Egyptian opposition criticizes Morsi
CAIRO — Egypt’s main opposition coalition on Thursday rejected the Islamist president’s offer for dialogue on reconciliation and said it insists on holding early elections, ratcheting up pressure on Mohammed Morsi just days ahead of planned mass protests seeking his ouster.
Adding to an already explosive political atmosphere in Egypt, authorities issued a travel ban on a media tycoon and an arrest warrant for a popular TV presenter — a sharp critic of Morsi — in what appears to be an escalation against private media accused by the president of instigating violence and being funded by those loyal to the former regime.
A statement by the National Salvation Front read by reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei said Morsi’s 2 ½-hour speech late Wednesday reflected a “clear inability to acknowledge the difficult conditions in Egypt because of his failure in running the country since he took office a year ago.”
In the speech, Morsi told his opponents to use elections not protests to try to change the government, and counseled the military, which has warned it would intervene if violence breaks out, to focus on improving its capabilities and defending the nation.
He defended his performance in his first year in office, admitting some mistakes but also claiming achievements. At one point he apologized for fuel shortages which have partially paralyzed the nation, increasing frustration and anger at his government.
Friend: Martin shooting racially charged
SANFORD, Fla. — George Zimmerman’s defense attorney insisted during several testy exchanges with an important prosecution witness Thursday that Trayvon Martin injected race into a confrontation with the neighborhood watch volunteer and insinuated the young woman was not believable because of inconsistencies in her story.
However, 19-year-old Rachel Jeantel stood firm in her testimony about the night Zimmerman shot the unarmed black 17-year-old after a fight that Jeantel said she overheard while on the phone with Martin. Jeantel has said Martin told her he was being followed by a “creepy-ass cracker” — implying Martin was being followed by a white man because of his race.
Zimmerman identifies as Hispanic. Race has permeated nationwide discussions of the case since the February 2012 shooting, which prompted nationwide protests and claims from critics that police took too long to arrest Zimmerman.
The neighborhood watch volunteer has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and says he acted in self-defense.
Defense attorney Don West also zeroed in on slight differences among three different accounts of what happened before Martin’s killing, in an apparent effort to discredit her.
S. African president says Mandela improving
JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela’s health improved overnight and although his condition remains critical it is now stable, the South African government said Thursday. One of the former president’s daughters said he is still opening his eyes and reacting to the touch of his family even though his situation is precarious.
The report that the health of the 94-year-old anti-apartheid leader had taken a turn for the better came amid a growing sense in South Africa that Mandela was approaching the end of his life. Well-wishers have delivered flowers and messages of support to the Pretoria hospital where he is being treated, and prayer sessions were held around the country on Thursday.
President Jacob Zuma’s office said in a statement that he received the encouraging update from the medical team that is treating Mandela. Zuma had canceled an international trip on Thursday, instead visiting Mandela for the second time in two days.
By wire sources