January 10, 2013

By ERICA WERNER

Associated Press

 

Vice President Joe Biden vowed urgent action against gun violence in America Wednesday, pledging steps by the Obama administration that he said could “take thousands of people out of harm’s way” and improve the safety of millions more.

But a day ahead of a meeting with the National Rifle Association, which has sunk past gun control efforts and is opposing any new ones, Biden signaled that the administration is mindful of political realities that could imperil sweeping gun control legislation, and is willing to settle for something less. He said the administration is considering its own executive action as well as measures by Congress, but he didn't offer specifics.

“I want to make it clear that we are not going to get caught up in the notion that unless we can do everything, we’re going to do nothing,” Biden told an array of gun control advocates, crime victims and others at the White House. “It’s critically important we act.”

Shortly after last month’s slaughter of schoolchildren at Newtown, Conn., President Barack Obama tasked Biden with heading a commission to come up with recommendations on gun policy by the end of this month. Obama supports steps including reinstating a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and closing loopholes that allow many gun buyers to avoid background checks.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says that some 40 percent of gun sales are made without background checks, such as at gun shows and over the Internet.

The tragedy in Newtown, in which 20 young children and six adults were gunned down by a man with a military-style semiautomatic rifle, has prodded the administration to act. Obama had remained largely silent on gun control after the 2011 shootings in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people and wounded 12 others including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and the Colorado movie theater killing of a dozen people and wounding of many more last July.

Connecticut is moving cautiously on gun control, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo in neighboring New York proposed a wide-ranging package of restrictions on Wednesday. He called for loopholes to be closed in a New York ban on assault weapons and ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 bullets. The Democrat also wants to require holders of handgun licenses to undergo follow-ups to make sure they are still qualified to possess a weapon, and he is calling for increased sentences for certain gun crimes.

Biden, referring to the Newtown shootings, said at the White House: “Every once in a while, there’s something that awakens the conscience of the country, and that tragic event did it in a way like nothing I’ve seen in my career.”

“The president and I are determined to take action. ... We can affect the wellbeing of millions of Americans and take thousands of people out of harm’s way if we act responsibly.”

Biden said that the administration is weighing executive action in addition to recommending legislation by Congress. Recommendations to the Biden group include making gun-trafficking a felony, getting the Justice Department to prosecute people caught lying on gun background-check forms and ordering federal agencies to send data to the National Gun Background Check Database.

Some of those pieces could happen by executive action, but congressional say-so would be needed for more far-reaching changes such as reinstating the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Congress let the ban expire in 2004 under heavy pressure from the NRA. Democrats blamed a backlash against some lawmakers who voted for its enactment 10 years earlier for steep election losses that year.

Since then Democrats have been wary of legislating on guns, and efforts have fizzled in Congress. Already there are signs any new legislative effort by Obama could face tough going. Some pro-gun Demo­crats have voiced doubts, and the Senate’s top Republican has warned it could be spring before Congress begins considering any gun legislation.

Obama has said that his efforts on guns can be successful only if he has the support of the public, and advocates who attended Wednesday’s Biden meeting said part of the White House message was for participants to spread the word and keep up pressure on Washington.

“They have made clear that they’re in this for the long haul and they want us to be in this for the long haul,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Advocates participating in Wednes­day’s meeting, some of whom have been critical of Obama’s silence on guns in the past, said they were optimistic that the president and Biden are committed to the effort this time around.

“I think it’s for real,” said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA.

Biden also held a call with Wednesday with more than 30 governors, mayors and other state and local officials to get their input on ways to curb gun violence.

The president hopes to announce his administration's next steps to tackle gun violence shortly after he is sworn in for a second term on Jan. 21.

 

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

January 10, 2013

By KEN THOMAS  Associated Press

 

A White House official says Attorney General Eric Holder and the secretaries of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs will remain with the Obama administration as it enters a second term.

The official said Holder, who leads the Justice Department, and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki will remain with the administration amid changes to the Cabinet as President Barack Obama moves into his second term.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis submitted her resignation.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel changes, said the three remaining officials were not an exhaustive list of which Cabinet members intended to stay.

Obama has received some criticism that his initial Cabinet choices for the State Department and Defense Department do not reflect the nation's diversity.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

January 03, 2013

Associated Press

 

An official says two Nigerian journalists have been freed after being detained without charges for more than a week by the nation’s secret police following writing stories about a radical Islamist sect and alleged military abuses.

Mohammed Garba, president of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, said Tuesday that Musa Mohammed Awwal and Aliyu Saleh, journalists with the weekly Hausa language newspaper, Al-Mizan, were freed around noon. Garba said the two men had not been abused or mistreated while in custody. He said the two men may have to return for questioning again by Nigeria’s secretive State Security Service.

The two journalists were arrested Dec. 24 at their homes in Kaduna. Their newspaper has published a series of stories about alleged military abuses and the sect known as Boko Haram.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

January 03, 2013

By INZA BAKAYOKO

Associated Press

 

Survivors of a stampede in Ivory Coast that killed 61 people, most of them children and teenagers, after a New Year’s Eve fireworks display said Wednesday that makeshift barricades stopped them from moving along a main boulevard, causing the crush of people.

Ivory Coast police said unknown people put tree trunks across the Boulevard de la Republique where the trampling took place.

“For security, because there were so many important people at the event, we closed certain main streets,” said a police officer who was overheard briefing Ivory Coast President Alassane Outtara on the incident. The police officer said the tree trunks were put out unofficially by people who are not known.

“After the fireworks we reopened the other streets, but we had not yet removed the tree trunks from the Boulevard de la Republique, in front of the Hotel Tiana near the National Assembly (parliament) building,” she said. “That is where the stampede happened when people flooded in from the other streets.”

Ouattara ordered three days of national mourning and launched an investigation into the causes of the tragedy.

Two survivors, in interviews with The Associated Press, indicated why so many died in what would normally be an open area, the Boulevard de la Republique. An estimated 50,000 people had gathered near the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium and elsewhere in Abidjan’s Plateau district to watch the fireworks. As they streamed away from the show some encountered the blockades.

“Near the Justice Palace we were stopped by some people who put blockades of wood in the street,” 33-year-old Zoure Sanate said from her bed in Cocody Hospital. “They told us we must stay in the Plateau area until morning. None of us accepted to stay in Plateau until the morning for a celebration that ended at around 1 a.m.

“Then came the stampede of people behind us,” she said. “My four children and I were knocked to the ground. I was hearing my kids calling me, but I was powerless and fighting against death. Two of my kids are in hospital with me, but two others are missing. They cannot be found.”

Another hospital patient, Brahima Compaore, 39, said he also was caught in the pile of people stopped by the roadblock.

“I found myself on the ground and people were walking on me,” said Compaore. “I was only saved by people who pulled me onto the sidewalk.”

Local newspapers are speculating that thieves put up the roadblocks so that pickpockets could steal money and mobile phones from the packed-in people.

Ouattara pledged to get answers. Some observers wondered why police did not prevent the tragedy.

“The investigation must take into account all the testimonies of victims,” he said Wednesday. “We will have a crisis center to share and receive information.”

Ouattara also postponed the traditional New Year’s receptions at his residence, which had been scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

The leader of a human rights organization said that deadly incidents were predictable because the police and civil authorities had not taken adequate protective measures.

“The situation is deplorable,” said Thierry Legre, president of the Ivorian League of Human Rights. “It is our first tragedy of 2013 but in 2012 we could already see possibility of such a tragedy because there are not adequate authorities patrolling our roads and waters.”

Legre said the New Year’s stampede “exposes our weak and dysfunctional civil protection system. This must be corrected immediately. The government cannot invite people to this kind of public gathering without taking adequate precautions to protect their safety and their lives.”

He called on the government “to implement measures to avoid such tragedies in the future by reinforcing the civil protection system.”

The government organized the fireworks to celebrate Ivory Coast’s peace, after several months of political violence in early 2011 following disputed elections.

Just one night before the New Year's incident, there had been a big concert at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium where American rap star Chris Brown performed. That Sunday night event was for the Kora Awards for African musicians. No serious incidents were reported from that event.

In 2009, 22 people died and over 130 were injured in a stampede at a World Cup qualifying match at the Houphouet Boigny Stadium, prompting FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, to impose a fine of tens of thousands of dollars on Ivory Coast’s soccer federation. The stadium, which officially holds 35,000, was overcrowded at the time of the disaster.

Another African stadium tragedy occurred on New Year’s Eve in Angola where 13 people, including four children, died in a stampede during a religious gathering at a sports stadium in Luanda, the capital.

Angop, the Angolan news agency, cited officials as saying Tuesday that 120 people were also injured. The incident happened on New Year’s Eve when tens of thousands of people gathered at the stadium and panic ensued. Faustino Sebastiao, spokes­man for the national firefighters department, says those who died were crushed and asphyxiated.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed “deep sorrow” at the heavy human toll and put “a medical team and all available logistical means at the disposal of the government,” to help deal with the situation, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said. 

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

January 03, 2013

Associated Press

 

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has charged a 24-year-old man with attempted murder for allegedly setting a homeless woman on fire as she slept on a suburban bus bench.

Deputy District Attorney Sean Carney says Dennis Petillo is scheduled to be arraigned January 7. Prosecutors will ask that his bail be set at $1.03 million.

In addition to attempted murder, he is charged with aggravated mayhem.

Carney alleges that Petillo threw a flammable liquid on the 67-year-old woman, who had slept on the bench for years, then set her on fire last Thursday.

The victim remains hospitalized in critical but stable condition.

If convicted, Petillo faces a maximum of life in state prison if convicted. It’s not known if he has retained an attorney.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

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