- Syrian opposition says to attend talks, backed by rebel fighters
- Brazil bomb scare spurs emergency landing, brief airport closure
- British teen claims new South Pole trek record
Posted: 18 Jan 2014 07:50 PM PST
SILIVRI, Turkey (Reuters) - Syria's main political opposition group in exile agreed on Saturday to attend internationally sponsored peace talks, and said for the first time three rebel fighting forces also wanted to take part.
The agreement by the Syrian National Coalition - and the chance of fighters backing the process - will be a boost for Western supporters of the "Geneva 2" talks seen as the most serious global effort yet to end the near three-year conflict.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government was not immediately available to comment on the prospect of rebel militia representatives playing a role at the negotiations to end fighting that killed more than 100,000 people.
National Coalition spokesman Louay Safi told Reuters the Soldiers of the Levant, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and the Mujahideen Army all wanted "to have some representation within the delegation" at the talks on Wednesday in Montreux.
It was not immediately clear what role they might play.
Rebel brigades had previously rejected Geneva - demanding the removal of Assad before talks. Their support is seen as critical if any deals have any chance of being rolled out.
All three are established forces, through restrictions on journalists in Syria makes it impossible to give independent estimates of their size.
A fourth fighting group, the Islamic Front - thought to be bigger than the other three combined - was still deciding whether to attend, Safi added.
Al Qaeda-linked rebels, increasingly involved in the fighting, have shown no interest in a political process.
The fractured National Coalition itself has little influence on the ground in Syria.
Major Isam el Rayyes, spokesman of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, confirmed his group was now interested.
"The Syrian Revolutionaries Front and two other major fronts want to be represented at Geneva but we will not send our brigade leaders," he told Reuters.
There was no immediate comment from the other two.
Coalition discussions to appoint a delegation were set to go into the night. Sources said meetings with the Islamic Front were also taking place in Istanbul.
Western powers had pressed the opposition to commit to the talks and on Saturday France welcomed the Coalition's decision, vowing to make sure the discussions ended up setting up a transitional Syrian government with full executive powers.
"This brave choice, despite the provocations and acts of violence by the regime, is a choice to search for a peaceful solution," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Saturday.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called it "a courageous vote in the interests of all the Syrian people who have suffered so horribly under the brutality of the Assad regime and a civil war without end."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he welcomed the participation of the opposition groups.
"I look forward to the opposition's expedited formation of a delegation that broadly represents the diversity of the Syrian opposition, including women," he said in a statement.
The Coalition decision had been delayed repeatedly as more than 40 members threatened to leave the body, and eventually shunned the vote.
One Coalition member, Khaled Khoja, told Reuters on Saturday that the vote was illegitimate and that his group was considering a formal challenge.
Out of those that did take part, 58 Syrian National Coalition members voted to attend and 14 voted against, said the group's media office. Another three abstained it added.
"It was a tough vote," the head of the Coalition's media office, Khaled Saleh, told Reuters. The Geneva 2 process would be a "political and media battle, and on balance we decided that we must fight it alongside the war on the ground," he added.
Syrian officials have announced a delegation to attend the January 22 talks, though they dispute the invitation letter's focus on setting up a transitional authority, saying the priority is "to continue to fight terrorism" - a phrase they use to describe Assad's battle with increasingly radical rebels.
(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Louis Charbonneau in New York; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Lisa Shumaker)
Posted: 18 Jan 2014 04:40 PM PST
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - A bomb threat left in a Brazilian airport caused a TAM Airlines flight to make an emergency landing and briefly closed the airport in the Amazonian city of Manaus on Saturday, five months before the country hosts the World Cup soccer tournament.
A note that said a bomb was onboard TAM flight 3540 was found in a bathroom at Brasilia's Juscelino Kubitschek airport, airport officials said.
That flight, which had already left Brasilia bound for Boa Vista, evacuated passengers via emergency slides when it landed on the runway at Eduardo Gomes airport in Manaus.
The Manaus airport had reopened at 4 p.m. Brasilia time (1800 GMT) after no explosive device was found on the plane, a spokeswoman for the Infraero national airport authority said. She also said no other airports were affected.
TAM spokeswoman Fernanda Feres said passengers on the affected plane had been rebooked on another flight leaving for Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima state, on Saturday. TAM is the local unit of LATAM Airlines Group.
Federal police told Globo News they suspect a former TAM employee may have written the note left in Brasilia although investigations were ongoing.
Feres said the company had no comment on the investigation.
TAM cut some 780 employees late last year, reducing its workforce by 4 percent in an effort to boost profits despite high fuel costs and a weaker local currency.
Manaus is a popular destination for tourists exploring the Amazon rainforest and one of 12 cities hosting World Cup soccer matches in June and July.
(Reporting by Caroline Stauffer, editing by G Crosse)
Posted: 18 Jan 2014 04:16 PM PST
LONDON (AFP) - A 16-year-old British schoolboy on Saturday became the youngest person ever to trek to the South Pole, his team said.Lewis Clarke celebrated with a bowl of pasta with fresh parmesan cheese, his first real meal since setting off on the gruelling 702-mile (1,129-kilometre) journey from the coast on Dec 2.
The teenager and his guide, Carl Alvey, travelled across the Antarctic on skis, unsupported except for a few food drops and braving temperatures as low as minus 50C, according to Clarke's website.
"I'm really happy but mostly relieved that for the first time in 48 days I don't have to get up tomorrow and drag my sled for nine hours in the snow and icy wind," Clarke said in a statement carried by the British media.
"Today was really hard, the closer I got to the Pole the slower I went, my legs had had enough.
"But now I'm here and I've had some spaghetti bolognaise and I am sitting in a heated tent."
The pair arrived at the South Pole at 1800 GMT and after tucking into his meal Clarke called his relieved parents back home in Bristol, in western England.
"Coming home will be a bit weird for him, I'm sure, after seven weeks of almost complete solitude," his father Steven Clarke told the BBC.
"But it'll be a few days off, a party and then onto GCSE revision," he added, referring to the national school exams that the young adventurer will have to take in May and June.
Clarke, who raised money for Prince Charles' charity for young people, the Prince's Trust, will be back in Britain on January 24 when he hopes his record will be verified.
Guinness World Records said the record for the youngest person to trek overland to the South Pole without the use of dogs or motorised vehicles was set by 18-year-old Canadian Sarah Ann McNair-Landry in January 2005.
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