July 12, 2012

By AHMED SAKA | Associated Press

 

JOS, Nigeria (AP) — Raids and reprisal attacks have left 52 people dead in Christian villages near a Nigerian city where authorities have struggled to contain religious violence, officials said Sunday.

 

Assailants launched "sophisticated attacks" on several villages near Jos early Saturday, said Mustapha Salisu, spokesman for a special taskforce made up of policemen and soldiers deployed in the area to curb years of violence.

 

"They came in hundreds," Salisu said. "Some had (police) uniforms and some even had bulletproof vests."

 

He said the special taskforce fought back for hours and lost two policemen in the battle. Salisu initially said that 37 people were killed including 14 civilians and 21 assailants.

 

However, later in the day, Nigerian Red Cross official Andronicus Adeyemo said aid workers had counted 52 dead and more than 300 displaced people from the attacks. He did not give a breakdown.

 

He said a federal lawmaker and a state lawmaker were ambushed and killed Sunday afternoon on their way to a mass burial for the victims.

 

The state government's press officer, James Mannock, said they were Senator Gyang Dantong and majority leader of the Plateau State House of Assembly Gyang Fulani.

 

"As a nation, we must rise against those who are determined to return us to a state of nature where life has little or no value," Nigerian Senate President David Mark said in a statement.

 

Authorities declined to comment on who they suspect, but similar raids have been blamed on Muslim herdsmen in the past.

 

Mark Lipdo, who runs a Christian advocacy group known as the Stefanos Foundation, gave a list of the 13 villages where he got reports of attacks. He said they were all Christian.

 

He blamed Muslim herdsmen of the Fulani ethnic group for the attacks. However, Nurudeen Abdullahi, Plateau State Chairman of Miyetti Allah Fulani Herdsmen Association, denied any involvement by the herdsmen.

 

"This a usual propaganda used on our people but we are not the ones that attacked the villages in the area," he said.

 

Abdullahi accused Christian farmers of attacking Muslim settlements and stealing their cows.

 

Jos and surrounding Plateau state have been torn apart in recent years by violence pitting its different ethnic groups and major religions — Christianity and Islam — against each other. While divided by religion, politics and economics often fuel the fighting.

 

These are just the latest killings to target the Riyom and Barkin Ladi local government areas, regions of farmlands that supply produces like potatoes, corn and tomatoes to the rest of the nation.

 

Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people, is largely divided into a mainly Christian south and a predominantly Muslim north. Jos is located in the "middle belt," at the meeting point of these two regions.

 

Human Rights Watch says at least 1,000 people were killed in communal clashes around Jos in 2010.

 

However, the rise of a northern-based Islamist insurgency known as Boko Haram has added a new dimension to the long-running conflict, fanning religious tensions in this flashpoint area.

 

Salisu said authorities discovered a bomb and safely detonated it late Friday in a populated neighborhood in the city of Jos.

 

They declined to say who they suspect but sect members have claimed responsibility for bomb attacks in Jos in the past.

 

All previous Jos attacks have targeted churches, a deliberate move to trigger more religious violence, many have said. They all sparked reprisals.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

July 12, 2012

By DAVID MERCER |

Associated Press

 

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — A Chicago man who spent more than 30 years behind bars before DNA evidence helped overturn his conviction in the rape and killing of a 3-year-old girl was released from prison late Friday, just hours after prosecutors dropped the case against him.

An Illinois appeals court in March had ordered a new trial for 50-year-old Andre Davis after tests found that DNA taken from the scene of the 1980 killing of Brianna Stickle wasn’t his. The girl was attacked in Rantoul, about 20 miles north of Champaign.

Davis was released from the super-maximum security prison in Tamms in far southern Illinois around 7:30 p.m., said Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kayce Ataiyero. Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz had decided earlier in the day not to pursue charges against him.

Judy Royal of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at North­western University, which represented Davis, said he was the longest-serving of the 42 people exonerated by DNA evidence in Illinois.

“Mr. Davis served 32 years in prison for a rape and murder he didn't commit,” Royal said. “Tamms is a difficult place to do time. He's hoping to rebuild his life, with the support of his family.”

It wasn’t immediately known if Davis’ family was at the prison when he walked out. Davis’ father was traveling to Tamms on Friday afternoon and couldn't be reached for comment.

Reitz said that while she didn't doubt the results of the DNA tests, she decided not to retry Davis because of the difficulty in taking a 32-year-old case to trial — not because of those tests.

“After 30 years, witnesses are either deceased, missing or no longer credible to testify,” said Rietz, who has been state’s attorney in Champaign County since 2004. “Based on the age of the case and the current state of the evidence, we elected to dismiss.”

She noted that Davis was twice convicted by juries. His first conviction was overturned because of a mistake made by a bailiff during jury deliberations.

Rietz said any further steps in the investigation of Briana’s death will be up to police. Rantoul Police Chief Paul Farber did not return a call regarding the status of the investigation.

Davis was arrested shortly after Briana was found on Aug. 8, 1980, in a house on the street where she lived with her mother and stepfather in Rantoul.

According to trial testimony, Davis — who was 19 at the time — was visiting his father in Rantoul. He spent the day the girl died drinking at the home where she was eventually found with the two brothers who lived there. At some point the brothers left, leaving Davis there alone.

Briana’s stepfather, Rand Spragg, said he left the girl playing in the family’s front yard and last saw her sitting under a tree.

The family later searched for her. She was found in the brothers’ home, naked and under bed clothes in a utility room. She died that night at a local hospital.

An acquaintance of Davis told police that Davis said he’d killed “a woman” at the home.

DNA testing wasn’t available in 1980. But in 2004, Davis requested that evidence gathered at the scene of Briana’s death be DNA tested.

According to the tests, blood and semen found at the scene weren’t from Davis. That led to the March appellate court decision.

Friday’s planned release caught Davis’ attorneys off guard. Most were on vacation, expecting that he might be released next week.

Royal, who works closely with Davis’ lead attorney, Jane Raley, didn’t represent him. She wasn’t sure what plans Davis had, but she said that after so many years he was fortunate that family members were still alive to greet him and help him acclimate to life outside prison.

“A lot of times when people are incarcerated for lengthy periods of time, family members die,” Royal said. “That is one good thing, that he will have their support.”

“I think it’s difficult for him to know exactly what to do,” she added, noting that the Center on Wrongful Convictions works with the people it helps free to aid in their adjustment. “I know that he’s very intelligent and he has been assisting in the preparation of his appeal for years and giving some good suggestions in that regard.”

Attempts to reach members of Briana’s family were not successful.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

uly 05, 2012

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations has endorsed an African Union force to capture warlord Joseph Kony and neutralize his Lord’s Resistance Army.

The 15-member Security Council approved the “United Nations Regional Strategy to Address the Threat and Impact of the Activities of the LRA” in a presidential statement Friday.

The plan provisions a new force of 5,000 AU soldiers and bolsters humanitarian efforts.

The LRA, carried out its worst atrocities in northern Ugandan in the 1990s, but had by 2004 largely been driven out of the area. Remnants, however, continued to attack civilians in Uganda and three neighboring countries. The group is notorious for carrying out massacres, mutilating victims and abducting boys for use as child soldiers.

Kony and the LRA gained notoriety following a YouTube video, “Kony 2012,” that went viral.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

July 12, 2012

By GARY FINEOUT | Associated Press

 

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The president of Florida A&M University submitted his resignation Wednesday, the same day the university was sued by parents of a drum major who died during a hazing. It was unclear if the two events were related.

James Ammons announced the resignation, which takes effect Oct. 11, in a letter to the chairman of the university’s governing board. He said his decision came after “considerable thought, introspection and conversations with my family.”

Ammons' departure is the latest in a series of blows to the university that has seen its image badly bruised by Champion’s death, the suspension of the band until 2013 and the springtime resignation of its veteran director.

Eleven FAMU band members face felony hazing charges, while two others face misdemeanor counts for alleged roles in Champion’s hazing. They have pleaded not guilty. Their trial is scheduled to begin the same month as Ammons’ resignation, in October.

Dreams of playing in the band drew students to apply to the university as much if not more than the school’s academic program, and the same professional performances that led it to play at Super Bowls and presidential inaugurations were a huge attendance draw at football games.

An alumnus and former top administrator of the school, the president was first hired to help steady FAMU in the wake of financial woes and threats to its accreditation.

But Champion’s death put a spotlight on a hazing culture that he and other top FAMU officials have been unable to eradicate.

The school’s trustees gave Ammons a vote of no-confidence in June, after questioning his leadership in several areas, including what some saw as his lax attitude toward hazing and management of the band prior to Robert Champion’s death in November.

At the time, Ammons said he would stay on the job, and he immediately recommended stringent new eligibility requirements for membership in The Marching 100 band, which has played at Super Bowls and inauguration ceremonies.

Champion died in November after being beaten by fellow band members during a hazing ritual aboard a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel following a football game against the school’s archrival.

Champion’s death put a spotlight on hazing at the school and led to the suspension of the band until at least next year. In the meantime, the FAMU athletic department was already grappling with a multimillion-dollar deficit.

The lawsuit brought by Champion’s parents claims Florida A&M University officials did not take action to stop hazing even though a school dean proposed suspending the band because of hazing concerns three days before their son died. School officials also allowed nonstudents to play in the band, fell short in enforcing anti-hazing policies and did not keep a close eye on band members to prevent hazing, the lawsuit said.

School officials “failed to properly supervise, train, discipline and control the FAMU Band,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit seeks damages greater than $15,000, but does not give a specific amount.

Champion’s parents, Robert and Pamela, have already sued the bus company, claiming the driver stood guard outside while the hazing took place. The company said the driver was helping band members with their equipment.

Florida A&M University trustees were added as defendants to the lawsuit, which was to be refiled later Wednesday. Under state law, Champions parents had to wait six months before they could include the university in the lawsuit since it’s a state entity.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

July 05, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — The nation’s new poet laureate will be telling her own story, in prose.

Natasha Trethewey is working on a memoir, currently untitled, that has been acquired by Ecco. The publisher, an imprint of HarperCollins, announc­ed Monday that the book is scheduled to come out in 2014.

The 46-year-old Trethewey is the daughter of a white father and black mother. The memoir will tell of her childhood in the American South in the 1970s and ’80s.

Trethewey won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for her collection “Native Guard.” This fall, she begins a one-year term as U.S. poet laureate.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

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