan was proclaimed honorary chairman for life, which gives him leadership powers.

Party leader arrested

AMMAN, Jordan -- Jordanian authorities announced on Saturday the arrest of a prominent candidate and party leader days ahead of parliamentary elections.

According to a judicial source, Jordanian officials late Friday arrested Mohammed al-Khushman, president of the centrist National Union Party and candidate in Wednesday's parliamentary elections.

-- Compiled from news services

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