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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: An Uneasy Frontline

A video from the Syrian frontline: a regime soldier defects in Armanaz in Idlib Province --- his surprised colleagues cannot attack him because of the presence of observers

See also Syria Snap Analysis: Who Is Behind Thursday's Damascus Bombs?
Bahrain Live Coverage: Marches and US Arms Sales
Syria Wired: The Latest from Social Media and EA's Readers
Friday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Uncertainties After the Damascus Bombs

1722 GMT: Syria. Human rights lawyer Anwar Bunni has said that a military court has released eight activists, including blogger Razan Ghazzawi, until their 29 May trial on charges of "possession of banned publications".

However, eight members of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, including the director, Mazen Darwish, are still in detention. They were seized in mid-February.

1720 GMT: Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah has dismissed a senior cleric, Sheikh Abdulmohsen al-Obeikan, who criticised a measure that allowed women to mix with unmarried men.

The firing of the royal advisor fits a pattern of recent years in which senior clerics who oppose limited reforms have been dismissed.

Earlier this year, the head of the religious police was replaced by a cleric who was seen to be more liberal, and in 2010 King Abdullah fired the judiciary head, Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan, for attacking a new university that was the centrepiece of government education reforms.

1650 GMT: Syria. The Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria reports that 14 people have died across the country at the hands of security forces, including four in Idlib Province and three each in Hama and Homs Provinces.

1450 GMT: Morocco. Human Rights Watch has criticised Thursday's sentencing of rapper Mouad Belghouat, "al-Haqed", to one year in prison for “insulting the police”.

Belghouat was detained 29 March because of his rsong “Kilab ed-Dowla” (Dogs of the State), which denounces police corruption, and a YouTube video with a photo-montage of a policeman whose head had been replaced by a donkey’s.

A criminal court in Casablaca found Belghouat guilty of “showing contempt” toward “public servants in the exercise of their duty", with the intention of “undermining their honor" and “showing contempt” toward state institutions. He was also fined 1000 dirhams (US$115).

1430 GMT: Algeria. European Union observers have given cautious support to Thursday's Parliamentary elections, despite the claims of opposition groups of manipulation.

Jose Ignacio Salafranca, the head of the EU observers, said there were shortcomings in some technical aspects of the election but there were "as many positive points as there were weak points": "This election constitutes a first step on the path to reform which should lead ... to a deepening of democracy and human rights."

The National Liberation Front (FLN), the party of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, won 220 seats in the 462-seat parliament. The RND party, led by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, was in second place, and the Islamist "Green Alliance", with links to the ruling establishment, was third.

Asked about allegations of vote-rigging, Salafranca said Algeria had a mechanism in place to expose any abuse and, if it did happen, it would be up to the judiciary to decide what action to take. However, he said he was concerned that the Interior Ministry had refused to give his observers free access to the national electoral role.

Opposition groups continued their objections. The official vote tallies "perpetuate a tradition of falsifying the results of elections which has been carrying on since independence," the secularist RCD party said in a statement.

1427 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of four regime soldiers mistreating detained men in a Damascus suburb --- according to the "Activists News Association", "the video was taken from the dropped cell phone of a thug of Assad forces and a demonstrator managed to take it":

1420 GMT: Syria. A lively protest in Daraa Province today:

1010 GMT: Syria. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has announced that two Turkish journalists, seized in March as they tried to cover events in the city of Idlib, have left a Damascus prison and are en route to Tehran.

"I have just spoken with Iranian Foreign Minister [Ali Akbar] Salehi. Our two journalists, Adem Ozkose and Hamit Coskun, about whom we had no news since they left for Syria, are on their way to Tehran now," Davutoglu said. "We expect them to arrive in Tehran shortly. At the request of our prime minister we are sending a plane to Iran to pick up our journalists,"

Iranian authorities reportedly brokered the release of the journalists, who were handed over by a pro-regime group to Syrian intelligence officials.

0740 GMT: Libya. Picking up a story from Thursday....

Several prisoners likely were tortured to death at a detention center in Libya under government control, the United Nations said on Thursday as it urged the country to make stamping out such practices a top priority.

Libya's Justice Ministry has control of 31 detention centers with some 3,000 detainees, but about 4,000 prisoners are still in the custody of Libyan revolutionary brigades, U.N. special envoy for Libya Ian Martin told the U.N. Security Council.Of the detention centers under government authority, Martin said "control over these facilities is often shared with other parties, including the brigades that had been running them."....

"Mistreatment and torture of detainees continue," Martin said. "UNSMIL (the U.N. Mission in Libya) expressed deep concern regarding the deaths of three individuals at a detention center in Misrata ... under the authority of the Ministry of Interior."

0510 GMT: Syria. After the shock of the Damascus bombs on Thursday, a different mood on Friday as videos of protests took over the Live Coverage.

And then there was this note, drawn from the reports of Al Jazeera's James Bays, who defied the authority to get into the country this week....

The impression which could be drawn from stories such as the bombardment of Homs earlier this year might be of a regime taking over areas which have been held by the opposition, regaining control while trying to fend off the attacks of insurgents.

Bays' audio reports point to something far different. The insurgents also have the areas where they are the prevalent force, despite being under-armed. So in the northwest and in parts of Homs Province, where Bays has been observing, there is an uneasy "front-line". The Assad forces are present but --- whether because of the putative "cease-fire" or because of the difficulty of attacking and then holding territory --- they watch the insurgents who are nearby. The Free Syrian Army watches as well and, as Bays notes, uses any pause in conflict to try and regroup and build up arms.

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