Syria rebels seize town on road to Damascus Sparks fly in Venezuela campaign Dog that hounded debt team freed Protest, clashes in Egyptian cities
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Syrian anti-government activists reported the rebel seizure of a strategically important town in southern Syria on Friday only a few miles from the Jordanian border, which if confirmed would represent a new setback for government forces, who have already ceded territory to the insurgency in the north and east.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-government group in Britain with contacts throughout Syria, said rebel fighters secured the town, Dael, after more than a day of clashes in which three military checkpoints were destroyed and more than 24 combatants and at least nine civilians were killed.
The town, with a population of about 40,000, sits on an important north-south highway that connects Damascus to Daraa, the southern city that was the birthplace of the March 2011 uprising against President Bashar Assad, which turned into a civil war.
CARACAS, Venezuela -- It's Holy Week in Venezuela, a time when millions traditionally take a welcome pause from work and politics to go on vacation. Yet that hasn't stopped Venezuela's time-pressed presidential candidates from sprinting through the holidays toward an April 14 election to replace the late Hugo Chavez, as they try to define both themselves and each other within weeks.
Both Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's chosen successor, and opposition Gov. Henrique Capriles face the challenge of spelling out a vision for a future without Chavez, who dominated this 28 million-person country like few other leaders have during his 14 years in power.
That's produced a race sometimes jarring in its aggressiveness and exhausting in its tempo. Both candidates have led multiple rallies each day and used deeply personal language against each other. Maduro has even threatened to have Capriles imprisoned for questioning whether Chavez really died on March 5, as the government had announced.
Maduro's challenge has been keeping that public sympathy for Chavez alive, a task he's tackled through sheer repetition and unending eulogy. He pays homage to the late president day in and day out, while warning that Chavez's populist programs benefiting Venezuela's poor majority are at risk. One website has even been counting the times Maduro mentions Chavez's name: nearly 5,000 instances from March 5 to 27.
The 50-year-old Maduro has also adopted Chavez's confrontational language, echoing the attacks on what Chavez used to call his "historical enemies" -- the "imperialists" in the U.S. government and the "oligarchs" of Venezuela's opposition. Critics said Chavez used the rhetoric to keep the country polarized and his supporters agitated while diverting attention from problems at home.
ATHENS, Greece -- Ruby the anti-austerity dog is back on the streets of Athens -- just in time for next week's visit by representatives of international creditors monitoring Greece's troubled finances.
The male stray gained fame this month after barking menacingly as part of a pack of dogs at European and International Monetary Fund austerity inspectors driving up to the Finance Ministry for talks.
Ruby was later captured by municipal officials and freed Friday after being observed for two weeks and showing no signs of aggressiveness.
A city statement said Ruby's detention followed a complaint that he bit a man, and wasn't linked with the ministry incident. Dogs often follow anti-austerity protesters in Athens.
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt -- Clashes erupted Friday in two cities in northern Egypt, and protesters rallied in Cairo in the latest demonstrations against Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who claims the recent wave of anti-government unrest is the work of conspirators.
In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, hundreds of unidentified assailants threw stones and fire bombs at protesters rallying against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most powerful political group. Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood, was elected after longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down in the 2011 popular uprising.
The anti-government protesters hurled stones back at the assailants during the clash in a square that used to be home to the Brotherhood's office before it was stormed weeks ago by demonstrators. The clashes also halted train traffic for a few hours at a station near the site.
Morsi's opponents say the elected president has continuously defied legal norms to force through his agenda and trampled on the judiciary's independence in a bid to consolidate his power. They also say he has failed to live up to his promises to have an inclusive political process where liberals are represented.
Separately, protesters and riot police clashed in the president's home province of Sharqiya in the Nile River Delta. Police fired tear gas and exchanged stones with demonstrators tried to torch a Brotherhood office in the city of Zagazig, 50 miles north of the capital, Cairo.