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April 8, 2009 at 8:51 AM
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Quake in Italy leaves at least 250 dead

L'AQUILA, Italy, April 8 (UPI) -- The death toll rose to 250 people with reports of up to 15 people missing from the ruinous earthquake that hit Italy's Abruzzo region, officials said.

Powerful aftershocks hampered search-and-rescue operations Tuesday in L'Aquila and surrounding towns where the 6.3-magnitude quake struck a day earlier, the Italian news agency ANSA reported Wednesday.

A funeral for quake victims was scheduled for Friday, coinciding with Good Friday ceremonies, in L'Aquila, the region's capital, a religious leader said. The area is about 70 miles northeast of Rome.

The government said a national day of mourning soon would be declared.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano was to visit L'Aquila Thursday. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was to make his third visit to the region Wednesday to inspect damage to historic buildings and sites so a plan for their restoration and reconstruction could be developed.

Prefabricated housing has been erected to accommodate the tens of thousands of people left homeless by the earthquake that struck in the overnight hours Monday, CNN reported. Officials said about 20,000 houses needed to be inspected before residents could return.

In L'Aquila, rescuers on Tuesday pulled a 20-year-old woman who spent 42 hours beneath the rubble. Dr. Emanuela Troiani Sevi, working a field hospital in the region's capital, told CNN two other survivors had been extracted earlier.


Goals of Obama's overseas trip debated

WASHINGTON, April 8 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama returned Wednesday from his first overseas visit as commander in chief with analysts debating whether he achieved his goals.

Despite the warm reception he received at nearly every stop, Obama fell short on getting European allies to open their wallets for increased stimulus spending or commit to sending more troops to Afghanistan for long-term deployment, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

"Why didn't the waters part, the sun shine and all ills of the world disappear because President Obama came to Europe this week? That wasn't our expectation," David Axelrod, a key Obama aide, said to the Post. "We understand ... that this involves solving the problems, the difficult, thorny problems we face in the world."

Advisers point to the Group of 20's commitment of more than $1 trillion to the International Monetary Fund and programs to pick up the global economy and protect the poorest nations from the economic downturn. In addition, new arms reduction talks are on tap with Russia and Obama outlined a basis for improving U.S. relations with the world.

"There was a sense that America was back. So many of the leaders basically said, 'It's nice to have America back at its place,'" White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said.

Critics, however, said Obama showed more form than substance, the Post said.

Thomas Donnelly, a foreign and defense policy fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said Obama "maintained, and if anything added to, the feeling of bonhomie that the rest of the world now regards him."

Substantively, Donnelly told the Post, there wasn't much "and what there was, if you hold it up to the light, there should be many questions about it."


Blast at Shiite shrine kills seven

BAGHDAD, April 8 (UPI) -- A bomb exploded near a Shiite shrine in northern Baghdad Wednesday, killing at least seven Iraqis and injuring 23 others, officials said.

The bomb detonated in the Kadhimiya district near the Imam Musa al-Kadhim shrine, one of the holiest shrines for Shiite Muslims, CNN reported.

Wednesday was the third consecutive day of attacks that struck mostly Shiite areas in the Iraqi capital.

On Tuesday, a parked car exploded in the Kadhimiya district, killing nine people and injuring more than a dozen. On Monday, seven separate bombings in Baghdad killed at least 32 people and wounded more than 130.

The Iraqi government and the U.S. military blame Monday's series of attacks on the ousted Baath party and al-Qaida in Iraq, CNN said. Officials said the attacks were meant to create sectarian divisions.


Four shot at Korean retreat in California

TEMEULCA, Calif., April 8 (UPI) -- Investigators searched for more possible victims at a Korean retreat in California where at least four people were shot and two hospitalized, officials said.

Reports were conflicting about whether anyone had died in the shooting. CNN reported one fatality while the Los Angeles Times said officials couldn't confirm the death.

A spokesman for the Riverside County Sheriff's Department said officials thought a suspected gunman may be among the injured at the Kkottongnae Retreat Camp, located in the hills east of Temecula, Calif., the Times reported Wednesday.

Police were called to the facility after receiving reports of an assault with a deadly weapon resulting in several victims, a sheriff's deputy said.

"Because of the language barrier, we don't know who the shooter is yet. But we feel there is no one out in the community who is armed," Sheriff's Department spokesman Dennis Gutierrez said.

The center, run by the Congregation of the Sisters of Jesus, is a Christian social service organization founded in South Korea that provides help to orphans and the homeless. Its Web site lists California locations in Lynwood and the Temecula area, as well as facilities in Atlanta and New Jersey.


Vermont legalizes same-sex marriage

MONTPELIER, Vt., April 8 (UPI) -- Gay and lesbian couples will be able to get married in Vermont beginning in September.

The state legalized same-sex marriage Tuesday when both houses of the state Legislature voted to override the governor's veto. Same-sex couples can begin getting marriage licenses in Vermont, Sept. 1.

Vermont was the first state in the United States to adopt civil unions and is now the first to legalize marriage for homosexual couples by legislative action, The Burlington Free Press reported.

In Massachusetts, Connecticut and, last week, Iowa, the state courts found that bans on homosexual marriage are unconstitutional.

Republican Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas vetoed the same-sex marriage bill Monday. But the Legislature voted overwhelmingly to reverse him, 23-5 in the Senate and 100-49 in the House.

Jeff Young, who cast the 100th vote for an override, told The Boston Globe he originally voted against it because he decided it was not "family friendly." But he decided to switch when he realized he would be the one deciding whether it became law.

Supporters of the bill gathered at the Statehouse for the vote, WPTZ-TV, Burlington, said.

"We haven't decided who's going to propose to who yet," one man told the television station, with the couple adding that they have been partners for almost 25 years.

A bill has passed the House in neighboring New Hampshire. Gov. John Lynch has not said whether he would veto the measure if it passes the state Senate.

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