IVORY COAST

Troops heading to Mali

West Africaís regional bloc will be sending at least 3,000 troops to Mali to retrain and re-equip the countryís military following last monthís coup, officials said late Thursday. Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, the president of the commission of the Economic Community of West African States, said the group had authorized the immediate deployment of a standby force to Mali. Mutinous soldiers overthrew the countryís democratically elected president last month. The junta has since handed over power to an interim civilian government as part of a deal brokered by the bloc.

SYRIA

Explosion site inspected

U.N. observers on Thursday inspected the site of an explosion that flattened a block of houses in the central Syrian city of Hama and killed at least 16 people, while the government and the opposition traded blame over the cause of the blast. Syrian state-run media said rebel bomb-makers accidentally set off the explosives. Anti-regime activists said intense shelling by government forces caused the extensive damage. It was impossible to independently verify the conflicting accounts because President Bashar Assadís regime, facing a 13-month-old uprising, has restricted access for journalists and other outside witnesses.

PAKISTAN

Bin Laden wives deported

Pakistani authorities deported Osama bin Ladenís three widows and his children to Saudi Arabia early Friday, less than a week before the first anniversary of the unilateral American raid that killed the al-Qaida leader in his hideout in a military town. The departure of the family closed another chapter in an affair that cemented Pakistanís reputation as a hub of Islamist extremism and cast doubt on its trustworthiness as a Western ally. Once outside Pakistan, the wives may be willing to share any information they have about how bin Laden managed to evade capture in the country for nearly a decade following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. Two of bin Ladenís widows are from Saudi Arabia, and the third is from Yemen.

Compiled from wire reports