Monday June 24, 2013

Decisions imminent, Supreme Court has wide range of options in gay marriage cases

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The waiting is almost over.

Sometime in the next week or so, the Supreme Court will announce the outcomes in cases on California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The federal law, known by the shorthand DOMA, defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman and therefore keeps legally married gay Americans from collecting a range of federal benefits that generally are available to married people.

The justices have a lengthy menu of options from which to choose. They might come out with rulings that are simple, clear and dramatic. Or they might opt for something narrow and legalistic.

The court could strike down dozens of state laws that limit marriage to heterosexual couples, but it also could uphold gay marriage bans or say nothing meaningful about the issue at all.

WikiLeaks, official: Former NSA contractor Snowden to seek asylum in Ecuador

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Admitted leaker Edward Snowden circled the globe in evasion of U.S. authorities on Sunday, seeking asylum in Ecuador and leaving the Obama administration scrambling to determine its next step in what became a game of diplomatic cat-and-mouse.

The former National Security Agency contractor and CIA technician fled Hong Kong and arrived at the Moscow airport, where he planned to spend the night before boarding an Aeroflot flight to Cuba.


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Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said his government received an asylum request from Snowden, and the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said they would help him.

"He goes to the very countries that have, at best, very tense relationships with the United States and do not value press freedoms whatsoever," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., adding that she feared Snowden would trade more U.S. secrets for asylum.

"This is not going to play out well for the national security interests of the United States," she added.

Ecuador in particular has rejected the United States’ previous efforts at cooperation, and has been helping WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, avoid prosecution by allowing him to stay at its embassy in London.

Militants kill 10 foreign tourists, local guide at mountain base camp in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Islamic militants disguised as policemen killed 10 foreign climbers and a Pakistani guide in a brazen overnight raid against their campsite at the base of one of the world’s tallest mountains in northern Pakistan, officials said Sunday.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack at the base camp of Nanga Parbat, saying it was to avenge the death of their deputy leader in a U.S. drone strike last month.

The attack took place in an area that has largely been peaceful, hundreds of kilometers (miles) from the Taliban’s major sanctuaries along the Afghan border. But the militant group, which has been waging a bloody insurgency against the government for years, has shown it has the ability to strike almost anywhere in the country.

The Taliban began their attack by abducting two local guides to take them to the remote base camp in Gilgit-Baltisan, said Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. One of the guides was killed in the shooting, and the other has been detained for questioning. The attackers disguised themselves by wearing uniforms used by the Gilgit Scounts, a paramilitary force that patrols the area, Khan said.

Around 15 gunmen attacked the camp at around 11 p.m. Saturday, said the Alpine Club of Pakistan, which spoke with a local guide, Sawal Faqir, who survived the shooting. They began by beating the mountaineers and taking away any mobile and satellite phones they could find, as well as everyone’s money, said the club in a statement.

Thousands of Calgary residents allowed to return home as floodwaters recede

CALGARY, Alberta (AP) -- About 65,000 residents of Calgary were being allowed to return to their homes Sunday to assess the damage from flooding that has left Alberta’s largest city awash in debris and dirty water.

Some were returning to properties spared by flooding, but others were facing extensive repairs to homes and businesses.

About 75,000 people had to leave at the height of the crisis as the Elbow and Bow rivers surged over their banks Thursday night. Three bodies have been recovered since the flooding began in southern Alberta and a fourth person was still missing.

"We’ve turned a corner, but we are still in a state of emergency," Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said. "Our hearts and thought and prayers are with our colleagues downstream."

People in the eastern part of the province headed for higher ground as the flood threat remained. In Medicine Hat, Alberta, thousands of people have left their homes as water levels rose on the South Saskatchewan River. The river was not expected to crest until Monday, but by Sunday morning it was lapping over its banks in low-lying areas and people were busy laying down thousands of sandbags.

Air crash that killed pilot, stuntwoman showcases risks, thrills of wing walking

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Risking death every time they go to work, wing walkers need courage, poise, a healthy craving for adrenaline and, most importantly, they need to be meticulously exacting with every step they take on the small planes that carry them past dazzled crowds at speeds up to 130 mph.

Jane Wicker fit that bill, her friends and colleagues in the air show industry said Sunday.

Wicker, 44, and pilot Charlie Schwenker, 64, were killed Saturday in a fiery plane crash captured on video at a southwestern Ohio air show and witnessed by thousands. The cause of the crash isn’t yet known.

Jason Aguilera, the National Transportation Safety Board investigator leading the probe into the crash, said Sunday that it was too early to rule anything out and that the agency would issue its findings in six months to a year.

Wicker, a mother of two teenage boys and recently engaged, sat helplessly on the plane’s wing as the aircraft suddenly turned and slammed into the ground, exploding on impact and stunning the crowd at the Vectren Air Show near Dayton. The show closed shortly afterward but reopened Sunday with a moment of silence for the victims.

Afghanistan reaffirms support for peace talks after rocky start but wants explanation

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghanistan’s government reaffirmed support Sunday for possible talks with its Taliban foes, but demanded full explanations on how the group was allowed to raise its flag in Qatar and display other symbols that have stalled the U.S.-led effort.

The ongoing dispute over the Taliban compound in Doha -- which the Afghan government said appeared as something akin to an embassy in exile instead of a political outpost when it opened -- underscore the extreme difficulties in just trying to launch dialogue after nearly 12 years of war in Afghanistan.

On Sunday, Taliban spokesman, Shaheen Suhail, reasserted the Islamic movement’s dismay over the controversy and made it clear that the Taliban had made no offers or concessions following U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s warning a day earlier that their newly opened office could be forced to close if the spat remained unresolved.

The Afghan peace process, which has made little headway since it began several years ago, is hobbled by distrust among the major players, with the Taliban steadfastly refusing to talk to the Afghan government. While talks with the Taliban remained stalled, there are signs of increasing efforts to get them back on track.

With Afghan presidential elections and the withdrawal of most foreign combat troops looming in 2014, the long-stalled Afghan peace process has taken on added urgency. The Taliban have refused to negotiate with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government, saying the U.S. holds effective control in Afghanistan, but the Americans are hoping to pave the way for talks between the two sides to begin before pulling out most of its forces.

Egypt’s army chief warns military ready to keep nation from ‘dark tunnel’

CAIRO (AP) -- Wading into an increasingly volatile fray, Egypt’s military on Sunday gave the nation’s Islamist rulers and their opponents a week to reach an understanding before planned June 30 opposition protests aimed at forcing out the president, in a toughly worded warning that it will intervene to stop the nation from entering a "dark tunnel."

The powerful military also gave a thinly veiled warning to President Mohammed Morsi’s hard-line backers that it will step in if the mostly secular and liberal protesters, who have vowed to be peaceful, are attacked during the planned demonstrations.

In a bid to project a business-as-usual image, Morsi’s office said in a statement late Sunday that the president met with the army’s chief, Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, to discuss the "domestic scene and the government’s efforts to maintain the security of the nation and the safety of its citizens." There was no mention of el-Sissi’s warning.

Seeking to assert Morsi’s seniority over el-Sissi -- the president is the supreme commander of the armed forces -- the brief statement, alluding to June 30, said he ordered the quick completion of plans to protect the state’s strategic and vital installations.

The opposition argues that Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, despite having won a series of elections since the 2011 revolution that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, have squandered their legitimacy with heavy handed misrule. It contends that the Islamists have encroached on the independence of the judiciary, sought to monopolize power, and pushed through an Islamist-backed constitution, breaking promises to seek consensus.