South Africa

Top detective fired in Pistorius case

PRETORIA - South African police appointed a new chief investigator Thursday in the Oscar Pistorius murder case, replacing a veteran detective after unsettling revelations that the officer was charged with seven counts of attempted murder.

The sensational twist in the state's troubled investigation fueled growing public fascination with the case against the double-amputee Olympian, who is charged with premeditated murder in the Valentine's Day slaying of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius, a sporting icon and source of inspiration to millions until the shooting last week, is backed by a high-powered team of lawyers and publicists. The abruptness of his fall, and its gruesome circumstances, have gripped a global audience and put South Africa's police and judicial system under the spotlight.


Car bomb kills 53 near ruling party HQ

DAMASCUS - A car bomb exploded Thursday near Syria's ruling party headquarters in Damascus, killing at least 53 people and scattering mangled bodies among the blazing wreckage in one of the bloodiest days in the capital since the uprising began almost two years ago.

Elsewhere in the city, two other bombs struck intelligence offices, killing 22, and mortar rounds hit the army's central command, activists said.

Recent rebel advances in the Damascus suburbs, combined with the bombings and three straight days of mortar attacks, mark the most sustained challenge of the civil war for control of the seat of President Bashar Assad's power.


Police: 'Magic potions' benefit only fungus

LIMA - Authorities in Peru's capital say they've seized a haul of potions and elixirs that are more likely to bring infections than love or money.

Lima enforcement official Alejandro Salas said the purported "magic" liquids confiscated Wednesday in a raid on eight shaman shops just blocks from the presidential palace are of dubious origin and unsanitary.

Health officials say some of the "eternal love potion" bottles, "anti-envy" powder packets and revenge brews contained fungus.

City pharmaceutical chemist Andrea Ochante said that rather than inspiring love, the concoctions are more likely to end up causing infections.

Salas said the shop owners will be prosecuted for public health crimes.


3 men are convicted in terrorist bomb plot

LONDON - They were ordinary would-be terrorists, with big plans but bad luck.

On Thursday, a London jury convicted the three young British men of being ringleaders of an al-Qaida-inspired plot to explode knapsack bombs in crowded parts of Birmingham, England's second-largest city. The men had pleaded not guilty, but were recorded discussing plans for attacks that one said would be "another 9/11."

The trial exposed how Ashik Ali and Irfan Khalid, both 27, and Irfan "Chubbs" Naseer, 31, were foiled by a mix of police intelligence, personal incompetence and lousy luck as they tried to spread terror.

They attempted to recruit others to their cause, without success.


Nation reportedly plans oil refinery in Pakistan

TEHRAN - A semiofficial news agency says Iran is planning to build an oil refinery in Pakistan.

The plan is part of Iran's effort to decrease international pressure on its oil industry, which has been the target of international sanctions over the country's disputed nuclear program.

Thursday's report by Fars quotes Asim Hussain, an adviser to the Pakistani prime minister, as saying the refinery in the Pakistani port of Gwadar will be able to refine 400,000 barrels a day. The report says Iran will sell products from the refinery to Pakistan in return of food.


Twin bombings kill 12; scores wounded

HYDERABAD - A pair of bombs exploded in a crowded shopping area in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, killing at least 12 people and wounding scores in the worst bombing in the country in more than a year, officials said.

The blasts occurred about two minutes apart at around 7 p.m. Thursday outside a movie theater and a bus station, police said. Storefronts were shattered and food from a roadside restaurant was scattered on the ground near a tangle of dead bodies. Passers-by rushed the wounded out of the area.

The bombs were attached to two bicycles about 500 feet apart in Dilsukh Nagar district, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told reporters in New Delhi. The district is a usually crowded shopping area near a residential neighborhood.

Hunt is on for killers of 3 sisters, ages 5-11

NEW DELHI - Police said Thursday they have launched a manhunt for men suspected of raping and killing three sisters, ages 5 to 11, in the latest case of sexual violence to grip the country.

The sisters' bodies were found in a village well in Bhandara district in Maharashtra state on Feb. 14 after they had gone missing from school, police Officer Javed Ahmed said.

The area is more than 600 miles south of New Delhi, the capital.

As the victims' mother accused police of a shoddy investigation, enraged villagers forced shops to close, burned tires and blocked a national highway passing through the area for several hours on Wednesday, demanding justice.

"The police did not take the case seriously and did nothing for two days," the CNN-IBN television news channel quoted the mother as saying. Her name was withheld.


US to cooperate again in fighting narcotics

YANGON - Myanmar and the United States took another step toward closer relations with an agreement Thursday to resume cooperation in fighting narcotics after nearly nine years.

State television said the two sides agreed to restart joint opium-poppy yield surveys early this year and cooperate in counternarcotics training.

U.S. Ambassador Derek Mitchell told reporters after a signing ceremony that the agreement "is another step forward in our overall relationship."

Police Col. Myint Thein said the survey would provide better information about poppy cultivation and production.


Drive begins to keep language's nuances

WARSAW - Language experts began a campaign Thursday to preserve the challenging system of its diacritical marks, saying the tails, dots and strokes are becoming obsolete under the pressure of IT and speed.

The drive, initiated by the state-run Council of the Polish Language, is part of the UNESCO International Mother Language Day.

Computer and phone keyboards require users to punch additional keys for Polish alphabet. To save time, Poles skip the nuances, and sometimes need to guess the meaning of the message they have received.

The Associated Press