GUATEMALA CITY

Former dictator convicted of genocide, gets 80 years

A Guatemalan court convicted former dictator Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity on Friday, sentencing him to 80 years in prison, the first such sentence ever handed down against a former Latin American leader.

It was the state’s first official acknowledgment that genocide occurred during the bloody, 36-year civil war, something the current president, retired Gen. Otto Perez Molina, has denied.

A three-judge tribunal issued the verdict after the nearly two-month trial in which dozens of victims testified about mass rapes and the killings of women and children and other atrocities.

Survivors and relatives of victims have sought for 30 years to bring punishment for Rios Montt. For international observers and Guatemalan, the trial could be a turning point in a nation still wrestling with the trauma of a conflict that killed some 200,000 people.

BEIRUT

Russia defends its sales of arms to Syrian regime

Russia defended its sales of anti-aircraft systems to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, just days after joining forces with the U.S. for a new push to end Syria’s civil war through negotiations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov avoided saying whether those sales included advanced S-300 batteries. Israel has asked Russia to cancel what it said was the imminent sale of the S-300 missiles, portrayed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as destabilizing to Israel’s security.

The S-300s would make it harder for the U.S. and other countries to even consider intervening militarily or enforcing a no-fly zone in Syria. The U.S. has urged Russia — an Assad ally along with China, Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia — to cut off weapons supplies to Syria.

Despite such disagreements, Russia and the U.S. decided this week to convene an international conference to bring representatives of the Assad regime and the opposition to the negotiating table. No date has been set.

WACO, Texas

Criminal probe launched into fertilizer plant blast

Texas law enforcement officials on Friday launched a criminal investigation into the massive fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14 people last month, after weeks of largely treating it as an industrial accident.

The announcement came the same day federal agents said they found bomb-making materials belonging to a paramedic who helped evacuate residents the night of the explosion. Bryce Reed was arrested early Friday on a charge of possessing a destructive device, but law enforcement officials said they had not linked the charge to the April 17 fire and blast at West Fertilizer Co.

The Texas Rangers and the sheriff’s department will join the State Fire Marshall’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which never ruled out that a crime may have been committed.

— From news service reports