In brief: Syria ‘bleak,’ Annan says


United Nations – International envoy Kofi Annan told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that the situation in Syria is “bleak” and expressed alarm at reports that government troops are still carrying out military operations in towns where U.N. observers are not present.

He expressed particular concern at media reports that government troops entered the central city of Hama on Monday after U.N. observers departed, firing automatic weapons and killing a significant number of people.

“If confirmed, this is totally unacceptable and reprehensible,” he said.

The joint U.N.-Arab League envoy said the speedy deployment of the 300-strong U.N. observer force authorized by the council on Saturday is “crucial” to verify what is happening on the ground. The observer force also would provide a basis for moving toward a cease-fire by the government and opposition, he said.

News Corp., pols were in contact

Rupert Murdoch had extensive and possibly inappropriate contacts with leading British politicians at a time when his giant News Corp. was mounting a takeover bid of broadcaster BSkyB, according to evidence placed before a judge Tuesday.

News Corp. executives, including Murdoch’s son James, were in regular communication with the office of Jeremy Hunt, the government minister in charge of deciding whether the bid to buy BSkyB was permissible under anti-monopoly rules. According to evidence presented by the lead lawyer in a judge-led inquiry into media ethics, Hunt’s office passed on tidbits and comments by Hunt to News Corp., which critics say could be improper inside information.

The revelations came during a full day of testimony by James Murdoch before the inquiry, which was launched in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that has rocked News Corp. and shaken Britain’s political establishment.

The younger Murdoch began his testimony Tuesday by insisting he had no idea how widespread the practice of intercepting private voicemails was at the News of the World.


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