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WORLD IN BRIEF: Syria promises free election as it tightens siege

Syria promises free election as it tightens siege

BEIRUT -- The Syrian military tightened its suffocating siege on the city of Hama on Saturday in its drive to crush the main center of the anti-regime uprising in the country, even as the foreign minister promised that free parliamentary elections would be held by the end of the year in a gesture of reform.

Like previous reform promises, the new announcement is unlikely to have much resonance with Syria's opposition, which said it has lost all confidence in President Bashar Assad's overtures.

The four-year term of the current parliament expired earlier this year and Assad is expected to set a date for new legislative elections before the end of 2011.

Egypt's largest political group holds open vote

CAIRO -- Egypt's largest political group, the Muslim Brotherhood, held its first open internal election Saturday since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, in an attempt to burnish its democratic credentials ahead of parliamentary polls later this year.

After decades spent underground because of an official ban, the public vote is also part of a concerted push by the Islamist group to show off its organization and dispel its reputation as a secretive and closed group. It looks poised to win big at the November polls, largely because of its well-organized political machine and social outreach programs.

Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie hailed Saturday's vote, which chose three new members to the group's executive board, saying ''the open and transparent elections show the world that the Brotherhood works in the open, to restore Egypt's freedom and standing.''

Rebels launch push in Libya, aim for coast

BIR AYAD, Libya -- Rebels launched a new offensive Saturday out of their stronghold in Libya's western mountains, battling regime forces in a drive toward the heartland of Moammar Gadhafi's rule on the Mediterranean coast. Opening a new front, the rebels are aiming to break a monthslong deadlock and eventually fight their way to the capital, Tripoli.

Booms of shelling and rocket fire echoed from the front lines, centered around the town of Bir Ghanam, where the rebel force backed by tanks fought Gadhafi's troops much of the day.

-- From wire reports