News in Brief

French forces take airport, bridge in Mali

French forces took control of the airport and a key bridge in the radical Islamist stronghold of Gao under the cover of darkness early yesterday, marking a significant inroad into the heart of territory held by the Al-Qaida-linked extremists. The move comes just two weeks after France launched its offensive to rout the Islamists from power in northern Mali. French and Malian forces came under fire in the morning and continued to face sporadic “acts of harassment” in the afternoon, said a French military spokesman. ‏(AP‏)

Eritrean diplomat denies coup reports

A senior Eritrean diplomat denies there was an attempted coup early this week in the Horn of Africa nation and says reports to the contrary are disinformation. Eritrea’s ambassador to the African Union said in a statement yesterday that coup reports were “wishful thinking” by people he did not name. Without explaining the incidents Monday, Asmerom wrote of “terrorist acts” being called an attempted coup. But activists and experts said about 100 dissident soldiers stormed the Information Ministry and vowed to free all political prisoners and implement the constitution. ‏(AP‏)

Leftist ex-PM Zeman wins Czech presidential election

Leftist former Prime Minister Milos Zeman has won the Czech Republic’s first direct presidential election, beating a conservative opponent. Zeman, 68, was leading by 55.1 to 44.9 percent over Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, results from 98.3 percent of voting districts showed yesterday. Zeman, a Communist before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, will take the Czechs closer to the European mainstream. Outgoing President Vaclav Klaus is strongly Euroskeptic. Czech presidents do not wield much day-to-day power but appoint prime ministers. ‏(Reuters‏)