In brief | Nation & world | 013014


Syrian official rejects call for transitional government, hints election may not happen

GENEVA — Syrian President Bashar Assad’s adviser on Wednesday rejected the opposition’s call for a transitional governing body and suggested for the first time that a presidential election scheduled to be held later this year may not take place amid the raging violence.

The comments by Bouthaina Shaaban in an interview with The Associated Press came as U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi announced that the first phase of the Syria peace talks in Geneva will end on Friday, as scheduled, and that the gap between the government and the opposition remains “quite large.”

“To be blunt, I do not expect that we’re going achieve anything substantial” by Friday, he told reporters Wednesday. “I’m very happy that we are still talking and that the ice is breaking slowly.”

Brahimi said both sides will decide when the second phase of the talks will take place — most likely after a one-week break.

Earlier Wednesday, both sides managed to discuss the thorniest issue: the opposition’s demand for a transitional government in Syria.

A previous unknown, Egypt’s army chief could be carried into presidency

CAIRO — Unknown only two years ago, the head of Egypt’s military, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is riding on a wave of popular fervor that is almost certain to carry him to election as president. Many Egyptians now hail him as the nation’s savior after he ousted the Islamists from power and as the only figure strong enough to lead.

Still, if he becomes president, el-Sissi runs enormous risks.

His presidency would enmesh the military even deeper into politics, putting the credibility of the powerful institution on the line if he fails to resolve the country’s woes. Turmoil may only increase with a backlash from Islamists, who now despise el-Sissi for his ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and for the brutal crackdown on their ranks that has arrested thousands and killed hundreds since.

And there is little indication of how he would rule.

Secular critics fear a return of an autocracy similar to that led by Hosni Mubarak for nearly 30 years until his ouster in 2011’s popular uprising. El-Sissi has said it is impossible to now return to Mubarak’s style of rule and that the country must move to democracy. But elements of Mubarak’s police state — including top security officials and the business elite — are among his fervent supporters, and the crackdown on Islamists has already expanded into a wider suppression of dissent.

Ukrainian parliament measure offers protesters amnesty if they free buildings

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s parliament on Wednesday passed a measure offering amnesty to those arrested in two months of protests, but only if demonstrators vacate most of the buildings they occupy. The move was quickly greeted with contempt by the opposition.

The measure was put forth by a lawmaker from the party of President Viktor Yanukovych, who is casting about for a way to end the protests, which are calling for his resignation. The measure was a softer version of an earlier proposal to only offer amnesty if all protests dispersed.

But the opposition regards the arrests during the protests — 328 by one lawmaker’s count — as fundamentally illegitimate.

“In reality, parliament has just passed a law on hostages. The authorities have themselves recognized that they are taking hostages, as terrorists so they can trade the hostages,” said Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the Svoboda party and one of the protests’ top figures, according to the Interfax news agency.

That disdain was echoed in Kiev’s central Independence Square, where protesters have set up a large tent camp and conducted round-the-clock demonstrations since early December.

By wire sources