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Syrian opposition boycotts election

DAMASCUS, Syria - Syrians voted in parliamentary elections Monday that the government praised as a milestone in promised political reforms, but the opposition boycotted the polls and said they were designed to strengthen President Bashar al-Assad's grip on power.

There were scattered reports of violence, including witness accounts that security forces launched deadly attacks on villages in central Syria where opposition supporters were refusing to vote. The reports could not be independently confirmed.

The election for the 250-member parliament is unlikely to change the trajectory of the revolt in Syria, which has become a grim cycle of crackdown and reprisal. Parliament is considered a rubber stamp in a country where the president holds the real power.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that for the government to go ahead with balloting in the current atmosphere in Syria "borders on ludicrous." - AP

Colombian drug trafficker gives up

BOGOTA, Colombia - An alleged major Colombian drug trafficker whose paramilitary organization controls coastal and border smuggling routes surrendered to U.S. drug agents in Aruba and was flown to New York, where he faces criminal charges, Colombian authorities said Monday.

Jose Antonio Calle was indicted in New York's Eastern District last year for the alleged international distribution of 25 metric tons of cocaine, money laundering, racketeering, and murder, according to a release the local U.S. Attorney's Office issued at the time.

The U.S. government had a $5 million reward out for Calle. - AP

Egypt charges 293 over protests

CAIRO - Investigating judges sent 293 Egyptians to trial Monday on charges of resisting authorities, damaging public property, and carrying knives and fire bombs during an antigovernment protest last year.

A three-week sit-in in December outside the cabinet building turned violent when troops badly beat a protester. In four days of clashes that followed, 14 people were killed and hundreds injured.

The defendants, including 24 minors, are also accused of burning a research center and attempting to storm the Interior Ministry. They will be tried in a civilian criminal court. - AP

A new cabinet OKd in Romania

BUCHAREST, Romania - Romanian lawmakers approved a new left-leaning cabinet Monday that is expected to continue economic reforms but partially restore public-sector wages and pensions slashed as part of austerity measures.

Parliament approved the government of Victor Ponta, 284-92, making him Romania's third prime minister this year after two previous centrist governments collapsed over unpopular cuts.

Pledging "stability and seriousness," Ponta said the government would start working Tuesday. - AP