World briefs: Suicide blasts kill 14 in Syria

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BEIRUT -- A twin suicide bombing targeted a square in central Damascus Tuesday morning, killing at least 14 and injuring more than 30 people.

The official Syrian news agency said the terrorists struck near the police department close to Al-Marjeh Square. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Images showed blood-streaked pavement and blown out shop fronts.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least one of the explosions was detonated by a man who blew himself up inside the police station.

Iran reformist bows out

TEHRAN, Iran -- The most outspoken reformist in the presidential race withdrew Tuesday in a move intended to boost the prospects of another reformist, Hasan Rowhani, who once managed Iran's nuclear negotiations and is the sole cleric in Friday's voting.

Mohammad Reza Aref, an academic who served as vice president under the last reformist government, that of Mohammad Khatami, pulled out a day after a boisterous indoor rally in Tehran of as many as 10,000 people.

Ex-official faces charges

SEOUL, South Korea -- Prosecutors said Tuesday they will indict a former head of the National Intelligence Service on charges he illegally tried to influence the presidential election in December in favor of President Park Geun-hye.

Won Sei-hoon, who served under former President Lee Myung-bak until February, was accused of being involved in a secretive campaign in which his agency used its agents and hired bloggers to post negative Internet commentaries about opposition rivals of Ms. Park, the governing party's candidate.

There was no evidence that Ms. Park was involved in the operation.

Teacher guilty of blasphemy

LUXOR, Egypt -- A court Tuesday found a Christian primary school teacher guilty of blasphemy and ordered her to pay a fine of 100,000 Egyptian pounds ($14,300).

The families of three pupils had filed complaints against Demiana Abd Nour, accusing her of insulting Islam and the Prophet Mohammed during a lesson. The court did not specify how Ms. Abd Nour had committed blasphemy.

Amnesty International said it had been informed that several pupils had complained after she expressed her devotion to Pope Shenouda, the late patriarch of the Egyptian Orthodox Church. Media reports said she was accused of saying the patriarch was better than the prophet.

'Gay propaganda' targeted

MOSCOW -- Russian lawmakers passed a bill banning "gay propaganda," a measure that campaigners say marks a return to Soviet-era discrimination, when homosexuality was a criminal offense.

The bill, approved Tuesday by 436 votes in the 450-member lower chamber of parliament, enacts a ban on "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" among minors. The measure now goes for approval by the upper house and President Vladimir Putin, and both steps are seen as formalities.

Rights activists warn that the bill makes lesbians, gays and bisexuals more vulnerable to harassment and physical attacks. In the past four weeks, two men were brutally murdered in Russia for being gay.

Broadcaster silenced

ATHENS, Greece -- The government Tuesday ordered the closure of the country's state television and radio broadcaster ERT due to austerity cuts, bringing an end to the 75-year-old operation.

A government spokesman described the broadcaster as a haven of wasteful spending, corruption and mismanagement.

Transmissions at the Greek equivalent of Britain's BBC were to end in the early hours of Wednesday and its 2,500 employees compensated. The channel was then expected to reopen "as soon as possible" with a smaller workforce.

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