February 7, 2013

Tunisia to form a new government as it reels from a political killing. New US sanctions on Iran. I'm Ray Kouguell reporting from Washington.

Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali says he will form a new government without political affiliations. That comes in response to the murder of a prominent opposition leader.

Mr Jebali announced the move Wednesday on national television as thousands of protesters clashed with police in the capital in response to the murder of a leading opposition figure. Lisa Bryant reports.

News reports say protesters jammed the main Habib Bourguiba boulevard in downtown Tunis on Wednesday, yelling "shame, shame" as they denounced the killing of leftist politician Chokri Belaid.

Other demonstrations are being staged in towns around Tunisia, in scenes reminiscent of the country's largely peaceful revolution two years ago.

One of the leaders of the opposition Popular Front, Belaid was shot dead outside his Tunis home just hours before. His killing has sparked shock and outrage and fears that religious extremists are trying to hijack Tunisia's transition to democracy. Lisa Bryant for VOA news, Paris.

Witnesses say Syrian rebels and government troops fought battles Wednesday inside Damascus as two suicide bombings killed about 20 Syrian security personnel in the ancient city of Palmyra.

Amateur video shows a purported attack on a government position in the Damascus district of Joubar. Activists say this is part of a multi-pronged attack on government forces.

Leaders of Islamic nations meeting in Egypt's capital are calling for a negotiated end to Syria's civil war and also commending France for its military intervention in Mali against Islamist militants.

Senegalese President Macky Sall's opening address Wednesday to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit in Cairo urged leaders of fellow Muslim nations to support the sovereignty of Mali.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says France is in a "real war" in northern Mali.

In an interview of France's Europe 1 radio, the French defense chief said French and Malian forces are coming up against residual jihadist groups outside the major cities of Timbuktu and Gao.

The Obama administration says new sanctions against Iran are meant to make progress on its nuclear program at talks later this month. VOA's Scott Stearns has details.

The new sanctions restrict Iran's access to oil profits by forcing Tehran to spend that money only within the countries that buy its oil.

Iran's state broadcaster is now blocked from using the US financial system because Washington says it is engaged in censorship. Iran's cyber police and communications regulatory authority are blocked from the financial system because the United States says they are involved in jamming foreign broadcasts and in using social media to hunt down political activists.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says the moves are meant to reinforce nuclear talks in Kazakhstan February 26 between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Scott Stearns, VOA news, the state Department.

Lebanon's Shiite militant Hezbollah group is dismissing Bulgaria's claim that it was behind last year's bombing that killed five Israeli tourists.

The group's deputy leader Naim Qassem says the accusations are part of a smear campaign waged by Israel after it failed to defeat the group militarily.

The Bulgarian government says that two Hezbollah operatives were among the three men responsible for the July bombing of a tour bus at the Black Sea town of Burgas.

A powerful earthquake shook islands in the south Pacific Wednesday, triggering a regional tsunami that killed at least five people and destroyed many homes. The magnitude 8 quake hit a sparsely populated region near the Solomon Islands.

President Obama's choice to head the Central Intelligence Agency is expected to discuss the administration's use of unmanned drones against terrorist targets overseas when he appears before Congress Thursday.

Senators who must confirm Mr Obama's choice of National Security Adviser John Brennan to lead the CIA are expected to question him closely about the controversial drone policy. Mr Brennan is a strong supporter of the use of unmanned aircraft to identify and attack terrorist targets abroad.

Pirates have released a tanker ship with 17 crew members they hijacked off Ivory Coast on Monday.

The ship's French company owner says the vessel was freed after pirates stole part of its cargo. All crew member were reported safe.

And the US Postal Service says it will stop delivering mail on Saturdays under a plan aimed at saving about $2-billion a year.

But the financially struggling service says it will still deliver packages six days a week.

I'm Ray Kouguell, VOA news. There is more on the Internet at voanews.com.