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Syrian Forces Launch Crackdown in Hama, N. Korea Open to Nuclear Talks

In this third-party photo obtained by AFP/Getty Images, Syrians demonstrate against the government after Friday prayers in Hama on July 29, 2011.

Syrian forces are bearing down on the city of Hama in the second day of a renewed crackdown aimed at clearing out protesters opposing President Bashar Assad. Forces have reportedly brought in tanks and are shelling the city, with word that 70 people have died thus far in the siege.

Activists say the government is trying to prevent a growth in protests during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, fearing that large congregations of people gathering to break their daily fast could spur larger demonstrations.

Calling the renewed crackdown “horrifying,” President Obama said he was “appalled by the Syrian government’s use of violence and brutality.”

Despite the casualties, the crackdown has stirred anger in Syria. Residents of Hama have erected barricades in an effort to block government forces. Hama is known for being the site of a 1982 massacre during a crackdown by Hafez al-Assad, Assad’s father. Roughly 10,000 people died that year when the government moved to suppress a revolt.

North Korea Says It Wants to Rejoin Six-Party Talks

North Korea said it is willing to rejoin the six-party nuclear talks that have stalled since 2008 “without preconditions.” The announcement came after conversations between United States and North Korean officials in New York.

The six-party talks, involving the North and South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan, have been irregular, with North Korea withdrawing in 2009 ahead of a planned nuclear test. Nuclear talks were further sidelined by the shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong island last November and the sinking of its warship Cheonan the previous March.

North Korea is facing a dire famine, with 6 million people at risk, according to the World Food Program. There has been relatively little outside food aid because of the fear that resources would be funneled to Kim Jong-il’s regime and the inability of outside groups to move freely in the country.

25 Bodies Found on Boat Off Italian Coast

The Italian coast guard on Monday discovered the bodies of 25 migrants, all men, on a boat coming from Libya. The cause of death for the men, who were believed to haven been from Sub-Saharan Africa, was not yet known. The boat was carrying 296 passengers.

Simona Moscarelli of the International Organization for Migration said that based on preliminary information, “Some of them died from suffocation but some others were apparently beaten up by traffickers and members of the crew.”

The boats used by traffickers are also known to be old and in disrepair. Earlier this year, 250 people drowned in the same area when their boat capsized.

15 Dead After Violence in China’s Xinjiang Region

According to local media, 15 people died over the weekend in the Xinjiang region of northwest China, three in a bombing attack and four in clashes with security forces. A hijacked vehicle also ran into a crowd of pedestrians.

Xinjiang is home to Muslim Uigher separatists who have periodically instigated anti-government attacks. In July 2009, an estimated 200 people were killed in riots. The Uighers have long claimed discrimination by the Chinese government.

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