Briefs 0209


Kerry: U.S. evaluating Syria options

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that the United States is evaluating new options to halt Syria’s civil war, but he refused to weigh into administration debates over whether to arm the rebels fighting President Bashar Assad’s regime.

In his first news conference as secretary, Kerry said the Obama administration was looking at the crisis anew and hoping to find a diplomatic solution. But he sidestepped specifically addressing a question over providing military assistance to the anti-Assad opposition.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress on Thursday that they had recommended offering military support to the rebels but were rebuffed by President Barack Obama.

“My sense right now is that everybody in the administration and people in other parts of the world are deeply distressed by the continued violence in Syria,” Kerry told reporters alongside Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird. “There’s too much killing. There’s too much violence. And we obviously want to try to find a way forward.”

“We are evaluating now,” he said. “We’re taking a look at what steps, if any, diplomatic particularly, might be able to be taken in an effort to try to reduce that violence and deal with that situation.”

Protesters clash with police in Egypt

CAIRO — Egyptian security forces backed by water cannons fired tear gas at rock-throwing protesters outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Friday while demonstrators clashed with riot police in cities across the country in marches against Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

The protests are part of a wave of opposition-led demonstrations over the past two weeks that have frequently devolved into street clashes. The violence has left more than 70 people dead and hundreds wounded, and plunged the country into a fresh cycle of bloodshed and political turmoil.

Egypt’s opposition is demanding Morsi form a new coalition government, open an investigation into the killings of protesters over the past months and give guarantees that upcoming parliamentary elections will be fair and free. They also want him to form a commission to amend the country’s newly adopted constitution, which was drafted by an Islamist-led panel and approved last December in a contentious referendum.

Some of the protesters go even further, demanding Morsi be removed from office. They also accuse the Muslim Brotherhood, the fundamentalist group from which Morsi hails, of monopolizing power and failing to deal with the country’s mounting woes.

Thousands took their demands to the streets in cities across the country on Friday, carrying Egyptian flags and pictures of slain protesters and chanting “down with the rule of the Guide,” referring to Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie, who critics allege is calling the shots for Morsi from behind the scenes.

Bush family emails hacked

HOUSTON — Turns out even former presidents can fall prey to hackers.

A mysterious email hacker apparently accessed private photos and messages sent between members of the Bush family, including both retired commanders in chief.

The Secret Service is investigating the breach, which appeared to yield little more than a few snapshots and some family discussions. But the incident illustrated how easily hackers can pry into private lives, even those of one of the nation’s most prominent and closely guarded political clans.

The Smoking Gun website displayed photos it said came from the hacker, including one that purported to show the elder Bush during his recent stay in a Houston hospital, where the 88-year-old spent almost two months undergoing treatment for complications from a bronchial infection.

By wire sources