World Briefs: Court removes Thai premier

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BANGKOK -- A court ousted Thailand's prime minister Wednesday for abuse of power, accomplishing what anti-government demonstrators have sought to do for the past six months and further widening the country's sharp political divide.

Supporters of deposed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra called for a huge rally Saturday to protest the ruling by the Constitutional Court, which exercised powers laid out in a constitution written by a military government after a coup in 2006.

Leaders of Ms. Yingluck's party quickly announced that a deputy prime minister, Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, would become acting prime minister.

The leader of the anti-government activists, Suthep Thaugsuban, meanwhile, told his followers that they would stage a "final offensive" today and would achieve their goal of fully ousting the government.

The court found Ms. Yingluck guilty of abusing her power by transferring the National Security Council chief in 2011 to another position. It ruled that the transfer was carried out to benefit her politically powerful family and, therefore, violated the constitution -- an accusation she has denied.

The ruling also forced out nine Cabinet members but left nearly two dozen others in their posts, including Deputy Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, who was appointed the new acting leader.

Elections run smoothly

JOHANNESBURG -- Polling stations closed Wednesday evening in elections in South Africa that are expected to see the ruling African National Congress return to power despite a vigorous challenge from opposition parties seeking to capitalize on discontent with corruption and economic inequality.

Officials will declare final results in the fifth all-race polls in South Africa since the end of white minority rule in 1994 no earlier than Saturday, allowing time to address any objections to the process.

The election commission said most voting went smoothly. About 25 million South Africans, roughly half the population, registered to vote in the parliamentary elections that will also determine the president.

U.S. sought Morsi delay

CAIRO -- Egyptian presidential front-runner Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has disclosed that the United States tried last summer to stave off the ouster of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president.

In a televised interview recorded earlier this week and aired Tuesday night, Mr. Sissi said that then-U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson asked him to wait "a day or two" before removing Mr. Morsi from office. The U.S. apparently hoped that the deeply unpopular Islamist president might agree to a nationwide referendum on whether he should remain, or some other political accommodation.

4 exiles held in Cuba

HAVANA -- Four Cuban exiles from Miami are being held for planning "terrorist actions" against military targets on the island, Havana authorities said Wednesday in announcing the first such arrests in years.

The Interior Ministry said the men were detained April 26, but released few specific details. It was not clear why it took so long to make the arrests public.

U.S. prods Israel on talks

JERUSALEM -- President Barack Obama's national security adviser opened a visit to Israel by telling leaders Wednesday that peace with the Palestinians can only be reached through direct negotiations leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Susan Rice delivered her message days after the latest round of U.S.-backed peace talks ended in failure. It remains unclear whether talks will resume, and both sides have threatened to take unilateral action against one another.

Activist lawyer slain

LAHORE, Pakistan -- Rashid Rehman, a veteran Pakistani human rights activist who had received threats for defending people charged under the country's blasphemy laws, was shot dead Wednesday night in his office in the southern city of Multan.

Mr. Rehman's office assistant and a visitor were seriously wounded and taken to a hospital, the police said.

Zulfikar Ali, a senior police officer, said Mr. Rehman had received death threats in open court on April 9 for his work on a blasphemy case.

In an interview with BBC Urdu last month, Mr. Rehman, who was in his mid-40s, said that defending someone accused of blasphemy was akin to "walking into the jaws of death."

-- Compiled from news services



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