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Egypt’s Muslim brotherhood keeps distance from Salafis

CAIRO — The Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm Thursday distanced itself from a more conservative Islamist party as early vote tallies indicated that the two factions would claim the two largest roles in the first Parliament elected since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Responding to reports that the two Islamist parties could together make up a majority of the new Parliament, the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party denied that there was any “alleged alliance” with the ultraconservative party, Al Nour, to form “an Islamist government.”

The statement appeared to be aimed at quieting the anxiety of Egyptian liberals and Western governments about the unexpectedly large share of the vote apparently won by Al Nour, which was formed by the ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis. It also reflected the fine line that the Muslim Brotherhood is walking as it tries to hold together its most ardent Islamist supporters in the streets without provoking a backlash at home or internationally.

—David D. Kirkpatrick, The New York Times

UN official says Syria is in a civil war

BEIRUT — The United Nations declared Thursday that Syria was in a state of civil war, as the death toll from nearly nine months of bloodshed rose to more than 4,000 people and more soldiers were reported to have defected from the army to join an armed uprising against President Bashar Assad.

The comments by the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, came as the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group, said security forces killed at least 24 people across the country Thursday.

“We are placing the figure at 4,000, but the information coming to us is that it’s much more,” Pillay said at a news conference in Geneva. “As soon as there were more and more defectors threatening to take up arms, I said this in August before the Security Council, that there’s going to be a civil war. And at the moment that’s how I am characterizing this.”

Her declaration came amid rising international pressure on Assad’s government, with the Arab League, the European Union, Turkey and the United States all taking measures to further constrict the Syrian economy. In past months, the Syrian pound has faltered, and the country’s two major sources of revenue — tourism and oil — have been crippled by sanctions.

—Nada Bakri, The New York Times

Official says US needs time to assess aid to North Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — The United States needs more time to decide on possible aid for North Korea because it is not sure humanitarian assistance would reach the people in need, the top U.S. aid official said Thursday.

Rajiv Shah, the head of the United States Agency for International Development, made the comment amid growing appeals from U.S. and United Nations relief agencies, which have recently called for urgent aid for the most vulnerable of the North Korean population, especially its children.

“Our goal is to identify and complete an assessment of whether food aid assistance can effectively be provided in a manner that is transparent and targeted and reaches intended beneficiaries and avoids the risk of graft and misappropriation,” Shah said in an interview.

In recent weeks, Mercy Corps and four other U.S. relief organizations operating in North Korea have charged that by delaying a decision on aid, Washington was playing politics with humanitarian aid for children.

—Choe Sang-Hun, The New York Times