American diplomat: US not backing a side in Egypt

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CAIRO — A senior U.S. diplomat held talks today with Egypt’s interim leaders as well as the head of the military in the highest level visit by an American official since the Egyptian army ousted the country’s first democratically elected leader.

The two-day visit by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns to Cairo comes nearly two weeks after Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was overthrown by the military following days of mass protests. Washington has been sharply criticized by both Morsi’s supporters and opponents for what each side perceives as support for their rival’s position.

Burns met with the military-backed administration led by interim President Adly Manour and Prime Minister-designate Hazem el-Beblawi, as well as army chief and Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

There was no immediate word on the discussions with the interim civilian leaders. But the military said in a statement posted on the army spokesman’s Facebook page that Burns and el-Sissi discussed “the recent political developments in Egypt ... and ways to reinforce cooperation” between the two countries.

Wave of bombings, shootings kill 38 in Iraq

BAGHDAD — A wave of coordinated blasts that tore through overwhelmingly Shiite cities shortly before the breaking of the Ramadan fast and other attacks killed at least 38 in Iraq on Sunday, the latest in a surge of violence that is raising fears the country is sliding back toward full-scale sectarian fighting.

Insurgents have been pounding Iraq with bombings and other attacks for months in the country’s worst eruption of violence in half a decade. The pace of the killing has picked up since the Muslim holy month Ramadan began Wednesday, with daily mass-casualty attacks marring what is meant to be a month of charity and peaceful reflection.

Mauritania to free man accused of ties to al-Qaida

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania — A 24-year-old Canadian man is to be released from a Mauritanian jail after being sentenced to 18 months in prison and a $2,000 fine for alleged ties to al-Qaida’s North African branch, known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, officials said.

The Mauritanian appeals court decided on Sunday to free Canadian national Aaron Yoon the same day as his sentencing, because he has already been imprisoned for the duration of his sentence, prosecutor Ahmed Ould Abdalla said.

“The court has decided to free the Canadian, Yoon, because he has already served his time. He will be expelled from Mauritania immediately,” said Abdalla. Yoon was first arrested in December of 2011.

Prosecutors had sought a 10-year sentence for Yoon due to what they claimed was his “link to dangerous terrorist activity and his role in the recruitment of jihadists.”

Ex-party Islamic chief gets 90 years in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Bangladesh — A 91-year-old former chief of an Islamic party in Bangladesh was sentenced to 90 years in jail today for crimes against humanity during the country’s 1971 independence war, angering both supporters who said the trial was politically motivated and opponents who said he should be executed.

A special tribunal of three judges announced the decision against Ghulam Azam in a packed courtroom in Dhaka, the capital. The panel said the former leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party deserved capital punishment, but received a jail sentence instead because of his advanced age and poor health.

Azam was in the dock when the verdict was delivered while protesters outside rallied to demand his execution. Both the defense and the prosecution said they will appeal.

Azam is among several Jamaat-e-Islami leaders convicted by a tribunal.

formed in 2010 by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to try those accused of collaborating with the Pakistani army in the war.

Bangladesh says the Pakistani army killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the nine-month war, and some 10 million people took shelter across the border in India.

Azam led the party until 2000 and is still considered to be its spiritual leader. Jamaat-e-Islami claims his trial and others were politically motivated, which authorities deny. The party called for a nationwide shutdown after the tribunal announced Sunday it would have the verdict Monday.

Violence has followed previous verdicts, and news outlets including the Daily Star newspaper said at least three Jamaat-e-Islami activists were killed in parts of Bangladesh on Monday. Two were beaten to death by opposition activists in southwestern Kushtia district as they tried to block a road. One was killed in northwestern Chapainawabganj district when paramilitary border guards opened fire after a bomb was thrown at police.

Police clashed with party supporters in parts of Dhaka while party activists set fire to a few vehicles that tried to defy the strike call, the Bengali-language Prothom Alo newspaper reported.

Police fired rubber bullets to disperse an opposition procession in Dhaka’s Jatrabari area, and some photographers and cameramen were injured in the chaos, the newspaper said.

The tribunal said Azam was guilty of all 61 charges under five categories: conspiracy, incitement, planning, abetment and failure to prevent killing.

He and his party were accused of forming citizens’ brigades to commit genocide and other serious crimes against the pro-independence fighters during the war.

Azam had openly campaigned against the creation of Bangladesh and toured the Middle East to get support in favor of Pakistan. He routinely met with Pakistan authorities during the war. A mouthpiece of the party routinely published statements by Azam and his associates calling for crushing the fighters who fought against the Pakistani military in 1971.

The prosecution in the trial said Azam must take “command responsibility” for months of atrocities perpetrated by his supporters.

Mahbubul Alam Hanif, a leader of the ruling Awami League, said he had expected capital punishment for Azam, but still he was happy that he was finally tried.

The verdict created resentment among the family members of those killed in 1971.

“Our wait for last 42 years has gone in vain. It’s extremely frustrating,” said Shyamoli Nasrin Chowdhury, the widow of a physician who was killed in 1971. “This verdict has just increased our pain.”

Earlier in the morning, Azam was taken to the tribunal from a prison cell in a government hospital, where he was being treated for various complications, amid tight security as his party enforced the nationwide general strike to denounce the verdict.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, has criticized the tribunal, saying it is intended to weaken the opposition. Jamaat-e-Islami is the main political ally of Zia’s party.

Hasina’s government says it had pledged before the 2008 election — which it won in a landslide — to prosecute those responsible for war crimes.

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