EGYPT
Last main challenger to Sissi leaves race

Abdel Fatah al-Sissi's last main challenger for the presidency pulled out on Wednesday, saying any hope of a new start for Egypt had ended in a race that is all but certain to deliver the leader a second landslide.

Former military commander Sissi was elected in 2014, a year after he led the army to oust the Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi.

After rights lawyer Khaled Ali's withdrawal on Wednesday and the arrest of the only serious challenger, former military chief of staff Sami Anan the day before, the March 26-28 vote now faces the prospect of featuring only one candidate.

Ali announced that he was withdrawing from the race just hours after Sissi launched his own bid. He said his supporters were being intimidated and the electoral process was corrupt.

"People's confidence in the possibility of transforming electoral gains into a chance for a new beginning has, unfortunately, in our view, for now ended," Ali said at a news conference in central Cairo.

The electoral commission has said it will ensure that the vote is fair and transparent. Egypt's president's office and government press center have not commented on the race.

Other candidates have until Jan. 29 to register before a final list is announced on Feb. 20. A small crop of lesser-known challengers have announced their intention to run, but it is far from certain they will garner the nominations required under Egyptian law to actually run.

— Reuters

BURMA
Bill Richardson quits panel on refugee crisis

Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson resigned Wednesday from an advisory panel on the Rohingya refugee crisis, calling it a "whitewash and a cheerleading operation" for Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The sudden resignation of probably the panel's most prominent member, a former senior U.S. politician and diplomat who considered Suu Kyi a close friend, raises serious questions about international efforts to deal with the fallout of Burmese military operations against Rohingya Muslims that the United Nations has called "textbook ethnic cleansing."

It also offers possible insight into the thinking of Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate whose leadership during the crisis has shocked many outsiders.

Richardson castigated Suu Kyi for blaming outsiders instead of looking honestly at military actions that have forced nearly 700,000 Rohingya to flee to refugee camps in Bangladesh. "She believes there's a concerted international effort against Myanmar, and I believe she is wrong," he said. Burma is also known as Myanmar.

Burma launched its military campaign after attacks by Rohingya militants on army and police posts on Aug. 25. Since then, refugees have told of mass killings, rapes and the obliteration of entire villages.

— Associated Press

FARC to field 74 candidates in Colombia elections: Colombia's FARC political party, made up of former members of the rebel group, will field 74 candidates in March legislative elections, in a bid to win more than the 10 seats guaranteed it in a peace deal with the government, the party said. The vote will mark the party's electoral debut after its members handed in their arms under the deal signed with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos in 2016, which ended more than 52 years of war.

134 are convicted in Congo massacres: A military tribunal investigating a wave of massacres in eastern Congo blamed on Ugandan rebels has convicted 134 people, a senior army prosecutor and a rights group said. More than 800 people were killed around the town of Beni, near Congo's border with Uganda, between 2014 and 2016. Congolese authorities say the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan Islamist group, was behind the killings, but Congolese army officers have also been accused. CEPADHO, a human rights group that observed the trials, said that of those convicted — a mix of ADF rebels, militia fighters, civilians and local chiefs — 42 were sentenced to death, several of them in absentia.

Austrian fraternity investigated over Nazi lyrics: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says prosecutors are investigating a student fraternity whose songbook contains Nazi lyrics. His comments came after a recent report revealed that a Freedom Party candidate for state office, Udo Landbauer, was a member of the fraternity. Kurz, a conservative, has formed a coalition government with the nationalist Freedom Party.

— From news services