World briefs: Ferry actions called 'murder'

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MOKPO, South Korea -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye castigated the captain and some crew members of a sunken ferry Monday, saying their actions in abandoning a vessel with hundreds of passengers still aboard were "tantamount to murder."

Ms. Park's comments came in the face of steady criticism about her government's response to the disaster amid a growing sense of fury in South Korea about alleged criminal incompetence aboard the ferry Sewol.

The captain, Lee Joon-seok, was arrested Friday along with two other crew members, and prosecutors Monday said four additional crew members -- two first mates, one second mate and an engineer -- have also been detained.

Election set in Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria -- Syria called a presidential election for June 3, aiming to give President Bashar Assad a veneer of electoral legitimacy in the midst of a civil war that has killed more than 150,000 people and driven a third of the population from their homes.

The opposition and the United States denounced the vote as a farce, and a U.N. spokesman said it will "hamper the prospects for a political solution." But Assad's government appears determined to hold the election as a way of exploiting its recent military gains.

Cameron quotes criticized

LONDON -- Prime Minister David Cameron's effort to describe his own Christian faith at Easter has backfired, with some critics accusing him of fostering "alienation and division" by characterizing Britain as a "Christian country."

The fuss over the remarks, in an article for a weekly Anglican publication Church Times, fit into the debates on national identity that are going on all over Western Europe in the face of increasing immigration, especially from non-Christian societies.

UAE frees Taliban leader

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A senior Taliban leader has been freed by the United Arab Emirates and has returned to Afghanistan to help jump-start President Hamid Karzai's efforts to reach a negotiated settlement with the militant group, officials said Monday.

Agha Jan Motasim, the Taliban's former finance minister, was detained by UAE officials about a month ago for unknown reasons. At the time, Mr. Motasim was talking to Afghan government officials about how best to reach a peace deal with the Taliban.

U.N. condemns killings

JOHANNESBURG -- The United Nations on Monday condemned ethnic killings by South Sudan rebels that left hundreds of people dead last week after the fall of an oil town to the opposition forces.

The world body said the killings took place in Bentiu, the hub of the country's main oil producing region in the north. A U.N. spokesman said some members of the rebel Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement in Opposition broadcast hate messages on the radio after taking control of Bentiu, urging certain ethnic groups to leave town.

Israelis, militants trade fire

JERUSALEM -- Seven rockets fired from the Gaza Strip landed in southern Israel on Monday, prompting Israeli airstrikes that hit at least one training site of Hamas, the militant Palestinian faction that rules Gaza.

The exchange came as Jews celebrated the last day of Passover. Combined with recent violence in the Old City of Jerusalem and West Bank, the exchange increased tensions as Washington was struggling to salvage peace talks before an approaching deadline next Tuesday.

Two Hamas security officers were slightly injured by one of the three airstrikes, Gaza's health ministry said. No injuries were reported in Israel.

-- Compiled from news services


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