July was deadliest month in five years

More than 1,000 people were killed in Iraq in July, the highest monthly death toll in five years, the United Nations said Thursday. The grim figure indicates rapidly deteriorating security as tensions soar between the country’s majority Shiites and minority Sunnis nearly two years after the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The killings picked up significantly after Iraqi security forces launched a crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in the northern town of Hawija on April 23, triggering a ferocious backlash and gun battles between insurgents and Iraqi troops.

The U.N. Mission in Iraq said 1,057 Iraqis were killed in July, the highest toll since June 2008 when 975 were killed. The numbers began declining that year after several U.S.-led offensives and a Sunni revolt against al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The U.N. mission said that 928 of those killed in July were civilians and 129 were Iraqi security forces. In all this year, 4,137 civilians have been killed, most in Baghdad, and 9,865 wounded, according to a statement.

— Associated Press

Berlusconi tax fraud conviction is upheld

Former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, for the first time in decades of criminal prosecutions related to his media empire, was definitively convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to prison by the nation’s highest court Thursday.

Judge Antonio Esposito, in reading the decision, declared Berlusconi’s conviction and four-year prison term, with three years shaved off under a previous amnesty law, “irrevocable.” He also ordered a lower court to review the length of a ban on public office — the most incendiary element of the conviction because it threatens to interrupt, if not end, Berlusconi’s political career.

The decision puts fresh pressure on Premier Enrico Letta’s fragile coalition government, which relies on support from Berlusconi’s forces and his own center-left Democratic Party to pass reforms needed to restore market confidence in Italy and haul it out of recession.

A Milan appeals court will now have to determine the length of the public office ban. Lower courts had put it at five years, but a state prosecutor recommended that it be reduced to three.

Berlusconi, 76, is highly unlikely to go to prison, in part because of his age, and is expected to be given the choice of house confinement or community service.

— Associated Press

Islamic party barred from election in Bangladesh: Bangladesh’s High Court disqualified the country’s largest Islamic party from taking part in the next general election, saying its regulations violate the constitutional provision of secularism. The ruling comes four years after citizens filed a petition seeking to cancel Jamaat-e-Islami’s electoral registration on the grounds that it seeks to introduce Islamic sharia law in the Muslim-majority country.

Uruguay takes step toward full pot legalization: A plan to put the government at the center of a legal marijuana industry has made it halfway through congress, giving President Jose Mujica a long-sought victory in his effort to explore alternatives to the global war on drugs. All 50 members of the governing Broad Front coalition approved the proposal in a party line vote just before midnight Wednesday, after more than 13 hours of debate.

Cambodian opposition sets conditions on talks: An opposition party has insisted that an independent committee to investigate cheating in this week’s election must be established before it holds talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party on resolving differences in establishing a new government. The Cambodian National Rescue Party was responding to Hun Sen’s offer to hold party-to-party talks and support the election probe.

8 killed in attack in Nigeria: Islamic extremists killed eight people in an attack targeting teachers and Muslim clerics in the northeastern town of Bui, witnesses and the military said. A military spokesman warned that the attack appeared to be the beginning of a campaign by the Boko Haram terrorist network aimed at Maiduguri, the city north of Bui where the movement was born.

Chilean miners’ case dropped: A prosecutor has ended a probe of possible responsibility for the mine collapse that trapped 33 men for more than two months in 2010, and the miners expressed anger at the decision. The decision to bring no charges against the San Jose mine’s owners or the Chilean Mining Ministry’s regulatory unit was announced late Wednesday.

— From news services