Italy ends search for Costa Concordia cruise ship victims

GIGLIO, Italy, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Italian officials said Tuesday they are discontinuing the search for 15 people believed missing in parts of the Costa Concordia that are under water.

So far searchers have recovered the bodies of 17 people who died after the cruise ship ran aground Jan. 13 off the Tuscan island of Giglio, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

Officials said they were ending underwater search operations but will continue looking for victims in areas of the ship that are semi-submerged.

They said the priority now is to avert an environmental disaster by allowing salvage teams to extract the ship’s fuel before it starts leaking into the water, ANSA reported.

Officials estimate it will take up to 10 months to remove the ship.

There was no estimate on how long the fuel draining operation would take. It’s start has been delayed by bad weather.

Kim’s frequent military visits spark talk

PYONGYANG, North Korea, Jan. 31 (UPI) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s frequent visits to the military could be a sign of weakness and an effort to foster loyalty to the regime, an analyst said.

Kim, who ascended to power in December after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, visited eight military units in January alone, Yonhap News Agency said an analysis of North Korean news reports indicated Tuesday. He also visited an institute for military officials, attended a military orchestra concert and stopped by a construction site managed by the armed forces.

Kim is a four-star general and was declared supreme commander of North Korea’s armed forces after his father’s death, although analysts told Yonhap they think he has little, if any, military experience.

“The fact that Kim Jong Un is making such frequent visits to military units is evidence that he does not enjoy solid support within the armed forces,” said Baek Seung-joo, a senior analyst at the Korea Institute of Defense Analyses. “[The visits] are aimed at boosting his presence among military officials and consolidating his power base.”

Kim Jong Il, who ruled the country for 17 years, met with the military once in 14 public appearances in January 2011.

Baek said prompt reporting by North Korea’s state-run media also may be an effort to convince North Koreans that the younger Kim has authority within the armed forces.

Turkish fire kills six, including four children

IGINT, Turkey, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Six people, including four children, were killed when a fire broke out Tuesday in the village of Igin in the Diyarbakir province of Turkey, officials say.

The fire occurred in the home of village guard Mehmet Hanifi Yilmaz around 5:15 a.m. Diyarbakir Govrernor Mustafa Toprak told The Anatolia news agency: “We think the fire broke out when those in the house tried to use gasoline to light up the coal in the stove. Six people from the same family, including four children, were killed in the fire.”

Toprak said two other children were injured, one 5-year-old and one 16-year-old. The 5-year-old is in critical condition, Today’s Zaman reports.

Abused child resembles concentration camp victim

MIAMI, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A 9-year-old boy whose parents are in jail for child abuse appears to be as emaciated as a concentration camp victim, a judge in Miami said.

“He looks like he just came out of Auschwitz,” Child Welfare Judge Cindy Lederman said after being shown a picture of the boy, The Miami Herald reported Tuesday.

The photo depicts a child so thin his bones protrude from his skin and his eyes bulge out of their sockets. His hands and feet are swollen from lack of food.

Police discovered the naked, starving boy wandering around his North Miami Beach neighborhood Saturday after jumping out a window to escape his parents.

They jailed the parents, Marsee Strong, 34, and Edward Bailey, 40, on charges of aggravated child abuse and neglect.

The boy and four of his siblings were immediately placed in the custody of a maternal uncle.

Lederman called the child’s appearance a “neon sign for child abuse.”

“It appears to me that there has been gross negligence here,” the judge said.

She scheduled a hearing next month to learn how the system failed.

Duvalier won’t face rights charges

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A judge ruled former Haitian ruler Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier could be tried for corruption and embezzlement, but not for human rights abuses.

The decision, delivered by Judge Carves Jean, chief investigating prosecutor of Haiti’s Supreme Court, drew immediate protests from rights groups as it was submitted for review by Haiti’s attorney general, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

If the ruling is upheld, Duvalier won’t be prosecuted for crimes such as murder, torture and the disappearance of political opponents allegedly committed under his 15 years of rule that were included the investigation. After a 25-year exile in France, Duvalier returned to Haiti in January 2011 and is living under house arrest.

Human rights groups and alleged victims said the decision would weaken Haiti’s already weak judicial system.

“Today’s wrongheaded decision, if upheld on appeal, would entrench Haiti’s culture of impunity by denying justice for Duvalier’s thousands of victims,” said Reed Brody, legal counsel for Washington-based Human Rights Watch. “Haiti has an obligation to its people to investigate and prosecute the grave violations of human rights under Duvalier’s rule.”

Reynold Georges, who represents Duvalier, said he would appeal the decision the exiled dictator be tried on embezzlement and fraud accusations, saying it was “all old business” and that the statute of limitations had expired.

Haitian President Michel Martelly, linked by family to Duvalier, is seen as sympathetic to the former ruler, the Journal reported. Martelly often said he favors reconciliation and has called on Haitians to join together to unite the country.

Gingrich: Will Not Debate Obama With Reporters Moderating

Newt Gingrich said on Monday that if he were the Republican Presidential nominee, he would skip any debate against Barack Obama that was to be moderated by reporters.

“As your nominee, I will not accept debates in the fall in which the reporters are the moderators,” Gingrich said at a rally in Pensacola, according to MSNBC. “We don’t need to have a second Obama person at the debate.”

The line falls in step with Gingrich’s repeated assault on the media who first attacked him over his marital infidelity and questioned his conservative ideals.

 

Ex-priest sentenced for child porn

DUBLIN, Ireland, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A judge in Ireland has sentenced a former priest and convicted child abuser to three years in jail for possession of child pornography, court records said.

Police said Oliver O’Grady, 66, had thousands of images of children, some victims as young as 2-years-old, stored on computers and USB drives, the Irish Times reported Tuesday.

Police also found more than six hours of child pornography videos and more than 500 pages of online discussions about child pornography.

The case unfolded after O’Grady left his laptop on an Aer Lingus flight and police were alerted to its contents.

O’Grady was deported in Ireland in 2001 after serving 7 years in a California prison for abusing children.

Criminal Court Judge Martin Nolan said at sentencing that O’Grady had a serious problem and prison in America had not rehabilitated him.

He was born in Limerick and emigrated to the United States after joining the priesthood.

‘Grave concern’ over Sudan, Rice says

UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Washington supports a sustained peacekeeping mission in South Sudan through 2013 in response to rising violence, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations said.

South Sudan and Sudan moved closer to war after disputes erupted over oil. South Sudan cut oil production in response to alleged stealing by the government in Khartoum.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said she supported calls from U.N. officials for a force of 7,000 peacekeepers for the U.N. mission in South Sudan through 2013.

Rice said recommendations from Edmond Mulet, assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, were something the U.S. government “strongly supports” based on the deteriorating security situation in the region.

“We expressed also our grave concern, which you have heard us repeat, about the deteriorating situation in (border states) South Kordofan and Blue Nile,” Rice said.

South Sudan became an independent nation in July as part of a peace agreement reached with Washington’s help in 2005. Lingering disputes over border and oil are complicated by ongoing ethnic conflicts in the border regions separating the countries.

The independent Sudan Tribune reported Monday that Sudanese military officials urged the country’s leaders to avoid war with South Sudan citing widespread corruption and the inability to control border conflicts.

Court won’t dismiss case against Garzon

MADRID, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A request to throw out a case against Judge Balthazar Garzon was rejected by the Spanish Supreme Court on Tuesday, officials say.

Garzon is accused of overstepping his authority by ordering an inquiry into massacres carried out by forces loyal to former dictator General Franco.

Two groups accuse Garzon of violating a 1977 Franco-era amnesty law — Manos Limpias (Clean Hands) and Libertad e Identitdad (Liberty and Identity). Garzon has argued that no amnesty can vouch for crimes against humanity.

Outside Spain, Garzon is best known for securing the London arrest of former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet in 1998. ThinkSpain reports thousands of people demonstrated in Garzon’s support in Madrid on Sunday.

China cracks down on unrest

CHENGDU, China, Jan. 31 (UPI) — China, in advance of next month’s Tibetan new year, has sent thousands of security forces into a southwestern area where ethnic Tibetans live, officials said.

The move follows unrest in the region that included self immolations by Tibetans and protests that sparked violent clashes with police, CNN reported Tuesday.

The recent turmoil appears to be the worst between ethnic Tibetans and Chinese authorities since 2008 when unrest in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa left at least 22 people dead.

Chinese police were stopping all cars trying to enter the region during the weekend, checking identification papers and turning away reporters and those with foreign passports.

Residents in a local village near the checkpoint told CNN China sent reinforcements because of the tense situation in Ganzi that borders Tibet and is home to a population that is nearly 80 percent ethnic Tibetan.

Last month, the Tibetan government-in-exile called for international intervention.

Chile president OKs human rights deputy

SANTIAGO, Chile, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A new undersecretary of human rights position would be created in Chile under a bill signed by President Sebastian Pinera.

If the measure wins approval from Congress, the Ministry of Justice would become the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the new undersecretary would report to the minister of justice and human rights, The Santiago Times reported.

“For the first time, Chile will have an authority responsible for leading all efforts by the government now scattered in different departments, relating to the protection of human rights,” Pinera said.

The undersecretary would also handle past human rights violations, particularly those dating to the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, with emphasis on compensation of victims.

“This new institutional framework is a clear demonstration of the commitment by the government and this presidency to create a culture of respect and protection of human rights,” Pinera said.

The undersecretary also would represent Chile in international courts dealing with human rights such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights when Chile is required to appear; work with the justice minister on studies on human rights within Chile; and head promotional campaigns to increase awareness of human rights.

The measure signed by Pinera also would create an inter-ministry Committee of Human Rights to handle human rights matters.

Ban calls for swift transition in Egypt

CAIRO, Jan. 31 (UPI) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Egypt’s military authority to uphold its commitments to a civilian-led government.

Ban met on the sidelines of a sustainability conference in Ethiopia with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamer Ali Amir. His discussions with the Egyptian leader followed a series of elections in post-revolutionary Egypt that saw Islamic parties like the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party score major victories.

Ban called on the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to move quickly toward a civilian-led government, the United Nations said in a readout of his meeting.

SCAF faced widespread criticism over the pace at which it was ushering in a new civilian authority. The ruling military council had promised to have elections within six months of former President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in February 2011. Elections began late last year for seats in the Egyptian Parliament.

An advisory council to SCAF, which took over after Mubarak resigned, said the military leaders had no plans to move quicker on political reforms, the country’s Egyptian Independent newspaper reports.

SCAF leaders announced nominations for eventual presidential elections could begin as early as April.

Police kill 2 wolves roaming city street

PITKYARANTA, Russia, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Police said they were forced to shoot at a pack of wolves, killing two, to drive the wild animals off the streets of a Russian city and back into the woods.

Authorities said they received reports Monday of wolves terrorizing residents of Pitkyaranta, a city near Russia’s border with Finland, RIA Novosti reported.

“A frightened man called police to report he had just been attacked by wolves … not in the woods, but on the city’s [streets],” a police spokesman said.

A patrol found several wolves outside the door of an apartment building and one charged when officers exited their vehicle, the spokesman said.

Police shot and killed the charging wolf and another that tried to attack, after which the pack moved toward a nearby forest, RIA Novosti said.

Deep freeze blankets Eastern Europe

KIEV, Ukraine, Jan. 31 (UPI) — More than 30 people have died in central and Eastern Europe as a result of sub-freezing temperatures, weather forecasters said.

In Ukraine, hypothermia was blamed for the deaths of at least 18 people while as many as 500 others have sought medical treatment for conditions related to the bitter cold, Europenews.net reported.

In Poland, at least 10 people have died after temperatures plunged to 18 degrees F. below zero. Among the victims were elderly and homeless people.

A state of emergency due to the cold was declared in Bulgaria for all but three of the country’s 28 districts.

Schools and colleges in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev have canceled classes beginning Wednesday due to the severe cold, the Kiev city administration announced Tuesday.

The administration head told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency it has been a long time since temperatures dropped below zero.

Oleksandr Popov said classes would resume Feb. 5 if temperatures rise.

Tymoshenko’s daughter arrives in U.S.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — The daughter of jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko arrived in the United States to attend a hearing on European affairs, the leader said.

Tymoshenko, the opposition leader and a former prime minister, is serving a seven-year prison sentence following a conviction on charges she abused her authority when she helped secure a natural gas deal with Russian energy company Gazprom.

Her daughter, Eugenia Tymoshenko, is attend a U.S. Senate hearing on Ukraine and broader European affairs through Friday, the former prime minister’s Web site announced.

Tymoshenko is to appear alongside members of the former prime minister’s opposition party.

The Yanukovych government claims the 2009 gas deal brokered with Tymoshenko’s help hurt a Ukrainian economy already bruised by the global recession.

Tymoshenko, in a letter sent last week to her opposition party from her jail cell, claimed the country’s “dictatorship” would collapse. Her supporters say the charges against her are politically motivated.

The government of the Czech Republic granted political asylum to Oleksandr Tymoshenko, husband of the jailed former prime minister, in early January. He filed his asylum request citing the potential for harassment.

Advocate pleads for Mumbai attacker

MUMBAI, Jan. 31 (UPI) — The counsel for the lone surviving gunman involved in the 2008 Mumbai massacre told India’s Supreme Court his client didn’t get a fair trial.

Senior Advocate Raju Ramachandran said Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab, 24, was not part of the larger conspiracy that was waging war against India and does not deserve to die, the Press Trust of India reported Tuesday.

A special petition filed on behalf of Kasab challenges his conviction on grounds he was brainwashed into committing crimes in the name of God and does not deserve capital punishment because of his young age.

Ramachandran told the court the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and that Kasab’s right against self-incrimination and adequate representation was violated during this trial.

Kasab’s death sentence was stayed in October and he is currently being held at Mumbai’s Arthur Road prison.

He was charged with taking part in a 2008 shooting spree that left more than 166 people dead and many more wounded in India’s financial capital.

Nine other Pakistanis involved in the attacks were killed.

China to ‘strike hard’ against Tibetans

BEIJING, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Chinese security forces are called on to “strike hard” against Tibetan activists following clashes in central Sichuan province, an official said.

Qi Zhala, secretary for the Lhasa Communist Party, called for tightened security near Tibetan monasteries after clashes last week turned deadly.

“We must strike hard at all the separatist, destructive and criminal activities of the Dalai (Lama) clique and make efforts to realize our goal of not letting any incident, big or small, occur,” he was quoted by the BBC as saying.

Self-immolations are on the rise in parts of central China. More than a dozen such acts have been reported by Tibetan activist groups in the last year. Free Tibet, a rights group in London, said many people are protesting Chinese security measures and the lack of religious freedom.

Tibetan rights groups said the death toll attributed to Chinese forces is much higher than Beijing estimates. The Chinese government, however, claims Western media are distorting the security situation in Sichuan province.

Tibetan activists are calling for more autonomy and the return of spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

College fakes SAT scores for 6 years

CLAREMONT, Calif., Jan. 31 (UPI) — A prestigious California college admitted Monday to falsifying SAT scores for the past six years to boost its standing in national rankings, officials say.

Claremont McKenna College, a small school ranked the ninth-best liberal arts college in the country by U.S. News & World Report, has reportedly falsified SAT scores since 2005.

Vice President and Dean of Admissions Richard C. Vos was allegedly responsible for the practice. Officials say his name was removed from the college’s online staff directory after college President Pamela B. Gann sent an e-mail to faculty and students revealing a “senior administrator” had taken responsibility for falsifying the scores.

The scores were increased by an average of 10-20 points, Gann said in the e-mail. While it may seem a small difference, the extra padding helped Claremont McKenna gain an unfair advantage over competing schools in U.S. News rankings.

Robert Franek, senior vice president of publishing for The Princeton Review, told The New York Times he’s never heard of a situation such as this.

“That’s a pretty mild difference in a point score,” he said. “That said, 10 points, 30 points to a student that isn’t getting that score on the SAT could be an important distinction.”

Russian diplomats leaving Canada

OTTAWA, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A second Russian diplomat has flown home from Canada following the arrest of a Canadian sailor for espionage, the Globe and Mail reported Tuesday.

Since the Jan. 16 arrest of Canadian naval intelligence officer Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle, accused of sharing government secrets to undisclosed foreign countries from a base in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a total of six diplomats’ names have been dropped from the daily register of Russian diplomatic staff, the newspaper said.

Two are known to have flown back to Russia. The most recent departure was a consular officer in Toronto, while the first was a military attache in Ottawa. Both had been in Canada for several years.

The departures leave 100 Russian diplomatic staff officially recognized by the Canadian government.

The Russian government told the Globe their staff is routinely reassigned to other postings and denied the recent activity had anything to do with the espionage case.

Prosecutors allege Delisle passed Canadian secrets to a foreign country between July 2007 and the day of his arrest, Jan. 13.

His initial lawyer has quit the case for undisclosed reasons and Delisle remains in custody awaiting a Feb. 28 bail hearing, CTV News said.

Turkey says Hamas not moving to country

ANKARA, Turkey, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Turkey said it will not allow Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to move the group’s headquarters to that country from Syria nor provide millions in aid to the group.

“Khaled Mashaal’s stay in Turkey is out of question,” Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told a news conference Monday.

Turkey, which Mashaal visited recently, recognizes Hamas as a legal political party while fellow NATO members do not.

Arinc also dismissed reports Turkey had promised to provide Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, $300 million in aid, Today’s Zaman reported. The Turkish Foreign Ministry also denied reports diplomatic sources said Turkey would provide the aid.

Mashaal, 55, has been based in Damascus, Syria, since 2001, and serving as the chief of Hamas since 1996, charged with setting policy and planning attacks against Israel.

Today’s Zaman said Mashaal has not been spending much time in Syria where more than 5,000 people have been killed in 10 months of anti-government protests.

Hamas denied in a recent report it was moving its headquarters out of Syria and said Mashaal’s absence was due to security concerns.

First lady proposes military FMLA changes

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — The Family and Medical Leave Act should be expanded to provide more job protection to caregivers of U.S. military personnel, first lady Michelle Obama said.

Obama, announcing the changes with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis Monday, said the proposed expansion would allow spouses, parents and children of military personnel who provide care to attend military gatherings or handle childcare or finances without worrying about job security.

“Now, this means that more caregivers can now provide support at a hospital for days or weeks at a time. They can help their loved ones make that transition back home,” Obama said at a Department of Labor event. “And they can do it all without worrying about whether they will lose their job. And we all know the kind of difference that can make for our wounded warriors and for their families.”

The proposed language would extend military caregiver leave to family members of veterans for up to five years after leaving the military, the Labor Department said. The law now covers caregivers of “currently serving” military personnel.

Also, the proposal would expand the military family leave provisions of the FMLA by extending qualifying exigency leave to employees whose family members serve in the regular armed forces. Currently, the law covers only families of National Guard members and reservists.

The proposed FMLA expansion would include as much as 12 weeks of leave from work to help a military member deployed on short notice, as well as long as 26 weeks of leave to care for an injured or ill service member.

“So these new rules will make a real difference for our military families in so many ways,” Obama said.