Monday March 25, 2013

Obama tours Jordan’s ancient city of Petra before heading home after Mideast visit

PETRA, Jordan (AP) -- President Barack Obama set aside the Middle East’s tricky politics Saturday to marvel at the beauty of one of the region’s most stunning sites, the fabled ancient city of Petra.

"This is pretty spectacular," he said, craning his neck to gaze up at the rock faces after emerging from a narrow pathway into a sun-splashed plaza in front of the grand Treasury. The soaring facade is considered the masterpiece of the ancient city carved into the rose-red stone by the Nabataeans more than 2,000 years ago.

Obama’s turn as tourist capped a four-day visit to the Middle East that included stops in Israel and the West Bank, as well Jordan. The White House set low policy expectations for the trip, and the president was returning to Washington with few tangible achievements to show. Aides said his intention instead was to reassure the region’s politicians and people -- particularly in Israel -- that he is committed to their security and prosperity.

Curious residents and picture-taking tourists lined the streets of modern Petra as Obama’s motorcade wound toward the entrance to the ancient city. The president, dressed in khaki pants, a black jacket and hiking boots, began his walking tour at the entrance to the Siq, a narrow, winding gorge cutting between two soaring cliffs.

The path opened into a dusty plaza with the massive columned Treasury as its centerpiece.


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Obama declared the carved monument is "amazing."

Pope Francis tells Benedict ‘we’re brothers’ as the two hold historic meeting

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (AP) -- The two men in white embraced and showed one another the deference owed a pope in ways that surely turned Vatican protocol upside down: A reigning pope telling a retired one, "We are brothers," and insisting that they pray side-by-side during a date to discuss the future of the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis traveled Saturday from the Vatican to this hilltown south of Rome to have lunch with his predecessor, Benedict XVI, an historic and potentially problematic melding of the papacies that has never before confronted the church.

In a season of extraordinary moments, starting with Benedict’s resignation and climaxing with the election of the first Latin American pope, Saturday’s encounter provided perhaps the most enduring images of this papal transition as popes present and past embraced, prayed and broke bread together.

"It was a moment of great communion in the church," said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. "The spiritual union of these two people is truly a great gift and a promise of serenity for the church."

Benedict, 85, has been living at the papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo since he stepped down Feb. 28 and became the first pope to resign in 600 years. From the moment he was elected, Francis, 76, made clear he would go visit him, refusing in a way to let Benedict remain "hidden from the world" as he had intended.

U.S., Afghanistan reach agreement on Parwan Detention Facility transfer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. has reached an agreement with the Afghanistan government to transfer the Parwan Detention Facility to Afghan control, the Pentagon said Saturday, two weeks after negotiations broke down over whether the U.S. would have the power to block the release of some detainees.

According to a senior U.S. official, a key element to the agreement is that the Afghans can invoke a procedure that insures prisoners considered dangerous would not be released from the detention center. The agreement also includes a provision that allows the two sides to work together to resolve any differences. The official lacked authorization to discuss the details of the agreement publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Transfer of the Parwan detention center on Monday is critical to the ongoing effort to gradually shift control of the country’s security to the Afghans as the U.S. and allies move toward the full withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014.

Afghans demanded control of the center, but U.S. officials have worried that the most threatening detainees would be freed once the U.S. transferred control. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai Saturday as officials finalized the agreement after days of intense negotiations.

Boris Berezovsky, self-exiled Russian oligarch and Putin rival, found dead in England

LONDON (AP) -- Boris Berezovsky, a self-exiled and outspoken former Russian oligarch who had a bitter falling out with Russian President Vladimir Putin, was found dead Saturday in southeast England. He was 67.

Thames Valley police said his death was being treated as unexplained. They would not directly identify him, but when asked about him by name they read a statement saying they were investigating the death of a 67-year-old man at a property in Ascot, a town 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of London.

A mathematician-turned-Mercedes dealer, Berezovsky amassed his wealth during Russia’s chaotic privatization of state assets in the early 1990s. In return for backing former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, he gained political clout and opportunities to buy state assets at knockdown prices.

But the one-time Kremlin powerbroker fell out with Putin and sought political asylum in Britain in the early 2000s. He has lived in the U.K. ever since.

Last year, the exiled businessman was ordered to pay 35 million pounds ($53.3 million) in legal costs to fellow Russian Roman Abramovich after losing a multimillion-dollar legal battle against the billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club.

Ga. woman says she’s sure suspect shot her baby; teen’s family says he wasn’t near scene

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) -- The mother of a baby gunned down in his stroller says she has no doubt a teenage suspect is the man who killed her 13-month-old son, but family members say he wasn’t anywhere near the scene.

"That’s definitely him," Sherry West said Saturday when she saw the jail mugshot of 17-year-old De’Marquise Elkins, who is charged as an adult with first-degree murder. Police also arrested a 14-year-old who has not been identified because he’s a minor.

"We’re trying to determine which one actually was the shooter," police spokesman Todd Rhodes said Saturday.

But West said she was certain the gunman was the older suspect. "He killed my baby, and he shot me, too," she said.

On Thursday morning, West was pushing Antonio Santiago in his stroller after a trip to the post office. She said a teen, accompanied by a smaller boy, asked her for money.

Investigators now say man killed in Texas is suspect in slaying of Colorado prisons chief

DENVER (AP) -- Colorado investigators are saying for the first time that a former prison inmate who was killed in a gunfight with Texas authorities is a suspect in the death of Colorado’s state prison system chief.

The evidence gathered in Texas after the death of Evan Spencer Ebel provides a "strong, strong lead" in the fatal shooting of Colorado Department of Corrections director Tom Clements, who was killed at his front door, El Paso County sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Jeff Kramer said Saturday.

Kramer also confirmed Ebel had been a member of the 211s, a white supremacist prison gang in Colorado. It was not known if Ebel knew who Clements was and that he was the state’s top prison official, Kramer said.

A darkly ironic connection emerged among Ebel, Clements at Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper when the governor confirmed Friday he was a longtime friend of Ebel’s father, attorney Jack Ebel.

Jack Ebel had testified before Colorado lawmakers two years ago that solitary confinement in a Colorado prison was destroying his son’s psyche.

In gun debate, a battle between critics citing Hitler and the realities of Nazi history

When the president of Ohio’s state school board posted her opposition to gun control, she used a powerful symbol to make her point: a picture of Adolf Hitler. When a well-known conservative commentator decried efforts to restrict guns, he argued that if only Jews in Poland had been better armed, many more would have survived the Holocaust.

In the months since the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, some gun rights supporters have repeatedly compared U.S. gun control efforts to Nazi restrictions on firearms, arguing that limiting weapons ownership could leave Americans defenseless against homegrown tyrants.

But some experts say that argument distorts a complex and contrary history. In reality, scholars say, Hitler loosened the tight gun laws that governed Germany after World War I, even as he barred Jews from owning weapons and moved to confiscate them.

Advocates who cite Hitler in the current U.S. debate overlook that Jews in 1930s Germany were a very small population, owned few guns before the Nazis took control, and lived under a dictatorship commanding overwhelming public support and military might, historians say. While it doesn’t fit neatly into the modern-day gun debate, they say, the truth is that for all Hitler’s unquestionably evil acts, his firearms laws likely made no difference in Jews’ very tenuous odds of survival.

"Objectively, it might have made things worse" if the Jews who fought the Nazis in the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising in Poland had more and better guns, said historian Steve Paulsson, an expert on the period whose Jewish family survived the city’s destruction.