Referendum on lifting abortion ban set for '18

Ireland's prime minister said Tuesday that the country will hold a referendum in May or June on lifting its constitutional ban on abortion.

Leo Varadkar told lawmakers that the government has agreed on an "indicative timeline" for the vote on the Eighth Amendment to the constitution.

The 1983 amendment commits authorities to defend equally the right to life of the mother and the unborn child, giving largely Roman Catholic Ireland the strictest abortion ban in Europe. Abortion is legal only in rare cases in which the mother's life is in danger.

Several thousand Irish women travel each year to neighboring Britain for abortions.

The Irish Parliament still has to approve a bill authorizing the referendum.

Varadkar also announced plans for referendums on other issues, including Ireland's blasphemy law and its restrictive divorce laws.

— Associated Press


7 arrested over raising of LGBT pride flag

Egyptian authorities have arrested seven people and charged them with "inciting immorality" after the rainbow flag of the LGBT movement was raised at a Cairo concert last week.

The flag-raising was a rare sign of support for highly marginalized homosexuals in conservative Egypt. It occurred at a Friday performance by the popular Lebanese indie rock band Mashrou' Leila, a jazzy, electro-Arabesque group whose lead singer is openly gay.

Homosexuality is taboo in Egypt among both majority Muslims and the Christian minority, but it is not explicitly prohibited by law. In practice, however, the state regularly seeks to prosecute individuals under alternative charges, including "immorality" and "debauchery," which are normally reserved for prostitution.

Prosecutors also sometimes charge gay people with "blasphemy," which is also considered a crime in Egypt.

Mashrou' Leila has played in Egypt before, although the group was twice banned from performing in Jordan over allegations that its musicians violate the kingdom's traditions and commit blasphemy.

— Associated Press


New education law angers neighbors

Ukraine's president has signed a controversial law on education, causing fury in Hungary, which is threatening to block Ukraine's efforts to integrate with the European Union.

The law that Petro Poroshenko signed this week restructures Ukraine's education system and specifies that Ukrainian will be the main language used in schools, rolling back the option for lessons to be taught in other languages. Russia, Moldova, Hungary and Romania expressed concern about the bill when it was drafted, saying it would infringe on the rights of ethnic minorities.

Ukrainian officials have rejected the accusation. Poroshenko said the law "strengthens the role of the Ukrainian language in education" but also protects the rights of all minorities to get an education.

Language has been a politically charged issue in Ukraine, where 30 percent of those polled in the 2001 census called Russian their mother tongue.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto on Tuesday called Poroshenko's signing of the law "a shame and a disgrace." Szijjarto vowed to block Ukraine's efforts to integrate with the E.U.

There are about 150,000 ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine.

Romania's president last week canceled a visit to Ukraine in protest and has called off a trip to Bucharest by Poroshenko. The 2001 census listed about 400,000 Romanian speakers in Ukraine.

— Associated Press

Venezuela's opposition pulls out of talks: Venezuela's opposition has backed out of early-stage negotiations with the government, saying President Nicolás Maduro's administration has failed to follow through on pledges, including commitments related to human rights and electoral guarantees. The opposition insists that any solution to Venezuela's economic and political crisis requires Maduro to step down.

Only 1 suspect in London attack still in custody: British police have released all but one of the seven suspects arrested in the recent London subway attack. The only person still in custody is 18-year-old Ahmed Hassan, charged with attempted murder and other crimes. A homemade bomb partially exploded on a train on Sept. 15, injuring 30.

— From news services