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In Brief: U.S. couple barred from leaving Qatar after acquittal

From Wire Reports

DOHA, Qatar – An American couple cleared Sunday by a Qatari appeals court of wrongdoing in the death of their 8-year-old adopted daughter has been barred from leaving the Middle Eastern country just hours after they were told they were free to go.

Matthew and Grace Huang were stopped from exiting the conservative Gulf nation and had their passports confiscated as they tried to pass through airport immigration control in the capital, Doha, said family representative Eric Volz, who is traveling with them. The unexpected delay adds a new twist to a closely watched legal saga over the death of their adopted daughter, Gloria, that may have stemmed from cultural misunderstandings in the conservative Gulf nation.

The Los Angeles couple had been banned from leaving the energy-rich OPEC nation while their case made its way through the courts, but the appeals court ruled Sunday they were free to leave after the presiding judge overturned a child endangerment conviction against them.

Colombian rebels free captured general

BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombia’s largest rebel group has freed an army general and two others whose capture led President Juan Manuel Santos to suspend peace talks.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia handed over Gen. Ruben Alzate and his companions – an army corporal and military lawyer – to a humanitarian mission led by the International Red Cross early Sunday morning. The group was then shuttled by helicopter to a military base near Medellin, from where they’ll head later on to Bogota.

Alzate was the highest-ranking military officer captured by the rebels in 50 years of fighting and the incident immediately plunged into crisis peace talks taking place in Cuba. Determined not to scuttle two years of slow but steady progress, the rebels dispatched from Havana one of their top commanders, a member of the ruling secretariat known by his alias Pastor Alape, to oversee the handover deep inside the jungles of western Colombia.

Santos had conditioned the resumption of peace talks on the safe return of the general’s group as well as two rank-and-file soldiers taken during a firefight in a separate incident earlier this month.

Humberto de la Calle, the government’s chief negotiator, said members of his negotiating team will travel today to Havana to initiate with the FARC a two-day evaluation of recent events. He said the government would also push for ways to speed up talks and de-escalate the conflict even before a deal is reached.

Now free, the 55-year-old counterinsurgent expert Alzate will have to answer tough questions about why he apparently violated military protocol and ventured upstream into the rebel-dominated Atrato River dressed as a civilian and without his normal security detail.

Hong Kong protesters clash with police

HONG KONG – Pro-democracy protesters clashed with police early today as they tried to surround Hong Kong government headquarters, stepping up their movement for genuine democratic reforms after camping out on the city’s streets for more than two months.

Repeating scenes that have become familiar since the movement began in late September, protesters carrying umbrellas – which have become symbols of the pro-democracy movement – battled police armed with pepper spray, batons and riot shields.

After student leaders told a big crowd rallying Sunday evening at the main protest site outside government headquarters that they would escalate their campaign, hundreds of protesters pushed past police lines on the other side of the complex from the protest site. They blocked traffic on a main road but were stopped by police barricades from going down a side road to Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying’s office.

Police Senior Superintendent Tsui Wai-hung said 40 protesters had been arrested, adding that authorities would not let the road, a major thoroughfare, remain blocked.

Former president wins Uruguay election

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – Tabare Vazquez easily won Uruguay’s presidential election on Sunday, returning to power a left-leaning coalition that has helped legalize gay marriage and moved to create the world’s first state-run marijuana marketplace.

The runoff vote had drawn international attention because Vazquez’s rival, center-right candidate Luis Lacalle Pou, had promised to undo much of the plan to put the government in charge of regulating the production, distribution and sale of marijuana on a nationwide scale.

Lacalle Pou, 41, called Vazquez to concede and “wish him great success” after exit polls showed him losing. Late Sunday night, Uruguay’s Electoral Court announced that with all the votes counted, Vazquez had 53 percent support and Lacalle Pou 40 percent.

Vazquez, a 74-year-old oncologist who was president from 2005-2010, immediately called on the opposition to join him in a national accord to deal with the key issues of public security, health and education.

2,000 couples marry in mass wedding

RIO DE JANEIRO – Nearly 2,000 Brazilian couples have said “I do” in the largest collective wedding Rio de Janeiro has seen.

The state of Rio de Janeiro hosted the ceremony for low-income couples. With relatives joining in, Sunday’s celebration at the indoor Maracanazinho sports venue gathered about 12,000 people.

Rio de Janeiro has promoted the mass wedding for eight years in a tradition called “The Day of I Do,” which is for people with a monthly family income of less than $1,000. At the end they get a free marriage certificate.

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