France 1st in West to recognize Syria opposition as sole representative
BEIRUT — France on Tuesday became the first Western country to formally recognize Syria’s newly formed opposition coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
The U.S. also recognized the leadership body announced in Qatar Sunday as a legitimate representative, but stopped short of describing it as the “sole” one, saying the group must first demonstrate its ability to represent Syrians inside the country.
The two announcements could start a trend toward world recognition of the rebels as the legitimate government of Syria, undercutting whatever legitimacy the regime of President Bashar Assad still has after 20 months of a bloody civil war.
“We look forward to supporting the national coalition as it charts a course for the end of Assad’s bloody rule, and marks the start, we believe, of a peaceful just and democratic future for the people of Syria,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner in Washington.
Under intense international pressure to form an opposition that includes representatives from the country’s disparate factions fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, the anti-government groups struck a deal Sunday in Doha, Qatar, to form a coalition headed by former Muslim preacher Mouaz al-Khatib.
Preliminary hearing over for U.S. soldier accused of massacre
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Army prosecutors on Tuesday asked an investigative officer to recommend a death penalty court-martial for a staff sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in a predawn rampage, saying that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales committed “heinous and despicable crimes.”
Prosecutors made their closing arguments after a week of testimony in the preliminary hearing. Prosecutors say Bales, 39, slipped away from his remote base at Camp Belambay in southern Afghanistan to attack two villages early on March 11. Among the dead were nine children.
The slayings drew such angry protests that the U.S. temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan, and it was three weeks before American investigators could reach the crime scenes.
“Terrible, terrible things happened,” said prosecutor, Maj. Rob Stelle. “That is clear.”
Stelle cited statements Bales made after he was apprehended, saying that they demonstrated “a clear memory of what he had done, and consciousness of wrong-doing.”
Cardinal Dolan: Bishops won’t comply with birth control insurance rule
BALTIMORE — A top American bishop said Tuesday the Roman Catholic church will not comply with the Obama administration requirement that most employers provide health insurance covering birth control.
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said church leaders are open to working toward a resolution with federal officials, but will meanwhile press ahead with challenges to the mandate in legislatures and in court.
“The only thing we’re certainly not prepared to do is give in. We’re not violating our consciences,” Dolan told reporters at a national bishops’ meeting. “I would say no door is closed except for the door to capitulation.”
The bishops have been fighting the regulation since it was announced by President Barack Obama early this year. Houses of worship are exempt, but religiously affiliated hospitals, charities and colleges are not.
Obama promised to change the requirement so that insurance companies, not faith-affiliated employers, would pay for the coverage. But details have not been worked out.
By wire sources