World briefs: U.S. tells Syria to close embassy

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WASHINGTON -- The United States on Tuesday formally notified the Syrian government that it must suspend operations at its embassy here and at its two consulates in Michigan and Texas, the State Department said.

The move stops short of a formal break of relations, but it bars Syrian envoys here from carrying out diplomatic and consular duties.

The move comes on the third anniversary of the conflict in Syria that has killed an estimated 140,000 people. Daniel Rubinstein, who was named Monday as the new U.S. envoy for Syria, said the United States would maintain diplomatic relations with Syria. The U.S. Embassy in Damascus was closed in February 2012 as security in the country deteriorated.

Shadow over nuclear talks

PARIS -- Tensions between the West and Russia over events in Ukraine have cast a shadow over the second round of talks that began Tuesday in Vienna on a permanent nuclear agreement with Iran.

Although the talks have no direct connection to Ukraine, their success hinges on solidarity among the so-called P5-plus-1 countries -- the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, which include Russia, plus Germany -- in favor of a tough agreement with Iran to drastically scale back its nuclear program.

Egyptian officers convicted

CAIRO -- An Egyptian court on Tuesday convicted four police officers of manslaughter in the deaths of 37 detainees, most of them supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who suffocated in a police truck in which they were packed for hours before police lobbed in tear gas.

It was the first trial and conviction of police officers in connection to a crackdown on Islamists since Mr. Morsi was ousted in July. But the verdict outraged lawyers and families of the victims who said the police should have been tried for murder instead of manslaughter, which is considered a misdemeanor. One of the officers received a 10-year prison sentence while three others got one-year suspended sentences.

Chechen rebel leader dead

MOSCOW -- Doku Umarov, the Chechen Islamic warlord who threatened to attack the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi to punish the Russian hosts, is dead, the insurgent website Kavkaz Center announced Tuesday.

The notice gave no details about the circumstances of Mr. Umarov's death. The announcement of what was termed his "martyrdom" said only that he had sacrificed 20 years of his life in the holy war for an independent Islamic state in Russia's roiling southern region.

Mr. Umarov, 49, known among Islamic warriors in the Caucasus as Doku Abu Usman, had warned in July as Russia was scrambling to complete facilities for the Sochi Olympics that his fighters would target the international gathering to punish Russia for staging "satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors." The Games in February took place without major security incidents.

Guitar limits challenged

LONDON -- A guitar-loving British legislator has challenged a policy that he says makes it impossible for prisoners to play steel-stringed or electric guitars.

The Labour Party's Kevin Brennan Tuesday cited singers Johnny Cash and Billy Bragg as people who helped bring music into prisons for rehabilitative purposes. He said government policy was making it more difficult for prisoners to develop their musical skills.

Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said he wants prisoners to be able to play guitars solo or in groups, but that "some restrictions" had to be imposed. There are fears that steel strings could be used as weapons.


-- Compiled from news services

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