Egypt’s opposition alleges vote fraud in constitutional referendum
CAIRO — Egypt’s opposition said Sunday it will keep fighting the Islamist-backed constitution after the Muslim Brotherhood, the main group backing the charter, claimed it passed with a 64 percent “yes” vote in a referendum.
The opposition alleged vote fraud and demanded an investigation — a sign that the referendum will not end the turmoil that has roiled this country for nearly two years since the uprising that ousted authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. Many Egyptians, especially the tens of millions who live in extreme poverty, had hoped the new constitution might usher in a period of more stability.
A heated political debate over the past month leading up to the referendum at times erupted into deadly street battles. There were no mass opposition demonstrations on Sunday after the unofficial results came out.
Renewed violence and political tensions have further imperiled Egypt’s already precarious economy, reeling from dwindling resources and a cash-strapped government whose plans to borrow from the International Monetary Fund had to be pushed back because of the turmoil.
The finance ministry said Sunday the budget deficit reached $13 billion in the five months from July-November, about 4.5 percent higher compared to the same period last year.
Syrian airstrike kills dozens as international envoy pushes for peace with top officials
BEIRUT — A government airstrike on a bakery in a rebel-held town in central Syria killed more than 60 people on Sunday, activists said, casting a pall over a visit by the international envoy charged with negotiating an end to the country’s civil war.
The strike on the town of Halfaya left scattered bodies and debris up and down a street, and more than a dozen dead and wounded were trapped in tangled heap of dirt and rubble.
The attack appeared to be the government response to a newly announced rebel offensive seeking to drive the Syrian army from a constellation of towns and village north of the central city of Hama. Halfaya was the first of the area’s towns to be “liberated” by rebel fighters, and activists saw Sunday’s attack as payback.
“Halfaya was the first and biggest victory in the Hama countryside,” said Hama activist Mousab Alhamadee via Skype. “That’s why the regime is punishing them in this way.”
The total death toll remained unclear, but the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 60 people were killed. That number is expected to rise, it said, because some 50 of those wounded in the strike are in critical condition.
Ho Ho Holy Discount: Vatican tax-free store open late to accommodate Christmas rush
VATICAN CITY — Anyone left on your Christmas list just aching for a 65-inch Samsung 3D flat-screen television? Just your luck. The Vatican’s duty-free department store has one on sale for €2,899 ($3,840) — a nifty savings over the €3,799 ($5,032) it costs at Italy’s main electronics chain Euronics.
Or how about some new luggage for the holidays? The Vatican shop stocks a variety of Samsonite Cordoba Duo carry-ons for €123, a nice markdown from the €135 on the Samsonite website. But if a last-minute shopping splurge is in order, the Vatican can also oblige: Take this leather-bound travelling trunk from Florence’s “The Bridge” leatherworks, with its five drawers, plaid interior, six wooden hangars and shiny brass buckles.
There’s a hitch, however. It’s not open to the public, only to Vatican citizens, employees and their dependents, diplomats accredited to the Holy See and (unofficially) their lucky friends who, after stocking up on holiday must-haves, proceed to the checkout with their Vatican connection and the ID card that entitles them to shop there.