6.4 Earthquake Hits Argentina

SANTIAGO DEL ESTERO, Argentina, Sept. 2 (UPI) — A 6.4-magnitude earthquake has struck in north central Argentina, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The epicenter of the 9:47 EDT temblor was 80 miles west of Santiago del Estero, about 500 miles north-northwest of Buenos Aires, the USGS reported.

The earthquake was deep, at 368.4 miles.

There have been no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

Japan Conducts Earthquake-tsunami Drills

TOKYO, Sept. 2 (UPI) — Officials in Japan, which was hit by a devastating earthquake and tsunami this year, conducted major drills to prepare for similar disasters in the future.

The drills Thursday were based on the premise that a magnitude-7.3 earthquake had hit Tokyo, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

Citizens participated in various scenarios that could be the result of a massive earthquake.

For example, a drill at the JR Shinagawa train station in Minato Ward was conducted on the premise that train service was cut off due to an earthquake, making it difficult for passengers to get home.

Drill participant Yusuke Onaka, 33, was stuck waiting for a train for a long time on March 11 after the real earthquake — magnitude 9 — and tsunami hit the country.

“There was so much conflicting information that day that frustrated, worried and exhausted me. I want to participate in these drills and gather information to prepare for another massive earthquake,” Onaka said.

After the drills, government ministers received reports about the hypothetical earthquake and considered how to respond, officials said.

The Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion estimates there is a 70 percent chance that within the next 30 years Japan will have a magnitude-7 earthquake.

Lebanon Urged To Cooperate In Arrests

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Sept. 2 (UPI) — A U.N.-backed tribunal looking into the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri said Lebanon must continue to search for the suspects.

“The Lebanese prosecutor general is required to continue to report on a monthly basis until the accused are arrested,” a spokesperson for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon told The Daily Star.

The tribunal issued an indictment in June, accusing four Hezbollah members of involvement in the assassination. The Shiite group, which plays a dominant role in the current government, denies the allegations and has said it will not cooperate with the tribunal.

Joran Van Der Sloot Charged With Murder

LIMA, Sept. 2 (UPI) — Prosecutors in Peru charged Joran van der Sloot with murder in the 2010 death of a Peruvian woman and said they’ll seek a 30-year prison sentence for him.

Van der Sloot, 24, who was a key figure in the unsolved 2005 disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway, was arrested in June 2010 as a suspect in the death of Stephany Flores but was not formally charged until Thursday, CNN reported.

Flores, who was 21, was found dead in van der Sloot’s hotel room in May 2010. Van der Sloot allegedly stole money and bank cards from the woman’s wallet and made a getaway to Chile where he was arrested several days later.

Prosecutors are seeking a 30-year sentence along with a $73,000 payment to Flores’ family. Van der Sloot was also charged with theft.

“We think 30 years is too much for this crime since it was an isolated incident without any further acts of violence. We have had cases in Peru under similar circumstances that have gotten less than 25 years,” said Luis Jimenez Navarro, van der Sloot’s attorney

Flores’ family had recently urged prosecutors to charge van der Sloot in August, fearing he could be released. Peruvian law requires a suspect’s release if trial does not begin within 18 months of arrest.

No trial date has been set but a hearing for the defense to present a formal response is set for Sept. 12 in Lima.

Three cab drivers were charged in the case for allegedly helping van der Sloot flee to Chile. Prosecutors are seeking five-year senences for them.

The Holloway case received non-stop coverage for months by the news media in the United States.

Van der Sloot was arrested twice but never charged by Aruban authorities.

The 18-year-old Holloway disappeared during a high school graduation trip to Aruba. She was never found.

Flores’ body was found five years, to the day, after Holloway vanished, CBS reported.

Rebecca Zahau’s Death In Shacknai Mansion Ruled A Suicide

CORONADO, Calif., Sept. 2 (UPI) — Investigators have ruled the death of a pharmaceutical executive’s girlfriend in his California mansion a suicide.

Police say that forensic evidence and interviews show that Rebecca Zahau, 32, took her own life in boyfriend Jonah Shacknai’s mansion in Coronado, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Zahau’s body was discovered in the courtyard of the mansion on the morning of July 13 by Shacknai’s brother Adam. Her hands and feet were bound and a noose was around her neck. A rope was tied to a second-story balcony.

It is possible that the woman was overwrought with guilt over the injury of Jonah Shacknai’s son Max while she was was watching him, the newspaper said. The 6-year-old boy fell down a flight of stairs two days before Zahau’s death and died on July 17.

However, family members told reporters that they do not believe the woman committed suicide, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

“We, her family and friends, do not believe it’s a suicide. There are still unanswered questions,” Zahau’s sister, Mary Zahau-Loehner of Missouri, told the newspaper.

Neil Nalepa, Zahau’s ex-husband, said the woman would turn to God before taking her own life.

“I don’t believe it was a suicide at all. She would cry out to God for help if she were feeling sad,” Nalepa said.

7.1 Earthquake Hits Alaska; No Injuries, Damage

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Sept. 2 (UPI) — A 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the Aleutian Islands in Alaska Friday. A tsunami warning was issued, then canceled.

“No destructive tsunami has been recorded and no tsunami danger exists along the coasts of the U.S. west coast states, Alaska and British Columbia,” a message from the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center said, canceling an earlier alert.

The earthquake hit in a sparsely populated region and there were no reports of damage or injuries, authorities said.

The epicenter of the quake, about 21 miles deep, was about 45 miles southeast of Amukta Pass, Alaska, 107 miles east of Atka, Alaska, and 1,659 miles west-southwest of Anchorage, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Feds Seek ‘don’t Ask’ Challenge Dismissal

PASADENA, Calif., Sept. 2 (UPI) — The Obama administration asked a U.S. appeals court to dismiss a challenge to the military ban on openly gay personnel since the policy will be repealed soon.

The repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is effective Sept. 20, now that the Pentagon has declared the change won’t interfere with military readiness or recruiting.

Justice Department lawyer Henry Whitaker told the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday that once the military policy ban is repealed any case challenging the ban is resolved, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Friday. He also asked that a judge’s ruling that declared the law unconstitutional be discarded.

In July, the appeals court ordered the military to stop discharging openly gay service members. Whitaker told the court the armed forces have begun accepting applications from gay and lesbian recruits, including those previously discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

But Dan Woods, a lawyer representing Log Cabin Republicans, the gay rights organization that sued to overturn the law seven years ago, told the three-judge panel sitting in Pasadena, Calif., some of the 14,000 service members discharged since 1993 need judicial protection.

Service personnel with less-than-honorable discharges aren’t eligible for veterans benefits and cannot be buried in military cemeteries, Woods said. He also noted that some Republican presidential candidates have called for reinstating the 1993 law.

If the case is dismissed and the lower court ruling overturned, Woods said, “The government will be unconstrained and might do it again” since there would be no legal precedent.

New, Tough Sanctions Sought Against Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria, Sept. 2 (UPI) — Syria faces another round of sanctions as more protests loom and international leaders call on President Bashar Assad to step down.

“President Assad’s brutality against unarmed citizens has outraged the region, the world and, most importantly, the Syrian people themselves,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Paris Tuesday during a meeting on providing aid to Libya. “The violence must stop and he needs to step aside. Syria must be allowed to move forward.”

Clinton urged strong, new sanctions targeting Syria’s energy sector to “deny the regime the revenues that fund its campaign of violence.”

European Union ministers were to meet in Poland Friday to discuss another round of sanctions, including a possible embargo on oil imports, against the Assad government, the BBC said.

“There is a real prospect that we will agree on sanctions on the sale of Syrian oil into the European Union,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

In Syria, activists said they were preparing for another day of protests, using the rallying cry, “Death rather than humiliation.”

Anti-government protesters said they expect the demonstrations to take place across Syria after Friday prayers, the BBC reported.

Witnesses said seven people were killed Thursday by security forces in different cities

The United Nations says more than 2,200 people have been killed in six months of protests against Assad.

Gadhafi Message To Rebels: ‘We Will Fight’

TRIPOLI, Libya, Sept. 2 (UPI) — A message purported to be from fugitive Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said his forces are prepared to fight “a long, drawn-out war” against rebel troops.

In the message, the speaker urged Libyans not to surrender to what he called “imperialist” forces,” CNN reported Friday.

The message said the Libyan capital was moved from Tripoli to Gadhafi’s birthplace, Sirte.

“We are ready for a long, drawn-out war,” the man purported to be Gadhafi said, adding that rebels “will not be able to fight a long war. They will retreat, day by day.”

“We will fight against you wherever you are,” the message said. “We will sacrifice our lives so that the sand and stones of Libya will become fire, and fight against you. You will never have peace of mind inside our land.”

Gadhafi’s whereabouts were not revealed in the audio message that broadcast on Syria’s al-Rai television. Gadhafi has not been seen publicly since Tripoli fell.

The message warned that Gadhafi loyalists in Sirte and other strongholds were armed and ready to fight to the death.

It came several hours after conflicting reports surfaced that rebel leaders extended, by one week, a Saturday deadline for Gadhafi followers in Sirte and other Gadhafi strongholds to surrender, CNN reported.

The National Transitional Council military commander in Tripoli said the extension was an attempt to prevent more bloodshed.

However, another military official told CNN transitional leaders were still discussing options and that “as of now [Thursday], the deadline is this Saturday.”

The Nigerian government called on the National Transitional Council to investigate reports of abuse of civilians stranded in the country when the uprising began months ago, the Daily Trust reported.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry said Thursday most of the abusive behavior was directed toward migrant workers and other Africans who couldn’t flee. The government said reports indicated civilians were killed, raped and extorted.

“This development is a deviation from the overall expressed desire of the NTC, the African Union and indeed the United Nations for the restoration of democracy and good governance in Libya,” the ministry said in a statement. “[The reports] run contrary to Nigeria’s call for the leadership of the NTC to be magnanimous in victory and can only stand in the way of peace-building, early reconciliation and reconstruction in Libya.”