Assad regime accused of ‘toxic gas’ attack
BEIRUT — The images showed lifeless children — wrapped in simple white cloths, their pale faces unmarked by any wound — lined up shoulder to shoulder in a vivid demonstration of an attack Wednesday in which activists say the Syrian regime killed at least 130 people with toxic gas.
The Syrian government adamantly denied using chemical weapons in an artillery barrage targeting suburbs east of Damascus, calling the allegations “absolutely baseless.” The U.S., Britain and France demanded that a team of U.N. experts already in the country be granted immediate access to investigate the claims.
Videos and photographs showed row upon row of bodies wrapped in white shrouds lying on a tile floor, including more than a dozen children. There was little evidence of blood or conventional injuries and most appeared to have suffocated. Survivors of the purported attack, some twitching uncontrollably, lay on gurneys with oxygen masks covering their faces.
Activists and the opposition leadership gave widely varying death tolls, ranging from as low as 136 to as high as 1,300. But even the most conservative tally would make it the deadliest alleged chemical attack in Syria’s civil war.
For months now, the rebels, along with the United States, Britain and France, have accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons in its campaign to try to snuff out the rebellion against President Bashar Assad that began in March 2011. The regime and its ally, Russia, have denied the allegations, pinning the blame on the rebels.
Mubarak to be put under house arrest
CAIRO — Egypt’s prime minister ordered Wednesday that deposed autocrat Hosni Mubarak be placed under house arrest after he’s released from prison following more than two years in detention.
The announcement came hours after a court ordered Mubarak be released for the first time since he was first detained in April 2011, a move threatening to further stoke tension in a deeply divided Egypt. Many feared Mubarak’s release would amplify Islamist allegations that last month’s military coup was a step toward restoring the old regime.
Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said in a statement that he ordered Mubarak be put under house arrest as part of the emergency measures put in place this month. The decision appeared designed to ease some of the criticism over Mubarak being freed from prison and ensure he appears in court next week for a separate trial.
Prison officials said Mubarak may be released as early as Thursday.
It is not clear where Mubarak will be held under house arrest, whether in one of his residences or in a hospital considering his frail health.
Since his ouster, Mubarak’s supporters have released conflicting details about his health, including that the 85 year old suffered a stroke, a heart attack and at times went into a coma.
His critics called these an attempt to gain public sympathy and court leniency.
His wife, Suzanne, has been living in Cairo and keeping a low-profile, occasionally visiting Mubarak and their two sons in prison.
Corruption trial of Xilai opens
JINAN, China — The long-anticipated corruption trial of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai has opened, marking the ruling Communist Party’s efforts to wrap up one of its most lurid political scandals in decades.
Bo faces charges of accepting bribes, embezzlement and abuse of power in a closely choreographed trial that opened Thursday in the city of Jinan under extremely tight security.
Once a powerful party boss of a megacity, Bo became the most senior leader to fall from power in years after revelations emerged that his wife had killed a British businessman.
By wire sources