Thursday, February 4, 2010

UN Asks Bill Clinton to Assume Leadership Role in Haiti Efforts

The United Nations has asked former U.S. President Bill Clinton to assume "a leadership role" in coordinating international aid efforts in Haiti.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made the announcement in a meeting Wednesday with Mr. Clinton in New York.

Former President Clinton, who is already the U.N. Special Envoy for Haiti, said the "challenges are great" in Haiti, following the January 12 earthquake that left much of the capital, Port-au-Prince, in rubble.

The United Nations says the aid operation has been particularly difficult and complicated, but that there has been progress in helping the survivors.

U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes Tuesday said most of the necessary life-saving operations already have taken place, but that vital drugs are lacking. He also said more surveillance systems need to be in place to monitor the outbreak of epidemics.

Holmes said more people are receiving food, and that the World Food Program aims to reach two million people in the coming days.

Officials have said a new coupon-based system has brought a sense of order to food distribution efforts. But a resident of a makeshift tent city told Voice of America that the free food deliveries do not always reach those who need them most.

Self-help guru arrested on murder charges

PHOENIX, Arizona — A self-help guru who organized an Arizona sweat lodge ceremony last year in which three people died was arrested on manslaughter charges, authorities said.

James Ray, renowned for his best-selling books on spirituality, was arrested Wednesday at a law office in Prescott, Arizona close to the Sedona retreat where the fatal October ceremony was held, said Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh.

He was indicted by a grand jury on manslaughter charges after a prolonged investigation during which police held hundreds of interviews.

The victims have been named as Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, New York; Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minnesota; and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Another 19 people were also hospitalized after participating in a "purification" ceremony at the Angel Valley Retreat Center and fasting for 36 hours.

The ceremony held by Ray, president of the multi-million-dollar James Ray International company in California, took place in a luxury sweat lodge. Participants were told they could sweat out their worries in the enclosure, where hot rocks were placed inside a tent.

About 60 people participated, with a price tag of around 9,000 dollars each.

Emotions ran high as the drama unfolded in and around Sedona, known for its many retreats.

Ray has repeatedly denied he did anything wrong.

"The charges are unjust and we will prove it in court. This was a terrible accident -- but it was an accident, not a criminal act," his attorney Luis Li said in a statement.

"James Ray cooperated at every step of the way, providing information and witnesses to the authorities showing that no one could have foreseen this accident. We will now present this evidence in a court of law, and we are confident that Mr Ray will be exonerated."

Melinda Martin, who once worked for the motivational speaker and was present during the ceremony, later told CNN that her former boss was "completely oblivious to the pandemonium that was taking place in the lodge."

Another participant, who gave her name as Beverly, told the television network "there was no way he was helping anybody."

In a letter addressed to the Yavapai Country Attorney's Office in early January, Li said that Ray and his team "relied on Angel Valley to provide a safe environment, warned people of the risks, did not force people to participate, did not prevent them from leaving and did everything they could to prepare for any problems and to assist when problems arose."

New Jersey snow estimates: 16 to 24 inches

Wax down those shovels, Delaware Vally, there's snow on the way. The National Weather Service has posted Winter Storm Warnings for everybody from Philadelphia, Mercer County to all of Jersey. The warnings call for 16 to 24 inches of snow for the Baltimore area.

The first flakes are expected sometime Friday afternoon, (by early afternoon in Cape May), and they're likely to continue through Friday night, all day Saturday and into Saturday evening. I suspect, if the forecast holds up, this timing will discourage school officials about opening their doors at all on Friday. No point in bringing everybody in only to send them home in a storm.

The snow chances are about as high as they get - 100 percent for Friday and Friday night, slipping to 90 percent (UPDATE: now 100 percent) on Saturday. Temperatures at BWI should be near freezing for the duration of the storm, in the upper 20s and low 30s. Here's some of the Winter Storm Warning, just to give you the flavor of the thing:


PM says man with 'burqa' wife has no place in France

PARIS — France's prime minister said Wednesday he would sign a decree refusing French nationality to a man who forced his wife to wear the full Islamic veil, arguing he "has no place in our country."

The case has arisen amid a fierce national debate about what it means to be French, with the government seeking to legislate for a ban on the head-to-toe burqa on the grounds that it is incompatible with French values.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon told Europe 1 radio that he would sign the decree issued by Immigration Minister Eric Besson.

"It's French law," Fillon said. "The civil code has for a very long time provided that naturalisation could be refused to someone who does not respect the values of the (French) republic.

"This case is about a religious radical: he imposes the burqa, he imposes the separation of men and women in his own home, and he refuses to shake the hands of women.

"If this man does not want to change his attitude, he has no place in our country. In any case, he does not deserve French nationality."


Involuntary Manslaughter for Jacko Doc

Dr. Conrad Murray will be arraigned Friday and charged with involuntary manslaughter for his alleged role in Michael Jackson's death last summer. Murray will turn himself in to Los Angeles police Friday morning, TNN reports. The doctor who allegedly gave Jackson the powerful prescription drug Propofol will be booked and taken to Airport Court, Division 144, before a judge at 1:30 p.m. Cameras will record the event.

French PM says wants strong sanctions against Iran

'It’s not too late to use diplomacy to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear military capacity, but time is pressing,' Fillon tells French Jewish association. Chinese FM: Discussing Iran sanctions hinders diplomacy

France will press for “strong sanctions” against Iran at the United Nations with time running out for a political solution to the standoff over its nuclear ambitions, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Wednesday.

Iranian Defiance

Full Story

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Tehran is ready to send its enriched uranium abroad in exchange for more highly enriched fuel to produce medical isotopes.

But the launch of a satellite rocket on Wednesday has fuelled western fears it is planning to build a nuclear weapon, despite its assurances it seeks only to generate electricity.

“The Iranian government has not wanted to accept our offer of dialogue. It has instead rushed forward headlong. So the moment has come to act,” Fillon told a dinner of the French Jewish association Crif.

“I think it’s not too late to use the political process to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear military capacity, but I acknowledge that time is pressing,” he said.

“We are going to seek the adoption of a new resolution at the United Nations incorporating strong sanctions and the European Union must also accept its responsibilities,” he said.

Fillon’s comments echo remarks from President Nicolas Sarkozy who said last month that the United Nations had to adopt strong measures against Iran to persuade it to start meaningful negotiations over its nuclear program.

Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said Thursday that discussions amongst major powers over imposing possible sanctions on Iran will complicate the situation and make it harder to find a diplomatic solution.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to France, Yang said he wanted to see more direct talks between Iran and the international community over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Obama aunt to fight deportation for second time: report

NEW YORK — President Barack Obama's aunt, an illegal immigrant who has cared for his siblings, will fight in federal immigration court Thursday to avoid deportation, the Boston Herald reported.

Zeituni Onyango, 57, was expected in Boston federal immigration court to make her second attempt to be allowed to remain in the United States after she ignored a 2004 deportation order to be sent back to her native Kenya.

"She's the aunt of the president of the United States -- the most famous man in the world," Mike Rogers, spokesman for the Ohio law firm defending Onyango, told the Herald.

The hearing before Immigration Court Judge Leonard Shapiro is closed to the public, in accordance with Onyango's request.

"The immigration judge will hear the merits of the case from both parties," said Lauren Alder Reid of the US Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review, which speaks for the court. "The judge may make a ruling from the bench, but there's no guarantee."

Rogers said Onyango was not trying to "capitalize" on favoritism as a member of the president's family. She is the half-sister of Obama's late Kenyan father.

"Everyone knows she's related to him," Rogers said. "It's a no-win situation for him. He can't get involved in this. The law has got to run its course."

Reports about her life as an illegal immigrant in the United States emerged just days before Obama was elected in November 2008. The White House has said the president was unaware of her illegal status and that the appropriate laws should be followed.

Onyango, who currently lives in a South Boston housing development, first applied for political asylum in 2002 citing violence in Kenya. Her request was denied two years later.

Pakistan rounds up blast suspects

Pakistani authorities have arrested several suspects in connection with a bombing in the country's northwest that killed seven people, including children and three US soldiers.

Police said the nine suspects were being questioned on Thursday over what they say was a suicide car bombing, rather than a remotely-detonated roadside explosive.

"We launched a massive search in the area yesterday ... and we are questioning them in an effort to trace those who orchestrated the suicide attack," Naem Khan, a police spokesman, told AP news agency.

Three girls, a Pakistani soldier and three American soldiers were killed in Wednesday's blast in the North-West Frontier Province, while more than 100 people were left wounded, including two US soldiers and numerous schoolgirls.

The killings are thought to be the first US military fatalities in nearly three years in the country's border region with Afghanistan.

The US troops killed in the attack were apparently part of a little-publicised team in north-western Pakistan training local forces to combat al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Border training

US defence officials say there are a total of about 200 US military personnel in Pakistan, including troops that guard the huge American embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital.

Riz Khan: Is Pakistan heading towards civil war?
More than 100 of those, though, are special operations forces training the Pakistani Frontier Corps, Reuters news agency has reported, citing an unnamed US defence source.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for Wednesday's bombing, saying US forces were the target, and threatened more attacks.

But Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, has denied both that the training mission was secret and that the American forces were being targeted.

"They [the Taliban] are certain to say that, that's what they do - they're adept at propaganda and disinformation," Holbrooke said on Wednesday.

"The facts are the facts and when, at the appropriate moment, after appropriate notification of next of kin, the exact rank [of those killed] will be publicly disclosed as we always do. There's nothing secret about their presence there."

AP news agency, however, cited witnesses as saying the vehicle carrying US forces took the brunt of the explosion as their five-car convoy travelled along the road in Shahi Koto town, rather than the girl's school.

The three Americans killed were assigned to the US training mission there, but worked as "civil affairs" specialists, according to Reuters' defense officials, meaning that they coordinated with local mayors and tribal leaders.

The troops were apparently on their way to the opening of the newly-renovated girls' school, which had been blown up in January 2009 and was rebuilt with US funding.