World briefs – May 19

The United States slapped sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad and six senior Syrian officials for human rights abuses over their brutal crackdown on anti-government protests, for the first time personally penalizing the Syrian leader for actions of his security forces.

United States imposes sanctions on Syria’s Assad, senior officials

WASHINGTON — The United States slapped sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad and six senior Syrian officials for human rights abuses over their brutal crackdown on anti-government protests, for the first time personally penalizing the Syrian leader for actions of his security forces.

The White House announced the sanctions Wednesday, a day before President Barack Obama delivers a major speech on the uprisings throughout the Arab world. The speech is expected to include prominent mentions of Syria.

The Obama administration had pinned hopes on Assad, seen until recent months as a pragmatist and potential reformer who could buck Iranian influence and help broker an eventual Arab peace deal with Israel.

But U.S. officials said Assad’s increasingly brutal crackdown left them little choice but to abandon the effort to woo Assad, and to stop exempting him from the same sort of sanctions already applied to Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Obama said he issued the new sanctions order as a response to the Syrian government’s “continuous escalation of violence against the people of Syria.”


Gulf mediator fails to resolve political crisis in Yemen, leaves country

SANAA, Yemen — Yemeni opposition and government leaders say the head of a Gulf coalition seeking to broker an end to the country’s political crisis has given up and left the country.

Yemen is reeling from three months of massive protests demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Gulf Cooperation Council has sought to mediate a deal through which Saleh would leave power in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Opposition spokesman Mohammed al-Sabri said GCC head Abdul-Latif al-Zayyani said he was “leaving Sanaa and would not come back” because of Saleh’s refusal to sign the deal.

Ruling party official Yasser al-Yemani confirmed al-Zayyani’s departure, adding that Saleh would not leave power “as long as the security situation remains unstable.”


Flooding hinders cargo shipping on swollen Mississippi River

JACKSON, Miss. — Cargo is slowly moving along the bloated Mississippi River after a costly daylong standstill, while officials keep an eye on the lower Delta where thousands of acres of farmland could be swamped by water that is inching closer to the top of a backwater levee.

The Coast Guard for much of Tuesday closed a 15-mile stretch at Natchez, Mississippi, north of New Orleans, blocking vessels heading toward the Gulf of Mexico and others trying to return north after dropping off their freight.

Barges that haul coal, timber, iron, steel and more than half of America’s grain exports were allowed to pass, but at the slowest possible speed. Such interruptions could cost the U.S. economy hundreds of millions of dollars for each day the barges are idled, as the toll from the weeks of flooding from Arkansas to Louisiana continues to mount.


Child sold on eBay, woman arrested

ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Authorities say a western Michigan woman offered a 2-year-old relative for sale on eBay and accepted a man’s tongue-in-cheek bid.

The Holland Sentinel says police located the woman in Ottawa County’s Allendale Township, about 15 miles (24 kilometres) west of Grand Rapids. The woman had been caring for the child. The girl is now in her mother’s custody.

Nineteen-year-old Autumn Braden tells The Grand Rapids Press she did it to “see how eBay worked” and it “wasn’t meant to be taken seriously.”

Ottawa County sheriff’s Lt. Mark Bennett says police received calls about the Internet posting Monday from as far away as California.

Bennett says one bidder who thought it was a hoax called police when the bid was accepted.

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