The Grand Ole Opry is back in business after being closed by floods in May. Keith Urban, Brad Paisley and Martina McBride were just a few of the stars who performed at last night’s Country Comes Home.
The reopening comes just in time for Blake Shelton to join the ranks of 156 past and present Opry members when he is inducted next month. Among those are Bill Anderson, who closes every broadcast with ‘Night J-Bird’ as a tribute to his son.
Rumors say the Opry’s historic home, the Ryman Auditorium, is haunted by several ghosts, including Hank Williams, who was kicked out in 1952.
A 63-year-old man dubbed the “Silver Spring Rapist” was convicted Tuesday for a rape that occurred in 1991.
The trial came about after a DNA match to a suspect who was imprisoned for a different offense in New York after the rape, according to prosecutors.
Fletcher A. Worrell has been charged with nine rapes from the late 1980s to the early 1990s.
Police originally filed these charges in 2005. He could be responsible for as many as 20 rapes in the Silver Spring area over that time, according to prosecutors.
Worrell still has more prison time to serve in New York. Montgomery prosecutors intend to ask for a long sentence for the new conviction, saying they are concerned he may become eligible for release in New York.
(Sept. 29) — Boston police are asking for the public’s help in identifying who’s responsible for a shooting rampage that left a toddler and three adults dead. A fourth adult is hospitalized but not expected to live, police say.
"We will not rest until the facts are known and justice is done," District Attorney Dan Conley said in a statement sent to AOL News. "We’re imploring the public to join us and share whatever they might know, whatever they might have seen or heard, with investigators."The execution-style slayings occurred in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood Tuesday, just after 1 a.m. Several neighbors reported hearing gunshots and a car speeding off.
"[I was] on my laptop checking my e-mail … suddenly I heard some noise, like almost six shots — boom, boom, boom! — and I went out to see [what was] going on," local resident Ralph Myrthil told radio station WBUR. "I heard a car driving … and I saw two people … laying down on the [ground], [with] no clothes [on]."Police arrived on the scene within minutes of the shooting and found five victims suffering from gunshot wounds. Three of the victims, an adult female and two adult males, were pronounced dead at the scene. Two others, an adult male and a male toddler, were transported to area hospitals suffering life-threatening injuries.
The toddler was pronounced dead a short time after arriving at the hospital, and the adult male remains in critical condition at Beth Israel Hospital.
Police have yet to announce the identities of the victims. Friends and relatives identified four of them to The Boston Globe and news station WCVB as 21-year-old Simba Martin of Mattapan; 22-year-old Levaughn Washum-Garrison; 21-year-old Eyanna Flonory of Dorchester; and Flonory’s 2-year-old son, Armanihotep Smith.
"It’s a senseless killing. It’s ridiculous. Gotta do something about it," Washum-Garrison’s stepfather, James Bennett, told WCVB.
Family members identified the male currently hospitalized for his injuries as 32-year-old Marcus Hurd of Dorchester, The Boston Globe reported. Police officials have expressed concern that Hurd may not survive his injuries. According to police, his current condition is unknown. “We don’t get any updates unless it’s actually on the bad side,” Boston police spokeswoman Jill Flynn told AOL News.According to police commissioner Ed Davis, investigators believe the victims knew the shooter or shooters. So far, they have been unable to identify any suspects. A motive also remains unclear, but sources told WBZ-TV that investigators are looking into a possible drug connection, a revelation that at least one of the victim’s friends finds peculiar.
"I don’t know of [Martin] being involved with drugs," Martin’s friend, Kiya Venders, told WCVB. "That is not the type of person he is. He goes to church every Sunday. He is in school. He has a really supportive dad who doesn’t allow him to do things like that."
Police say they have recovered a lot of evidence from the scene and are actively searching for a gray or silver Ford Explorer that might be connected to the shootings. They are maintaining a large presence in the neighborhood and handing out Text-a-Tip brochures in hopes of developing new leads.
City officials have reacted with outrage to the mass killing. "To those who have no respect for life and would commit this brutal act, ours streets are not your battlegrounds, our kids cannot be your collateral damage," Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said in a statement.
Police Commissioner Davis called the deaths a “senseless loss of lives” that has “shocked even the most hardened detectives.”
Authorities are asking anyone with any information to contact the Boston Police Department by calling the Homicide Unit at (617) 343-4470 or texting ‘TIP’ to CRIME (27463).
"We are only concerned with what you know, not who you are!" the Boston police media relations office said in a release. "As a community, we cannot and should not stand by and allow senseless acts like this to take place."
Officials: Lone Gunman in UT Shooting Was Student.
(Sept. 28) — The gunman who opened fire today at the University of Texas’ Austin campus before killing himself was a 19-year-old student, officials said.
The suspect was identified as Colton Tooley, a sophomore math major from Austin, university spokesman Don Hale told AOL News in a phone interview.
The suspect was wearing a ski mask and suit and carrying an AK-47 as he ran through the campus this morning, firing randomly before he went into the library and shot himself to death, according to officials and a witness.
No other injuries were reported, but police locked down the sprawling campus earlier as they checked reports of a second gunman.
The suspected gunman acted alone, UT Police Chief Robert Dahlstrom told The Associated Press. He told reporters earlier today that witnesses gave multiple descriptions of a second gunman, leading police to set up a perimeter to check whether there might have been a second suspect. Officials later ruled out another shooter.
"We’re very fortunate in the fact that no one else was injured, other than the lone gunman that we know of at this point," Dahlstrom said.
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said police also were searching to make sure no explosives were left behind. Hale told the Austin American-Statesman that the university sent emergency text messages to students and faculty in the morning warning them to stay away from the Perry Castaneda Library and to remain indoors. According to an emergency alert on the university’s website, the school remains closed and classes have been canceled.
Randall Wilhite, an adjunct law professor, said he saw the gunman outside the library.”He was running down the streets firing random shots,” Wilhite told CNN. “At first I didn’t think it was gunshots.” Wilhite said the man was 6 feet 2 inches, white and wearing a black ski mask, a suit and a dark tie.
"I didn’t think it was real until I saw bullets strike the ground," he told CNN.
Kevin Olsen, a graduate student, told the American-Statesman that he heard bursts of gunfire and said students were walking around campus looking “kind of in awe.” Jennifer Scalora, who works in the university’s admissions office near the library, told NBC earlier today that the campus was empty except for the SWAT teams and police. “You can barely see anyone moving,” she said.
In 1966, the campus was the site of a deadly shooting spree when Charles Whitman, a student, climbed the university’s iconic Texas Tower and opened fire, killing 14 people and wounding more than 30 others.
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell told reporters that people in the rest of the city “can go forward and feel safe in their homes and safe in the rest of the city of Austin.”
Jimmy Carter Being Kept Overnight at Cleveland Hospital.
(Sept. 28) — Former President Jimmy Carter will be held overnight at a Cleveland hospital after feeling ill on a flight to the city for a book signing today — three days before his 86th birthday.
MetroHealth Medical Center physicians said that Carter was admitted to the hospital for continued observation, according to a release from the hospital. “He is fully alert and participating in all decision-making related to his care,” the statement said. “The decision to admit him overnight is purely precautionary. . Carter became ill on a Delta Flight from Atlanta to Cleveland this morning, according to reports. Earlier today, the Carter Center said in a release that the former president ” was resting comfortably and is expected to resume his book tour this week.”
A volunteer at the center told ABC News that the former president got “air sick.” .He threw up, he was air sick when he got off the plane,” Carter Center volunteer Bernice Moore said.
After the plane landed, Carter was transported by EMS technicians around 11:30 a.m. to The MetroHealth System, the closest hospital to the airport on Cleveland’s west side. He remained there for observation.
Carter had been scheduled to autograph his new book, “White House Diary,” at 1 p.m. at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lyndhurst, The Plain Dealer newspaper reported. It said about 500 people had gathered by noon, and many had been in line for hours.
(Sept. 27) — A South Florida man killed his estranged wife and four of his stepchildren early today before taking his own life, police said. A fifth child was wounded, and two toddlers were unharmed.
"This is a sad day for Riviera Beach," Riviera Beach Police Chief Clarence Williams told The Palm Beach Post. "Many families have been tragically impacted by this unfortunate incident."
Police said Patrick Dell, 41, shot dead his estranged wife, Natasha Whyte-Dell, 36, and four of her children before taking his own life. The slain children have been identified as Javon Nelson, 11, Daniel Barnett, 10, Bryan Barnett, 14, and Diane Barnett, 13. The shootings occurred around 2 a.m. An officer investigating a suspicious vehicle heard the gunshots. When he approached the home, Dell exited the residence and shot himself, police said.
A fifth child remains hospitalized due to a gunshot wound. A spokesperson for the police department told AOL News the victim is in stable condition. The Palm Beach Post identified the wounded youngster as Ryan Barnett, 15.Two additional children, ages 1 and 3, were not harmed during the shooting spree. Those two children are believed to be the couple’s biological children.
Court records obtained by the Post show that Whyte-Dell had a restraining order against her husband. In a May filing, she said Dell had warned that her “last days would be bitter.” She also said he had chased her with a knife and slashed the tires on her car.
A neighbor, Keisha Gordon, told The Associated Press she saw a drunken Dell hanging out at a local club on Sunday night.
"He was talking about chopping up somebody," Gordon said.
"He always felt like people was against him," she added.
British Aid Worker, 3 Others Kidnapped in Afghanistan.
KABUL, Afghanistan (Sept. 26) — Four aid workers including a British woman were kidnapped in Afghanistan as election officials ordered recounts in seven provinces after last week’s parliamentary vote, raising further concerns of misconduct and fraud during the polls.
Meanwhile, two NATO troops, whose nationalities were not announced, were killed in a bomb attack in the volatile south, the alliance said Sunday.
The British aid worker and three Afghan colleagues were ambushed as they traveled in two vehicles in northeastern Kunar province. Police fought a gunbattle with the kidnappers near the attack site before the assailants fled, Kunar police chief Khalilullah Zaiyi said.
Steven O’Connor, communications director for Development Alternatives Inc., a global consulting company based in the Washington, D.C., area, said late Sunday its employees, including a British national, were involved.
The company works on projects for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Afghanistan.
Britain’s Foreign Office in London said it could “confirm that a British national has been abducted in Afghanistan. We are working closely with all the relevant local authorities.”
NATO also said Sunday its forces killed five insurgents in a multi-day operation near the main southern city of Kandahar. Afghan and mostly U.S. forces have been readying a push to drive out militants from the Taliban stronghold.
According to a NATO statement Sunday, the militants fought back with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire. It said no Afghan or coalition troops were killed.
The push in Kandahar is seen as key to the Obama administration’s strategy to turn around the nine-year war as insurgents undermine the ability of an Afghan government to rule much of the country.President Hamid Karzai’s administration is also struggling to win public support amid widespread perceptions it is inept and corrupt.
The increasingly messy-looking election risks becoming another black mark against the government as allegations mount of misconduct and fraud. The charges - submitted by election observers and many of the 2,500 candidates vying for 249 seats in the national parliament - range from ballot-box stuffing, to people voting multiple times or using fake cards, to children voting.
A government anti-fraud elections watchdog said Sunday that is has received more than 3,500 complaints of cheating or misconduct - about 57 percent serious enough they could affect the outcome of the vote.
The election commission has released results slowly. Only seven of the country’s 34 provinces have posted even partial results and, eight days after the vote, no province has yet to announce results in full.
Commission chairman Fazel Ahmad Manawi said they have already ordered recounts at several polling stations in seven provinces because the commission considered the provisional results - yet to be posted - “suspicious.” The provinces range from relatively peaceful Badakhshan in the north to volatile Khost and Logar in the east. He said the list of recounts was likely to grow.
But some candidates say the cheating that their observers saw was so egregious they can’t imagine a proper result emerging from the ballots submitted.”The night before there was stuffing of the boxes. Then the night after they were stuffing the boxes,” said Khaled Pashtoun, an incumbent candidate in Kandahar province.
Pashtoun said while voting in Kandahar city was relatively fair because of the large presence security forces, abuses were rife in rural areas, including by police.
The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, the main independent Afghan observer group, has also been intensely critical. The group said they observed ballot-box stuffing in 280 voting sites in 28 provinces.
The Electoral Complaints Commission has just a few weeks to investigate and rule on the deluge of complaints. Final results are expected in late October, after the ECC rulings.
TEHRAN, Iran (Sept. 26) — Iranian forces crossed into neighboring Iraq and killed 30 fighters from a group it says was involved in last week’s bombing of a military parade, state TV reported Sunday.
Gen. Abdolrasoul Mahmoudabadi of the elite Revolutionary Guards said the “terrorists” were killed on Saturday in a clash “beyond the border” and that his forces were still in pursuit of two men who escaped the ambush.
While Iran has said in the past it would target armed groups on Iraqi soil this is a rare case of it actually admitting to an attack.
Iraqi officials have complained in the past about Iranian artillery targeting armed Kurdish opposition groups on its soil.
An explosion during a military parade in the town of Mahabad, in Iran’s northwestern Kurdish region, killed 12 women and children on Wednesday.Iran has already blamed the attack on Kurdish separatists who have fought Iranian forces in the area for years, but most Kurdish groups condemned the attack and no one has so far claimed responsibility for it.
Iran has also blamed Israel, the U.S. and supporters of Iraq’s previous regime for supporting the Kurdish groups.
The parade was one of several held around the country to mark the 30th anniversary of the start of the Iran-Iraq war.
The city of Mahabad is home to 190,000 people - most of them Kurds and Sunni Muslims. Iran is predominantly Shiite.
Government forces in Iraq, Iran and Turkey have all periodically battled with the Kurdish minorities straddling their borders. They fear the groups are seeking to unite territory in all three nations to form an independent Kurdish homeland.
Coach Moons Crowd after NYC H.S. Game Ends in Forfeit.
A wild brawl erupted at a high school football game in Queens on Saturday, when an assistant coach of the Boys and Girls High School team dropped his pants and ‘mooned’ the opposing team’s sideline, the New York Daily News reports.
The impetus starting the melee was a controversial call in the final minutes of the division championship battle in Cambria Heights between Campus Magnet and Boys and Girls High School.
With minutes remaining in the game, Campus Magnet scored a touchdown that extended their lead to 14-6. On the ensuing 2-point conversion attempt, running back Raewshawn Lewis of Campus Magnet was apparently stripped of the ball as he crossed the goal line. The Boys and Girls High School coaches claimed he fumbled the ball before crossing the plane of the goal line. After the referees gathered for quite a while — causing a long delay in play — they finally ruled that Lewis did in fact break the plane, and awarded the two points to Campus Magnet.
This is when all hell broke loose and the coaches of the Boys and Girls football team went ballistic.
They charged onto the field in a raging manner to argue the call with game officials. The coaches of the Boys and Girls team started cussing wildly at the referees, forcing school safety officers to step in. The coaches then got into a heated shoving match with the safety officers before the game was called with 3:49 left in the fourth quarter due to unsportsmanlike conduct on the Boys and Girls side, giving Campus Magnet the premature 16-6 victory.
Fans from Campus Magnet side continued to heckle the Boys and Girls coaches after the call, according to witnesses at the game.
That is when the Boys and Girls assistant coach pulled his pants down and distastefully revealed his rear end to the Campus Magnet crowd.
The Daily News piece also noted that, “A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said Boys and Girls Principal Bernard Gassaway vowed to fire the shameless assistant.”
PSAL Commissioner Alan Arbuse noted that the league will review the game’s actions to determine proper implications stemming from the incident.
The high-school players seemed to act like the adults during Saturday’s game; while the adult coaches acted like children during the waning moments of the game.
In the Daily News article, Arbuse praised players on both sides. “Both benches, especially the Boys and Girls kids, acted like gentlemen.”
LOS ANGELES — On what would have been his 80th birthday, Ray Charles has joined the likes of past presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan with his own namesake library in Southern California.
The Ray Charles Memorial Library officially opened its doors Thursday night. Housed in the studio and office building Charles built in South Los Angeles in the early 1960s, the library features interactive exhibits about the musician’s life and career.
Charles’ friends and colleagues ’ including Quincy Jones, B.B. King, producer Jimmy Jam and filmmaker Taylor Hackford ’ welcome visitors via video to each section of the library, which is more like an interactive museum. Touch screens invite guests to explore Charles’ most memorable recordings, while exhibits feature some of his Grammy awards, stage costumes, old contracts and ever-present sunglasses.
Charles’ fans can see his personal piano and saxophone, his collection of microphones and letters he received from Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Johnny Cash. The library also includes a mixing station, where visitors can compose their own mixes of Charles’ classic rhythms and melodies, and a karaoke room, where they can sing along with Charles and the Raelettes.
'Ray spent more time in this building than any other in the world,' said Tony Gumina, head of the Ray Charles Marketing Group. 'In this building, Ray Charles had 20-20 vision.'
His recording studio and a closet full of his clothes remain on the second floor of the building, which was declared a cultural and historic landmark by the city in 2004.
When Charles lost his sight as a child, his ears became his eyes, he said, and he dedicated himself to music, eventually blending genres and breaking down barriers both social and musical.
Willie Nelson said Charles ‘caused country music to leap ahead ’ maybe 50 years ’ because he’d done the impossible: He’d crossed over the other way.’
A collection of previously unreleased Charles recordings, including a country collaboration with Cash, is due out next month.
Hackford, who directed the 2004 biopic ‘Ray,’ called Charles ‘one of the greatest musicians this country has ever produced.’
Hackford and former Raelette Mable John were among those celebrating the library’s grand opening.
The facility is a product of Charles’ charitable foundation, which he established in 1986 to serve the hearing impaired. Though Charles was blind, he felt that not being able to hear music would be a true handicap. When he died in 2004 at age 73, he left all of his intellectual property and $50 million in cash to continue the foundation’s efforts.
The Ray Charles Foundation also provides grants to support hearing disorder and educational causes. The library’s main aim is to educate and inspire disenfranchised children who have seen arts education cut from their school curricula, said library and foundation president Valerie Ervin.
The library will be open exclusively to school children by invitation only. Officials plan to extend access to the general public sometime next year.
Accused megachurch pastor to talk to congregation.
ATLANTA -Sunday’s services at a Georgia megachurch will give its famed pastor the chance to address the congregation for the first time since allegations surfaced that that he lured young men into sex with gifts and travel.Bishop Eddie Long is scheduled to speak at services at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, several days after the lawsuits were filed accusing him of exploiting his authority to push four former members into sexual relationships when they were 17 or 18 years old.The lawsuits claim Long — who is an outspoken opponent of gay marriage — lured them into sexual relationships with gifts including cars, cash and travel.Long has denied the allegations through his lawyer and a Twitter posting but has not spoken publicly about them.Over the last 20 years, Long became one of the most powerful independent church leaders in the country. He led New Birth as it grew from a suburban Atlanta congregation of 150 to a 25,000-member powerhouse with a $50 million cathedral and a roster of parishioners that includes athletes, entertainers and politicians.Three of the young men who filed lawsuits this week live in Georgia, while the other was a member of a satellite church in Charlotte, N.C., run by Long.Two of the plaintiffs were once members of a youth program called the LongFellows Youth Academy, which teaches teenage boys lessons on financial discipline and sexual control. In their lawsuits, the men say Long used the program to groom them for sexual relationships and lured them into trysts with cars, jewelry and cash.The other two plaintiffs make similar claims that Long served as a mentor, gave them gifts, then convinced them to engage in sexual acts.
(Sept. 25) — A Louisiana man has been charged with the murder of a Texas teenager, 14 years after her body was found.
Kevin Smith, a 45-year-old welder, was arrested at his workplace on Wednesday. Police say DNA records led them to him.
Prosecutors say that Smith killed Krystal Jean Baker, 13, then left her body under a bridge.
The arrest “is a miracle from God and all the angels,” said the girl’s mother, Jeanie Escamilla, according to the Houston Daily Chronicle.Baker was last seen storming out of her grandmothers’ house in Texas City on March 5, 1996, after the two had an argument.
"She did get in a spat with her grandmother that day," said Escamilla.
"She was a teenager," she added, according to the Galveston Daily News. "She loved you one minute and hated you the next."
Later in the day, the girl made calls from a nearby tire shop asking friends and family members to come pick her up. They didn’t get to her in time.Hours later, the teen’s body was found. It took authorities two weeks to identify her. During that period, the teenager was listed as missing, and Escamilla frantically handed out pictures to try to locate her daughter.
Police say they took DNA from Smith during a recent arrest on a drug charge. They ran his sample against a database of cases, and came up with a connection to the Baker case.
"He appeared calm and he appeared like he didn’t have any idea we were coming to arrest him," said Capt. Brian Goetschius of the Texas City Police Department, according to ABC News. If convicted, Smith could face life in prison. He is currently being held in lieu of a $1 million bail.
Though Smith is a Louisiana resident, police believe he previously lived in the Texas City area. They are still trying to construct a timeline to determine where and when exactly he was in Texas City.
Escamilla said that she had left the case “in the hands of God” and focused on looking after her five grandchildren.
"I wish I could wake up out of this terrible nightmare and hold my little girl in my arms again," Escamilla said, according to the Galveston Daily News. "None of this is going to bring her back."
EAST ORANGE, N.J. (Sept. 25) — A man who was denied access to a private party at an apartment near Seton Hall University left and returned with a handgun, fatally shooting a university student and wounding four other people.
Seton Hall student Jessica Moore, 19, died from her injuries at 3:20 p.m. Saturday, said Katherine Carter, a spokeswoman for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. Moore had been hospitalized in critical condition after the shooting just after midnight.
The other four victims were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, but one has since been released, said East Orange Police Sgt. Andrew Di Elmo.
Di Elmo says the victims did not know the shooter, who fled from the apartment on foot. Police are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the suspect’s capture.
Police said that in addition to Moore, two of the other victims are both 19-year-old female students at Seton Hall, and one is a 25-year-old male student at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. The fifth victim is a 20-year-old man from New York City who is not a student.
Police were not releasing the other victims’ names because the shooter remains at-large, Di Elmo said.
A man who said he had stopped by the party told The Star-Ledger of Newark that he was in the kitchen and heard people shouting in the living room when a shot rang out. The man declined to give his full name to the newspaper because he feared for his safety.
More shots were fired as the panicked crowd stampeded toward the back of the house to try to escape, the man said. He told the newspaper he went back into the house as police arrived and saw one of the victims lying on the floor.
The apartment is located at 564 South Clinton Street in East Orange, less than a mile from the university. Mary Williams, a 59-year-old retiree who lives next door, said she was in bed when she heard the gunshots, and she called 911.
"I seen people scattering, climbing out the window, trying to get out the front door, back windows, a lot of hollering and screaming," Williams said in a telephone interview.The university planned a community prayer service Saturday at 9 p.m. to "support the Seton Hall students and their families affected by this morning’s shooting in East Orange," according to a notice posted on the school’s website.
Additionally, the school’s Department of Public Safety urged students to “travel in groups when walking off campus.”
Seton Hall, a private Catholic university in nearby South Orange, about 15 miles west of New York City, enrolls about 10,000 students.
Palace Intrigue: Queen Ripped for Heating Request.
LONDON (Sept. 24) — An elderly British woman who wanted help heating her home has been criticized after she asked for a handout from a government anti-poverty fund. What’s wrong with that, you might ask? Well, the woman in question was Queen Elizabeth II, and the humble abode she wanted warming was her swank London residence, the 775-room Buckingham Palace.
The Independent newspaper today published government papers that show how, back in 2004, a senior royal aide wrote to ministers and asked if the queen would be eligible for a grant from a $90 million energy-saving fund. That scheme had been set up to help cash-strapped families, schools and hospitals lower their fuel bills by subsidizing better insulation and more efficient heating systems.
The monarch’s deputy treasurer argued that the royal family was entitled to a slice of the cash since gas and electricity bills had climbed more than 50 percent over the preceding year, meaning it cost more than $1.8 million to keep the queen and her staff warm and cozy. The treasurer added that the annual $23 million government grant that helps pay for the upkeep of the monarch’s palaces — part of the $60 million payment she receives each year from taxpayers — was no longer sufficient.
That request was turned down by an apologetic official with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, who gently explained that the fund was designed to help people considerably poorer than Queen Elizabeth II. (Forbes magazine estimates she’s worth $450 million.) The official added that such a handout wouldn’t go down well with her subjects, either.”I also feel a bit uneasy about the probable adverse press coverage if the Palace were given a grant at the expense of, say, a hospital,” the official said, according to The Independent. “Sorry this doesn’t sound more positive.”
Anti-monarchy groups have blasted the palace’s attempt to dip into the anti-poverty fund. “We have our head of state demanding cash that has been set aside for low-income families, for the most vulnerable in our society,” Graham Smith, a spokesman for the campaign group Republic, said in statement. “This sense of entitlement speaks volumes about the attitudes of the Windsors and their household. For them it’s all about take, take, take. This is an outrage.”
Obama Slams Ahmadinejad but Pushes Talks With Iran.
(Sept. 24) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be the United States’ best bet for isolating and forcing change from Iran.
President Barack Obama, in an interview today with the BBC service directed at Iran, lambasted Ahmadinejad for once again suggesting the U.S. government orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, even as the White House and its allies work to revive talks with Iran aimed at restricting Iran’s nuclear program.
"It was offensive. It was hateful. And particularly for him to make the statement here in Manhattan, just a little north of ground zero, where families lost their loved ones, people of all faiths, all ethnicities who see this as the seminal tragedy of this generation. For him to make a statement like that was inexcusable," Obama said.
"It stands in contrast with the response of the Iranian people when 9/11 happened, when there were candlelight vigils, and I think a natural sense of shared humanity and sympathy was expressed within Iran," Obama added. "And it just shows once again sort of the difference between how the Iranian leadership and this regime operates, and how I think the vast majority of the Iranian people, who are respectful and thoughtful, think about these issues." A senior administration official today told reporters on a conference call the administration was hoping that Obama’s interview would reach the millions of Iranians who can hear the radio arm of BBC Persian and access its Farsi-language website, and that the U.S. would try to amplify the message by reaching out to bloggers, using Twitter and by posting the interview on YouTube. And if Obama’s goal is to prod Iran back to the negotiating table, Ahmadinejad might already be headed in that direction. The Iranian leader later told reporters in New York that his government hopes to resume talks sometime next month.
Ahmadinejad’s comments Thursday before the United Nations General Assembly prompted the American delegation and diplomats from most of the Western world to walk out, and came at a time when global support is growing for U.S. pressure on Iran to curtail the country’s nuclear ambitions.
Washington got a major boost on that front earlier in the week when Russia canceled a long-debated deal to sell its S-300 air-defense missile system to Iran, saying the sale was banned by sanctions adopted by the U.N. Security Council in June. Those sanctions, the fourth and toughest set in as many years against Iran, have been followed by a series of unilateral and multilateral moves by the the U.S., Europe, Japan and others that are aimed at ratcheting up pressure on Iran to return to the nuclear negotiating table.Last October, Iran agreed to suspend its enrichment of uranium in a deal with the five permanent U.N. Security Council members — the U.S., France, Britain, Russia and China — as well as Germany. But the Iranian government quickly walked away from the agreement, giving Washington enough diplomatic capital with the so-called P-5+1 group to eventually pass the new sanctions.
A senior administration official this week said Washington is fully behind an effort by Catherine Ashton, the top European Union foreign affairs official, to restart the dialogue with Iran.
Meetings of the P-5+1 group this week, on the sidelines of the annual U.N. summit, included discussion of what the official called “a phased approach to resolving the nuclear issue,” and specifically a revised arrangement aimed at halting Iran’s enrichment of uranium.
The original deal involved an offer to provide Iran with uranium enriched — or purified — enough for the Tehran Research Reactor, which would theoretically relieve Iran of the need to enrich on its own. Such enrichment is a process key to the creation of atomic weapons.But since the deal fell through, Iran has managed to produce much more highly enriched uranium, enough to build one or two weapons if the uranium is processed more. And the official said one issue Iran would have to address now is the larger uranium stockpile, possibly by agreeing to give some of it to Russia or France as part of any trade.
The senior administration official who spoke today said the administration bases its hope for new negotiations on the economic pain Iran has felt with the new sanctions.
"There’s a choice before the Iranian government," he said. "The costs associated with … failure to live up to its obligations are growing. And those costs, frankly, have exceeded even what I think the Iranian government thought they would be. And you’ve seen not just the very real consequences of the sanctions — including private companies pulling out of Iran, people seeing the cost of doing business in Iran, the international isolation of Iran — but you’ve also seen statements from prominent Iranian leaders expressing concern about the sanctions."
Asked about the discomfort sanctions bring to average Iranians, Obama sought to emphasize in his interview with BBC Persian that Russia, China and others have backed the sanctions as well. And he argued that “this is a matter of the Iranians’ government, I think, ultimately betraying the interests of its own people by isolating it further.”
(Sept. 24) — Relatives say the matriarch of a Cambodian immigrant family in Seattle had a history of mental problems, but they still don’t know what set her on a shooting rampage that left the woman and three of her family members dead. “Grandma just shot them for no reason,” 17-year-old relative Tony Sun told The Seattle Times. Chhouy Harm then turned the gun on herself, police said. Sun and other relatives told the paper that the woman they call “grandma,” believed to be in her 50s or 60s, was mentally ill and had been in and out of institutions or hospitals. He said he knew she had a gun but had never seen it himself. And he doesn’t know what set her off. “No one knows why,” he said.Family members also told KIRO-TV that the woman had stopped taking her medication.
Police and relatives say Harm methodically shot dead her son-in-law and two teenage granddaughters Thursday afternoon, and then wounded her 42-year-old daughter, whom police found bleeding in the street outside the home. “My mom has gone crazy,” she told them, according to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.Authorities haven’t released the victims’ names, but relatives identified them to The Seattle Times. The wounded woman, identified as Thyda Harm, was in serious but stable condition at Harborview Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg-Hanson told The Associated Press.
SWAT team commandos who happened to be in west Seattle on another mission rushed to the home after neighbors reported gunshots.
“I just heard gunshots. I come out and cops were all over,” Bobby Miller, who lives nearby, told KOMO-TV. “Just ‘bam, bam,’ and that was it, then screaming over here.”Police cordoned off the property, but a Cambodian man jumped over the police tape and rushed into the house. More shots rang out, and the man ran back out of the house and told police his wife had committed suicide.
“He ran from the house and told us there were several people shot inside and she had apparently shot herself,” Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel told KOMO. Police later found a 9-mm handgun and a .25-caliber automatic pistol inside the house.
At least 11 relatives lived in the house, and police have called in a Cambodian interpreter to help them question family members, KIRO reported.
At U.N., Obama puts human rights, democracy at center of foreign policy.
UNITED NATIONS - President Obama outlined a leading role for the United States in promoting human rights and democracy around the world Thursday, laying out a new foreign policy initiative that his advisers said will guide his diplomacy in the years ahead.
In his second annual address to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama spoke more directly than he has previously about the importance of human rights and democracy in ensuring a stable world economy and global security. His words evoked those of his predecessor, George W. Bush, whose emphasis on promoting democracy once drew Obama’s criticism.
The speech marks a shift in emphasis for Obama, who early in his presidency appeared to play down the importance of human rights and democracy in foreign policy, focusing instead on the “mutual interests” of nations in promoting U.S. economic and national security goals. The administration’s attempts to promote human rights discreetly have been criticized as ineffective.
Obama’s democracy agenda, as one adviser called it, will seek to encourage economic and political reforms carried out from within countries, namely through civil society groups that the administration intends to strengthen.
The approach contrasts with the Bush administration’s “freedom agenda,” which went beyond supporting grass-roots efforts to include direct outside influence on oppressive governments through regime change resolutions, sharp rhetoric, and, in the case of Iraq, an invasion.
"Part of the price of our own freedom is standing up for the freedom of others," Obama told the hundreds of delegates and audience members who filled the General Assembly hall for his remarks. "That belief will guide America’s leadership in this 21st century."
Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser for human rights and democracy under Obama’s predecessor, praised the speech but questioned whether the administration would pressure important partners to address the issue.
"This was his best rhetoric yet on the subject, but according to the White House fact sheet they appear to believe they are doing all they need to do," Abrams said. "That is unfortunate, because it means the gap between rhetoric and reality will only grow." Abrams said the Obama administration has not stressed human rights "where it counts - in our bilateral relations." Multilateral actions are much less important, he said, so "with Russia, China, Egypt, the pressure seems to be off, despite today’s rhetoric. And dictators can sense that very fast."
TOKYO — Japanese authorities said on Friday that they will release the captain of a Chinese trawler whose arrest two weeks ago near islands claimed by China and Japan had caused growing tensions between the two Asian powers. Japanese prosecutors said they decided not to press charges against the captain, identified as Zhan Qixiong, 41, who was detained on Sept. 8 after his boat collided with Japanese Coast
The arrest had sent Japan’s ties with China to their lowest point in years. China reacted angrily to the arrest by cutting off ministerial-level talks, with Premier Wen Jiabao threatening further unspecified actions if he was not released.
While appealing for calm, Japanese leaders had initially stood firm in saying that their country’s laws applied to the captain, who was detained in waters administered by Japan but claimed by China and also Taiwan.
It was unclear if Tokyo had decided to give in to China’s demands, or even if central government officials had any hand in the captain’s release. However, prosecutors on Ishigaki island, where the captain was being held, did cite diplomatic considerations in their decision not to indict him on charges of obstructing officials on duty.
“Considering the effect on the people of our nation and on China-Japan relations, we decided that it was not appropriate to continue the investigation,” the prosecutors said in a statement. Guard vessels that were pursuing him near the disputed islands in the East China Sea.
Facing growing nationalist outrage at the arrest, authorities in Beijing had been raising the pressure on Tokyo for the captain’s unconditional release. Earlier this week, Chinese officials said Mr. Wen would probably not meet Japan’s prime minister, Naoto Kan, during a United Nations development conference in New York.
China has argued that the issue is one for diplomacy, not Japan’s legal system. Known as Senkaku in Japanese or Diaoyu in Chinese, the islands have been in dispute for decades, but until now Japan has usually turned back Chinese vessels that approached too closely.
Sentiment in Japan, however, has hardened against China in recent years, as Chinese warships have made more frequent forays into Japanese waters, including an incident in April when a Chinese helicopter buzzed a Japanese warship.
Shortly after the release was announced, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it would send a chartered plane to bring captain Zhan Qixiong back home. “I reiterate that any kind of so-called legal proceedings taken against the Chinese captain are illegal and invalid,” a spokeswoman said, according to a report on the ministry’s Web site.
In a commentary on the release, the official Xinhua news agency quoted experts saying that releasing the captain “is the precondition for Sino-Japanese relations to return to normal.”
Chinese analysts said the move could help ease tension between the two economic partners. Wang Xiangsui, a foreign policy analyst at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said China especially objected to Japan using its domestic laws to deal with the captain. This implied that the territories were Japanese and not subject to negotiation.
“This was a move that Japan had to make or China would have taken further steps,” Mr. Wang said. “Now the two sides can discuss this more calmly.”
The most recent flare-up comes as China faces disputes with its neighbors to the south over control of islands in the South China Sea. It has also objected to American military exercises in waters near Korea.
The Japanese prosecutors’ decision followed news in Beijing on Thursday that four Japanese citizens had been arrested for videotaping military installations.
The report by the official Xinhua news agency said four Japanese citizens were detained at a military base near the city of Shijiazhuang, about 190 miles southwest of Beijing.
“Currently, the case is being investigated,” said a statement issued by authorities and carried on the Web site of China Daily, a government-controlled newspaper. Japan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that four of its citizens were being held.
The four being detained are employees of the Fujita construction firm, a spokesman for the company said.
It was unclear whether those arrests were linked to the detention of the captain.
The last communication Fujita had with the workers was a cell phone text message from one of them on Tuesday that read, “help,” said a company spokesman, Yoshiaki Onodera.
The employees and their interpreter, a Chinese national, were in Hebei to research possible sites to excavate for weapons left behind by the Japanese army during World War II, Mr. Onodera said. The Japanese government has been funding a program to remove such weapons in China and Fujita is one of the contractors.
Economic ties between the countries — the world’s second- and third-largest economies — appeared to be fraying over the matter. Some metals traders say China has halted sales of rare earth metals to Japan, although China denies this.