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Nation & World news briefs: April 9, 2013

Syria

Suicide attacker detonates car bomb, killing at least 15

A suicide car bomber struck yesterday in the financial heart of Syria’s capital, killing at least 15 people, damaging the nearby central bank and incinerating cars and trees in the neighborhood.

The attack was the latest in a recent series of bombings to hit Damascus in the civil war, slowly closing in on President Bashar Assad’s base of power in the capital. Rebel fighters have chipped away at the regime’s hold in northern and eastern Syria, as well as making significant gains in the south, helped in part by an influx of foreign-funded weapons.

The blast was adjacent Sabaa Bahrat Square – near the state-run Syrian Investment Agency, the Syrian Central Bank and the Finance Ministry – and dealt a symbolic blow to the nation’s ailing economy.

Hagel recommends Congress strip commanders’ ability to reverse criminal convictions

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is recommending that military commanders be largely stripped of their ability to reverse criminal convictions of service members, a move that comes in response to a congressional uproar over an Air Force officer’s decision to overturn a guilty verdict in a sexual assault case, the Pentagon said yesterday.

Hagel has asked his staff to draft legislation that would require that cases go through the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, and that senior officers no longer have the authority to set aside guilty findings, except in limited, minor offenses that ordinarily don’t warrant a court martial. The commanders, however, would retain their ability to participate in plea bargains and to reduce sentences, but they would have to defend the lesser sentence in writing.

In a written statement yesterday, Hagel said that, if enacted by Congress, the changes “would help ensure that our military justice system works fairly, ensures due process and is accountable. These changes would increase the confidence of service members and the public that the military justice system will do justice in every case.”

Chile

Authorities exhume former Nobel Prize winner

Chilean authorities yesterday exhumed the body of Pablo Neruda as part of a probe into whether the Nobel Prize-winning poet was murdered in the bloody aftermath of the country’s 1973 military coup.

Doubts have long surrounded the death of Neruda, who passed away just 12 days after military forces led by Augusto Pinochet overthrew the administration of the poet’s friend, socialist President Salvador Allende. While Neruda was suffering from prostate cancer at the time, his then-driver believes he may have been poisoned while undergoing treatment at a Santiago clinic because of his allegiance to the toppled government.

Authorities, acting on a court order, removed Neruda’s corpse from the poet’s Isla Negra home, on the rocky shores of the Pacific Ocean, and transported it to the capital, Santiago, a two-hour drive inland. There, forensic experts will try to determine the cause of death.

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