EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 24, 2013

World in brief


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Last-minute health insurance shoppers given 1-day extension

CHICAGO (AP) — Anticipating heavy traffic on the government’s health care website, the Obama administration extended yesterday’s deadline for signing up for insurance by a day, giving Americans in 36 states more time to select a plan.

It was the latest in a series of pushed-back deadlines and delays that have marked the rollout of the health care law.

But federal officials urged buyers not to procrastinate.

“You should not wait until tomorrow. If you are aiming to get coverage Jan. 1, you should try to sign up today,” said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the federal agency in charge of the overhaul.

Bataille said the grace period — which runs through Tuesday — was being offered to accommodate people from different time zones and to allow for any technical problems that might result from a last-minute rush of applicants.

Judge lets Utah gay marriage continue during appeal

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A federal judge yesterday allowed gay marriage to continue in Utah, rejecting a request to put same-sex weddings on hold as the state appeals a decision that has sent couples flocking to county clerk offices for marriage licenses.

Judge Robert J. Shelby overturned Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage Friday, ruling the voter-approved measure is a violation of gay couples’ constitutional rights. The state then asked him to put a stop to the weddings, but he rejected the request.

Shelby’s ruling is far from the end of the legal wrangling on the topic. The state quickly filed a request with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to put gay marriage on hold, and that court could rule as soon as Monday evening or Tuesday. The same court, in Denver, likely will hear the full appeal of the case several months from now.

In the meantime, the rush on marriage licenses continues for gay couples around Utah.

More than 300 gay couples have obtained marriage licenses since Friday in Utah’s most populous county. On Monday, an estimated 100 licenses were issued in other counties, while some clerks shut their doors as they awaited Shelby’s decision.

For Obama adviser, secret Iran talks cement status

WASHINGTON (AP) — Last year, while Jake Sullivan was traveling with his boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he quietly disappeared during a stop in Paris. He showed up again a few days later, rejoining Clinton’s traveling contingent in Mongolia.

In between, Sullivan secretly jetted to the Middle Eastern nation of Oman to meet with officials from Iran, people familiar with the trip said. The July 2012 meeting is one of the Obama administration’s earliest known face-to-face contacts with Iran and reveals that Sullivan - who moved from the State Department to the White House earlier this year - was personally involved in the administration’s outreach to the Islamic republic far earlier than had been reported.

Senior administration officials had previously confirmed to The Associated Press that Sullivan and other officials held at least five secret meetings with Iran this year, paving the way for an interim nuclear agreement signed in November by Iran, the United States and five other world powers.

The cloak-and-dagger diplomacy may seem like a tough assignment even for a grizzled foreign policy veteran, but Sullivan is just 37 and looks even younger. Even-keeled and pragmatic, Sullivan’s temperament mirrors that of President Barack Obama, people close to him say. That helped him crack the tight-knit foreign policy team at the White House where he serves as Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser.

While Biden is a possible presidential candidate in 2016, Sullivan remains loyal to Clinton and is seen as her likely pick for White House national security adviser, should she run for president and win.

Pussy Riot members released from prison following amnesty

KRASNOYARSK, Russia (AP) — The last two imprisoned members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot walked free yesterday, criticizing the amnesty measure that released them as a publicity stunt, with one calling for a boycott of the Winter Olympics to protest Russia’s human rights record.

Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were granted amnesty last week in a move largely viewed as the Kremlin’s attempt to soothe criticism of Russia’s human rights record before the Sochi Games in February.

“I’m calling for a boycott of the Olympic Games,” Tolokonnikova said. “What is happening today — releasing people just a few months before their term expires — is a cosmetic measure.”

The amnesty — part of a wide measure passed last week by the parliament — and President Vladimir Putin’s pardoning last week of onetime oil tycoon and political rival Mikhail Khodorkovsky freed some of the most prominent convicts who were sentenced in politically-tainted cases.

But it also gives them new freedom to launch criticism of Putin’s Russia amid intense attention from international news media.

3,000 foreigners in violent South Sudan city evacuated

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — British, Canadian and Kenyan citizens are among 3,000 foreigners trapped in a South Sudan city experiencing bouts of heavy machine gun fire, one of the most violent areas of a weeklong conflict that has likely killed more than 1,000 people, a top U.N. official said Monday.

Australians, Ugandans and Ethiopians are also among 17,000 people seeking protection at a U.N. base in Bor, a city that could see increased violence in coming days, said Toby Lanzer, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator.

The death toll from a week of violence in South Sudan has likely surpassed 1,000 people, though there are no firm numbers available, he said. The number of internal refugees is probably more than 100,000, said Lanzer, who is seeking urgent financial assistance from the U.S., Britain and other European countries.

“I know there are many thousands of people seeking protection in churches,” Lanzer said. “I know that we have our own staff that have literally walked into the bush and are communicating from there. That’s where they say they are safest.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Security Council late Monday to add 5,500 troops and police to the 7,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, citing growing violence in many parts of the country, human rights abuses, “and killings fueled by ethnic tensions.”