Saudi Arabia Demands Syria End Bloodshed

DEIR EL-ZOUR, Syria, Aug. 8 (UPI) — Saudi Arabia demanded Syria end the bloodshed Monday and recalled its ambassador after troops killed nearly 70 people in a single day of military assaults.

“What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia,” King Abdullah said in a statement read over the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya news channel.

“Syria should think wisely before it’s too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms. Either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss,” said Abdullah, whose own monarchy bans political opposition and supplied troops to neighboring Bahrain to repress anti-government protests.

“The kingdom does not accept the situation in Syria because the developments cannot be justified,” Abdullah said, insisting Damascus introduce “comprehensive and quick reforms.”

“The future of Syria lies between two options — either Syria chooses willingly to resort to reason, or [it will] face being swept into deep chaos, God forbid,” he said.

Abdullah’s rebuke and warning — the sharpest criticism the oil giant has directed against any Arab state since the December start of the Arab Spring protests that toppled Tunisian and Egyptian autocrats and roiled the Middle East — followed an increasingly widespread surge of condemnation of Syrian President Bashar Assad Sunday, including from the Arab League to the pope.

The 22-member league, which had been silent in the five months since the uprising began, said Sunday it was “alarmed” by the bloodshed. It called on Syrian authorities to stop attacking protesters and demanded an immediate halt to the violence.

A league appeal in March for international intervention in Libya laid the groundwork for NATO’s bombing campaign against leader Moammar Gadhafi. But with Syria, the league has so far specifically asked the West to stay out.

Pope Benedict XVI called on Assad to respond properly and adequately to the Syrian people’s “legitimate aspirations,” adding he had “deep concern” about “Syria’s dramatic and increasing episodes of violence,” which he said had led to “numerous victims and grave suffering.”

Turkey, which borders Syria and until recently was a close ally and a major trading partner, said it had “run out of patience” and would send its foreign minister to the Syrian capital Damascus Tuesday to deliver a strong message against the crackdown.

Syrian officials said he would receive a brusque response.

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said Sunday Washington would “try to ratchet up the pressure” on Assad’s regime.

More than 250 Syrian tanks and armored vehicles Sunday laid waste to the country’s biggest northeastern city and oil capital, Deir el-Zour, which has been under siege for days, in a brutal predawn offensive that also included snipers positioned on rooftops picking off “anything that moves,” said the activist Local Coordination Committees, which tracks the uprising and organizes some protests. Nearly 50 people were killed, activists claimed.

Thousands had fled the city of about 511,000, the activists said. A family of six trying to escape — a couple with four children — were among the dead, they said.

Syrian tanks also shelled Houleh, a town in central Syria’s Homs province that had also seen large protests, killing about 20, the activists said.

More than 300 people have died in the past week, the bloodiest in the five-month uprising, the activists said. More than 2,000 have been killed in the crackdown so far, some human-rights groups say.

Assad’s government disputes the toll and blames a foreign conspiracy for the unrest, which at times has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets.

The regime intensified the crackdown July 31 on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan, in which many Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, then eat meals and gather in mosques for nightly prayers.

The government has been trying to prevent the large mosque gatherings from turning into more anti-government protests, al-Jazeera reported.

Student Shot With Stun Gun Dies

CINCINNATI, Aug. 8 (UPI) — An 18-year-old student died after police used a stun gun on him on the University of Cincinnati campus, officials say.

Everette Howard, who was attending college prep classes at the university, went into cardiac arrest after being stunned by police Saturday and could not be resuscitated, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported. The cause of Howard’s death was still unknown.

“I want to emphasize we don’t know what the cause of the death is at this point,” UC Assistant Police Chief Jeff Corcoran said.

Police arrived at the University of Cincinnati in response to a 911 call about an assault.

Corcoran said as the officers were trying to get to the bottom of the matter, Howard approached them in an agitated state with balled fists.

After asking him to stop moving several times, an officer stunned Howard with one cycle of the Taser and subdued him.

While checking the student’s condition, officers said he had a good pulse and was breathing, but appeared to have an “altered mental status.”

Corcoran said an internal investigation was examining the use of force by the officer who stunned Howard. Another investigation is trying to trace the original of the 911 call.

“We are extremely unhappy and upset at the outcome of this call,” Corcoran said. “No one wants to see the death of an 18-year-old. It was not anyone’s intention. The officer is very distraught.”

Crackdown Ordered On Religious Extremists

BEIJING, Aug. 8 (UPI) — Religious extremists in northwestern China’s ethnically tense Xinjiang-Uighur region will face a harsh crackdown, the area’s top Communist Party official said.

Zhang Chunxian ordered the crackdown following the recent deadly violence in Kashgar city, which has been blamed on Islamic extremists trained in Pakistan, which is a close ally of China.

Zhang ordered cadres and officials to rely on the public to unswervingly curb illegal religious activities and crack down on the use of the religion to incite violence or organize terrorist attacks, Xinhua news agency reported.

He said the managing of religious affairs should follow Beijing’s policy to “protect the legitimate, ban the illegal, fight infiltration and crack down on crimes.”

Violence has been rising in the border Xinjiang-Uighur region, where the Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighurs resent being ruled by Han Chinese.

At least 19 people reportedly died in the Kashgar incident, which China’s official media said started with a truck hijacking and attacks on civilians.

Suspects captured after the attacks said the group’s leaders learned how to make explosives and firearms in camps run by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, a terrorist group in Pakistan, China Daily had reported.

The Kashgar government called the attacks “acts of terror … intended to sabotage ethnic unity … instigate hatred and see Xinjiang secede from the country.”

Xinjiang-Uighur is close to Pakistan and several central and west Asian countries. China describes Pakistan as its “all-weather friend.”

In a similar incident last month in the same region, at least 20 people died in Hotan city. The region also was the scene of rioting in July 2009 in Urumqi, where 197 people in the worst such ethnic violence.

Xinhua said the region with a large Muslim Uighur population is at China’s “frontline against separatism, extremism and terrorism.”

Colosseum Bomb Alert Canceled

ROME, Aug. 8 (UPI) — A bomb alert at the Colosseum in Rome was canceled after a suspicious device was found to be harmless, officials say.

The Carabinieri bomb squad officials said they believed a barrel found Sunday under some arches in the monument was a fake and could not be exploded, Agenzia Gionalistica Italia reported.

The bomb squad had intended on neutralizing the suspect drum, which was half filled with turpentine with two electrical wires running out to a 9-volt battery.

Police Discharge Gun At Denver Airport

DENVER, Aug. 8 (UPI) — Denver police were called to Denver International Airport this past weekend to test fire an undeclared handgun found in a piece of luggage, officials say.

The police received the request to investigate and discharge an undeclared gun found in a checked bag Sunday morning, The Denver Post reported.

Lt. Matt Murray said police used a device called a clear barrel to discharge the gun. The device is lined with cement and made for officers to shoot guns into, should they be unfamiliar with any given type of gun.

No one was injured during the process.

Although Denver police presented the case against the gun owner to the Denver District Attorney and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but both declined to press charges.

“People put their guns in occasionally and might not know the process,” Murray said, noting that guns are allowed in checked luggage if they are declared.

The traveler, who was on his way to Kansas City, wasn’t identified.

Commandos Were Targeting Taliban Leader

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8 (UPI) — The 38 people, including 30 U.S. troops, killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan had been on a mission targeting a Taliban leader, sources told CNN.

The deaths of the Americans, including 22 elite Navy SEALS, constituted the worst single-day toll on U.S. forces in the decade-long Afghan war. Their helicopter went down early Saturday in eastern Wardak province.

The CNN report, quoting military officials, reported the Taliban commander they sought had been directly responsible for attacks on American forces.

The SEALs were proceeding to help a Rangers unit under enemy fire in Wardak. Those killed in the crash also included a civilian and seven Afghan commandos.

Combing operations continued at the wreckage site, said Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

CNN quoted a military official as saying the majority of the SEALS who died in the crash were part of the unit that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in the May 2 raid of his compound deep inside Pakistan. However, those dead did not include men involved in the bin Laden operation, the official said.

The Taliban claimed they brought down the helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade, but NATO declined comment on the details of the operation or the circumstances of the crash.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who telephoned U.S. President Barack Obama to offer his condolences, called a security meeting of his top advisers to discuss the helicopter crash.

Four other NATO soldiers died in separate incidents over the weekend in the east and the south, the report said.

The incidents are occurring as NATO forces hand over security responsibilities to Afghan forces. The current timetable calls for the Afghan forces to take control of security for the entire country by 2014.

Ex-Sen. Mark Hatfield Dead At 89

PORTLAND, Ore., Aug. 8 (UPI) — Mark Hatfield, a liberal Republican who represented Oregon in the U.S. Senate for 30 years, died Sunday at age 89, a longtime aide said.

Gerry Frank said Hatfield had been ill for a long time, The New York Times reported.

The Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore., reported Hatfield died at a care facility in Portland, Ore. He had spent several months recently at a medical facility in Bethesda, Md., that bears his name, the newspaper said.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, lamented the death of Hatfield, who he said “had a more profound impact on Oregon in the last half century” than any other person.

“We’ve lost a true statesman whose legacy lives on in his countless contributions to Oregon’s quality of life,” Kitzhber said. “Senator Hatfield’s moral compass, independence and willingness to reach across the aisle are an inspiration to me and countless Oregonians.”

Hatfield, a Dallas native, also served in the Oregon Legislature and was the state’s youngest secretary of state and governor, the Statesman Journal said.

The Times noted Hatfield, who was chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee for eight years, was a maverick who bucked his party’s position on a balance-budget amendment. He also was the first prominent Republican to come out against the Vietnam War, the newspaper said.

Hatfield also supported the creation of the institutes’ Office for Rare Diseases Research, saying in 2001 medical research is something “the government does extremely well,” the Times said.

His reputation took a hit in 1992 when the Senate ethics committee found he had to disclose gifts from a former university president who sought his support for a government grant, the Times said. But the panel ruled there was no “quid pro quo” and said his handling of the University of South Carolina’s grant requests was routine.

He is survived by his wife Antoinette, two sons, two daughters and eight grandchildren.

Missing Scouts May Have Fled Country

KRISTIANSTAD, Sweden, Aug. 8 (UPI) — Police say 12 young people from Sierra Leone who disappeared from the World Scout Jamboree in Rinkaby, Sweden, may have fled to Denmark.

In a news conference Saturday, police officials said they were looking into whether a crime was committed; however, they said they believe the scouts left the country of their own volition after one returned to the jamboree, The Local reported.

The missing African youths caused alarm at the jamboree when they could not be found Saturday, although all their belongings were still on site.

“Someone has talked to them and they said they would get back home to Sierra Leone,” said Jens Nygren, a Kristianstad police commander.

U.S. Agency’s Name Decision Draws Protest

SEOUL, Aug. 8 (UPI) — The U.S. maritime boundary agency’s reported decision to go with the “Sea of Japan” name for the waters between South Korea and Japan has made Seoul unhappy.

South Korea, which uses the name “East Sea” for the body of the water between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, lodged an informal protest against the U.S. agency’s action, Yonhap News Agency reported Monday, quoting a diplomatic source.

The name has been an issue between South Korea and Japan for decades, and the protest is over the U.S. agency’s reported notification recently to the International Hydrographic Organization, favoring the “Sea of Japan” name, Yonhap said.

Seoul’s claim is that the name “Sea of Japan” was used during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, a bitter historical chapter for the Koreans.

Since 1992 when the East Sea name was chosen, South Korea has been urging the global community to simultaneously use both names, the report said.

The sources told Yonhap the U.S. government, noting Seoul’s displeasure, has said the name issue was not Washington’s official stance.

South Korea and Japan also are involved in a dispute over Japan’s claim to two islets in the sea. Last week, four Japanese lawmakers from the opposition party were not allowed by the South Korean immigration to travel to an island near the islets.

Emergency Declared Over Swine Fever

KRYLOVSKAYA, Russia, Aug. 8 (UPI) — A district in Russia’s southern Krasnodar Region has declared a state of emergency due to a swine fever outbreak, emergency response officials say.

The emergency was declared Sunday for the region after 50 pigs died because of the disease, RIA Novosti reported.

The virus was discovered near the village of Krylovskaya at a private farm where 15 pigs were found dead.

The area covered in the state of emergency is home to 11,839 pigs, the regional emergencies center said.

Swine fever affects both wild and domesticated animals, which contract the disease from contact with sick animals.

The virus does not affect humans.