IRAQ
Blast at Sunni rally kills 20 in Baqubah

A suicide bomber blew himself up Saturday at a lunch hosted by a Sunni candidate in Iraq’s upcoming regional elections, killing 20 people, officials said.

The blast ripped through a hospitality tent pitched next to the house of Muthana al-Jourani, who is running for the provincial council and held the lunch rally for supporters, council member Sadiq al-Huseini said. Jourani was injured, police said.

The attack occurred in Baqubah, a mixed Sunni-Shiite city 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Insurgent attacks and sectarian violence have occurred there since the 2003 U.S.-led ­invasion and are expected to surge before elections April 20.

There was no immediate assertion of responsibility, but police said the attack bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda militants — Sunni extremists who have sought to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government and see those who work with it as heretics.

— Associated Press

LEBANON
New premier chosen, pledges to mend rifts

Lebanese politician Tammam Salam was named prime minister Saturday after he won a sweeping parliamentary endorsement, and he pledged to bridge the country’s deep divisions and shield it from neighboring Syria’s civil war.

The British-educated Salam, 68, was designated after the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, whose two years in office were dominated by efforts to contain sectarian tensions, violence and economic fallout from the Syrian conflict.

His immediate task, if he is able to form a cabinet accepted by Lebanon’s rival political forces, will be to prepare for parliamentary elections due in June.

In his first comments after his appointment, Salam said he would seek to “unite opinion and reach speedy agreement on a parliamentary electoral law to achieve fair representation for all citizens and sects.”

— Reuters

VATICAN
Pope makes first Curia appointment

Pope Francis on Saturday named a Spanish Franciscan to be the No. 2 at the Vatican’s office for religious orders in his first appointment to the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy that has been seen as badly in need of a shake-up.

Jose Rodriguez, who also was elevated to archbishop, replaces U.S. Archbishop Joseph Tobin, who was transferred from the high-ranking Vatican post to a Midwestern U.S. archdiocese following his efforts to mediate tensions between the Vatican and American nuns, viewed by theological conservatives as too secular and political.

Rodriguez, 60, is an outsider to the Vatican administration and comes from the world of religious orders, like Francis, who is a Jesuit. He has been twice elected head of the Franciscans’ Friars Minor order, one of the main branches of the order founded by St. Francis of Assisi, the pope’s namesake.

— Associated Press

Egyptian court rejects ban on comedy show: A Cairo court turned down a lawsuit filed by an Islamist lawyer demanding that a popular Egyptian satirist’s TV show be banned for allegedly insulting the president and containing excessive sexual innuendo. Judge Hassouna Tawfiq said the lawsuit against Bassem Youssef’s “The Program” was dropped because the plaintiff did not have an interest in the case.

Mandela leaves hospital: Former president Nelson Mandela was discharged from a hospital following treatment for pneumonia, the presidency said in news that cheered South Africans. President Jacob Zuma’s office said there had been “a sustained and gradual improvement” in the condition of the anti-apartheid icon, who was admitted to a hospital March 27. “The former President will now receive home-based high care,” it said.

Hard-line Muslims demonstrate against bloggers in Bangladesh: Hundreds of thousands of members of a hard-line Muslim group rallied in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, to demand that authorities enact anti-blasphemy laws to punish people who insult Islam. The massive rally took place amid heightened security nationwide after Hifazat-e-Islam members targeted bloggers they say are atheists. Separately, members of the group clashed with police and pro-government activists outside Dhaka, leaving a ruling party supporter dead.

Central African Republic council to choose interim president: The Central African Republic’s self-appointed leader, Michel Djotodia, announced the creation of a council that will choose an interim president and lead a transitional government until elections can be held within 18 months. Djotodia, whose seizure of power two weeks ago drew international condemnation, is not barred from running for the interim presidency.

Pork found in Ikea’s moose
lasagna:
Ikea said it has withdrawn 17,000 portions of moose lasagna from its stores in Europe after traces of pork were found in a batch tested in Belgium. The company has previously recalled meatballs and other meat products after tests showed they contained traces of horsemeat.

— From news services