World Briefs

Syria fires Scud missiles at rebels, U.S. says

KABUL, Afghanistan – Syrian government forces have fired Scud missiles at insurgents in recent days, escalating the 2-year-old conflict against rebels seeking to overthrow the regime, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, two officials said forces of President Bashar Assad have fired the missiles from the Damascus area into northern Syria. These officials asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

News of the missiles came on the same day that more than 100 countries, including the United States, recognized a new Syrian opposition coalition. That has further isolated Assad’s regime and opened a way for greater humanitarian assistance to the forces battling to oust him.

Egypt opposition urges ‘No’ vote on constitution

CAIRO – Egypt’s main opposition alliance called for a “No” vote in the referendum on a disputed constitution rather than a boycott, hours after Islamist President Mohammed Morsi’s government forged ahead by starting overseas voting in diplomatic missions for expatriates.

The opposition’s decision did not dispel the atmosphere of a nation in crisis, deeply polarized over the referendum that has stoked three weeks of turmoil on the streets. The opposition still plans more protests and the country’s judges are still on strike over a decree by Morsi, since rescinded, that placed him above judicial oversight. The military is inching back into politics. And if the referendum passes, there is potential for even greater upheaval.

Venezuela’s Chavez may not be well by inauguration

CARACAS, Venezuela – The government warned Venezuelans on Wednesday that ailing President Hugo Chavez may not be well enough after his fourth cancer-related surgery in Cuba to be inaugurated on Jan. 10.

Moving to prepare the public for the possibility of more bad news, Vice President Nicolas Maduro looked grim earlier in the day when he acknowledged that Chavez faced a “complex and hard” process after his latest surgery. At the same time, officials strove to show a united front amid the growing worries about Chavez’s health and the country’s future.

From Vatican, pope tweets to 1 million followers

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI hit the 1 million Twitter follower mark Wednesday as he sent his first tweet from his new account, blessing his online fans and urging them to listen to Christ.

In perhaps the most drawn out Twitter launch ever, the 85-year-old Benedict tapped the screen of a tablet brought to him at the end of his general audience after the equivalent of a papal drum roll by an announcer who intoned: “And now the pope will tweet!”

“Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart,” the inaugural tweet read.

Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar dies at 92

NEW DELHI – With an instrument perplexing to most Westerners, Ravi Shankar helped connect the world through music. The sitar virtuoso hobnobbed with the Beatles, became a hippie musical icon and spearheaded the first rock benefit concert as he introduced traditional Indian ragas to Western audiences over nearly a century.

Shankar died Tuesday at age 92. A statement on his website said he died in San Diego, near his Southern California home with his wife and a daughter by his side.

Associated Press