Egyptian opposition figures avoid Kerry
CAIRO -- Well-known political opposition figures stayed away from meetings with visiting Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Saturday, some for fear of appearing too close to the United States in the still-unsettled politics of Egypt two years after the fall of a U.S.-backed dictator.
Kerry encouraged Egypt's Islamist-led government to take politically difficult economic steps that are crucial to securing international loans and outside investment.
President Mohammed Morsi, whom Kerry plans to see today, has been unable to marshal support for such economic measures. His opponents accuse him of reneging on pledges of political and religious openness.
Meanwhile, some $450 million in U.S. aid to Egypt has been frozen in Congress and the International Monetary Fund has held off on loans and debt relief worth more than $4 billion. Egypt has been the most important Arab ally of the United States for decades, with ties built largely on Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.
Syria, Iran condemn U.S. aid to rebels
DAMASCUS, Syria -- Iran and Syria condemned a U.S. plan to assist rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad on Saturday and signaled that the Syrian leader intends to stay in power at least until 2014 presidential elections.
The remarks came against the backdrop of a strategic victory for the regime as the military regained control over a string of villages along a key highway to open a potential supply route in Syria's heavily contested north.
The army command boasted of the achievement in a statement, saying it had eradicated the remnants of "terrorist agents and mercenaries" in the area that links the government-controlled central city of Hama with Aleppo's international airport.
The reversal of gains, confirmed by Syrian activists, has the potential to change the outcome of the battle in Aleppo, Syria's largest city where government troops and rebels have been locked in a stalemate for months.
Chad: Plotter of Algeria plant attack killed
N'DJAMENA, Chad -- Chad's military chief announced on state television late Saturday that his troops deployed in northern Mali had killed Moktar Belmoktar, the terrorist who orchestrated the attack on a natural gas plant in Algeria that left 36 foreigners dead.
The French military, which is leading the offensive against al-Qaida-linked rebels in Mali, said they could not immediately confirm the information.