Costa Concordia Remembered One Year After Sinking

Posted January 13th, 2013 at 3:55 am (UTC-5)
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Survivors of the Costa Concordia cruise ship and relatives of the 32 people who died are marking the first anniversary of the vessel's grounding off the Italian island of Giglio.

The group plans a full day of ceremonies Sunday, including the unveiling of memorials to the victims, a Mass in their honor and a minute of silence to recall the exact moment the ship rammed into a reef off the coast of the historic tourist region of Tuscany.

Some rescue workers who searched the ship for weeks, initially looking for survivors, will also be honored.

The Costa Concordia, carrying 4,200 passengers and crew, capsized when its captain deviated from his planned route and struck a reef.

Miss New York Wins 2013 Miss America Crown

Posted January 13th, 2013 at 1:25 am (UTC-5)
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A 23-year-old New Yorker has won the Miss America crown.

Mallory Hagan won the beauty pageant held Saturday at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Hagan captured the pageant's top prize after tap dancing to James Brown's Get Up Off of That Thing in the contest's talent competition.

She also answered a question about whether armed guards should be placed in schools in the wake of last month's deadly shooing spree in Newtown, Connecticut.

Her reply was violence should not be fought with violence.

Hagan won a $50,000 college scholarship. She is expected to spend her title year-long reign on a nationwide speaking tour and raising money for the Children's Miracle Network, Miss America's official charity.

She finished ahead of Miss South Carolina Ali Rogers, who took second place, and Miss Oklahoma Alicia Clifton, who finished third.

Hagan also came out ahead of several other notable competitors whose life stories grabbed headlines this year.

Miss District of Columbia Allyn Rose has decided to have a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer, the disease that killed her mother, grandmother and great aunt.

Miss Montana Alexis Wineman was the pageant's first autistic contestant.

Miss Iowa Mariah Cary has Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder whose symptoms include multiple involuntary motor and vocal tics.

Miss Wyoming Lexie Madden once wrestled pigs for scholarship money.

Aaron Swartz, Internet Activist, Dead at 26

Posted January 13th, 2013 at 12:20 am (UTC-5)
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Twenty-six-year-old computer prodigy and Internet activist Aaron Swartz has been found dead in his apartment in New York.

The New York medical examiner said Friday Swartz apparently hanged himself. He had publicly discussed on his blog his struggle with depression.

Swartz was set to go on trial later this year on federal charges that he stole millions of scholarly articles from JSTOR, an online archive and journal distribution service, in an attempt to make the articles freely available to the public. He faced decades in prison and $1 million in fines, if convicted.

JSTOR did not press charges against Swartz, once it reclaimed the articles from him.

However, media reports say U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz would not drop the case.

She is reported to have said “stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars.”

Swartz's family said in a statement that his death “is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.”

As a young teenager, Swartz helped create RSS, a family of Web feed formats used to gather updates from blogs, news headlines, audio and video for users.

He co-founded the social news website Reddit, which was later sold to Conde Nast.

He was also the co-founder of the political action group Demand Progress, which campaigns against Internet censorship.

Beijing Air Quality Worst on Record

Posted January 13th, 2013 at 12:20 am (UTC-5)
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Beijing is under an extreme smog warning Sunday, with pollution at hazardous levels for a third day, and people warned to stay indoors.

The municipal environment warning center issued an alert Saturday in China's capital, advising the elderly, children and those suffering respiratory or cardiovascular illness to avoid going out or doing strenuous exercise.

The center said Sunday that particulates small enough to deeply penetrate lungs were at nearly four times the level considered safe. The readings were called the worst on record.

China's official state-run Xinhua news agency predicted that the pollution could last another three days,

Meanwhile, fog covering vast areas of eastern and central China has closed numerous highways and delayed flights in several provinces.

International organizations say China's air quality is among the worst in the world because of massive coal consumption and car-choked city streets

Israel Evicts Palestinian Protesters from Settlement Area

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 10:35 pm (UTC-5)
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Israeli police have evicted Palestinian protesters from a site in the occupied West Bank where Israelis plan to build a settlement.

Palestinian activists erected tents in the area known as E-1 Friday saying they wanted to stop Israeli construction in the West Bank.

The activists ignored orders to leave the area until Israeli police backed by bulldozers moved in early Sunday.

The tactic of setting up temporary structures to claim land has long been used by Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

All members of the U.N. Security Council, except for the U.S., have condemned Israel's recent settlement expansion plans and called for them to end.

The settlements planned for E-1 threaten the contiguity of a potential Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

29 Officers Hurt in Northern Ireland Clashes

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 8:40 pm (UTC-5)
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Twenty-nine police officers have been injured in the latest bout of rioting in Northern Ireland's capital, Belfast, over limits to the flying of the British flag.

Riot police used water cannon and fired six plastic bullet rounds at protesters who threw rocks and other objects at officers during the clashes in east Belfast Saturday. The injured police officers were hospitalized.

The current wave of violence in Northern Ireland started December 3, when the Belfast City Council voted to restrict the number of days the British flag is flown at City Hall. The Protestants have blocked the streets of the capital daily since the Catholics on the council decided to curtail the flying of the British flag to 18 per year.

The latest unrest began Saturday afternoon when some 1,000 demonstrators, mostly Protestants, gathered outside the City Hall in protest against the council's decision.

Northern Ireland's chief police constable, Matt Baggott, commended his officers for bringing the situation under control with what he described as “exceptional courage and professionalism.”

Northern Ireland's leaders are set to meet in the coming days to discuss the unrest.

NY Declares Health Emergency as Flu Spreads on Continent

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 6:35 pm (UTC-5)
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New York state declared a public health emergency Saturday, in the latest push against the influenza epidemic gripping the United States and threatening parts of Canada.

The executive order allows pharmacists to administer flu shots to individuals under age 18, clearing the way for vaccinations to children as young as six months old. The mayor of Boston issued a similar declaration earlier this week and urged the public to get vaccinated against the virus.

The moves come as U.S. health officials battle widespread flu outbreaks in 47 of 50 states that have killed at least 20 children. There is no running tally of adult deaths, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that flu kills more than 20,000 Americans each season.

Canadian media quote health officials who say most of the nearly 4,000 flu cases identified in seven provinces last week occurred in long-term care facilities.

European authorities report flu-related fatalities from a separate viral strain in Norway, Poland and the Czech Republic.

On Friday, U.S. officials reported a study showing that Americans vaccinated for the prevalent H2N3 virus are 62 percent less likely to come down with flu that requires physician visits, than those who go without the vaccine.

Despite that data, the CDC also reported that nearly 65 percent of Americans had not received a flu immunization by the end of November 2012.

Italian Consul Escapes Attack in Libya

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 6:20 pm (UTC-5)
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Gunmen have shot at a car carrying the Italian consul in the Libyan city of Benghazi but failed to harm him.

Authorities say Guido De Sanctis was going home after work Saturday when the gunmen, riding in another car, fired several shots at his vehicle. Security officials said nobody was hurt in the attack because the vehicle was armored.

The incident comes four months after U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi in an attack on the U.S. mission there.

:$107,000 Bonus for Kenyan MP’s Rejected

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 1:40 pm (UTC-5)
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Kenya's president has vetoed legislation that would have given members of parliament $107,000 send-off bonuses.

President Mwai Kibaki on Saturday ordered the country's attorney general to redraft the measure to ensure that it is compliant with the constitution. Under Kenya's constitution, civil servants' pay is regulated by a Salaries and Remunerations Commission.

Members of the 222-seat parliament voted to give themselves the hefty bonuses late Wednesday, in what was their last action before closing parliament for the March 4 elections. They also voted to give themselves body guards for life, private chauffeurs, state funerals and access to the VIP lounges at Kenyan airports.

President Kibaki vetoed a similar bonus package for lawmakers in October, saying it was unconstitutional and untenable given the country's economic circumstances.

But this time, the lawmakers tacked on a provision that would have awarded the president a $300,000 bonus upon his retirement this year.

Kenyan lawmakers are already among the best paid on the African continent, with a monthly salary of about $13,000.

The proposed bonuses sparked criticism from Kenyan citizens.

Pakistani Shi’ites Protest Deadly Bombings

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 12:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Pakistani Shi'ites protested in southwestern Pakistan for a second day Saturday, following bomb blasts that killed nearly 100 people.

More than 3,000 protesters gathered near the scene of twin suicide attacks Thursday that killed at least 86 people in the city of Quetta, capital of Baluchistan province.

Police say the bombing targeted a billiards hall in an area of Quetta occupied mainly by ethnic Hazaras, who are Shi'ite Muslims. The outlawed militant Sunni group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Dozens of coffins lined the road where the protesters gathered Saturday. Shi'ite families in Quetta have refused to bury their dead to protest the Muslim minority group's lack of security.

A separate bomb blast Thursday in Quetta killed 12 people, mostly security personnel. Militant Baluch nationalists claimed responsibility for that bombing.

Attacks on Pakistani Shi'ites have been increasing steadily. One Shi'ite leader in Quetta criticized Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, for failing to halt the killings.

The violence and criticism of the government and security forces comes as Pakistan is gearing up for national elections expected in a few months.

Shi'ites comprise about 20 percent of Pakistan's mostly Sunni Muslim population of 160 million people.

A fourth explosion Thursday in northwestern Pakistan killed more than 20 Muslim missionaries.

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