Ivorian Situation Remains Complex

DAKAR, Senegal, Aug. 2 (UPI) — An Ivorian paramilitary force accused of targeting former regime members are part of a complex civil structure in the country, a researcher said.

Amnesty International, in a 44-page report, accused the state-backed militia known as Dozos of targeting perceived supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo. Amnesty International said it was particularly troubled because state security forces gave Dozo militias responsibility over guarding some checkpoints in the country.

Joseph Hellweg, an anthropologist at Florida State University who spent three years living among the group in Ivory Coast, told the United Nations’ humanitarian news agency IRIN that Dozos were an integral part of the country’s society.

Dozos, he said, he worked alongside state officials throughout the country as security forces since the 1990s. They aren’t, as some have suggested, “pre-modern savages,” said Hellweg.

“After years of disenfranchisement, these men — from different regions, professions, and backgrounds — want to maintain their voice as active participants in national politics,” he told the news agency.

Gbagbo was apprehended with the help of French peacekeepers in April, ending a violent political stalemate that pushed the country to the brink of civil war. Though the political conflict is over, aid agencies say the country has a long reconstruction ahead.

Eritrea Rejoins Regional Alliance

DJIBOUTI CITY, Djibouti, Aug. 2 (UPI) — An authority from the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development said Eritrea’s decision to rejoin the regional bloc was a bold and welcome step.

Eritrea pulled out of IGAD in 2007 after member states Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan backed an Ethiopian intervention to drive al-Qaida’s affiliate al-Shabaab out of the Somali capital Mogadishu.

The African country cut ties with most aid agencies and has shrugged off claims of a drought-fueled humanitarian disaster unfolding in the Horn of Africa.

IGAD Executive Secretary Mahboub Maalim said in a letter to Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh that the decision to rejoin the security body was a welcome move.

“I am confident that the IGAD member states, the IGAD development partners and all IGAD stakeholders will be delighted to see Eritrea back in the IGAD family fold,” he was quoted by the BBC as saying.

U.S. lawmakers had called for increased diplomatic pressure on Eritrea, a supporter of al-Shabaab.

Eritrea, however, may have moved to rejoin IGAD to give it more leverage when confronting external diplomatic pressure, the BBC adds.

Florida Turns To Facebook To Catch Poachers

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Aug. 2 (UPI) — Florida wildlife officials have turned to Facebook and other social media to catch poachers who display photos of their illegal catches.

“People go on Facebook bragging about their exploits. They think they’re protected,” Lt. George Wilson, who oversees the Internet Crimes Unit of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

An increase in the number of Internet-related calls prompted the commission to create the unit late last year.

Investigators, who sometimes create fake Facebook pages, rely on online photographs, videos and comments as evidence. The commission looks into about 10 complaints a week about people posting images of hunting and fishing out of season or breaking other wildlife laws, the Sun-Sentinel said.

The Internet Crimes Unit made 177 arrests and issued 92 warnings last year.

Tips often come from online friends, who receive a $100 reward for tips leading to misdemeanor convictions.

Tom Twyford, president of the West Palm Beach Fishing Club, said he hopes wildlife investigators pursue more serious violations and show leniency in cases where people are unaware of the law.

“It’s easy to get confused,” Twyford said. “Florida’s laws are lengthy and complex.”

Canada Again Debates Assisted Suicide

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Aug. 2 (UPI) — The debate to legalize assisted suicides has resurfaced in Canada, where two challenges are in provincial courts this week in British Columbia.

The Farewell Foundation, which advocates supervised and regulated assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, is challenging the provincial government for denying it non-profit status, the Globe and Mail reported.

The group is also taking on the federal government, claiming the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is unconstitutional by making it a criminal offense to assist in a suicide, carrying a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.

The affidavit challenging the federal statutes alleges the criminal designation “causes immeasurable physical and psychological suffering to persons of sound mind who are capable of making informed decisions and who wish to end their own lives in order to avoid that suffering,” the report said.

The suit said its intent was to test “whether Parliament is entitled to cause such suffering to the people of Canada.”

Russel Ogden, an instructor in criminology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University outside Vancouver, told the newspaper he expected the cases to end up before the federal Supreme Court.

That court last ruled 5-4 against assisted suicide in a 1993 case involving a British Columbia woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease who ended up traveling to Europe for help in dying.

11-foot Python Captured At Florida Farm

HOMESTEAD, Fla., Aug. 2 (UPI) — An 11-foot Burmese python suspected in the disappearance of several chickens, goats and pet cats was captured in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, authorities said.

Firefighters were the first to respond to a call of the snake being spotted at a farm in Homestead near the Everglades, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Monday.

Firefighters found the snake’s tail, almost 12 inches in diameter, sticking out from under a shipping container on the property.

“Their first impression was, if they didn’t grab it by the tail, it would get away,” Lt. Scott Mullin of Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue’s Venom Response Bureau said.

“So they grabbed it,” Mullin said. “Firefighters do what they’ve got to do.”

Mullin and the firefighters pulled the female snake out of a hole beneath the shipping container.

“It had just eaten a big chicken and had a full belly and couldn’t get down into a hole,” Mullin said.

Burmese pythons are non-venomous. They can kill by constriction and inflict a painful bite.

Pythons come out of the Everglades into surrounding communities because food is plentiful there, Mullin said.

“They want easy prey, and a farm on the edge of the Everglades is like a McDonald’s in the desert: an oasis of fast food,” Mullin said. “This farmer had lost pets too and in this case, the chicken had been taken off its nest.”

Consumers Curbed Spending In June

WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 (UPI) — Consumer spending dropped 0.2 percent in June, a clear indication the U.S. economy is sputtering, The Bureau of Economic Analysis said Tuesday.

Consumer spending is often cited as making up 70 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, which the government said last week rose by only 1.3 percent in the second quarter.

In June, consumer incomes rose by $18.7 billion, or 0.1 percent, while disposable incomes increased by $16.3 billion, or 0.1 percent.

As a percentage of disposable income, savings rose from 5 percent in May to 5.4 percent in June.

Inflation, meanwhile, remained muted in June with core prices, which excludes food and energy items, rising 1.3 percent on a 12-month basis.

Autopsy Awaited On 11-year-old Celina Cass

WEST STEWARTSTOWN, N.H., Aug. 2 (UPI) — As a New Hampshire town awaited Tuesday’s autopsy report on Celina Cass, it emerged that her stepfather has a history of crime and insanity.

The 11-year-old girl’s body was found Monday in the Connecticut River near the home in West Stewartstown, N.H., where she lived with her mother, sister and stepfather, Wendell Noyes.

Friends and neighbors held a candlelight vigil in the village near the Canadian border Monday night, and Celina’s body was taken to Concord for an autopsy Tuesday morning, ABC News reported.

Walter Laro, Celina’s grandfather, thanked investigators and the media for their work solving her disappearance.

Senior Assistant State’s Attorney General Jane Young said the case is now a criminal investigation but named no suspect. Celina was last seen at home July 25.

Noyes, 47, who was rushed to a hospital Monday after behaving strangely, was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in 2003, court records show.

He was arrested after invading an ex-girlfriend’s home and threatening her in violation of a protective order but found incompetent to stand trial. A forensic examiner found him to be a paranoid schizophrenic and a threat to others.

Woman’s Corpse Gnawed By Cats In Russia

ABAKAN, Russia, Aug. 2 (UPI) — Authorities in Russia say cats chewed on the corpse of an 85-year-old woman after her daughter left the body in a locked room with the animals.

Police in Siberia said the daughter, who is said to have a drinking problem, covered her mother’s body with a blanket and locked it in a room after discovering the woman had died on July 13.

“The cats chewed off parts of [the woman's] feet, hand, nose and so on,” a police spokesperson in the town of Abakan in the remote mountain region of Khakassia told RIA Novosti Tuesday.

The dead woman’s granddaughter discovered the body on July 28.

A cause of death had not yet been determined, authorities said.

Spanish Pilots Blamed For Plane Crash

MADRID, Aug. 2 (UPI) — An investigation into one of the worst plane crashes in Spanish aviation history revealed the accident could have been avoided, officials said.

A new report from Spain’s Accident Investigation Commission shows the pilot for Spanair flight JK-5022, which was bound for Gran Canaria from Madrid in 2008, lost control on takeoff when the aircraft’s flaps did not unfold, El Mundo reported Tuesday.

The report said the pilot did not carry out necessary cross-checks when the alert system was not working. The system should have warned the pilot if the flaps did not open.

The commission concluded that the accident could have been avoided and blamed the crew for “poor management of resources.”

The flight carrying 148 passengers and six members of the crew plunged to the ground shortly after taking off, catching fire upon impact and killing everyone on board.

The commission introduced new rules covering pilots working hours to prevent accidents caused by tiredness and lack of concentration.

Mullen Lauds Iraqi Leaders’ Work

BAGHDAD, Aug. 2 (UPI) — The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking in Baghdad Tuesday, blamed Iran for the violence he said is meant to destabilize Iraq.

“The Iranian regime continues to violate Iraqi sovereignty by intervening in Iraqi social and political affairs, training and equipping militias to conduct attacks on Iraqi soil and thwarting efforts by the Iraqi people to pursue unfettered the economic growth, development and independence that geography and democracy have bestowed upon them,” Navy Adm. Michael Mullen said during a news conference.

Mullen, after meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talibani Monday, praised the Iraqi leaders for challenging the Iranian regime to stop violence directed inside Iraq. The Iraqi military stepped up operations in coordination with U.S. forces against such Iranian-backed groups, he said.

“As a result, we have seen a dramatic reduction in these deadly attacks,” he said.

Mullen noted June was a bad month for U.S. forces in Iraq, with 15 killed, mostly by Iranian-backed militias using weapons officials say came directly from Iran.

Mullen said Maliki and Talibani understand the urgency behind deciding whether to formally ask that some U.S. forces remaining in Iraq beyond the Dec. 31 deadline for withdrawal of American troops. The Iraqi leaders also understand that U.S. assistance can help to bridge lapses in Iraq’s security capabilities, he added.

“My government has made it clear that we would entertain a request for some troops to stay, and I was encouraged to learn last night that Iraqi leaders plan to meet to discuss the merits of such a request,” Mullen said. “I remain hopeful, therefore, that we will soon achieve some clarity. And I am grateful that serious attempts to resolve the issue are now under way.”