Amnesty: 10,000 dissidents being held

Eritrea’s government has jailed about 10,000 dissidents without charge or trial over the years, a rights group said Thursday, describing the Horn of Africa nation as one of the world’s most repressive and secretive states.

The new report by Amnesty International said those held in detention include suspected critics of the government, politicians, journalists and “anyone who refuses to comply with the repressive system.” Eritrea's government called the report “unsubstantiated” and a “political assault.”

Among those behind bars are 187 people detained since January, when a group of soldiers stormed the Information Ministry and demanded the release of all political prisoners. Some Western diplomats and observers said at the time that the incident marked an attempted coup against President Isaias Afwerki, who led the country to independence from Ethiopia in 1991 and has been president since 1993.

Eritrea, which is accused of supporting al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants in Somalia, is under sanctions imposed by the African Union and the United Nations.

— Associated Press

U.S. envoys given access to American

Venezuela’s government has granted U.S. diplomats access to a California man who is being held while he awaits trial on charges of espionage and fomenting unrest.

A U.S. Embassy spokesperson said Thursday that officials have been permitted to meet with Timothy Tracy, who was arrested by intelligence agents after Venezuela’s April 14 presidential election. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because embassy personnel are not authorized to discuss Tracy’s case.

Tracy’s relatives say the filmmaker and Georgetown University graduate had been making a documentary about Venezuelan politics for six months before he was arrested.

The embassy spokesperson said no additional details of Tracy’s arrest or status could be discussed because of privacy considerations.

Nicolás Maduro, the chosen successor to the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, won the April presidential election.

— Associated Press

China, Japan spar over question of Okinawa sovereignty: China criticized Japan for lodging a diplomatic protest against a scholarly commentary published in Chinese state media this week questioning Japanese sovereignty over the southern Ryukyu Islands, which include Okinawa. The exchange could further strain tense relations between Asia’s two largest economies, which are involved in a standoff over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

Bangladesh to execute Islamist for war crimes: A Bangladesh tribunal convicted and sentenced an Islamist party leader to death for atrocities in the country’s war of independence, sparking violent protests by his supporters nationwide. Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, 61, assistant secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was found guilty of genocide and torture of unarmed civilians during the 1971 war to break away from Pakistan.

Coptic pope heads to Vatican: Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II left for the Vatican, marking the first such visit in 40 years, Egyptian church officials said. Six priests and bishops accompanied Tawadros on his six-day visit to congratulate the new Catholic pope, Francis I. The Coptic and Catholic churches split in the 5th century over theological differences.

N. Ireland plans to demolish ‘peace’ walls: Northern Ireland’s Catholic-Protestant government announced that it wants to tear down the “peace lines” of Belfast — dozens of steel, brick and barbed-wire walls that divide Irish Catholic and British Protestant neighborhoods — by 2023. Officials stressed that no security barriers would be dismantled until people living on both sides felt comfortable with the move.

Nazi-themed opera canceled in Germany: A modern version of Richard Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” was canceled in Germany after the opening-night audience complained about new scenes showing Jews being executed and dying in the gas chambers. A spokeswoman for Düsseldorf’s opera house said the producer refused to tone down the Holocaust-related scenes even though they prompted several in the audience Saturday to seek medical attention.

— From news services