BRUSSELS

Rights chief: No amnesty for serious Syrian crimes

The U.N.’s top human rights official said Saturday that there should be no amnesty for serious crimes committed in Syria, even if the threat of prosecution might motivate members of the regime to cling to power at all costs.

Asked if Syrian President Bashar Assad should be allowed to leave power in exchange for safe haven, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said international leaders seeking peace may be drawn to “politically expedient solutions which may involve amnesty or undertakings not to prosecute.”

But she said that would be wrong under international law.

“You cannot have amnesty for very serious crimes,” she told The Associated Press in Brussels. “So my message is very clear: There has to be accountability.”

Lawyers for former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was sentenced Wednesday by the Special Court for Sierra Leone to 50 years in prison, had argued that giving him a long sentence would send the wrong message to Assad.

TEHRAN, Iran

Iran space center nearing end of construction phase

Iran is finishing construction of a new space center that will allow it to soon launch more domestically made satellites into orbit, the country’s defense minister, Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, said Saturday.

Iran’s ambitious space plans have raised concerns in the West because of their possible military applications — the same rocket technology used to send satellites into orbit can also be retooled to make intercontinental warheads.

SINGAPORE

U.S. reassures China about Asia-Pacific military focus

From this island nation in the South China Sea, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sent a message Saturday that America’s new military focus on the Asia-Pacific is not intended to raise tensions in the region or threaten Beijing.

The Pentagon chief appeared to offer an olive branch to the communist power and said often-feuding rivals must learn to work better together for the benefit of the entire region.

At the same time, however, Panetta said Asian nations must find a way to resolve their own conflicts because the U.S. cannot always come charging in to help.

BAGHDAD

Iraqi deaths by violence on upswing in April, May

Official figures show a slight increase in the number of Iraqis killed in violence for the last two months.

Figures released by the Defense, Interior and Health Ministry on Saturday showed that 132 people were killed in May, including 90 civilians, 20 policemen and 22 soldiers.

That’s up from 126 deaths in April and 112 in March — the lowest monthly death toll since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Violence has fallen in Iraq since a wave of sectarian fighting in 2006 and 2007, but insurgents still carry out attacks on security forces and civilians to undermine the Shiite-led government. 

BUDAPEST, Hungary

Man begins 50-marathon run to London Olympics

Hungarian Norman Varga has begun a quest to run the length of 50 marathons in 50 days and arrive in London on July 27, in time for the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games.

Varga is a 25-year-old former cage fighter who had his left arm reattached after being pushed under a tram at 16. He will cover some 1,240 miles from Budapest to London to draw attention to the importance of supporting young people.

Varga runs a foundation in his native Budapest district of Csepel dedicated to helping youth develop a healthy lifestyle and support their goals in education, science and art.

Varga’s journey began Saturday.

— From news service reports