Report: Air Force punished whistleblowers

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — The U.S. Air Force punished whistleblowers who revealed the improper disposal of human remains, a report released Tuesday said.

The disposal involved body parts handled by the Air Force Mortuary Service at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. It was revealed last year that some of the parts were dumped in a landfill by a contractor after cremation.

Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley, in a statement released by the Air Force, said the Office of Special Counsel has found retaliation against employees who revealed what had happened.

“Reprisals against employees are unethical and illegal and counter to Air Force core values,” Donley said. “We take violations of the law seriously and have appointed a two-star general to review the report and take appropriate action.”

Body parts are now scattered at sea after cremation if families request that the Air Force dispose of them.

Viral video raises money for rickets

WUHAN, China, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A video of a man dancing in front of various Chinese universities in an effort to raise awareness about rickets has become a viral sensation, officials say.

The video depicts Xiao Jian dancing clumsily in a white coat in front of the campuses of over 300 universities throughout 11 cities. The end of the video features pictures of children afflicted with rickets, along with information about the disease.

The disease is often found in children due to a vitamin D deficiency. It causes softening of the bones and can lead to fractures and deformities. Those suffering fro the disease tend to require expensive treatment.

Xinhua reports since the video has made its way around social media channels, donations have poured into the Porcelain Children Rare Disease Center, an organization Xiao included in the video that focuses on rickets treatment.

“Last November, I saw a father and his daughter begging for money on the street, both of whom were suffering from rickets,” Xiao told Xinhua. “Since young people, especially college students, tend to focus on new things on the Internet, I decide to dance at the gates of universities to draw their attention to those who are suffering form the disease.”

No good options for Syria, Turkey says

ANKARA, Turkey, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Syria appears headed down a path of no return and could face foreign intervention, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said.

Arab monitors left Syria last weekend, citing ongoing violence in the country. The mission was in place to ensure Syria was upholding commitments to pull its military forces from the streets, though there’s no sign of the violence abating.

Members of the U.N. Security Council are trying to overcome a veto threat from Syrian ally Russia in an effort to censure Syrian President Bashar Assad for the bloodshed.

An “official source” in the Syrian Foreign Ministry was quoted by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency as saying Western statements criticizing Damascus “are parallel to the hard strikes that the armed terrorist groups (carried out).”

Gul said that it was unfortunate that Syria was now on a “path of no return.”

“There is no (good) end for this. The end is certain,” he was quoted by Turkish daily newspaper Today’s Zaman as saying. “The question is how painful it will be.”

Gul said “authoritarian rulers” in the Middle East can either reform or face intervention.

“If they do not do that and do not bring order to their lands, foreign intervention will be inevitable,” he said.

Man jailed for swinging light sabers

PORTLAND, Ore., Jan. 31 (UPI) — An Oregon man is sentenced to 45 days in jail for trying to hit customers with toy light sabers at a Portland toy store, police said.

David Allen Canterbury, who was serving probation for a previous heroin-possession conviction, was also sentenced Monday to two years of probation and a mental-health evaluation, The (Portland) Oregonian reported.

On Dec. 14, Canterbury swung two Star Wars light saber toys, one in each hand, at three customers inside a Toys R Us store on Hayden Island around 9:50 p.m. After carrying the toys outside, he began to swing them at police. Officers attempted to subdue him using a long-range Taser, but Canterbury used the light sabers to bat the wires away. Police wrestled him to the ground and arrested him.

Canterbury pleaded no contest to charges of fourth-degree assault and resisting arrest. He apologized to his victims, the newspaper said.

Thai inquiry launched into attack

NONG CHIK, Thailand, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Theera Mintrasak, governor of the Pattani province of Thailand, said Tuesday he would initiate a formal inquiry into an attack on a military base.

The shooting took place in the Nong Chik district on Sunday night. Lt Gen Udomchai Thammasarorat held a news conference Tuesday to give details of the incident.

Thammasarorat said M79 grenades were fired at the operational base of Ranger Company 4302 early Sunday evening. Assailants quickly fled. The base radioed for assistance and ranger units were dispatched to find the attackers. Rangers stopped a pickup truck for a search when some of the men on-board got out and opened fire on the rangers. The ensuing firefight killed four people and wounded five. Thammasarorat would not comment on how many of the casualties were military personnel.

Bangkok Post reports the families of those killed have been compensated by the provincial government with 100,000 baht (about $3,233). The wounded were given an undisclosed compensation.

The inquiry is expected to take 30 days, and will be followed by legal action against anyone found to be responsible for starting the clashes. Minstrasak said the inquiry committee would find out exactly what happened so as to ensure justice.

Plazas Vega sentence upheld in Colombia

BOGOTA, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A Colombian court upheld an appeal of former Col. Luis Alfonso Plazas Vega’s sentence for his role in the disappearance of 11 people in a 1985 military siege.

The Superior Tribunal of Bogota upheld the 30-year sentence, handed down in 2010, for Plazas Vega’s role in the forced disappearance of the 11 people after the military reclaimed the Palace of Justice from M-19 guerrillas, Colombia Reports said Tuesday.

Plazas Vega had appealed, saying he was not involved in the disappearance of Carlos Horacio Uran, an assistant judge to the Council of State, as well as cafeteria workers, two visitors and guerrilla Irma Franco Pineda. They had survived the siege but were not seen again, and it is believed the military tortured and killed them.

The tribunal also ordered the Colombian government to investigate former President Velisario Betancurt for his alleged role in the offensive.

Plazas Vega is the only person to have been convicted in connection with the siege. Last month, retired Colombian army Gen. Ivan Ramirez Quintero and two fellow soldiers were acquitted.

M-19 guerrillas took over the Palace of Justice, the seat of Colombia’s Supreme Court, Nov. 6, 1985. Judges, staff, and members of the public were taken hostage.

More than 100 people — including 11 of the 25 country’s Supreme Court magistrates, 48 Colombian soldiers and all 35 guerrillas who took part in the occupation of the building — were killed in the occupation and army siege.

Kuwait tribe sets candidate’s tents ablaze

ADAILIYA, Kuwait, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Thousands of Kuwaiti tribe members set fire to the tents of a candidate for parliament after he reportedly insulted a member of their tribe who is also running.

Members of the al Mutair tribe descended on the headquarters of parliamentary candidate Mohammad al Juwaihal, fought with his supporters and set his tents ablaze in Adailiya late Monday, Gulf News reported.

The protesters criticized the candidate and called for him to be barred from running in the elections Thursday.

Al Juwaihal, running in the Third Constituency, had insulted Abaid al Wasmi, a candidate in the Fourth Constituency and member of the al Mutair, the Arabic daily al Qabas reported.

Al Juwaihal was quoted as saying: “Al Wasmi described Kuwaitis as dogs, and I tell him that he is the son of 60. And if he thinks that his tribe will protect him, we will crush you and your tribe.”

After setting ablaze the tents, tribe members prevented fire brigades from reaching them to extinguish the flames.

Al Wasmi was reported to have handed a formal complaint against al Juwaihal to the interior minister.

About 400,000 Kuwaitis are expected to vote Thursday to elect 50 members of parliament.

Aid group sees signs of torture in Libya

MISURATA, Libya, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Libyan detainees received medical care and were returned to interrogation centers where they had allegedly been tortured, an aid group said.

International aid group Doctors Without Borders pulled out of the Libyan city of Misurata last week because of concerns about detainee treatment.

Christopher Stokes, the group’s general director, told German news magazine Der Spiegel that volunteers treated more than 100 detainees who had injuries from apparent torture.

“We have encountered bone fractures as a result of torture and we received patients who had been electrically shocked,” he said.

Libya has shown signs of fracturing since a transitional government took control over the country last year. Stokes said his organization issued complaints to a military council about the abusive treatment but found no signs the atrocities have ended.

He stressed that blame shouldn’t fall on the interim Transitional National Council, however. He said the detention center officials were “very supportive,” as were those in the TNC.

“The problem is those responsible for the interrogation centers,” he said. “They do what they want.”

Former Libyan dissidents are suing former British intelligence officials, claiming MI6 figures were complicit in their torture during the Moammar Gadhafi era, The Guardian newspaper in London reports.

Hashemi worried about Iraq’s future

ERBIL, Iraq, Jan. 31 (UPI) — The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is pushing the country to a major sectarian divide, an Iraqi vice president said.

Maliki last year called for the arrest of Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on allegations Hashemi he was overseeing a death squad. The move coincided with political flare-ups that prompted a major Sunni-backed political alliance to suspend participation in the Iraqi government.

Hashemi told CNN from the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq that Maliki was forcing the country toward sectarian war.

“Maliki is pushing my country to reach a turning point with (a) deeply sectarian dimension,” he said.

Hashemi has been hiding in the Kurdish region to avoid arrest. An official in his office, who spoke with CNN on condition of anonymity, said evidence against the vice president was extracted from his bodyguards under duress.

The Sunni-bloc, Iraqiya, had said some of its members would return to the legislative assembly to prepare for a later national dialogue. A Cabinet boycott remains in place, however.

Violence has escalated in Iraq since U.S. forces left the country last month. Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, said Iraq has been through “these cycles” before but Washington has confidence “in the Iraqi security forces (ability) to manage these issues.”

HRW: Union freedoms absent in Iran

NEW YORK, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Human Rights Watch called on Iranian authorities to release jailed labor activists, describing the arrests as an effort to control workers’ rights.

The rights organization said it wasn’t certain about the fate of a number of labor and trade union activists rounded up by Iranian authorities. All of those arrested were members of unions not sanctioned by Iranian law.

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said labor unions play a critical role in countering the tactics of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“This latest round of arrests continues a long and ugly tradition of targeting independent trade unions to enforce full state control over these groups,” Stork said.

Human Rights Watch said most of the arrests followed demonstrations demanding back wages. The president of a bus workers’ union, the rights organization said, was given a five-year prison sentence for making “propaganda against the state.”

The organization had expressed concern about the recent crackdown on reformist newspapers in Iran. Human Rights Watch said it was worried that Iranian authorities were trying to silence their critics ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled in March.

“Labor activists have been at the forefront of the struggle for freedom of association and assembly in Iran and they have paid a heavy price,” added Stork.

Used clothing bins not always for charity

TORONTO, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Used clothing drop-off bins have become a multimillion dollar business in Canada, with charities feeling the bite, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Once a familiar site in parking lots for such groups as the Salvation Army and Goodwill, privateers have moved in and become increasingly aggressive in the past few years, exporting most of the donations to Africa, India and Pakistan, the broadcaster said.

Figures from 2010 show such exports were worth $174 million, most of it from Ontario.

The CBC said many people it interviewed thought their used clothing was going to help local charities while, in fact, much of it was being sold by the pound for export to Third World countries.

One man in the private clothing recycling business who didn’t want to be identified said the competition was becoming violent.

“People are getting beat up because these things work as a territory,” he said. “And now they are fighting with each other … people got beat up, the bins were stolen, the bins were burned out.”

Salvation Army spokesman Dave Kennedy said not only do the private companies cut into donations to the charity, but inflict landfill costs as well.

“They (private companies) will accumulate garbage on their truck that they don’t want to take back to their depot, and they have made a habit of coming in and dropping it off here,” he said, adding it cost his region almost $14,000 last year to dispose of the unusable clothing.

Cameron: NATO presence depends on Afghans

LONDON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — The pace at which the British government can reduce its troop strength in Afghanistan depends on how well the Afghans can lead, the prime minister said.

Nations contributing to the international military effort in Afghanistan have pledged to pull their forces out of the country by 2014. British Prime Minister David Cameron said the Afghan army and Afghan police are growing in ranks as they get set to take charge of security operations in the country.

“The rate at which we can reduce our troops will depend on the transition to Afghan control in the different parts of Afghanistan,” he said in a statement. “And that should be the same for all of the members of NATO who are all contributing and helping toward a strong, stable, peaceful Afghanistan, which is in all our interests.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his intention to pull his troops out of Afghanistan by 2013. Wahid Mujda, an analyst at Kabul’s Research Center for Strategy Studies, told China’s official Xinhua news agency Sarkozy’s decision was a blow to NATO’s operations.

“No doubt, the pullout of French forces before 2014 would psychologically encourage Taliban militants to increase attacks against international forces stationed in Afghanistan,” he said.

Cameron added that he supported Kabul’s efforts to reach out to certain members of the Taliban provided the former leaders of Afghanistan honor the national constitution and renounce violence.

Yemeni minister survives attempt on life

SANAA, Yemen, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Witnesses said the information minister in Yemen’s unity government survived an assassination attempt hours after al-Qaida militants were hit by U.S. drones.

Yemeni Information Minister Ali al-Amrani survived an assassination attempt in Sanaa. His assistant, Abdul Basset al-Qaedi, said gunmen opened fire on Amrani’s vehicle but the minister was uninjured, the BBC reports.

Amrani resigned from the ruling General People’s Congress and joined the opposition in March during widespread demonstrations against the government of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Amrani became the information minister after Saleh signed a deal to hand power to his vice president.

The attack on Amrani, the BBC said, followed missile strikes believed to have come from U.S. drones against al-Qaida militants. Among those killed, the BBC adds, was a man wanted in connection with an al-Qaida attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

Saleh is undergoing medical treatment in the United States for injuries suffered during a June assassination attempt. He was awarded immunity by the Yemeni government.

Yemen has presidential elections next month.

New hazing allegation at Florida A&M

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Jan. 31 (UPI) — Florida police are investigating another possible hazing incident involving Florida A&M University’s famed marching band, school officials said.

The university has released few details about the alleged incident involving the Kappa Kappa Psi band fraternity, which was said to have occurred off campus last spring, the Orlando Sentinel reported. FAMU President James Ammons, in a teleconference Monday with trustees, said the incident was reported to band director Julian White on Nov. 21. White reported it to university police the next day.

The band has been under national scrutiny since band member Robert Champion died in November after the Florida Classic football game in Orlando. Investigators say he was ordered to run a gauntlet on board a bus and suffered fatal blows.

Seven students have been charged in connection with hazing incidents involving fellow band members at the historically black college, the newspaper said.

Mother of missing toddler asks for lower bail

COLUMBIA, S.C., Jan. 31 (UPI) — Zinah Jennings of Columbia, S.C., mother of missing toddler Amir Jennings, appeared in court to request a lower bail, officials say.

Jennings, 22, charged with unlawful neglect of a child, appeared in court Monday to request a lower bond than the $150,000 she was granted in December. Hemphill Pride II, Jennings’ lawyer, alleges that the steep bond is punishment for Jennings’ refusal to speak to police.

Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott said that the high bail was because Jennings has been shown to be a flight risk. Her own family reported her missing in December.

Pride also told The (Columbia) State that Jennings was found to be mentally ill after an altercation with another inmate at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.

Jennings’ 18-month-old son was has not been seen by Zinah’s mother, Jocelyn Jennings Nelson, since Nov. 24, Thanksgiving Day. Amir and Zinah were both reported missing in early December.

When Jennings was involved in a car accident on Christmas Eve, she told police she did not have any children. However, a hospital nurse found Jennings had C-section scars. She admitted to having a son, but gave contradicting stories as to his whereabouts. Police have been searching for Amir since.

IAEA reviews tests at Japan nuke plants

TOKYO, Jan. 31 (UPI) — The head of an International Atomic Energy Agency team said Tuesday the group is “comfortable” with testing Japan is doing on its nuclear plants.

The team from the U.N. watchdog agency reviewed the stress tests Japan has ordered for its nuclear reactors in the wake of last year’s disaster at the Fukushima plant, The New York Times reported. The plant was severely damaged by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake in March 2011 and the tsunami that followed.

In its preliminary assessment, the IAEA team said the computer simulations of disaster scenarios were “appropriate,” although it suggested adding more stress testing for earthquakes and tsunamis.

“What we saw was a process that we felt comfortable with. But in any process, there is always room for improvement,” James Lyons, the team leader, said.

Japan has, until recently, gotten about 30 percent of its power from nuclear plants. But the Fukushima disaster has roused public opposition, and local officials have stopped plants from restarting after their mandatory annual shutdowns.

As a result, only three of 54 plants in the country are now in operation.

Obama pushes small business initiatives

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday it’s time to follow through on promises to help small businesses.

The president presided at his first full Cabinet meeting since the State of the Union address.

“I mentioned at the State of the Union that there have been discussions, bipartisan discussions between Republicans and Democrats, about a whole set of measures that can accelerate financing to startup companies; can provide tax breaks to startups and small businesses that are interested in either hiring more workers or increasing their wages; that looks at innovative ways for them to raise capital,” Obama said.

The president said it is “my expectation and hope … that [Congress] will get a bill together quickly, that they will pass it and get it on my desk. I will sign it right away, and I would like to see that bill signed this year.”

Obama said the executive branch can take action on its own. All the Cabinet agencies “are putting forward their own initiatives to enhance the ability of entrepreneurs to get up and running. So, for example, the Department of Homeland Security, my understanding is we’re going to be talking about how we can improve the visa process for those who are interested in investing in the United States and starting businesses here in the United States.”

In addition, the Departments of Commerce, Energy, and Education, as well as the Small Business Administration “are all launching complementary initiatives to support entrepreneurship as well. And so what we want to do is to make sure that every single agency, even as they’re tending to their energy initiatives or providing homeland security or transportation or defense, that we’re also thinking about how are we advancing the cause of giving small businesses and entrepreneurs opportunities to start creating the next Google or the next Apple or the next innovative company that’s going to create jobs and improve our economy.”

Indy mayor threatens veto of smoking ban

INDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is threatening to veto the City-County Council’s new measure that bans smoking in most bars.

The City-County Council passed the smoking ban on a 19-9 vote Monday, one “aye” shy of the 20 votes needed to override Ballard’s promised veto, The Indianapolis Star reported Tuesday.

Ballard is opposed to wording in the measure that would force non-profit private clubs and veterans halls to choose between allowing smoking or allowing children on the premises.

Ballard has said he thinks the choice is unfair. Sponsors of the proposed smoking ban and members of the council’s Democratic majority said it was a matter of protecting children from harmful smoke.

Both sides said they had compromised enough. “We have done our part,” Council President Maggie Lewis said after the meeting, noting the proposal’s sponsors agreed to Ballard’s request to exempt private clubs, as well as cigar and hookah bars from the smoking ban. “I will sleep well tonight knowing I did my part.”

“Let private clubs be private,” Ballard said Monday. “We don’t go into people’s homes. … These people can take care of their facility. That’s the whole point.”

Meanwhile, members of the Indiana House were expected to consider a bill this week that would adopt a statewide smoking ban for most workplaces, but would allow an 18-month delay for bars. Gov. Mitch Daniels has signaled his general support.

Gingrich in ‘Eye’ of lawsuit

PALATINE, Ill., Jan. 31 (UPI) — Republican U.S. presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich’s use of “Eye of the Tiger” at campaign events and in videos landed him in the eye of a lawsuit.

A Palatine, Ill., music publishing company owned by former Survivor lead guitarist Frankie Sullivan filed the suit Monday in a federal court in Chicago, seeking damages and an injunction against the Gingrich campaign for using the band’s 1982 Grammy-winning song, the Chicago Tribune reported.

“This has nothing to do with politics. This is a copyright issue,” Sullivan’s lawyer, Annette McGarry, said. “We’ve tried to deal with them for months, and they’ve been trying to ignore it.”

Despite complaints from Sullivan, Gingrich was still using it at events in South Carolina and the song is in several Internet videos posted by the campaign, the Tribune said.

“My legacy, my life, has been ‘Eye of the Tiger,'” Sullivan told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Those copyright laws are there to protect people like me who are lucky enough to create a copyright. ‘Eye of the Tiger’ is an iconic copyright. It’s become a lifelong legacy — something you want to pass down to your kids.”

While Sullivan didn’t want to delve into whether he backs Gingrich, song co-writer Jim Peterik admits he is becoming a fan.

Peterik, who is not part of the lawsuit, said, “I hate suits. I hate being in court. I avoid that meticulously.”

Peterik said he wouldn’t say who could or couldn’t use “Eye of the Tiger” for political events.

“If someone is out there trying to make a difference, let him do it,” Peterik told the Sun-Times. “Unless it was Adolf Hitler.”

Japan to become ‘super-gray’ society

TOKYO, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A survey released Tuesday indicates Japan will be a “super-gray” society by 2060 with citizens aged 65 or older accounting for 39.9 percent of the population.

In tandem with a national census, the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research estimates the 50 year future of Japan’s population every five years. The information is used to calculate public pension finances and economic growth.

Three scenarios — moderate, optimistic and pessimistic — were detailed based on the 2010 census, Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

The moderate estimate sees a steady total fertility rate, projecting a continuing decline in population. In 2048, the population is projected to fall to less than 100 million. A previous estimate projected the drop to occur in 2046.

The average longevity of men is expected to increase from 79.64 years to 84.19 by 2060. Women’s longevity is also expected to rise from 86.39 years to 90.93.

CBO: 2012 deficit projected at $1.1T

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — The Congressional Budget Office Tuesday said the fiscal 2012 deficit will top $1 trillion but still will be lower than 2011’s total.

The CBO Budget and Economic Outlook found the $1.1 trillion deficit projected for 2012 is 2 percentage points lower than 2011’s and represents 7 percent of gross domestic product.

The CBO report analyzes the nation’s fiscal health from 2012 to 2022 and projects a drop in the deficit from 2013 to 2022 under current law, which will see the expiration of certain tax provisions and a rise in revenues as more taxpayers are subject to the alternative minimum tax.

“Those projections are not a forecast of future events; rather, they are intended to provide a benchmark against which potential policy changes can be measured,” the CBO said in a blog posting on its Web site. “Therefore, as specified in law, those projections generally incorporate the assumption that current laws are implemented.

“But substantial changes to tax and spending policies are slated to take effect within the next year under current law. … The decisions made by lawmakers as they confront those policy choices will have a significant impact on budget outcomes in the coming years.”

The posting noted if Congress chooses to extend tax breaks and rework the AMT, the deficit will balloon unless spending is cut drastically.