SYRIA

Continued violence kills 25; Arab League details sanctions

Violence sweeping across Syria killed 25 people on Saturday, most of them in a battle between troops and a growing force of army defectors who have joined the movement to oust the autocratic president, activists said. The Arab League, meanwhile, agreed on the details of economic and diplomatic sanctions against the regime.

The revolt against Bashar Assad’s rule began with peaceful protests in mid-March, triggering a crackdown.

Sanctions by the United States, the European Union, Turkey and the 22-member Arab League have so far failed to blunt the turmoil, but are leaving Assad’s regime increasingly isolated.

Arab League ministers meeting in the Gulf nation of Qatar on Saturday to finalize the bloc’s penalties agreed on a list of 19 Syrian officials subject to a travel ban. The list does not include Assad.

Many of the Arab sanctions, which were first announced last Sunday, went into effect immediately, including cutting off transactions with the Syrian central bank, halting Arab government funding for projects in Syria and freezing government assets. Flights between Syria and its Arab neighbors will stop Dec. 15.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia

Report: Letting women drive could promote sex

A report given to a high-level advisory group in Saudi Arabia claims that allowing women in the kingdom to drive could encourage premarital sex, a rights activist said Saturday.

The ultraconservative stance suggests increasing pressure on King Abdullah to retain the kingdom’s male-only driving rules despite international criticism.

Rights activist Waleed Abu Alkhair said the document by a well-known academic was sent to the all-male Shura Council, which advises the monarchy. The report by Kamal Subhi claims that allowing women to drive will threaten the country’s traditions of virgin brides, he said.

Saudi women have staged several protests defying the driving ban.

CARACAS, Venezuela

Nations of the Americas, except U.S., form new bloc

Leaders from across Latin America and the Caribbean pledged closer ties to safeguard their economies from the world financial crisis as they formed a new bloc on Saturday including every nation in the hemisphere except the U.S. and Canada.

Several presidents stressed during the two-day summit that they hope to ride out turbulent times by boosting local industries and increasing trade within the region.

“It seems it’s a terminal, structural crisis of capitalism,” Bolivian President Evo Morales said in a speech Saturday. “I feel we’re meeting at a good moment to debate … the great unity of the countries of America, without the United States.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and some of his closest allies called the new regional bloc a tool for opposing U.S. influence. But other leaders focused more on economic concerns and on working together to confront issues such as drug trafficking and the effects of climate change.

DURBAN, South Africa

U.N. official assures that climate pledges will continue

The top U.N. climate official said Saturday she is confident industrial countries will renew their pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after their current commitments expire next year.

Further commitments under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an unshakable demand by poor countries, would avert a feared derailment of U.N. negotiations, but would mark little advancement toward the goal of a steep drop in worldwide carbon emissions blamed for climate change.

The protocol’s future has been in doubt because rich countries have demanded agreement by nations such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa to also accept binding emissions targets.

— From news service reports