World briefs – September 16

A group of Syrian opposition activists announced Thursday the creation of a council designed to present a united front against President Bashar Assad’s regime, which has waged a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters during the past six months.

Syrian activists form opposition council in Istanbul

ISTANBUL, Turkey — A group of Syrian opposition activists announced Thursday the creation of a council designed to present a united front against President Bashar Assad’s regime, which has waged a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters during the past six months.

The Syrian opposition consists of a variety of groups with often differing ideologies, including Islamists and secularists, and there have been many meetings of dissidents who say they represent the opposition. But activists said the new “Syrian National Council,” formed during a meeting in Turkey, is the most serious initiative aimed at bringing revolutionary forces together.

It groups some 140 opposition figures, including exiled opponents and 70 dissidents inside Syria, said Bassma Kodmani, a Paris-based academic. Kodmani added that the council “categorically opposes” any foreign intervention or military operations to bring down Assad’s regime.

“We are in agreement over the peaceful nature of the revolution,” she said.

The United States gave its support, noting the difficulties the groups are facing.

“Any opposition movement in Syria faces tremendous obstacles,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “It’s very hard for them to organize politically and to draft and communicate a platform while their members and leaders are being hunted down and killed.”


Stepmother jailed for disabled girl’s murder

NEWTON, N.C. — A woman has been sentenced to up to 18 years in prison for the murder of her disabled 10-year-old stepdaughter whose disappearance and death shocked communities in the U.S. and in her native Australia.

Elisa Baker pleaded guilty Thursday to second degree murder, nearly a year after the Australian girl was reported missing from her home in the western North Carolina town of Hickory.

After hours of sometimes emotional witness testimony following her plea, Baker was sentenced to between roughly 15 and 18 years.

Parts of Zahra Baker’s remains were found in multiple sites around Hickory shortly after her reported disappearance.

Her father moved to the United States to marry Elisa after the two met online.


Opposition wins Danish election

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark has elected its first female prime minister, ousting the right-wing government from power after 10 years of pro-market reforms and ever-stricter controls on immigration.

Near complete official results showed Thursday that a left-leaning bloc led by Social Democrat Helle Thorning-Schmidt would gain a narrow majority in the 179-seat Parliament.

“We did it. Make no mistake: We have written history,” the 44-year-old opposition leader told jubilant supporters in Copenhagen. “Today there’s a change of guards in Denmark.”

Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen conceded defeat, saying he would present his Cabinet’s resignation Friday to Queen Margrethe, Denmark’s figurehead monarch.

“So tonight I hand over the keys to the prime minister’s office to Helle Thorning-Schmidt. And dear Helle, take good care of them. You’re only borrowing them,” Loekke Rasmussen said.

The result means the country of 5.5 million residents will get a new government that could roll back some of the austerity measures introduced by Loekke Rasmussen amid Europe’s debt crisis.

A majority for the “red bloc” also deprives the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party of the kingmaker role it has used to tighten Denmark’s borders and stem the flow of asylum-seekers.

The opposition won 89 of the mainland seats compared to 86 for the governing coalition, according to preliminary results with 100 per cent of votes counted. The “red bloc” was expected to win at least two of the four seats allocated to the semiautonomous territories of Greenland and the Faeroe Islands.

A power shift isn’t likely to yield major changes in consensus-oriented Denmark, where there is broad agreement on the need for a robust welfare system financed by high taxes.


Earthquake shakes Fiji

NEW YORK — A magnitude-7.2 earthquake rattled Fiji in the Pacific Ocean on Friday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. No tsunami warning was issued, and no damage or casualties were immediately reported.

The 7:30 a.m. (1930 GMT Thursday) quake was deep, some 593 km below the surface, the USGS said.

The USGS said the quake hit some 425 km west of Nuku’alofa, Tonga, and 453 km southeast of Suva, Fiji.