JUNEAU, Alaska

Recounters accused of being too strict on challenges

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s campaign on Thursday accused observers for rival Joe Miller of challenging perfectly cast write-in ballots in an effort to drag out the heated Alaska Senate race and “delay the inevitable.”

Shortly after the second day of write-in ballot counting began, a Miller observer challenged a vote for Murkowski that appeared to have her name spelled and printed correctly, though the “L” in “Lisa” was in cursive handwriting.

At another table later, at least 10 ballots in which Murkowski’s name appeared readable were challenged, including one in which the vote read: “Lisa Murkowski Republican.”

Miller’s campaign said observers are simply challenging votes that don’t meet the strict letter of the law. 

“The Murkowski campaign can say whatever it wants,” Chip Gerhardt, a Miller observer and attorney sent to the state by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “What’s going on here, our focus is on following the law.”

BAGHDAD

Al-Maliki gets go-ahead to form a new government

Iraq’s president gave Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki the nod to form the next government Thursday after an eight-month deadlock, but a dramatic walkout from parliament by his Sunni rivals cast doubt on a power-sharing deal reached by the two sides less than a day earlier.

The walkout underlined the Sunni minority’s reluctance over the prospective new unity government outlined in the deal, which ensures continued Shiite domination while giving Sunnis a role far short of the greater political power they seek.

Sunni support for any new government is key.

The Americans had been pushing for them to have a significant role, fearing that otherwise, disillusioned Sunnis could turn to the insurgency, fueling new violence as the last of U.S. troops prepare to leave by the end of next year.

The power-sharing deal reached Wednesday night was heralded by some politicians as a breakthrough, ending the months of wrangling since the inconclusive March 7 parliament elections. But Sunnis were already accusing al-Maliki of not fulfilling promises and have warned they could pull out if they are not met.

At a press conference after the walkout, a lawmaker from the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, Haider al-Mulla, did not answer when asked whether the bloc would participate in the government.

QALQILIYA, West Bank

Sting catches blogger who insulted Muhammad

A mysterious blogger who set off an uproar in the Arab world by claiming he was God and hurling insults at the Prophet Muhammad is now behind bars – caught in a sting that used Facebook to track him down.

The case of the unlikely apostate, a shy barber from this backwater West Bank town, is highlighting the limits of tolerance in the Western-backed Palestinian Authority – and illustrating a new trend by authorities in the Arab world to mine social media for evidence.

Residents of Qalqiliya say they had no idea that Walid Husayin – the 26-year-old son of a Muslim scholar – was leading a double life.

Known as a quiet man who prayed with his family each Friday and spent his evenings working in his father’s barbershop, Husayin was secretly posting anti-religion rants on the Internet during his free time.

Now, he faces a potential life prison sentence on heresy charges for “insulting the divine essence.”

Many in this conservative Muslim town say he should be killed for renouncing Islam, and even family members say he should remain behind bars for life.