Perry Addresses 20,000 At Prayer Rally

HOUSTON, Aug. 6 (UPI) — Texas Gov. Rick Perry addressed a crowd of 20,000 people at a Christian rally in Houston simply as Rick Perry of Austin.

But the governor spoke to many issues that are likely to be his themes if he runs for president, Politico reported.

“Father, our heart breaks for America,” Perry said in a prayer that closed his remarks. “We see discord at home, we see fear in the marketplace, we see anger in the halls of government. And as a nation, we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us.”

The Response, held at Reliant Stadium, was sponsored by the American Family Association. But Perry played an active role in promoting it.

The event had been expected to draw a crowd of no more than 7,000, Politico said.

But about 20,000 showed up.

In interviews before The Response, Perry insisted the rally was non-political and unrelated to his presidential plans, the Chicago Tribune reported.

“This isn’t about me,” Perry said. “It’s about Jesus.”

The Response gave Perry a chance to reach out to conservative evangelical Christians, an important segment of Republican primary voters.

China Eases Birth Restrictions For Victims

ZHOUQU, China, Aug. 6 (UPI) — China has relaxed its birth-planning policy for families that lost children in a mudslide last year that killed more than 1,700 people, officials said.

Surgery to reverse previous sterilization procedures has been provided to 27 families and is available free of charge to residents of Zhouqu, in Gansu Province, Xinhua, China’s official state news agency, reported.

A massive mudslide on Aug. 8, 2010, left many families with dead children.

Chinese officials said families can replace the lost children, relaxing laws restricting most Chinese families to one child, although in Zhouqu, rural families are permitted two children.

“With people, we can have everything,” said Yang Chaomei, matriarch of a family that lost all eight children in the mudslide.

Yang said she was happy to see two daughters-in-law have children after the mudslide. “I hope I can have a grandson who will inherit the family line,” Yang said.

A government-affiliated group said it would give a cash subsidy of about $1,550 to each of the 225 single mothers in Zhouqu living below the poverty line.

The funds will help impoverished single mothers take care of their families, said Han Keyin, head of the women’s federation of Gansu.

Workers were on schedule to complete reconstruction projects in the region, the report said. Crews have begun 108 of 170 reconstruction projects planned.

Protected Birds Turn Up In Chef’s Salad

GODSHILL, England, Aug. 6 (UPI) — A British man has been busted for killing a protected species of bird that ultimately wound up on a menu as a chef’s salad.

The unnamed man, 45, was arrested after a restaurant in Godshill, Isle of Wight, was found to be serving rook salad, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Rooks are a protected bird under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, although they can be controlled under certain circumstances, the report said.

After a joint investigation by the Hampshire Police and Natural England, it was determined the Ryde, Isle of Wight, resident sold the rooks to a meat supplier, who in turn sold them to Taverner’s restaurant in Godshill.

Investigators said the man killed up to 30 fledgling rooks. He faced a maximum fine of nearly $10,000 and a jail term of up to six months per bird and was given a letter warning him to stop killing protected birds.

Taverner’s chef-proprietor, Roger Serjent, whose restaurant/pub has been featured in the Michelin Eating-Out Guide, said he purchased the birds in good faith.

“From my perspective we bought it completely innocently from the butcher,” Serjent said. “Afterwards we found out it was not legal. I had a lot of hate mail over it so I just want it to go away now.”

Chavez To Return To Cuba For Treatment

CARACAS, Venezuela, Aug. 6 (UPI) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he is returning to Cuba, where he had a tumor removed in June, for further treatment of his cancer.

Chavez returned to Cuba last month for chemotherapy, and he has said his treatment is going well, although details about his disease haven’t been disclosed, the BBC reported Saturday.

The Venezuelan Parliament was scheduled to hold a special session Saturday to authorize his return to Cuba for treatment.

It was uncertain if Chavez, who is 57, would be well enough to stand for re-election next year as planned, the BBC said.

200 Tanks Enter Hama, Violence Continues

HAMA, Syria, Aug. 6 (UPI) — Syrian officials say they have regained control of Hama, where rebel fighters calling for the overthrow of President Bashar Assad launched an offensive.

Activist groups in Hama said at least 200 civilians were killed by government artillery and snipers since the fighting in Hama started Sunday, The New York Times reported.

One activist said by telephone Saturday 200 tanks entered Hama before dawn, with security forces blocking residents from entering the city’s mosques.

“The government has given up its responsibilities and handed everything over to the security forces,” said Louay Hussein, a prominent opposition figure in Damascus. “They have lost their mind. They are acting without any strategic or political goal. The government’s armed gangs are roaming the streets, simply looking for vengeance.”

Fighting in Hama and other Syrian cities has brought condemnation from leaders in the United States, France and Germany, who accused Assad of using “indiscriminate violence” against protesters.

U.S. President Barack Obama called France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany’s Angela Merkel to discuss new measures against Damascus, the White House said.

“The leaders condemned the Assad regime’s continued use of indiscriminate violence against the Syrian people,” the White House statement said.

“They welcomed the August 3 presidential statement by the U.N. Security Council condemning Syria’s actions, but also agreed to consider additional steps to pressure the Assad regime and support the Syrian people,” the statement said.

The White House statement didn’t say what new measures it is considering.

Japan Observes Ironic Nuclear Anniversary

HIROSHIMA, Japan, Aug. 6 (UPI) — The 66th anniversary of the world’s first atomic attack was marked Saturday in Hiroshima by Japan’s prime minister, who disavowed nuclear policies.

Naoto Kan told a crowd of thousands he wanted to steer the country away from nuclear power dependency, the Kyodo News Agency reported.

The United States dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the city in 1945 and killed more than 275,000 people.

The anniversary comes under the shadow of an ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant in eastern Japan, where radiation has been leaking since a March 11 earthquake and tsunami ravaged the country.

Kan laid a wreath at the Hiroshima memorial for the victims and then spoke of his intentions to reduce the country’s reliance on atomic energy, the BBC said.

“Japan will reduce its level of reliance on nuclear power generation with the aim of becoming a society that is not dependent on nuclear power,” he said.

At the ceremony, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui echoed the call for nuclear policy review, saying the government should “institute concrete countermeasures to regain the understanding and trust of the people,” Kyodo reported.

Al-Shabaab Leaves Mogadishu

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Aug. 6 (UPI) — Al-Shabaab’s withdrawal from Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, represents a change in strategy, Shabaab spokesman Ali Mohamoud Rage said.

The militant Islamist group with ties to al-Qaida withdrew its fighters from Mogadishu Saturday, but that doesn’t mean it will end its rule in other parts of Somalia, The New York Times reported.

“The mujahedin [holy warriors] have completely vacated Mogadishu for tactical purposes,” Rage said, adding al-Shabaab would change its “fighting strategy into hit and run attacks, where the mujahedin will attack on the spot wherever government and African Union forces are based. We will be back soon.”

Residents poured into the streets of Mogadishu as truckloads of heavily armed Shabaab fighters left the city under cover of darkness. The organization has controlled parts of the city for years, but it has suffered losses to key players in recent months, the report said.

Witnesses said al-Shabaab troops were heading south of Mogadishu toward Merka, Brava and other towns under their control in southern Somalia. Residents wasted no time celebrating, immediately pouring into the streets of Mogadishu to jeer the vacating al-Shabaab troops.

The Times said Mogadishu is under government control for the first time in years.

China Slams U.S. On Debt Policy

BEIJING, Aug. 6 (UPI) — The Chinese government issued a harsh rebuke to the United States Saturday for its economic policy and debt management.

China is the biggest lender to the United States and published a harsh reprimand via the New China News Agency, chastising Washington for “short-sighted political wrangling” that led to Monday’s 11th hour legislation to prevent debt default.

In an unprecedented move Friday, the Standard and Poor’s agency downgraded the country’s debt rating to AA+ from a triple-A rating, drawing the ire of the Chinese government.

About two-thirds of China’s $3.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves are in U.S. dollars and Beijing is clearly concerned with the political sniping that nearly shut down the U.S. economy, The Los Angeles Times reported.

“China, the largest creditor of the world’s sole superpower, has every right now to demand the United States to address its structural debt problems and ensure the safety of China’s dollar assets,” the government said.

“If no substantial cuts were made to the U.S. gigantic military expenditure and bloated social welfare costs, the downgrade would prove to be only a prelude to more devastating credit rating cuts, which will further roil the global financial markets all along the way,” the statement said.

Grimm Calls For Balanced Budget Amend.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 6 (UPI) — U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., Saturday blasted the Obama administration for “overspending, overtaxing and over regulating.”

Grimm, who represents New York’s 13th Congressional District, made the comments in the weekly Republican media addres, filling in for House Speaker John Boehner.

Grimm called for President Barack Obama to support a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution and end his economic stimulus policies, which Grimm said failed to produce new jobs.

“The overspending, overtaxing and over regulating coming out of Washington is creating uncertainty and holding our job creators back,” Grimm said.

Grimm said he voted for the debt-ceiling bill, calling it a good first step, but “far from perfect.”

“It puts us on a track to fix our fiscal problems, which will provide more confidence for employers in America, the very people we expect to re-invest in our economy and create jobs,” Grimm said.

Grimm also repeated the Republican and Tea Party stance of no new taxes.

“Listen, we know we have all the tools and resources we need to grow our economy and rebuild this great nation,” Grimm said. “The relentless work ethic of the American workforce, innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit and courage to succeed.”

Afghan NATO Helicopter Crash Kills 38

KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 6 (UPI) — A U.S. military helicopter carrying 31 Americans and seven Afghans crashed late Friday in eastern Afghanistan, killing all aboard, the government said.

A statement from President Hamid Karzai’s office in Kabul said the Chinook helicopter went down in the province of Warduk, CNN reported.

In the statement, Karzai expressed “his sympathy and deep condolences to U.S. President Barack Obama and the family of the victims,” the British broadcaster said.

NATO acknowledged the crash and said it was investigating, but offered no details.

The BBC said the military passengers were members of special forces who had been on a counter-insurgency mission in which eight Taliban militants were killed.

The Taliban issued a statement claiming responsibility for shooting down the helicopter, although neither Afghan nor NATO officials would verify the claim.

The crash is the largest single loss of life for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the 2001 military intervention began.

More than 2,600 U.S. soldiers have died in the conflict, Defense Department statistics show.