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  • Sweden calls off search for submarine
      STOCKHOLM – Swedish authorities say they have called off their weeklong search for a suspected submarine in the Stockholm archipelago.
  • Protesters in Hong Kong to vote on staying in streets
      HONG KONG – Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong plan to hold a spot referendum Sunday on whether to stay in the streets or accept government offers for more talks and clear their protest camps.
  • China launches experimental moon orbiter
      BEIJING – China launched an experimental spacecraft today to fly around the moon and back to Earth in preparation for the country’s first unmanned return trip to the lunar surface.
Syria fires Scud missiles at rebels
WASHINGTON – President Obama’s chemical weapons position on Syria may have given Bashar Assad an unintended opening: The embattled Syrian leader appears willing to use other deadly tactics, including Scud missiles, without fear of U.S. retaliation.
Obama has said Syria’s use or movement of its chemical weapons stockpile would change his “calculus” about a conflict the U.S. has been loath to intervene in militarily.
As Assad has come under greater pressure, he has steadily escalated his methods for fighting insurgents. U.S. officials said the Syrian regime launched more than a half-dozen Scud missiles in recent days. It’s the first time the Assad government has used such weapons.
– Associated Press

Russia says Assad losing control

– Syrian President Bashar Assad is losing control and may be overthrown by an increasingly powerful opposition, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said in his country’s first official acknowledgment that the leader’s days may be numbered.

“We have to look at the situation with open eyes,” the state-run RIA Novosti news service reported Bogdanov as saying Thursday. “The current trend is that the regime and government in Syria are increasingly losing control and territory. Unfortunately, you can’t rule out a victory by the opposition.”

Russia has supported Assad throughout the 21-month Syrian conflict, maintaining weapons supplies and giving political support by blocking the West’s demands for action through the United Nations Security Council.

While Bogdanov didn’t indicate Russia would change its position at the U.N., he went further than previously in acknowledging that the civil conflict, now estimated by opposition groups to have killed more than 41,000 people, will probably end with Assad’s downfall.

“Russia is tired of Bashar al-Assad, his failed promises to defeat ‘terrorism,’ ” Alexei Malashenko, Middle East expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said by phone Thursday. “He hasn’t succeeded. Russia, with a massive delay, under pressure from events on the ground, is giving him up. Now the likeliest outcome is a military one that could lead to Assad fleeing or being killed, and a sectarian bloodbath.”

Russia’s chief of general staff, Valery Gerasimov, indicated Thursday that his country maintained its opposition to outside intervention in Syria.

“Our firm position is that only the two sides of the Syrian conflict are capable of resolving it, without interference from some third party, particularly if that were to involve the use of force,” Gerasimov said, after talks with Knud Bartels, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s military committee chairman, RIA Novosti reported.