Killing Of Turtle Brings Charges

LANCASTER, N.Y., Sept. 1 (UPI) — Police in New York say a golfer has been cited for beating and killing a snapping turtle during a golf tournament in Lancaster.

Officers cited Bob Artis, 69, for allegedly hitting the 22-pound turtle with a golf club, grabbing it by its tail and smashing it against a golf cart on Aug. 17, the Buffalo News reported Thursday.

Artis then allegedly put the turtle in his truck and took it home where he cleaned it, processed it and put it in his freezer.

He was cited for hunting without a license and taking a snapping turtle by means other than allowed by law.

Artis, a member of the Fox Valley Golf Club, pleaded guilty to the charges and paid a fine, saying he felt “very remorseful” about the incident.

The golf club said it suspended Artis for 20 days.

Snapping turtles can be killed during their state-designated hunting season, July 15-Sept. 30, but hunters can only use a firearm or bow to take the reptile, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said.

People Pay Respects At Beslan School

BESLAN, Russia, Sept. 1 (UPI) — A three-day remembrance ceremony for the seventh anniversary of the hostage-taking at the School Number One in Beslan, Russia, began Thursday.

Many people attended the event, leaving flowers at the site of the destroyed school in memory of the children and adults who died there in 2004, ITAR-Tass reported.

In 2004, a group of Islamic terrorists attacked School Number One and held 1,200 people there for nearly 52 hours. Officials say 334 people died and 126 became disabled as a result of the attack.

A religious service for the dead was held in the schoolyard Thursday morning and was scheduled to be held in churches throughout Russia for the remainder of the ceremony.

Candles will be burning at the school for 51 hours and 50 minutes, the length of time hostages were held.

North Ossetian leader Taimuraz Mamsurov, whose two children were among those held hostage, and Transport Minister Igor Levitin have already visited the ceremony, ITAR-Tass said.

Israeli Forces Arrest Top Hamas Leader

WEST BANK, Israel, Sept. 1 (UPI) — Israeli forces arrested a top Hamas member as he traveled in the West Bank with his family following reports of a possible major attack in southern Israel.

Sheik Hassan Yousef, a Hamas founder and one of its leaders, was arrested late Wednesday and detained in a military facility near Nablus, Haartez reported.

Yousef was traveling with his wife and children at the time of his arrest, The Jerusalem Post reported. The reason for the arrest was not released.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israeli forces are on high alert in the wake of a deadly attack 10 days ago on the Sinai border.

“Readiness is very high. We are determined to strike at those carrying out the attacks, to take action as much as possible to intercept the attack and we are reiterating that responsibility stems from the Gaza Strip. It is not just Islamic Jihad but also Hamas,” Barak said.

The Hamas leader was released from prison last month, a month-and-a-half early from his 6 year sentence as a goodwill gesture by Israel for Ramadan.

Kentucky To Allow Hunt Of Sandhill Cranes

LOUISVILLE, Ky., Sept. 1 (UPI) — Kentucky says it is ready to set up the first authorized state hunt of once-endangered sandhill cranes in about a century.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved Kentucky’s proposal, and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Services says it is set to open the hunt as early as Dec. 17, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported Wednesday.

The EPA oversees hunting limits on migratory game species.

The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 8-0 in June to approve a hunting season for sandhill cranes, once almost wiped out by over-hunting.

While hunters argue their right to hunt the birds for sport and meat, others say there’s no evidence the birds are a nuisance, a justification given for hunts in other states.

The Coalition for Sandhill Cranes and some 17 conservation groups have asked Gov. Steve Beshear to stop the hunt, but he has declined to do so.

Syria: Hama Gov. Confessed At Gunpoint

DAMASCUS, Syria, Sept. 1 (UPI) — The governor of Hama was forced to make a false video statement by gunpoint after he was kidnapped by terrorists, Syria’s news agency claims.

A man claiming to be Adnan Bakkour, governor of the city of Hama, was seen in a video broadcast by al-Jazeera as resigning in protest of the crimes committed in the area by Syrian security forces.

Bakkour spells out a long list of abuses, including the extrajudicial killing of roughly 72 prisoners in the Hama prison in July, bodies dumped in mass graves, torture and arbitrary arrests.

Syria is facing increasing international isolation in response to its brutal crackdown against anti-government protesters. According to U.N. estimates, more than 2,000 people have died at the hands of Syrian security forces, including hundreds killed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in August.

An “official source” in Hama, however, told the official Syrian Arab News Agency that Bakkour was forced into making a false confession at gunpoint. He was kidnapped by armed terrorists three days ago, SANA adds.

The source said the confession was part of a “dirty game” by al-Jazeera, which is trying to mislead the public about events unfolding in Syria.

Syria maintains its dealing with an armed insurgency.

Wildfires Destroy Dozens Of Homes

GRAFORD, Texas, Sept. 1 (UPI) — Firefighters battled major wildfires in Oklahoma and Texas and the blazes have already destroyed dozens of homes, authorities said.

Texas officials said the 101 Ranch Fire destroyed 39 homes and nine recreational vehicles and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents near Possum Kingdom Lake Wednesday, KXAS-TV, Dallas-Fort Worth, reported.

The wildfire, burning mostly brush and cedar north of U.S. 180 and on both sides of State Highway 16, had been about 25 percent contained, the Texas Forest Service said Wednesday evening.

High temperatures and dry conditions contributed and winds fanned flames of the fire, which began Tuesday.

“When you get just a little bit of wind in these dry conditions, it just doesn’t take anything to get a fire started,” said John Nichols of the Texas Forest Service.

The latest blaze comes amid the worst fire season ever in Texas, where 20,000 fires have burned more than 3.5 million acres since mid-November.

In Oklahoma, crews battled wildfire flare-ups in northeast and southeast Oklahoma City, The Oklahoman reported.

Fires in the northeast Oklahoma City area have destroyed 30 homes and burned as many as 4,000 acres, Deputy Fire Chief Marc Woodard said Thursday.

High winds and heat could make fighting the blazes difficult, he said.

Thursday’s forecast for central Oklahoma called for temperatures over 100 degrees, wind gusts of 20 mph and low humidity.

“The winds really make a huge difference,” Woodard said.

Small Earthquake Felt In Virginia

MINERAL, Va., Sept. 1 (UPI) — A 3.4-magnitude earthquake shook Virginia early Thursday, nine days after a 5.8-magnitude temblor in the same area rattled much of the eastern United States.

The 5:09 EDT quake was centered near Mineral, about 36 miles northwest of Richmond, at a depth of about 3 miles, CNN reported.

The central Virginia seismic zone experiences small earthquakes that cause little or no damage every year or two, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Earthquakes in the central and eastern U.S., although less frequent than in the western United States, are typically felt over a much broader region, the USGS said.

Despite Denials, U.S. Wants Calm In Sudan

WASHINGTON, Sept. 1 (UPI) — The U.S. State Department called on both sides to the conflict in Sudan to settle their differences and let humanitarian workers into South Kordofan.

Human rights groups said they uncovered evidence that Sudanese airstrikes on the population of South Kordofan left crop devastation, displacements and scores of civilians dead in their wake.

South Kordofan state borders South Sudan, which became an independent country in July as part of a comprehensive peace deal in 2005 that ended Sudan’s civil war, one of the bloodiest on record.

Sudan blames rebel fighters with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army for much of the violence though the United Nations said there is evidence to suggest much of the violence is ethnically motivated.

Ahmed Mohamed Haroun, governor of South Kordofan, said he was working to make sure conditions in the area were favorable for the return of displaced citizens, the state-run Sudan News Agency reports.

The Sudanese government discounts many of the claims regarding ethnic violence in South Kordofan, saying the situation there is calm.

But Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, said in a statement both sides need to respect the rule of law.

“The United States calls on both sides to allow unfettered humanitarian access to affected populations in South Kordofan and urges the parties to resume formal negotiations to reach a permanent cessation of hostilities and a political settlement,” she added.

Zimbabwe MPs Not Accepting Circumcision

HARARE, Zimbabwe, Sept. 1 (UPI) — Male Zimbabwe Parliament members have declined a proposal asking them to be circumcised to set an example in the fight against AIDS, officials say.

Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe proposed the circumcision to male MPs after evidence found that men are 60 percent less likely to become infected with HIV if they are circumcised, the BBC reported Thursday.

Only one legislator, Edgar Mbwembwe, from Zanu, said he would undergo the procedure.

Other female MPs agreed with Khupe.

“Politicians, especially elected politicians, have a responsibility beyond the personal — they would set a good example if they did so,” said Jessie Majome.

Zimbabwe launched an initiative last year to circumcise 80 percent of the country’s young men.

Minister of National Healing Moses Mzila Ndlovu told the BBC that some lawmakers find Khupe’s suggestion “madness” and “bizarre.” Ndlovu said he believes that circumcision and protection against AIDS is a matter of personal choice.

“I don’t see many takers but I’m not stopping anyone,” he said. “It has to be a circumcision of the mind rather than circumcision of the organ.”

AIDS experts say that using condoms, being faithful to a single partner and abstinence are better measures than circumcision, the report said.

Pentagon Responds To Fraud Report

WASHINGTON, Sept. 1 (UPI) — The Pentagon is committed to improving its contracting in war zones after a commission found at least $31 billion was lost to fraud, a spokesman said.

The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan found at least $31 billion was lost to waste and fraud during operations in both war zones.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a former state auditor who helped create the commission, said in a statement she was appalled by the waste of taxpayer money.

“It is shocking that the commission found such rampant waste, fraud, and abuse in government contracting,” she said in a statement. “It is disgusting to think that nearly a third of the billions and billions we spent on contracting was wasted or used for fraud.”

Marine Col. Dave Lapan, a spokesman for the Defense Department, said in a response that the Pentagon was already committed to making sure wartime contracting was effective.

“We have already implemented a number of steps to improve contingency contracting based on the department’s own analysis, as well as recommendations from the independent reviews of the Government Accountability Office and the inspector general and the commission’s previous publications and interim reports,” he said in a statement.

McCaskill, however, said the American taxpayer deserves better, noting the committee’s findings uncovered “some of the worst abuses of American tax dollars.”