PAKISTAN

U.S. contractor begs Obama to negotiate his release

An American contractor kidnapped by al-Qaeda in Pakistan two years ago appears in a video that surfaced Thursday pleading with President Obama to negotiate for his release and saying he feels "totally abandoned."

Warren Weinstein, who was snatched from his home in Lahore in August 2011, appears weary and dejected in the 13-minute video bearing the stamp of al-Qaeda's media operation.

"I am not in good health. I have a heart condition. I suffer from acute asthma," Weinstein, 72, says in the video clip e-mailed to journalists. "Needless to say, I've been suffering deep anxiety every part of every day."

At the time of his kidnapping, Weinstein was working as Pakistan country director for J.E. Austin Associates, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

"Mr. President, for the majority of my adult life, for over 30 years, I've served my country," Weinstein says in the video. "Now when I need my government it seems that I have been totally abandoned and forgotten."

- Los Angeles Times
SYRIA

Besieged town gives in

Residents of a blockaded rebel-held town near Damascus raised the flag used by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a deal that sees them accept symbolic humiliation in exchange for food, activists said on Thursday. The agreement also demanded rebels hand over their heavy weapons and that only registered residents of Moadamiyeh may remain in the town, in a condition likely to thin rebel ranks. Syrian legislator George Nakhleh the army will not enter the area but will guard it from outside.

- AP

JAPAN

Abe at shrine to war dead

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited a controversial shrine to World War II dead, including 14 convicted war criminals, ignoring U.S. advice against gestures bound to strain already tense relations with neighbors China and South Korea. Abe told Japanese news media the visit was intended "to report the progress of the first year of my administration and convey my resolve to build an era in which the people will never again suffer the ravages of war."

- Los Angeles Times