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Fearful of government assault, more Syrians flee into Turkey

KARBEYAZ, Turkey — Security forces loyal to President Bashar Assad of Syria converged in the country’s restive northwest Thursday as hundreds of residents fled across the border into Turkey, heightening fears of a budding refugee crisis and a widening crackdown on dissent.

The security forces massed around the town of Jisr al-Shoughour after clashes last weekend made the area the new focus of the pro-democracy demonstrations that have swept across Syria since March. The unrest in Jisr al-Shoughour has taken on critical importance for both the Syrian government and its opponents: Reports say that soldiers there have defected to the opposition, refused to fire on civilian demonstrators and turned their guns on loyalist army units. While the Syrian government blamed armed gangs and terrorists for the violence, it appears determined to punish the town and enforce discipline in the ranks of the armed forces that ensure its rule.

Tanks and armored personnel carriers moved to the edge of the town Thursday night, and soldiers appeared to be pitching tents, said one resident reached by telephone. Many women and children had fled, but those residents who remained, another said, were being stopped at checkpoints ringing the town. A few thousand men were holed up, awaiting what appeared to be an imminent assault.

—Sebnem Arsu and Liam Stack, The New York Times

Puerto Rico’s statehood not only issue in Obama’s visit

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — When President Barack Obama arrives here Tuesday — becoming the first American leader to visit officially since John F. Kennedy in 1961 — his feet will be planted firmly in San Juan’s historic district but his words will be aimed mostly at Puerto Ricans in Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.

After five decades of cold shoulders from a succession of presidents, most Puerto Ricans are primed for a presidential visit, even if it is brief and unlikely to sway the longstanding debate over Puerto Rico’s identity as a U.S. territory.

On his whirlwind stop, the president is expected to meet with Puerto Rico’s governor, Luis Fortuno, a Republican who supports statehood, attend a business round table, deliver a speech in old San Juan and attend a quick fundraising event.

Other presidents have visited since 1961 but only on business unrelated to Puerto Rico.

—Lizette Alvarez, The New York Times

France rebuked over 
rare rodent

PARIS — France was punished on Thursday for not taking proper care of its hamsters.

The Court of Justice in Luxembourg, the EU’s highest court, ruled Thursday that France had failed to protect the Great Hamster of Alsace, sometimes known as the European hamster, the last wild hamster species in Western Europe. If France does not adjust its agricultural and urbanization policies sufficiently to protect it, the court said, the government will be subject to fines of as much as $24.6 million.

The Great Hamster, which can grow up to 10 inches long, has a brown-and-white face, white paws and a black belly. There are thought to be about 800 left in France, with burrows in Alsace along the Rhine. That is an improvement: The number had dropped to fewer than 200 four years ago, according to figures from the European Commission, which brought the lawsuit in 2009.

Farmers have generally considered the hamster to be a farmyard pest, and before it was protected they flooded its burrows and used poison and traps to kill it.

—Steven Erlanger, The New York Times

With a style that alienates, Weiner ignores pressure to quit

Even as top Democrats intensified pressure on him to resign, Rep. Anthony D. Weiner of New York tried to power through the day Thursday and suggest things were getting back to normal.

“I’m going to go back to my community office and try to get some work done,” he told a reporter before jumping into a waiting car in Manhattan.

So far, a number of leading Democrats have called for the congressman to leave office. The House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, is exasperated with his handling of a scandal in which he sent salacious photographs of himself and suggestive messages to young women on social-networking websites.

But Weiner seems oddly unmoved, according to those who have spoken to him.

In a body full of ambitious and egotistical people, Weiner, 46, stands out for his brash and sometimes even impulsive style. But he also possesses what friends and associates say is a troubling trait: his tendency to take things just a little too far — whether on the House floor, where he badgered colleagues, or in his office, where his demanding managerial style sometimes crossed the line into bullying.

“He had a style that wore people down,” said Rep. Peter King, a Republican from Long Island who was once excoriated by Weiner on the House floor. “So now, when he needs help, there is no one who is there, not even Democrats.”

For now, Weiner, a seven-term congressman who represents Brooklyn and Queens, appears to believe that he can weather the storm by putting his head down and waiting for the controversy to run its course, according to two people who have spoken to him.

One of those people said the congressman’s wife, Huma Abedin, has strongly encouraged him to try to remain in office. Despite being upset over the scandal, she is actively participating in the discussions of his political future, speaking with him multiple times during the day.

—David W. Chen and Raymond Hernandez,
 The New York Times