DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

Blogger who insulted Islam due to be flogged on Friday

A Saudi blogger who was sentenced last May to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes will be publicly flogged for the first time after Friday prayers outside a mosque in the Red Sea coastal city of Jiddah, a person close to his case said Thursday.

Raif Baddawi was sentenced on charges related to accusations that he insulted Islam on a liberal online forum he had created. He was also ordered by the Jiddah Criminal Court to pay a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals, or about $266,000.

Rights groups and activists say his case is part of a wider clampdown on dissent throughout the kingdom. Officials have increasingly blunted calls for reforms since the region’s 2011 Arab Spring upheaval.

Badawi has been held since mid-2012, and his Free Saudi Liberals website is now closed.He called from prison and informed his family of the flogging, due Friday, said a person close to the case.

London-based rights group Amnesty International has said that Badawi is to receive 50 lashes once a week for 20 weeks.

WASHINGTON

Community college for free: Obama set to outline proposal

The White House on Thursday announced a proposal that President Obama said would make community college “free for everybody who is willing to work for it.” But administration officials provided no details about the program’s costs or how it would be paid for.

Obama planned to formally announce the plan Friday at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee. He gave a preview in a videotaped message shot aboard Air Force One and posted on Facebook.

“It’s not just for kids,” Obama said. “We also have to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to constantly train themselves for better jobs, better wages, better benefits.”

The White House did say that if all states participated, that 9 million students could benefit – saving an average $3,800 in tuition per year for a full-time student.

— From news service reports