Putin cancels visit to France over Syria row

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday canceled a visit to Paris after the French leader called the recent bombings of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo a “war crime” and questioned publicly whether it made sense to meet with Putin at all.

The decision to call off next week’s trip underscores the increasing divides between the West and Russia over Moscow’s military aid to Syria’s government in the country’s conflict.

French officials have said that they want the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor to open a war crimes investigation of Russia and Syria’s airstrikes in Aleppo, which have become a byword for the grave humanitarian crisis unleashed by the five-year-long civil war.

Russia says it is targeting only terrorists in Aleppo and has accused the West of using terrorist groups to engineer the downfall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a key Russian ally. The attacks on Aleppo expanded sharply late last month after the collapse of a cease-fire plan brokered by Russia and the United States.

The cancellation of the visit is the latest diplomatic breakdown between Russia and the West over Syria.

The United States last week halted diplomatic talks with Russia because of the Aleppo bombing campaign. Russia on Saturday blocked a French-sponsored U.N. Security Council resolution that would have imposed a no-fly zone in Syria. A Russian counterproposal, which would not have halted airstrikes in Aleppo, also was vetoed.

— Andrew Roth

Finance minister faces fraud charge

South Africa’s finance minister faces a fraud charge and must appear in court on Nov. 2, the country’s top prosecutor said Tuesday, deepening concern about the weak economy and rifts within the government of President Jacob Zuma.

South Africa’s currency, the rand, dropped more than 3 percent after the move against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who has been widely praised for his stewardship of the economy and is scheduled to give a budget speech on Oct. 26.

The Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s main opposition party, described the move to prosecute Gordhan as “a disaster for the economy.”

The Finance Ministry also criticized the legal proceeding, saying that it will damage the “economic well-being of South Africans and essential processes of government” and that the case is “contaminated by abuse for political ends.”

Shaun Abrahams, head of the National Prosecuting Authority, said the plan to prosecute Gordhan was not politically motivated, but there have been allegations that government factions close to Zuma want to wrest control of the national treasury from the independent-minded finance minister.

Abrahams said Gordhan will be prosecuted for illegally approving an early-retirement package for a former tax official who then continued to work. He also said that a police probe continues into an allegedly unauthorized unit of investigators set up years ago at the country’s tax agency at a time when Gordhan led it.

— Associated Press

Israel demolishes home of Palestinian attack accomplice: The Israeli military demolished the family home of a Palestinian convicted of being an accomplice to a deadly attack on Israelis last year, while security was stepped up for the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day. The military said the accomplice, Amjad Elewi, assisted in the “planning and execution” of a shooting attack that killed two Israelis in the West Bank. He is serving two life sentences plus 30 years for his role in the attack. The military said it sealed the crossings in and out of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a security precaution for Yom Kippur.

Airstrikes in Aleppo, shelling in southern Syria kill 20: Airstrikes on rebel-held parts of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo killed at least 14 people, while the shelling of a government-held neighborhood in the south hit a school, killing at least six, opposition activists and state media said. Syria’s official news agency also reported rare shelling of neighborhoods in the capital, Damascus, including mortar shells fired by opposition groups that landed in the Qasaa district and close to the Umayyad Mosque, wounding an unspecified number of people.

— From news services