In brief: Courthouse catches fire during riot
CAIRO – A courthouse went up in flames in Egypt’s northern Mediterranean city of Alexandria during clashes between protesters and riot police Sunday, according to witnesses.
The blaze destroyed part of the building, burning some files. A security official said unidentified assailants were responsible.
This was the second straight day of clashes there ahead of the two-year anniversary of Egypt’s uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.
Young men threw rocks at police, who responded with tear gas, outside the courthouse where six senior police officers were on trial for deaths of protesters during the nation’s 2011 uprising.
Two trucks that transport riot police were set ablaze outside the courthouse, which is near the Italian Consulate, after Judge Mohammed Hammad Abdel-Hadi resigned from the case on Sunday. He did not say why he quit.
His resignation means a new trial for the police officers accused of using excessive force that led to the deaths of protesters during the unrest that ousted Mubarak.
Malian troops close to retaking town
BAMAKO, Mali – Backed by French airstrikes, Malian forces appeared close to recapturing a key central town in Mali where bands of al-Qaida-linked fighters had holed up, France’s defense minister said Sunday.
The French military has spent the last nine days helping the West African nation of Mali quash a jihadist rebellion in its vast northern desert. The comments Sunday from Jean-Yves Le Drian, however, appeared to cast some doubt on local military claims that the town of Diabaly had already been recaptured from the Islamists.
The town of 35,000, which hosts an important military camp, was taken over by al-Qaida-linked militants last week.
“Right now, the town of Diabaly is not retaken,” Le Drian told France-5 TV. “(But) everything leads us to believe Diabaly is going to head in the positive direction in the coming hours.”
The French military said its fighter planes and helicopter gunships had carried out a dozen operations in the previous 24 hours – half of them to strike “terrorist vehicles.” The report came late Sunday in a statement on the military’s website.
Previously, Mali’s military had claimed the government was back in control of Diabaly – a potential breakthrough in the French-led campaign to oust extremists there.
Syria airstrike leaves at least seven dead
BEIRUT – Syrian government troops battled rebels in several areas outside Damascus on Sunday while regime warplanes bombed opposition-held areas around the capital, including an airstrike on one village that killed at least seven people, activists said.
Much of the fighting Sunday was focused in areas east and south of the city, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, while government jets were bombing rebel areas.
An airstrike on the village of al-Barika, southeast of the capital, killed at least seven people, including five members of the same family, the Observatory said.
Chaplain, wife, three kids killed in shooting
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Authorities in New Mexico say the five people who were found fatally shot in a home are a Fire Department chaplain, his wife and three of their children.
The Bernalillo County sheriff’s office said in a statement late Sunday that the victims are Greg Griego, his wife, Sara, and the children: 9-year-old Zephania, 5-year-old Jael and 2-year-old Angelina.
Greg Griego’s 15-year-old son has been arrested on murder and other charges in connection with the shootings, which happened Saturday night in a rural area southwest of downtown Albuquerque.
Authorities aren’t releasing any details about any conversations the teenager has had with investigators.
Investigators say they won’t release any more information until Sheriff Dan Houston holds a news conference Tuesday.
Schumer says Democrats will pass budget
WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats intend to approve a budget for the first time in almost four years, a prominent lawmaker said Sunday, but he said it will call for higher tax revenues that Republicans are sure to oppose.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also said an announcement by House Republicans that they plan to approve a short-term increase in the nation’s borrowing limit without demanding spending cuts was a “positive step.” He added, though, the extension should be longer than the three months they have outlined.
“We don’t want to play fiscal cliff every three months,” Schumer said.
Republicans in recent days have backed away from their insistence that they would not increase the nation’s borrowing limit – known as the debt ceiling – without deep spending concessions. If the new proposal holds, the shift would clear the way for Congress to avoid a potential government default this spring.
But GOP officials insist that they will not move unless Senate Democrats give them the debate over the federal budget they have been denied for years.
“All of us losing our pay if we don’t pass a budget is the right thing to do,” said Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference.
Second crime lab chemist accused
NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – A chemist at a state crime lab tampered with drug evidence, authorities said Sunday in Massachusetts, where a chemist at another lab was accused last year of faking test results in a scandal that threw thousands of criminal cases into question.
Sonja Farak, who works at a lab in Amherst, in western Massachusetts, removed from a case file a substance that tested positive for cocaine and replaced it with one that didn’t, state Attorney General Martha Coakley said. Evidence suggests Farak stole drugs that had already been tested, prosecutors said.
Farak, of Northampton, was arrested Saturday. She also is charged with possession of heroin and cocaine.
The lab contacted state police on Friday to report a discrepancy in inventory, Coakley said at a Boston news conference. Officials do not believe Farak’s tampering will undermine evidence, she said.
“On its face, the allegations against this chemist do not implicate the reliability of testing done or fairness to defendants,” she said.
Last month, the other chemist, Annie Dookhan, was indicted on 27 charges in a case that threatens to unravel thousands of drug convictions. Dookhan, of Franklin, resigned in March during an internal investigation by the state Department of Public Health. She has pleaded not guilty.
State police said they closed the Boston lab where she worked in August after taking over its operation and discovering the extent of her misconduct.
The accusations against Farak, unlike those against Dookhan, don’t involve falsification of tests or “dry labbing” – visually identifying samples instead of performing required chemical testing – the attorney general said.