Obama edges toward strike on Syria
WASHINGTON (AP) — Edging toward a punitive strike against Syria, President Barack Obama said Friday he is weighing “limited and narrow” action as the administration bluntly accused Bashar Assad’s government of launching a chemical weapons attack that killed at least 1,429 people — far more than previous estimates — including more than 400 children.
No “boots on the ground,” Obama said, seeking to reassure Americans weary after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With France as his only major public ally, Obama told reporters he has a strong preference for multilateral action. He added, “frankly part of the challenge we end up with here is a lot of people think something should be done but nobody wants to do it.”
Halfway around the world, U.S. warships were in place in the Mediterranean Sea armed. They carried cruise missiles, long a first-line weapon of choice for presidents because they can find a target hundreds of miles distant without need of air cover or troops on the ground.
In what appeared increasingly like the pre-attack endgame, U.N. personnel dispatched to Syria carried out a fourth and final day of inspection as they sought to determine precisely what happened in last week’s attack. The international contingent arranged to depart on Saturday and head to laboratories in Europe with the samples they have collected.
UN chemical weapons inspectors to analyze samples from Syria
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — They’ve endured repeated delays, unrelenting scrutiny and even snipers’ bullets in Damascus. Now U.N. inspectors, who have been gathering evidence of a possible chemical weapons attack in Syria, are poised to return to the Netherlands in coming days, setting in motion a meticulous process of analyzing samples at specially accredited laboratories.
According to the team’s U.N. mandate, the analysis will establish if a chemical attack took place, but not who was responsible for a deadly Aug. 21 attack that Doctors Without Borders says killed 355 people and included the use of toxic gas. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that Washington knows, based on intelligence, that the Syrian regime carefully prepared for days to launch a chemical weapons attack.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to get an initial briefing on the U.N. team’s work this weekend from disarmament chief Angela Kane. The team is expected to leave Syria on Saturday, but it remains unclear exactly how long the process of examining samples will take.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said the team has concluded its collection of evidence, including visits to field hospitals, interviews with witnesses and doctors, and gathering biological samples and environmental samples — and is now packing up and getting ready to leave Syria.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which provided most of the 12-strong team of inspectors, has stringent guidelines for handling and testing samples at a chain of special labs around the world to ensure it delivers unimpeachable results — which could have far-reaching ramifications once they are reported at the United Nations in New York.
Burying the Iraq War hatchet?
PARIS (AP) — If France and the United States are ever going to move beyond French opposition to the Iraq War, this could be the time.
After Britain on Thursday opted out of a possible military strike against Syria, France and the U.S. were left standing as the two countries most vocally contemplating armed action against Bashar Assad’s regime over a suspected chemical weapons attack on his own people.
During the two-year uprising in Syria, France has taken a hard line against Assad. Unlike Britain’s prime minister, French President Francois Hollande doesn’t need parliamentary approval to launch military action. In any case, his Socialist party and its allies control both legislative houses, even if his poll numbers have been dismal recently.
After Hollande spoke with Obama by phone on Friday, the French leader’s office said they agreed “that the international community cannot tolerate the use of chemical weapons,” and must send a strong message against their use and hold Assad’s regime responsible. France and the U.S., the statement added, were “close allies and friends.”
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gushed about the French, “our oldest ally.” Michael O’Hanlon, a national security analyst at the Brookings Institution in the U.S., quipped on BBC television: “We’re all over here learning French, saying ‘Vive la France!’ That’s the new thing.”
San Diego mayor keeps a low profile on alleged harassment
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Mayor Bob Filner’s abbreviated tenure as mayor ended Friday but the sexual harassment allegations that drove him from office promise to follow him into retirement.
The only scheduled event marking his final day was a mock celebration by accusers who gave him several parting gifts, including a mirror that attorney Gloria Allred said he can look at when asking who’s to blame for his resignation.
The former 10-term congressman had no public appearances scheduled. His spokeswoman, Lena Lewis, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment on his whereabouts.
Employees in the City Hall lobby said they hadn’t seen the 70-year-old mayor. An office receptionist had no comment.
Before the scandal, Filner was true to his reputation as a workaholic. Followers adopted a Twitter hashtag — (hash)filnereverywhere — to chronicle his nonstop pace riding a bicycle to school with children, crashing the podium at the city attorney’s news conference to denounce the speaker’s positions, and marching to protest violence against women.
Huge Sierra Nevada wildfire containment at 32 percent
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Nearly a third of the huge forest fire burning in and around Yosemite National Park was contained Friday and some small communities in the area were no longer under evacuation advisories.
Nearly 5,000 firefighters were battling the blaze, but in another sign of progress some were expected to be released to go home, said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“We continue to gain the upper hand, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said.
The 2-week-old blaze burning in the Sierra Nevada northeast of Fresno has scorched 315 square miles of brush, oaks and pine, making it the largest U.S. wildfire to date this year and the fifth largest wildfire in modern California records. Containment was estimated at 32 percent.
Evacuation advisories were lifted Thursday in Tuolumne City, Soulsbyville and Willow Springs but remained in place for other communities, and evacuations were still mandatory along the fire’s southeastern edge.
Gay marriage advocates shift focus
CHICAGO (AP) — After their efforts to legalize gay marriage fizzled in Illinois this year, advocates gave their campaign a serious makeover: They called on unions, focused longer-term and recalibrated their message by using personal stories instead of civil rights comparisons.
It’s a formula picked up from their fellow activists who made Chicago an influential player in the push for immigrant rights.
Proponents will try again this fall to push gay marriage legislation through the Illinois Legislature, where they fell a few votes short in a Democrat-dominated state that’s been surprisingly resistant. But this time, they’re focusing less on lobbying lawmakers and more on priming the environment to make it easier for skittish legislators to cast favorable votes — taking cues from a movement that brought nearly 500,000 protesters to Chicago streets a few years ago and helped advance “Dream Act” goals this year.
“The immigration advocates, they really know how to get it done,” said Jim Bennett, a director for Lambda Legal, a gay rights group that’s part of the Illinois Unites for Marriage campaign. “We have a lot to learn from them.”
Alleged terrorist shown burned in the street as Iraq struggles
BAGHDAD (AP) — The mob strung up the suspected terrorist’s shirtless body by the feet and set it ablaze on a street on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital, a tire placed underneath to fuel the flames. In grainy footage of the immolation this week, police appeared to do little to stop the vigilantes’ street justice.
In another video issued in recent days, jihadi militants who took over a major highway in western Iraq stop three Syrian truck drivers, interrogate them, then gun them down, believing them to be members of the Alawite sect.
The two incidents, confirmed by police, illustrate in stark terms the increasing brutality of the unrest gripping Iraq, fueling complaints that security forces are unable to contain it.
Violence inside Iraq has accelerated in recent months to levels not seen since 2008, with more than 4,000 people killed since the start of April. The growing unrest — marked by frequent coordinated car bombings and other attacks blamed mostly on al-Qaida’s local branch targeting police, the military and often Shiite Muslim areas — is intensifying fears Iraq is heading back toward the widespread Sunni-Shiite sectarian killing that peaked in 2006 and 2007.
Jury convicts teen of murder in shooting of baby in stroller
MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — An 18-year-old man was convicted of murder in the shooting of a baby who was riding in a stroller alongside his mom in a town in coastal Georgia despite the defense’s attempt to cast guilt upon several others, including the child’s parents.
Jurors deliberated about two hours before finding De’Marquise Elkins guilty of 11 counts, including two counts of felony murder and one count of malice murder in the March 21 killing of 13-month-old Antonio Santiago in Brunswick. The man’s mother, Karimah Elkins, was on trial alongside him and was found guilty of tampering with evidence but acquitted of lying to police.
De’Marquise Elkins faces life in prison when he is sentenced at a later date. At the time of the shooting he was 17, too young to face the death penalty under Georgia law.
His lead defense attorney, public defender Kevin Gough, vowed to appeal the verdict. A judge denied his request for the teen to be out on bond during the appeal.
“Marky Elkins and his family are confident that he will receive another trial in which he will be able to present fully his defense,” Gough said. “Mr. Elkins will eventually be exonerated.”
Clinton gets half-million in jewelry from Saudis, outpaces Obama in gifts from world leaders
WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton outpaced President Barack Obama last year in receiving lavish gifts from foreign leaders.
Clinton received gold jewelry worth half a million dollars from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The State Department said the gift included a necklace bracelet, ring and earrings. The white gold was adorned with teardrop rubies and diamonds. Clinton also got gold, sapphire and diamond jewelry worth $58,000 from Brunei’s queen.
Obama’s most expensive gift was a $16,500 gold-plated clock from Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the Saudi defense minister.
Obama, a big sports fan, scored a red, white and blue basketball from — and autographed by — Chinese President President Xi Jinping. British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife, Samantha, gave Obama a customized Dunlop table tennis table with United States and United Kingdom decals and paddles worth $1,100.
The gifts were among a bounty of vases, watches, artwork and other items given to the Obama family and top U.S. officials in 2012, according to the department’s Office of Protocol, which catalogs the gifts and publishes an annual listing.
NBA’s Lamar Odom arrested for DUI after his Mercedes is pulled over on LA freeway
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Basketball star Lamar Odom was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence early Friday after a California Highway Patrol officer saw his white Mercedes-Benz traveling erratically on a San Fernando Valley Freeway.
The husband of reality TV star Khloe Kardashian was stopped shortly before 4 a.m. and was arrested after a field sobriety test.
The CHP said Odom’s car was observed traveling in a “serpentine manner” before he pulled off the freeway.
“Mr. Odom showed objective signs of intoxication and was unable to perform field sobriety tests,” the CHP said in a report. Authorities said he later declined to take a chemical test.
Odom, 33, was booked for investigation of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and jailed on $15,000 bail.