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Chatter: Damascus under fire

More explosions rock Syria's capital, there's confusion about the fate of French hostages in Cameroon, the Pistorius case gets even crazier, and when is an Italian restaurant too Italian?
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NEED TO KNOW

Bombs over Damascus. At least three explosions hit the Syrian capital today, according to state media, all of them apparently aimed at regime targets. A powerful car bomb was detonated near the ruling Baath party's offices and – coincidentally? – the Russian embassy. Two mortars also landed near the military headquarters. A "large number" of civilians are reported dead.

The blasts follow days of shelling in the capital. They also come as members of Syria's official opposition coalition begins a summit in Egypt to thrash out a possible framework for peace; and they've already made it clear that Bashar al-Assad can't be any part of the picture.

Good news, no, wait, bad news about the French nationals taken hostage in Cameroon. Reports were circulating this morning that the family of seven kidnapped two days ago had been found alive and abandoned by their captors in neighboring Nigeria. Both Cameroonian and Nigerian officials, however, have since denied the rumor.

That leaves us none the wiser as to where the hostages – four of whom are children – might be, in what state, or in whose hands.

WANT TO KNOW

It's getting hard to keep up with the Oscar Pistorius case. In a bizarre twist, the detective in charge of investigating Reeva Steenkamp's shooting has himself been accused of attempted murder. Det. Hilton Botha faces seven charges in connection with a shooting in 2009 – charges that were initially dropped, but were reinstated at the beginning of this month.

That was news to the prosecution, apparently, which said it wasn't aware of the allegations until they appeared in the press this morning. Botha is back in court now as Pistorius's bail hearing continues for a third day; but given the way the detective crumbled under cross-examination by the athlete's lawyers yesterday, prosecutors must fear that his credibility is already – pardon the expression – shot.

Just who are the good guys in Mexico's drug war? A new report by Human Rights Watch claims that Mexican security forces abducted and murdered dozens of people over the past six years in the name of the war on cartels, abuses that the group accuses Mexico's government of failing to investigate.

Human Rights Watch calls it "the most severe crisis of enforced disappearances in Latin America in decades." Could these latest allegations finally prompt the US to carry out its long-threatened cuts to the aid it pumps into Mexico's security budget?

STRANGE BUT TRUE

What's the Quebec French for "pizza"? One Italian restaurant had to come up with a hasty translation, after Canada's language police complained that its menu contained too much, er, Italian. The Office Québécois de la Langue Française (that's the Quebec Office of French Language, as they wouldn't want us to call them) demanded that the trattoria revise make its menus more francophone-friendly.

The restaurant showed its meatballs, however, and the office has since admitted that it may have been a little "overzealous." You think?

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/chatter/chatter-damascus-under-fire

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