National Day of Service Marks Start of America’s Inaugural Weekend

Posted January 19th, 2013 at 6:50 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama launched America's inaugural weekend in Washington Saturday at a local school, as the capital city made final preparations for the president's public swearing-in on Monday.

Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama donned work clothes to help spruce up an elementary school, as part of a series of national service events organized by the inaugural committee. The Obamas launched the inaugural weekend practice of a National Day of Service four years ago.

As the First Couple stained school bookcases and Vice President Joe Biden and wife, Jill, assembled care packages for troops, workers at and near the U.S. Capitol finished constructing inaugural stands and seating stretching toward the National Mall for special guests.

Officials predict as many as 800,000 people will attend Monday's public ceremonies — an estimate larger than Washington's population but considerably smaller than the 1.8 million people who packed the city four years ago to mark the start of the president's first term.

President Obama's second term officially begins with the oath of office taken at noon on January 20, as specified in the U.S. Constitution. Because the 20th falls this year on a Sunday, he will retake the oath on Monday, which coincides with the federal holiday marking the birthday of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the public event, the president will take the oath of office with his hand placed on two bibles, one owned by 19th-century president Abraham Lincoln, the other by King, who was assassinated in 1968.

Mr. Obama's inauguration on Monday will be followed by a parade and a series of parties.

3 Killed in Nigeria Attack

Posted January 19th, 2013 at 2:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Gunmen in Nigeria have attacked the convoy of one of the country's most influential Muslim figures, killing at least three people.

Officials say Ado Bayero, the emir of Kano, was unhurt following the attack on his convoy Saturday.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack in Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria.

The incident comes one day before the first anniversary of the deadly bombings and shootings that killed 184 people in Kano. The assault last year was blamed on the Islamist sect Boko Haram.

Boko Haram has called for Sharia, or Islamic law, to be applied more widely and strictly across Nigeria.

The country of 150 million people is divided between the mostly Muslim north and largely Christian south.

Cyclist Armstrong Emotional in 2nd Part of Interview With Winfrey

Posted January 19th, 2013 at 11:30 am (UTC-5)
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Shamed U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong says his 13-year-old son trusted him, never asking about doping allegations.

Armstrong said in the second installment of his interview with television host Oprah Winfrey that he knew he had to tell his son the truth when he saw his son, Luke, defending him, telling others “what you're saying about my dad is not true.”

Armstrong, near tears, told Winfrey he told his son “Don't defend me anymore. Don't.” Armstrong said he told Luke “just say 'hey, my dad said he was sorry.'”

The retired and disgraced athlete said in the segment that aired Friday the fallout from the revelations about his doping have left his mother “a wreck.”

He also said that while he should be punished, he does not believe he deserves the lifetime ban from the sport issued by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Armstrong has admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs in all seven of his Tour de France victories from 1999 through 2005.

The 41-year-old cancer survivor, who had repeatedly denied doping accusations, told Winfrey in the first installment of the interview Thursday on her fledgling OWN network that he could not have won the seven Tour de France titles without the banned substances.

Armstrong said he used testosterone, cortisone, blood transfusions and human growth hormone to boost his chances of winning the prestigious French races.

He was stripped of his seven consecutive Tour de France victories last year when the U.S. Anti Doping Agency announced it had proof of his involvement in a complex illegal doping program.

Armstrong told Winfrey he lost about $75 million when his sponsors deserted him last year after the release of the damning report on him.

Late Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee asked Armstrong to the return the bronze medal he won in the road time trial at the 2000 Sydney Games.

Pakistan to Release More Afghan Taliban Detainees

Posted January 19th, 2013 at 9:20 am (UTC-5)
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A Pakistani official says his country will release more Afghan Taliban detainees in order to boost the peace process in Afghanistan.

During a trip to the United Arab Emirates, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani said the remaining detainees will be released “subsequently.”

He did not give a timetable.

Last month, Pakistan released eight Afghan Taliban prisoners, including former Afghan Justice Minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi. At the time, Afghanistan said it hoped the release would encourage other Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

That release came about a month after Pakistan freed nine Afghan Taliban prisoners.

Pakistan is still holding the insurgent group's former deputy leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. He was captured in Pakistan in 2010.

Controversial X-Ray Airport Scanners to be Replaced

Posted January 19th, 2013 at 6:55 am (UTC-5)
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The U.S. Transportation Security Administration says it is removing full-body airport scanners that produced what appear to be naked images of a traveler's body.

The TSA said it will replace the scanners with new scanners that allow greater privacy.

The TSA has canceled its contract with Rapiscan, the company that makes the X-ray scanner that produced the revealing body images. The TSA has 174 Rapiscan scanners at about 30 airports.

Rapiscan failed to meet a congressional deadline to deliver software to protect the privacy of passengers.

A TSA spokesman said the Rapiscan scanners will be largely replaced by scanners made by L-3 Communications. L-3 scanners, already in use at some airports, produce a generic outline of passengers' bodies instead of what appear to be naked images.

TSA had increasingly relied on the full-body scanners after a man allegedly tried to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear aboard a transatlantic flight in December 2009. The bomb set off a rush to upgrade security to detect explosives underneath clothing.

Some airline passengers considered the X-ray images an invasion of privacy.

National Day of Service Marks Beginning of Inauguration Activities

Posted January 19th, 2013 at 5:30 am (UTC-5)
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Saturday marks the beginning of activities leading up to the Inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama.

Four years ago, the president and his wife began the tradition of a National Day of Service on Inauguration weekend.

On Saturday, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and their families will continue that tradition, joining Americans in all 50 states at local service events.

The president and vice president will ask all Americans to make ongoing volunteer commitments in their communities.

Later Saturday, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden will host the Kids' Inaugural Concert, a event paying special tribute to military spouses and children.

President Obama will be sworn into office twice – once on Sunday and again on Monday.

On Sunday, the U.S. leader will be officially sworn into office at a private ceremony in the White House, meeting the constitutional requirement that he take the oath on January 20.

Mr. Obama will repeat the procedure during a public ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Monday January 21, which also marks the federal holiday honoring the birth of the civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King. At the public event, the president will take the oath of office with his hand placed on two Bibles, one owned by President Abraham Lincoln, the other by Dr. King.

Mr. Obama's Inauguration on Monday will be followed by a parade and Inaugural parties.

Burma Seeks Help to Promote Long-Term Development

Posted January 19th, 2013 at 5:20 am (UTC-5)
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Burma's leader has urged international donor nations to help in the development of the country's battered economy and in improving the living standards of its impoverished population.

Speaking Saturday at the first Development and Cooperation Forum in the administrative capital of Naypyitaw, President Thein Sein told delegates that Burma would fulfill those goals more successfully if it received assistance from the international community.

The president also touched on the ethnic conflicts raging in Burma, telling the delegates that peace and stability go hand-in-hand with economic progress.

The government announced Friday that its troops will halt the offensive against Kachin rebels in the north by Saturday.

Global Treaty Reached on Cutting Mercury Emissions

Posted January 19th, 2013 at 4:30 am (UTC-5)
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Delegates from around 140 countries have agreed to adopt a treaty limiting the use of hazardous mercury.

The world's first legally-binding treaty on mercury, reached Saturday after a week of talks in Geneva, Switzerland, aims to reduce global emission levels of the toxic heavy metal, which pose risks to human health and the environment.

In a new report, the U.N. Environment Program found that worldwide, nearly 2,000 tons of mercury are emitted into the air from human activities every year. Much of this toxic substance eventually becomes deposited on vegetation, in the soil, and in oceans, lakes and rivers.

The deputy head of UNEP's Chemical Branch said this week that much human exposure to mercury is through the consumption of contaminated fish.

Mercury affects the brain and nervous system and can cause physical and mental development problems in children. Pregnant women who ingest mercury can pass the toxic effects to their unborn children.

The U.N. Environment Program finds the global demand for mercury is decreasing somewhat, with many developed countries taking measures to reduce mercury use. But it notes mercury use is increasing in developing countries.

Cyclist Armstrong Emotional in 2nd Part of Interview With Winfrey

Posted January 19th, 2013 at 3:00 am (UTC-5)
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Shamed U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong says his 13-year-old son trusted him, never asking about doping allegations.

Armstrong said in the second installment of his interview with television host Oprah Winfrey that he knew he had to tell his son the truth when he saw his son, Luke, defending him, telling others “what you're saying about my dad is not true.”

Armstrong, near tears, told Winfrey he told his son “Don't defend me anymore. Don't.” Armstrong said he told Luke “just say 'hey, my dad said he was sorry.'”

The retired and disgraced athlete said in the segment that aired Friday the fallout from the revelations about his doping have left his mother “a wreck.”

He also said that while he should be punished, he does not believe he deserves the lifetime ban from the sport issued by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Armstrong has admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs in all seven of his Tour de France victories from 1999 through 2005.

The 41-year-old cancer survivor, who had repeatedly denied doping accusations, told Winfrey in the first installment of the interview Thursday on her fledgling OWN network that he could not have won the seven Tour de France titles without the banned substances.

Armstrong said he used testosterone, cortisone, blood transfusions and human growth hormone to boost his chances of winning the prestigious French races.

He was stripped of his seven consecutive Tour de France victories last year when the U.S. Anti Doping Agency announced it had proof of his involvement in a complex illegal doping program.

Armstrong told Winfrey he lost about $75 million when his sponsors deserted him last year after releasing its damning report on him.

Late Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee asked Armstrong to the return the bronze medal he won in the road time trial at the 2000 Sydney Games.

Civil Rights Pioneer James Hood Dies at 70

Posted January 18th, 2013 at 8:50 pm (UTC-5)
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One of the first black students to defy racial segregation at a university in the American south a half century ago has died.

Officials at a funeral home in Gadsden, Alabama said James Hood died Thursday of natural causes. He was 70.

Hood made history in 1963 when he and fellow student Vivian Malone were confronted at the University of Alabama by then Governor George Wallace, who tried to block their entry to the auditorium where they were to register for classes. The students were accompanied by U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach in a confrontation still referred to by historians as “the stand in the schoolhouse door.”

Wallace backed down later in the day, and Hood and Malone registered for classes. The governor's capitulation came just months after publicly promising the citizens of Alabama to maintain “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

University of Alabama President Judy Bonner on Friday remembered Hood as “a man of courage and conviction” for his role in integrating the university. Bonner told the Associated Press that Hood maintained a connection to the school that drew him back years later to earn his doctorate.

Hood was the last survivor among the major figures in the schoolhouse door confrontation. Wallace, who years later recanted his segregationist stance, died in 1998. Vivian Malone Jones died in 2005, and Attorney General Katzenbach last year.