World briefs: Pakistani Christian gets death sentence for blasphemy

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LAHORE, Pakistan -- A court convicted a Pakistani Christian man and sentenced him to death Thursday in a blasphemy case that sparked a riot last year in the eastern city of Lahore, according to his lawyer.

Although Pakistan has never executed anybody under the law, crowds angered over blasphemy accusations have been known to take the law into their own hands and kill those they suspect of violating it. Once an accusation is made it is extremely difficult to reverse, in part because law enforcement personnel do not want to appear to be going easy on suspects.

Many human rights activists say the blasphemy law, which allows for punishment of life in prison or death, is misused as a way to target people for personal gain or revenge.

The incident that led to Thursday's conviction began March 7 last year when a young Muslim man accused Sawan Masih of maligning the Prophet Muhammad. Police arrested Masih, but the next day a mob ransacked the neighborhood where he and other Christians live, setting fire to homes and destroying household possessions.

Peace talks threatened

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- The Obama administration sought Friday to keep peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians from falling apart over Israel's refusal to free about two dozen Palestinian prisoners, who were scheduled to be released today.

Palestinians have threatened to walk out of talks with a month to go before an unofficial deadline for an outlined peace deal if Israel reneges on the release of longtime prisoners, including several convicted of terrorist crimes against Israelis.

Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. negotiators are trying to prevent a Palestinian walkout, either by securing an Israeli pledge to carry out the release or by brokering a new compromise that would extend talks.

Ex-Vatican bank chiefs

ROME -- Paolo Cipriani and Massimo Tulli, two former top managers of the Institute for Religious Works, the Vatican's scandal-tainted bank, will go to trial over money laundering charges, Italian prosecutors said Friday.

Under Pope Francis, efforts to clean up Vatican finances have been stepped up.

In January, he overhauled the membership of the panel of cardinals that oversees the IOR, while last month he created a new economy secretariat.

Military buildup explained

BERLIN -- President Xi Jinping in a speech Friday defended the buildup of China's armed forces, saying that the nation will never seek "hegemony or expansion" in the Asia-Pacific region even as it steps up its diplomatic and military presence.

The Chinese leader evoked the country's past as the victim of colonial aggression, and cited Japanese atrocities during World War II as something "still fresh in our memory."

Also in the world ...

A union representing pilots at Germany's Lufthansa airline called Friday for a three-day strike next week in a long-running pay dispute, but said it is ruling out any further work stoppages until the end of Easter vacation. ... The trial of Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee track star, was adjourned unexpectedly until April 7 on Friday after one of the two judicial assessors was taken ill, the judge said.

-- Compiled from news services

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