World Briefs

Teddy bears deliver human rights message

MINSK, Belarus – It’s probably the first time in history that teddy bears have defeated generals.

Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has sacked two of the nation’s top defense officials after two Swedish advertising agency employees piloted a light plane into the country’s heavily guarded airspace, dropping 879 teddy bears decked out in parachutes and slogans supporting human rights.

Officials in the ex-Soviet state denied the July 4 incident until Lukashenko called a meeting last week to scold authorities for allowing such a “provocation.”

The Belarusian ruler nicknamed “Europe’s last dictator” on Tuesday fired the nation’s air defense chief and the head of the Border Guards service and reprimanded several other top security officials, his office said Wednesday.

Thomas Mazetti and Hannah Frey, the two Swedes behind the stunt, said they wanted to show support for Belarusian human rights activists and embarrass the country’s military, a pillar of Lukashenko’s power.

Where’s Assad? Mystery deepens inside Syria

BEIRUT – Syrian President Bashar Assad urged his military Wednesday to boost its fight against rebels, but his written call to arms only deepened a mystery about his whereabouts two weeks after a bomb penetrated his inner circle.

Assad has not spoken publicly since the July 18 bombing killed four of his top security officials – including his brother-in-law – during a rebel assault on the capital, Damascus. The president’s low profile has raised questions about whether he fears for his personal safety as the civil war escalates dramatically.

The United States called the Syrian president a coward for marshaling his forces from the pages of the army’s official magazine.

Sausan Ghosheh, the spokeswoman for the U.N. mission in Syria, said Wednesday that international observers witnessed warplanes firing in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, where intense fighting has been raging for 12 days.

Netanyahu knocks policy toward Iran

JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, standing next to the U.S. defense chief, said Wednesday without qualification that international economic sanctions have had no effect on Iran’s nuclear program and suggested Israeli patience was wearing thin, a statement that amounted to an indictment of President Barack Obama’s policy toward the Islamic republic.

Netanyahu dismissed U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s assurances that the United States shared its goal of a non-nuclear Iran, saying the central features of Washington’s strategy for stopping the Islamic republic’s nuclear ambitions – sanctions and diplomacy – were perilously close to failure.

Associated Press