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World briefly for Jan. 9

POSTED: January 9, 2013 8:58 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Seeking to spur fresh action on gun legislation, Vice President Joe Biden is meeting at the White House with victims groups and gun-safety organizations.

Wednesday's meeting is to be part of a series of gatherings Biden is conducting this week at the White House, aimed at building consensus around proposals to curb gun violence following the horrific elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The vice president will meet Thursday with the National Rifle Association and other gun-owner groups. Meetings with representatives from the video-game and entertainment industries are also planned.

President Barack Obama wants Biden to report back to him with policy proposals by the end of the month. Obama has vowed to move swiftly on the recommendations, a package expected to include both legislative proposals and executive action.

"He is mindful of the need to act," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.

But as the shock and sorrow over the Newtown, Conn., shooting fade, the tough fight facing the White House and gun-control backers is growing clearer. Gun-rights advocates, including the powerful NRA, are digging in against tighter gun restrictions, conservative groups are launching pro-gun initiatives, and the Senate's top Republican has warned it could be spring before Congress begins considering any gun legislation.

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Officials hold buybacks, discuss guns in wake of Conn. shooting, anniversary of Ariz. rampage

The national gun debate swelled Tuesday as Arizona and the country commemorated the shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., two years ago that killed six people and left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords injured — an anniversary that came on the heels of the mass killing at a Connecticut elementary school. Here's how some state and local leaders are taking action:

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ARIZONA — Giffords and her husband on Tuesday launched a political action committee aimed at curbing gun violence, while two politicians on opposite ends of the gun debate held dueling weapons buybacks outside a Tucson police station.

In Maricopa County, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has said he plans to post armed volunteers on school perimeters to protect Phoenix-area students.

His plan, announced last month, came after two other Arizona officials released ideas for boosting school security: Attorney General Tom Horne proposed firearms training for one person in each school, and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu proposed training multiple educators per school to carry guns.

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Testimony details unfocused Holmes after Colo. massacre; police say he made elaborate plans

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — As officials this week laid out the most detailed portrait yet of last year's Aurora movie theater massacre, they also mapped sometimes paradoxical behavior by the man accused of the rampage, James Holmes.

At a hearing to determine whether the former neuroscience graduate student should stand trial for the shooting, detectives Tuesday testified that Holmes spent more than two months assembling an arsenal for the assault on a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Returns."

He bought his tickets nearly two weeks before the July 20 massacre. He rigged an elaborate booby-trap system in his apartment to distract police from the carnage at the theater, though the trap was never sprung, they testified.

But after police arrested him leaving the scene clad in body armor, Holmes showed less focus. He played with the paper bags they placed on his hand to preserve gunpowder evidence, pretending they were puppets, Aurora Det. Craig Appel testified. Holmes played with a cup and tried to jam a staple into an electrical outlet.

Holmes' lawyers were expected to present an insanity defense. They have previously stated that Holmes, 25, is mentally ill. Defense lawyer Tamara Brady pointedly asked an ATF agent in court Tuesday whether any Colorado law prevented "a severely mentally ill person" from buying the 6,295 rounds of ammunition, body armor and handcuffs that Holmes purchased online.

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AP Exclusive: Richardson, Google delegation pressing NKorea for missile ban, open Internet

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Wednesday that his delegation is pressing North Korea to put a moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests and to allow more cell phones and an open Internet for its citizens.

Richardson told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview in Pyongyang that the group is also asking for fair and humane treatment for an American citizen detained in North Korea. Also on the trip is Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.

"The citizens of the DPRK (North Korea) will be better off with more cell phones and an active Internet. Those are the ... messages we've given to a variety of foreign policy officials, scientists" and government officials, Richardson said.

Most North Koreans have never logged onto the Internet, and the country's authoritarian government strictly limits access to the World Wide Web.

Richardson has said the delegation is on a private, humanitarian trip. Schmidt, who is the highest-profile U.S. business executive to visit North Korea since leader Kim Jong Un took power a year ago, has not spoken publicly about the reasons behind the journey to North Korea.

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Influential Chinese newspaper to publish as management, reporters pull back from standoff

GUANGZHOU, China (AP) — Communist Party-backed management and rebellious staff at an influential weekly newspaper stepped back Wednesday from a contentious standoff over censorship that spilled over to the wider public and turned into an unexpected test of the new Chinese leadership's tolerance for political reform.

Hopes among supporters of the Southern Weekly that the dispute would strike a blow against censorship appeared to fizzle with a tentative resolution. Under an agreement reached Tuesday, editors and reporters at the newspaper will not be punished for protesting and stopping work in anger over a propaganda official's heavy-handed rewriting of a New Year's editorial last week, according to two members of the editorial staff. One, an editor, said propaganda officials will no longer directly censor content prior to publication, though other longstanding controls remain in place.

"If that's the case, we've got a small victory for the media," said David Bandurksi, an expert on Chinese media at Hong Kong University. The compromise, he said, might see censors back off the "really ham-fisted approach" they had taken in recent months.

The staff members who described the deal asked not to be identified because they feared retaliation after they and other employees were told not to speak to foreign media. Executives at the newspaper and its parent company, the state-owned Nanfang Media Group, declined comment on the agreement other than to say that staff were at work Wednesday and the Southern Weekly would publish as normal Thursday.

Aside from getting the presses rolling, the agreement appears likely to deflate the confrontation that presented a knotty challenge to Communist Party leader Xi Jinping two months after taking office. Xi has raised hopes of more liberal party rule, urging respect for the often-ignored constitution, and of a wider role for the media in helping Beijing press a renewed campaign against widespread corruption.

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Illinois' newly sworn in legislature to includes 3 charged lawmakers, worrying some reformers

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — When Illinois' new General Assembly takes the oath of office Wednesday, the state that's still struggling to rebuild its image after two consecutive governors went to prison will set yet another precedent of sorts: Three sitting lawmakers facing criminal charges.

Illinois is no stranger to dramatic headlines about the nexus of politics and crime in its highest offices — most recently former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's conviction for attempting to sell Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat. But experts and capitol veterans can't recall a comparable circumstance for state legislators since the early 1970s, when several were rounded up in a bribery trial involving cement trucks.

The allegations against the three officials vary widely: bribery, bank fraud and trying to bring a gun onto a plane. But experts say that while the charges differ, the accumulation and timing is damaging to Illinois as it struggles to address some of the most serious financial problems in its history.

"All this does is confirm those negative, cynical opinions that are out there," said Kent Redfield, a University of Illinois at Springfield political scientist. "Part of that reputation is well deserved, ... but if you're trying to get citizens of Illinois to accept the legitimacy of the process you need as much credibility and trust as you can muster. That's in pretty low supply in state government currently."

The three legislators, former Rep. Derrick Smith, Rep. La Shawn Ford and Sen. Donne Trotter, are Chicago Democrats. But that's where the similarities end.

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Washington National Cathedral to begin performing 1st same-sex marriages under Episcopal law

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Washington National Cathedral, where the nation gathers to mourn tragedies and celebrate new presidents, will soon begin performing same-sex marriages.

Cathedral officials tell The Associated Press the church will be among the first Episcopal congregations to implement a new rite of marriage for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members. The church will announce its new policy Wednesday.

As the nation's most prominent church, the decision carries huge symbolism. The 106-year-old cathedral has long been a spiritual center for the nation, hosting presidential inaugural services and funerals for Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. It draws hundreds of thousands of visitors.

In light of the legality of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia and now Maryland, the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, decided in December to allow an expansion of the Christian marriage sacrament. The diocese covers the district and four counties in Maryland. The change is allowed under a "local option" granted by the church's General Convention, church leaders said. Each priest in the diocese can then decide whether to perform same-sex unions.

The Very Rev. Gary Hall, the cathedral's dean, said performing same-sex marriages is an opportunity to break down barriers and build a more inclusive community "that reflects the diversity of God's world."

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AIG board to weigh joining $25 billion shareholder lawsuit against US over bailout

NEW YORK (AP) — AIG is considering Wednesday whether the company should join a lawsuit against the government that spent $182 billion to save it from collapse.

American International Group Inc. said its board of directors will weigh whether to take part in a shareholder lawsuit against the U.S. over the government's $182 billion bailout of the New York-based insurer.

If AIG decides to join the complaint, which seeks $25 billion in damages, it would pit the company against the government that in 2008 kept it from buckling under the weight huge losses on mortgage-backed securities and other toxic assets.

AIG said that after Wednesday's meeting, its directors should have a decision by the end of the month.

Starr International Co. Inc., the investment firm of former AIG CEO Maurice Greenberg, filed the lawsuit in November 2011 on behalf of the firm and AIG shareholders.

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Review: TV-over-Internet Aereo service a good supplement to Hulu, temptation for cutting cable

NEW YORK (AP) — Broadcast networks make many of their shows available on the Internet, but you usually have to wait at least a day after an episode airs on television. A subscription service called Aereo breaks those shackles and makes network programs available right away.

That sounds too good to be true, and in a sense it is. First, it works only in New York City for now, though Aereo said Tuesday that it will expand to 22 more U.S. cities this spring. Its channel selection is limited to 29 over-the-air channels and Bloomberg TV. It doesn't include the other cable networks I frequently watch.

The biggest caveat is the fact that broadcast networks are suing to shut it down. More on that later.

Aereo is no fly-by-night pirate operation. The startup is backed by big money and a big name — media billionaire Barry Diller. Aereo believes what it is doing is legal. It has created tiny antennas, each the size of a dime. The company stuffs thousands of them into small boxes at its data center in Brooklyn.

When you're ready to watch a show, you are assigned one of those antennas, as if you had your own antenna on your roof. You get a second one, too, if you want to record something to watch later. You can also record both shows for later. Shows you watch live or record for later viewing are streamed over the Internet to a Web browser.

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'Lincoln,' 'Les Miserables, 'Life of Pi' lead nominations for British Academy Film Awards

LONDON (AP) — Historical biopic "Lincoln" leads the race for the British Academy Film Awards, with 10 nominations including best picture at the U.K. equivalent of the Oscars.

Epic musical "Les Miserables" and boy-meets-tiger saga "Life of Pi" received nine nominations each on Wednesday. James Bond adventure "Skyfall" got eight — rare awards recognition for an action movie — and Iran hostage thriller "Argo" took seven.

"Lincoln" focuses on the last months in the life of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, as he struggled to end the Civil War and pass a constitutional amendment banning slavery.

Britain's Daniel Day-Lewis is nominated for leading actor for his uncanny embodiment of the iconic president, and there are supporting nominations for Sally Field as his wife Mary Todd Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones as abolitionist firebrand Thaddeus Stevens. But the film's director, Steven Spielberg, failed to get a nod.

The best picture nominees are "Lincoln," ''Les Miserables," ''Life of Pi," ''Argo" and Osama bin Laden thriller "Zero Dark Thirty."

 

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