Troops seize town from Islamist fighters

Security forces backed by armored vehicles and helicopters on Monday stormed a town south of Cairo that had been held for more than two months by militants loyal to the ousted Islamist president, swiftly taking control despite some resistance.

The pre-dawn operation to retake Dalga, in Minya province, underlined the resolve of the military-backed government to pursue Islamist militants behind a wave of violence in several parts of the country following the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in a popularly backed July 3 military coup. Minya in particular suffered a collapse of security, with militants torching and looting courthouses, churches, local government buildings and police stations.

Army troops are also going after militants in the Sinai Peninsula, where attacks on security forces have grown more frequent, and deadlier, since Morsi’s ouster.

Dalga, about 190 miles south of Cairo, drew nationwide attention because militants there threw out the local police force and took over the town after Morsi’s ouster. Supporters of the deposed president have touted Dalga as a place where opposition to the coup is universal. Pro-government media, however, have been urging
officials to assert their authority and rid the town of “terrorists.”

— Associated Press

Facebook, Twitter more accessible

Facebook and Twitter were accessible to some Internet users in Tehran on Monday night without the aid of anti-filtering software, a rare occurrence since just after the 2009 reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when the sites were blocked to limit the opposition’s ability to organize protests.

In Tehran, customers of several Internet providers reported that they could access the Web sites without interruption, while others in the country were still being redirected to a page advising them that the site they were trying to reach was blocked.

The loosening of restrictions comes just days after senior officials in the government of Iran’s new president, moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani, sent messages on Twitter congratulating Jews on the occasion of Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who began tweeting earlier this month, has had his
account officially confirmed by Twitter.

The sudden accessibility was not accompanied by any official announcement. It’s not clear whether the change is permanent, though Rouhani has said repeatedly since his election that the Islamic republic’s authorities do not need to disrupt the flow of information to its citizens.

— Jason Rezaian

Bishops call for political reform

Roman Catholic bishops in Cuba called Monday for political reform in tandem with social and economic changes already underway, issuing their first joint pastoral letter in two decades.

The document from the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba urged authorities to bring about a political opening that includes “the right to diversity with respect to thought, to creativity and to the search for truth.”

There was no immediate public reaction from the government. Officials have repeatedly said that changing Cuba’s Communist political system is off the table.

— Associated Press

Volcano forces evacuation in Indonesia: More than 6,200 people were evacuated from their villages following the eruption of Mount Sinabung in western Indonesia, an official said Monday. The 8,530-foot volcano in North Sumatra province erupted early Sunday after being dormant for three years, sending thick ash into the sky with small rocks pelting neighboring villages.

Greek high school shut down as strikes begin: Greek police used pepper spray against suspended school guards Monday as high schools around the country shut down at the start of a week of strikes protesting public job cuts. At least two demonstrators were sent to the hospital with breathing problems after police tried to move them away from the government’s Administrative Reform Ministry in Athens.

Typhoon damages Kyoto region: A powerful typhoon that lashed Japan with torrential rains, leaving two dead, was downgraded to a tropical storm Monday, although it was still dumping rain on parts of the country. Offiicals said Typhoon Man-yi damaged homes and flooded parts of the country’s popular tourist destination of Kyoto, where 260,000 people were ordered to evacuate to shelters.

— From news services