In brief | Nation & World, December 20, 2013


More than 80 injured in partial roof collapse at London theater

LONDON — The roof or ceiling of a London theater partially collapsed Thursday night, showering a packed audience of about 700 with heaps of plaster, wood and dust, authorities and witnesses said. More than 80 people were injured, including at least seven seriously, and several trapped theater-goers had to be rescued.

The collapse happened at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue during a performance of “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime” at the height of the Christmas holiday season.

“Complete chaos” erupted in the theater as the debris rained down, said Martin Bostock, who came with his family to see the show, which is based on the best-selling novel by Mark Haddon.

“At first we thought it was part of the show,” he told Sky News. “Then I got hit on the head.”

Witnesses said audience members were screaming “Get out! Get out!” as they fled the theater and were shaking with fear when they reached the street outside.

Syrian opposition activists on the run as they become al-Qaida

BEIRUT — Shortly after the revolt against President Bashar Assad erupted in March 2011, Imad al-Souri quit his computer job to help the protests. He uploaded online videos of the marches and sneaked banned loudspeakers to demonstrators to amplify their voices calling for Assad’s downfall.

Not anymore.

The 28-year-old al-Souri recently fled to Turkey, fearing he would be killed or abducted by Islamic militants who are now the most powerful force in the rebellion and who are increasingly targeting those seen as opposed to their extremist ideologies. It’s not an idle fear — dozens of activists have been abducted by radicals and, like, al-Souri, dozens of those who shaped the initial uprising against Assad have fled.

“They want to liquidate me because I am a secular person,” said al-Souri, speaking via Skype from his apartment on the Turkish-Syrian border, which he shares with two other activists who also fled. “They are waiting for me to return to kill me.” He spoke on condition he be identified by the nickname he uses as an activist for his own protection.

It’s a depressing turn for anti-government activists. At the start of the uprising, they worked in secrecy because of Assad’s ruthless security services. Now they fear some of their once-presumed protectors: rebels who took up arms initially to defend protesters from the violent crackdown by Assad’s forces.

Egyptian police raid rights group offices; court acquits Mubarak’s sons

CAIRO — Egypt’s military-backed authorities on Thursday stepped up their crackdown on the liberal icons of the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak, with security forces storming the headquarters of a rights group and arresting six activists, including a prominent youth organizer.

Hours after the early morning raid in downtown Cairo, a criminal court in the Egyptian capital acquitted Hosni Mubarak’s two sons and his last prime minister of corruption charges in a case arising from a land sale dating back to some 20 years ago. The sons remain in detention and still face other corruption charges.

Five of the six activists were released after nearly seven hours in detention. One of the five, lawyer Mahmoud Bilal, described in a news conference how plainclothes policemen blindfolded, beat and verbally abused them after binding their hands.

Already in detention are three of the 2011 uprising’s best known youth leaders — Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Ahmed Douma and Ahmed Maher — who are accused of breaking a recently introduced law that places draconian conditions on street protests and of assaulting police.

The raid and the acquittal of Mubarak’s sons and Ahmed Shafiq will likely lend credibility to growing suspicions that the government installed by the powerful military after its July ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi is prepared to accommodate Mubarak-era figures to broaden its support base as it grapples with near-daily street protests from Morsi supporters and growing dissent by liberal and secular youth groups.

By wire sources