Ex-New Orleans Mayor Faces 21-Count Corruption Indictment

Posted January 18th, 2013 at 8:35 pm (UTC-5)
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A U.S. federal grand jury has indicted a former mayor of New Orleans, Louisiana on 21 counts of corruption, including charges he accepted payoffs from contractors while the city struggled with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The indictment — announced Friday by the Justice Department — accuses C. Ray Nagin of conspiring to defraud the city by awarding contracts to businesses in return for kickbacks that included cash, wire transfers and free travel. The 56-year-old Nagin also is accused of filing false tax returns between 2005 and 2008.

Nagin, a former cable television executive, was a political newcomer in the state of Louisiana before winning election in 2002 to his first term as mayor of the Gulf coast city.

Hurricane Katrina, which obliterated much of New Orleans three years later, put Nagin on the national stage, where he gained a reputation as an outspoken and sometimes combative chief executive. He left office in 2008, after completing his second term.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics charged Nagin in 2010 with two possible violations of the state's ethics law while in office. One charge accused him of using a credit card belonging to a businessman who had gained contracts with the city. In another accusation, the board alleged Nagin's family business benefited from installation services provided by a home improvement retailer, while the retailer was negotiating tax breaks with the city.

Experts Blame Faulty Battery For Dreamliner Woes

Posted January 18th, 2013 at 8:05 pm (UTC-5)
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Aviation safety and battery experts say it is likely that fires on two Boeing 787 Dreamliner planes were caused by overcharging lithium ion batteries.

An All Nippon Airways Dreamliner was forced to make an emergency landing in Japan Wednesday after its pilots smelled something burning in the cockpit.

An investigator said Friday that the battery's burned insides indicate it operated at a voltage above its design limit.

A similar problem was found on a battery in a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 parked in Boston's Logan International Airport, earlier this month.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order Wednesday grounding all the Boeing 787 planes operated by U.S. carriers. Japan, India, Europe and Qatar also grounded their Dreamliners until the problem is solved.

U.S. aviation experts arrived in Japan Friday to help determine what caused a battery to overheat and leak on the All Nippon Airways Dreamliner jet Wednesday.

US, China Agree on UN Resolution For North Korea

Posted January 18th, 2013 at 7:10 pm (UTC-5)
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The United States and China have reached a tentative agreement on a draft United Nations Security Council resolution condemning North Korea for its December rocket launch.

U.N. diplomats said Friday that the resolution would not impose new sanctions against Pyongyang, but would call for expanding the existing ones.

U.N. envoys say a draft was expected to reach the 15-nation council quickly and members could vote on it next week.

If adopted, the resolution will represent a compromise.

The United States had wanted to punish North Korea with a new set of international sanctions, but Beijing opposed the measure. China proposed issuing a statement that only calls for expanding the existing U.N. blacklists.

After North Korea's rocket launch in April of last year, the council passed a so-called “presidential statement'' that condemned the move and urged the North Korea sanctions committee to tighten the existing U.N. sanctions regime.

The committee then blacklisted additional North Korean firms and broadened a list of items Pyongyang was banned from importing.

China is the North's closest ally, but it is also concerned about its neighbor's nuclear arms program.

US Warns Against Unilateral Moves In Japan-China Island Dispute

Posted January 18th, 2013 at 6:35 pm (UTC-5)
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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States opposes any unilateral actions on the disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Speaking at a joint conference with the visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Clinton called on Japan and China to resolve their territorial dispute peacefully. But she also indirectly warned China against taking any unilateral action to undermine Japan's control of the islands.

“As I've said many times before, although the United States does not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islands, we acknowledge they are under the administration of Japan, and we oppose any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine Japanese administration and we urge all parties to take steps to prevent incidents and manage disagreements through peaceful means.”

Kishida welcomed Clinton's support, but said his country wants good relations with China.

“While Japan will not concede and will uphold our fundamental positions that the Senkaku islands are an inherent territory of Japan, we intend to respond calmly so as not to provoke China”.

Tensions over the tiny islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, have risen in recent months. Beijing and Tokyo now conduct rival aerial surveillance over the disputed waters.

Kishida's visit to Washington is the first by a top Japanese official since Japan's conservatives were returned to power in elections last month. Clinton announced that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been invited to visit Washington in February.

UN Rights Chief Renews Call for Syrian War Crimes Probe

Posted January 18th, 2013 at 5:15 pm (UTC-5)
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A top United Nations official says she believes both sides in the Syrian civil war have committed war crimes, and is urging the U.N. Security Council to order an official investigation by the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay spoke Friday after briefing the Security Council. Her renewed call for an investigation added weight to a petition by 58 nations calling for a war crimes probe of the 22-month conflict.

Russia and China have vetoed past attempts by the council to take action, and Russia's Foreign Ministry this week said a probe by The Hague-based criminal court would be “ill-timed and counterproductive.”

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant acknowledged divisions within the council, and conceded Friday that the grouping probably would not adopt such a measure in the near future.

The U.N. says at least 60,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and Pillay said Friday that Syrians see the situation “as the United Nations not carrying out its responsibility to protect victims.”

Pillay's call to the 15-nation Security Council was supported by ambassadors from Australia, Britain, France, Luxembourg, South Korea and 53 other nations that signed a letter this week calling for action.

Earlier Friday, Syrian state media said a rocket slammed into a building in the country's northern city of Aleppo, causing casualties.

Video broadcast on state television showed large parts of the building collapsed, with medics pulling bodies out of the wreckage. The number of dead and wounded is not immediately known.

State media have blamed the attack on a “terrorist group,” a term it frequently uses to describe rebels in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. But activists say the government launched a military airstrike in the area.

Syria's government restricts foreign media from many parts of the country, making it difficult to confirm details of attacks.

Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub and the country's largest city, has been wracked by violence since rebels launched an assault on the city in July 2012.

US House Republicans Call For Short Debt Limit Increase

Posted January 18th, 2013 at 3:35 pm (UTC-5)
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Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are calling for a big enough increase in the country's borrowing limit so the nation can pay its bills until mid-April.

House Republican leaders said Friday the chamber would vote next week on a plan to boost the debt ceiling. The United States has already reached its current $16.4 trillion borrowing limit, but has enough money to meet its financial obligations through mid-to-late February. At that point, however, the country could run out of money to pay all of its debts and possibly default.

Until now, the House Republicans said they wanted to link an increase in the debt ceiling to steep cuts in government spending. But after a contentious debate with Congress over the debt ceiling in mid-2011, President Barack Obama says he will not negotiate again over the borrowing limit. He said this week it would be “irresponsible” to not increase the borrowing limit, to pay obligations the country has already incurred.

The House Republicans agreed on the short-term borrowing limit plan after a three-day retreat at a resort in Virginia. But they said they would not agree to a longer debt ceiling extension unless the Senate approves an annual budget, something it has not done since 2009. The House Republicans said if Congress does not agree on a budget, then lawmakers would not be paid.

The Republican call for a short-term fix is the latest chapter in lengthy sparring between the White House and Mr. Obama's political opponents in Congress over the country's burgeoning debt, sharp spending cuts set to take effect on March 1 and the annual budget for the fiscal year that started last October.

Mr. Obama, a Democrat re-elected in November, is set to be officially sworn in for his second term on Sunday at the White House, with his public inauguration at the U.S. Capitol on Monday.

Burma to End Offensive Against Kachin Rebels

Posted January 18th, 2013 at 11:20 am (UTC-5)
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Burma says it will end its offensive against ethnic minority rebels in the northern state of Kachin, in light of growing international criticism.

The government's information ministry on Friday announced a halt to military operations in the area.

The move comes as fighting between Kachin rebels and Burmese forces has moved closer to rebel headquarters in the town of Laiza and to a large number of displaced people.

The latest clashes have represented a major escalation in the fighting because the government has carried out air strikes against rebels in Kachin state. The escalation is seen as threatening Burma's reform process.

The United States and the United Nations have urged Burma's government to stop the air strikes. International aid groups say the military's artillery and air strikes are indiscriminate and violate international humanitarian law.

Human Rights Watch demanded Friday that Burma's army cease attacks against Kachin rebels. The rights group also urged military forces to allow humanitarian aid to reach at-risk populations.

Rocket Hits Syria’s Northern City of Aleppo

Posted January 18th, 2013 at 9:40 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian state media say a rocket slammed into a building in the country's northern city of Aleppo on Friday, causing casualties.

Video broadcast on state television showed large parts of the building collapsed, with medics pulling bodies out of the wreckage. The number of dead and wounded is not immediately known.

State media have blamed the attack on a “terrorist group”, a term it frequently uses to describe rebels in the 22-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. But activists say the government launched a military airstrike in the area.

Syria's government restricts foreign media from many parts of the country, making it difficult to confirm details of attacks.

Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub and the country's largest city, has been wracked by violence since rebels launched an assault on the city in July 2012.

Earlier this week, twin blasts at Aleppo University killed 87 people and wounded more than 150. Among the dead are students and refugees who had settled at the campus. Each side has blamed the other for that attack.

The Syrian conflict has killed at least 60,000 people since it began in March 2011.

IAEA, Iran Fail to Reach Deal on Nuclear Inspections

Posted January 18th, 2013 at 8:00 am (UTC-5)
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The chief United Nations nuclear inspector says no deal has been reached with Iran to investigate its controversial nuclear program, but that a meeting will take place next month.

International Atomic Energy Agency team leader Herman Nackaerts and his team of U.N. inspectors arrived Friday at Vienna airport following two days of “intensive discussions” in Tehran.

Citing unspecified differences, Nackaerts said they were unable to produce an agreement on access to Iranian nuclear facilities.

“We could not finalize the structured approach to resolve the outstanding issues regarding possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program.”

Nackaerts said another round of talks will take place on February 12 in Tehran.

The IAEA had hoped to gain access to the Parchin military site, which Western nations suspect is related to nuclear weapons development. Iran says it is a conventional military site and that its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tuesday that a religious decree issued by Iran's supreme leader banning nuclear weapons is binding on the Iranian government.

The IAEA visit comes as international diplomats are again setting the stage for separate negotiations with Tehran over curbs to its nuclear ambitions.

Iran and the so-called P5+1 contact group – the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany – are expected to try to open talks in the coming weeks after a seven-month hiatus.

The last time Iran's nuclear negotiators met with their foreign counterparts, in Moscow in June, the talks did not go well. Both sides wanted their maximum demands met, and they offered little in return.

Gunmen Kill Somali Journalist in Mogadishu

Posted January 18th, 2013 at 6:00 am (UTC-5)
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Gunmen have shot and killed a Somali journalist working for an independent media outlet in the capital, Mogadishu.

The Shabelle Media Network says broadcast journalist Abdihared Osman Adan was shot several times as he was leaving for work early Friday.

He is the first journalist to be killed in 2013 in Somalia, Africa's deadliest country for media personnel. Nearly 20 journalists were killed in the country last year.

Shabelle, which has had several journalists killed in recent years, described Adan as an “outstanding colleague and very active journalist.”

It called on authorities to work for a safer environment “where journalists can operate free from danger.”

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a December report that not a single journalist murder has been prosecuted in the past decade in Somalia. It blamed “weak and corrupt institutions” for the lack of prosecutions.