BBC news 2011-08-08

BBC News with Sue Montgomery

The Arab League has called on the Syrian government to immediately stop using violence against protesters, who've been demanding reforms since the middle of March. It said it was increasingly concerned about the deteriorating security situation. Here's Jon Leyne.

Until now, the league has been deeply divided over what to do about Syria. The secretary general himself was a supporter of the opposition in Egypt that overthrew President Mubarak, but many countries, such as Saudi Arabia, fear giving any encouragement to what's become known as the Arab Spring. In March, the league gave unprecedented support for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. There's no sign of such decisiveness over Syria, but the statement is a sign of the growing international pressure on the government of President Assad.

In Syria itself, opposition activists say government forces have attacked two towns, killing more than 75 people. The government denies shelling Deir al-Zour. A man living in the city told the BBC the army tanks had withdrawn from Deir al-Zour, but citizens feared they would return in the morning. Jim Muir reports.

Activists said tanks ringing Deir al-Zour opened up with shellfire during the early morning call to prayer, then moved into several districts under the cover of heavy gunfire. Reports from activists said some areas were completely cut off and described what was happening there as a real massacre. The authorities denied that tanks had shelled the city or gone into it, but they did say that army units had taken action to clear protester barricades blocking access roads. They gave a similar explanation for a crackdown at al-Hula, near Homs in central Syria, where activists said there were also heavy casualties among civilians attacked by tanks and troops.

Governors of the European Central Bank have been meeting to see what they can do to tackle the debt crisis before the major financial markets open for trading on Monday. Discussion centred on whether to start buying Italian and Spanish debt after their borrowing costs rose last week to the level seen when Ireland and Greece had to ask for emergency bailouts.

The Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi has arrived in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. He'll also travel to the newly independent South Sudan on Tuesday. Beijing has been a key supporter of Sudan. James Copnall reports from Khartoum.

Chinese companies are involved in oil extraction, and the country has imported a significant amount of Sudan's petrol. Some say this has cemented China's relationship with Khartoum. In particular, in recent years, China has staved off criticism for Sudan in the UN Security Council of the war in Darfur and other contentious issues. Now, however, South Sudan has become independent, and it has three quarters of the oil reserves. So the Chinese foreign minister's visit to what are now two countries will be closely followed for any possible signs of a shift in China's loyalties.

World News from the BBC

In Britain, police in Tottenham, in north London, have appealed for calm after Saturday night's riots, which left shops looted, buildings burnt out and vehicles overturned. The rioting erupted at the end of a protest against the police after they shot dead a young man on Thursday.

The only remaining senior member of President Obama's original economics team, Timothy Geithner, has agreed to stay on as treasury secretary. It had been reported that he intended to quit after the US debt ceiling was raised in order to be with his family in New York.

Five Bangladeshi hostages flew home on Sunday more than seven months after they were kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Jill McGivering has more.

The five men were part of a group of workers employed by a South Korean company. They were building a road north of Mazar-e-Sharif when they were seized by militants last December. One engineer was shot dead; two other men were released almost immediately, but the remaining five were held by the insurgents for more than seven months. Mohammad Aminul Islam was one of them. On arrival in Dhaka, he told the BBC that the Taliban wouldn't say exactly why they'd been targeted. The militants used to say that as fellow Muslims, the Bangladeshis shouldn't be working for the Americans, and they complained that the work the team was doing in building roads was making it more difficult for the insurgents to plant roadside bombs.

The authorities in Bahrain have freed two former MPs from the Shia opposition after several months in custody. The lawmakers, Jawad Fayrouz and Matar Matar, were arrested in early May after they resigned from parliament over the handling of anti-government protests. Mr Matar told the BBC they were beaten in prison.

A 61-year-old American is hoping to become the first person to swim from the island of Cuba to Florida in the United States without a shark cage to protect her. The long-distance swimmer, Diana Nyad, expects to swim the 166km in around 60 hours.

BBC News.