World Briefs: Egypt tensions may be cooling

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CAIRO -- An Egyptian criminal court Sunday released on bail a leading liberal activist charged with holding unauthorized protests in a ruling some saw as an effort by authorities to cool political tensions ahead of an expected presidential election.

Judge Mohamed al Fiqqy set bail at 10,000 Egyptian pounds, about $1,400, each for Alaa Abdel Fatah, a prominent dissident who helped spur the 2011 uprising that led to the fall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a security guard who was arrested for carrying a knife near a demonstration.

Both men had been held for four months. The next court date was set for April 6.

Spectators in the courtroom cheered when the judge announced his ruling, and political commentators expressed hope that it was a sign the government was reassessing its eight-month-long crackdown on opponents of all stripes since its ouster July 3 of President Mohammed Morsi.

Taiwan student occupation

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- President Ma Ying-jeou called on students to end their occupation of Taiwan's legislature and refused to compromise on the trade pact with China they are protesting, calling it critical to keeping Taiwan's economy competitive.

Mr. Ma's comments, in a half-hour news conference Sunday morning, were his first extended response since hundreds of students stormed Taiwan's legislature Tuesday evening. They have occupied the building since then, and thousands of supporters fill the streets outside.

The demonstrators called Sunday for a bipartisan "citizens constitutional conference," and for sending the trade pact to a committee for further review pending legislation that would allow closer monitoring of agreements with China.

Hamas supporters rally

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters thronged the streets of downtown Gaza City on Sunday, a show of strength at a time when the Islamic militant group faces its deepest crisis since seizing power seven years ago.

Hamas staged Sunday's rally to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the death of its spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, in an Israeli airstrike, and the assassinations of other top figures a decade ago.

But a series of events in recent days, including the killing of a top Hamas operative in the West Bank by Israeli forces, gave the rally an extra sense of defiance.

First lady pulls fast one

MUTIANYU, China -- Just one day after taking issue with China's "Great Firewall" of media restrictions, Michelle Obama on Sunday pulled a fast one on photographers hoping to capture something more than the predictable shot of her strolling with daughters along the Great Wall of China.

With daughters Malia and Sasha in tow, Mrs. Obama and her handlers managed to distract U.S. and Chinese journalists while she and her daughters exited the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall via the touristy toboggan that races visitors from the wall's heights.

Deadly tourist van crash

ISLAMABAD -- Police say a tourist van has plunged off the road in rugged terrain near a hill resort in northern Pakistan, killing 10 people.

Battered roads, poorly maintained passenger vehicles and massive disregard for traffic rules often cause such accidents in Pakistan.


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