Eleanor Josaitis, Detroit Activist, Dies

DETROIT, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Eleanor Josaitis, a suburban housewife who became a “stalwart of community activism in Detroit,” has died at 79.

Josaitis suffered from liver cancer, The Detroit News reported. She died early Tuesday in Angela Hospice in Livonia.

After the 1967 riots rocked the city, Josaitis moved with her husband and five children from suburban Taylor into Detroit. In March 1968, she and the late Rev. William T. Cunningham, a professor at Sacred Heart Seminary, founded Focus: HOPE.

Focus: HOPE began modestly as an all-volunteer organization with a food distribution program, the Detroit Free Press said. It sent volunteers into stores to determine if owners were selling residents of poor neighborhoods substandard items at high prices.

The organization now has a staff of 280, 15,000 volunteers, a 40-acre campus, an operating budget of $23 million and programs that range from pre-school to job training.

“Eleanor was a stalwart of community activism,” Mayor Dave Bing said. “She has touched the lives of countless Detroiters and built a legacy of hope and help that will last for generations. She will be sorely missed as a friend and community leader.”

Muslims Question Imams’ Prayer Sessions

TORONTO, Aug. 9 (UPI) — A group of Muslims, Jews and Hindus in Toronto have joined to question what imams are teaching students in prayer sessions held in public schools.

A group of about 300 people demonstrated Monday night outside the offices of the Toronto District School Board to protest a policy that allows imams to conduct 40-minute prayer services for Muslim youth on Fridays from November through March, the Toronto Sun reported.

Sohail Raza, president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, was one of the most outspoken in her opposition to the board allowing for private prayer services in public schools.

She said parents of children of all faiths weren’t clear on what was being taught.

“Who are these imams and what are their qualifications?” Raza said. “I am extremely concerned about what they are teaching our kids.”

Little was known about the imams’ teachings so far, except that boys and girls were segregated, the Sun said.

Ron Banerjee of the Canadian Hindu Advocacy told the Sun public schools shouldn’t be used for religious instruction.

“We will continue picketing until this practice stops,” he said.

Meyer Weinstein of the Jewish Defense League told the Sun extremists could easily exploit in-school religious teaching.

“We don’t want radical Islam gaining a foothold in our schools,” he said.

U.S. Says Yemen Doesn’t Need Saleh For Transition

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Washington believes Yemen can move forward politically without the Yemeni president in the country, a State Department official said.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was released from a hospital in Saudi Arabia during the weekend, nearly two months after wounds in a June 3 attack on his presidential compound.

Saleh has struggled to maintain his grip on power for much of the year, handing authority to his vice president while convalescing in Riyadh.

Abdullah Ghanim, a top-ranking official in Yemen’s ruling General People’s Congress, told the official Saba news agency that the vice president doesn’t hold the political future of the country in his hands.

“President Ali Abdullah Saleh is still Yemen’s legitimate president until presidential elections are held,” he was quoted as saying.

Saleh has faced international pressure to move aside. He’s repeatedly refused to sign a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council for his resignation, however.

Mark Toner, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said Yemen should move “immediately” toward political transition. Asked about what would happen if Saleh returned, he said “he’s not in the country right now, so we believe it can move forward without him.”

Tsunami In Japan Destroyed 120,000 Buildings

TOKYO, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Japan’s March 11 tsunami destroyed some 120,000 buildings and damaged 220,000 others, the government’s first comprehensive damage survey indicates.

The survey found the percentage of destroyed buildings was markedly higher in areas where the onshore water level surpassed 6.6 feet, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported. The tsunami followed a powerful magnitude-9 earthquake.

Of the destroyed buildings, some 78,000 were completely washed away by the tsunami, the Land, Infrastructure and Tourism Ministry said.

A total of about 132,000 acres of land was submerged by the tsunami in six prefectures in the Tohoku and Kanto regions.

The survey, conducted in June and July, covered uninhabited buildings such as factories, offices, schools and community centers as well as houses.

Jury Selection Under Way In Stabbing Death

BALTIMORE, Aug. 9 (UPI) — The witnesses against a Baltimore man accused of knifing a Johns Hopkins researcher to death during a robbery are likely to include his former girlfriend.

The killing last year stirred the city, The Baltimore Sun reported. The victim, Stephen Pitcairn, 23, was on the phone with his mother as he walked from Penn Station to his home in the Charles Village neighborhood.

Pitcairn’s mother may testify against John Wagner, 34. Lavelva Merritt, 23, who pleaded guilty to robbery and conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, is almost certain to be a witness against her former boyfriend.

Jury selection began Monday with a pool of 130 people called to the courthouse for a trial that is expected to last about eight days. Many of the potential jurors pleaded hardship, and others said they know about the case from the intense media coverage last year or have other reasons why they could not give a fair verdict.

Thirteen said they are current or former residents of Charles Village, the middle-class neighborhood near the Johns Hopkins University campus where Pitcairn lived.

California Cracks Down On Inmate Web Use

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 9 (UPI) — California says it will ask Facebook to take down the pages of inmates using contraband cellphones to maintain and update those pages.

“Access to social media allows inmates to circumvent our monitoring process and continue to engage in criminal activity,” California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Matthew Cate said in a statement posted on the prison system’s Web site.

The department is reporting inmate pages to Facebook, which says it will remove pages found to have been updated since the page owners went to prison, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

Contraband cellphones that inmates use to surf the Web and update social media pages are a growing problem, authorities say.

Prison employees, who do not have to submit to searches when entering prisons, are suspected as the primary source of contraband phones that can bring as much as $1,000 each.

A pending bill in the state Senate would make smuggling a phone to an inmate a crime punishable by a $5,000 fine and up to six months in jail, the Times reported.

Iran Helps Assad Fight For Survival

ISTANBUL, Turkey, Aug. 9 (UPI) — The Turkish government says it has intercepted an arms shipment from Iran headed for Tehran’s key ally Syria, where the regime is battling to crush a 5-month-old uprising in which an estimated 1,700 protesters have been killed.

Tehran is widely reported to be providing military aid and counterinsurgency specialists, as well as economic support, to the minority Alawite regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Iran has a lot at stake in Syria as the Tehran leadership drives to become the region’s paramount power and give Islam’s breakaway Shiite sect ascendancy over the traditionally dominant mainstream Sunnis.

Syria is Iran’s strategic gateway to the Levant and Israel’s borders and Tehran can be expected to do everything it can to ensure that Assad’s regime survives.

Western and Arab intelligence officers say Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, headed by its elite and covert al-Quds Force, has taken over supervision of the campaign to suppress Syria’s opposition forces.

Tehran denies involvement in the Syrian bloodletting but the European Union as well as the U.S. administration have imposed sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard leadership and some Syrian commanders because of the crackdown.

Indeed, Syria, with its Sunni majority, has become a proxy battleground for Iran and its main Arab rival, Saudi Arabia. They’re vying for supremacy in the region and what transpires in Syria could have a deep and far-reaching impact on the geopolitics of the Middle East.

“Were a Sunni Arab regime with closer ties to Riyadh to take the place of the Alawite minority government in Damascus, the loss to Tehran’s regional influence would be profound,” observed the U.S. security consultancy Stratfor in an analysis last week.

“While Saudi Arabia has not actively sought the topple the Syrian regime, Syria’s present crisis presents an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to turn back the gains Iran has made since 2003 — though Tehran can be expected to put considerable resources toward ensuring the Syrian regime’s survival.”

Sunni-majority Turkey is also increasingly critical of the Assad regime’s escalating suppression campaign, spearheaded by trusted Alawite units of the army and the intelligence services.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu confirmed Friday that a truck carrying weapons from Iran to Syria had been intercepted and was being held by security authorities. He gave no other details.

The weapons could be intended for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia supported by Iran and Syria as have other shipments sent by Tehran in recent years.

Hezbollah, too, has been reported to be aiding its Syrian allies to put down the uprising. Hezbollah denies that but both stand to lose heavily if the Assad dynasty, which with Tehran has nurtured Hezbollah since it was founded after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, should fall.

Turkish media reported in mid-April that several alleged Iranian arms shipments bound for Syria had been seized in trucks on several routes in southern Turkey. In the preceding months other arms shipments had been seized aboard aircraft and trains by Turkish authorities.

Western intelligence services suspect that other shipments have been moved through Iraq, which lies between Iran and Syria, and via transshipment points as distant as Venezuela, where Iran has been building links.

Diplomats say recent seizures by the Turks, and heightened surveillance at border crossings, underline Ankara’s growing unease with the violent suppression of protests in Syria and the machinations of Iranian agents in Turkey.

This may complicate Iran’s operations to save Assad from being overthrown but it isn’t likely to stop Tehran fighting tooth and nail to prevent the collapse of its 30-year strategic alliance with Syria, forged by Assad’s late father and predecessor, Hafez Assad.

The Americans have sought for years to break the Tehran-Damascus partnership since it emerged in 1980, primarily to weaken Iran.

But in the Middle East, where alliances between Arab states since World War II have invariably collapsed because of traditional dynastic rivalries, the bonds between Iran and Syria have endured.

These relations, based on deep hostility toward the United States and Israel, show no sign of unraveling.

Tehran’s overriding priority is domestic stability and if the Damascus regime collapses, the fear is that clerical rule in Iran would be seriously threatened as well, as it was after the disputed 2009 elections.

U.N. Mission Strikes Sour Note On Iraq

UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Armed violence and widespread poverty continue to affect the lives of Iraqi citizens, a report from the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq said.

Iraqi lawmakers agreed to let the country’s prime minister approach U.S. officials about the possibility of keeping U.S. military trainers in the country beyond a Dec. 31 deadline for withdrawal spelled out in a 2008 bilateral status of forces agreement.

U.S. State Department officials last week said Washington was “ready to talk” about the possibilities but said they were of the opinion that Iraqi forces were “strong enough” to address their security needs.

The latest report from the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, in coordination with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, concluded that the situation in Iraq was still troubling, however.

“Widespread poverty, economic stagnation, lack of opportunities, environmental degradation and an absence of basic services constitute ‘silent’ human rights violations that affect large sectors of the population,” the report reads.

Stuart Bowen, the U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, warned in a July report to Congress that Iraq was a very dangerous place more than eight years after the initial U.S.-led invasion.

“It is less safe, in my judgment, than 12 months ago,” he wrote.

UNAMI notes that around 3,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in 2010, largely as a result of insurgent activity.

Court Postpones Review Of Mubarak Appeal

CAIRO, Aug. 9 (UPI) — An Egyptian court has postponed reviewing an appeal by former President Hosni Mubarak of a May administrative court conviction.

Mubarak, 83, and two co-defendants said they were not properly notified of the case charging them with cutting off lines of communication during Egypt’s January revolution, al-Masry al-Youm reported Tuesday.

Mubarak’s attorneys also charge the decision to cut off communications was made by a committee of six ministers, not just Mubarak and the former prime minister and interior minister.

The court said it will wait until Oct. 3 to take up Mubarak’s appeal.

The former Egyptian president pleaded not guilty Aug. 3 to charges of corruption and killing protesters during the uprisings earlier this year.

He appeared in court on a hospital bed after being deemed fit to travel to Cairo to stand trial.

Mubarak is hospitalized at the International Medical Center in Cairo where his medical team is attending to his frail health.

U.S. Urges Russia To Back Off Georgia

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Washington calls on Moscow to pull troops out of parts of Georgia and honor a 2008 cease-fire that ended conflict there, the State Department said.

Moscow and Tbilisi traded insults Monday, the third anniversary of a Russian military response to Georgia’s invasion of the separatist republic of South Ossetia in 2008. The conflict spilled over to engulf forces from Abkhazia, another separatist region.

Moscow recognized both republics shortly after the conflict and signed agreements in 2010 to build permanent military installations in the breakaway regions.

Mark Toner, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, reminded Russia that it was obliged under a 2008 cease-fire to pull its forces back to pre-conflict positions and open the areas to humanitarian assistance.

“We strongly support Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders,” he said.

Toner also noted that Washington supports Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization despite other diplomatic concerns.