Jury finds Edwards not guilty on one count
GREENSBORO, N.C., May 31 (UPI) -- Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards was found not guilty Thursday on one of six counts in his federal campaign finance trial.
The judge declared a mistrial on the other five, The New York Times reported Thursday.
Edwards was found not guilty on the third count, involving a $200,000 check heiress Rachel Mellon gave to Edwards towards the end of his campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
The court was prepared for a full verdict Thursday afternoon when the foreman announced jury members had reached a unanimous verdict on only one count. U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles sent them back into deliberations, reminding them of the time and costs involved in the trial.
Jurors, however, returned about an hour later and the verdict on the one charge was announced. The judge then declared a mistrial on the other charges.
The jury began deliberations on May 18.
The former Democratic U.S. senator from North Carolina was charged with accepting illegal campaign contributions, conspiracy to receive and conceal the contributions and falsifying documents, which carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.
The case revolved around money from two wealthy donors that was used to hide Edwards' pregnant mistress from the media. The issue was whether Edwards knew about the contributions during his 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and whether he was aware they were illegal.
Syria frees 500 pro-democracy prisoners
DAMASCUS, Syria, May 31 (UPI) -- Syrian authorities Thursday said the government has freed 500 prisoners arrested in the pro-democracy demonstrations that began 14 months ago.
The official SANA news agency said 265 detainees "who got involved in the recent events in the country, but did not commit murders" were released on May 5, and another 250 detainees were freed May 16.
The announcement came two days after U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's latest visit to Damascus to try to save a fragile cease-fire. The Italian news agency ANSA said despite the recent releases many activists and political prisoners remain in Syrian jails.
SANA said 4,482 prisoners "who have not committed" crimes have been released since November.
Wednesday, a Syrian rebel leader said his forces will leave the cease-fire agreement with the government Friday if President Bashar Assad fails to abide by terms of the truce.
In an Internet posting, Free Syrian Army Col. Qassim Saadeddine set a deadline of noon Friday (local time) for Assad to begin carrying out commitments his government made to the six-point peace plan, Voice of America reported.
If Assad fails to comply, Saadeddine said his forces no would no longer be bound by the peace plan, which has been tenuous since it went into effect in mid-April. Despite agreement to the truce, the fighting has continued, with each side accusing the other of breaking the cease-fire.
The Free Syrian Army is a loosely organized and armed rebel group made up mainly of Syrian military defectors.
Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said Wednesday if Annan's plan keeps faltering, the international community must consider new ways to pressure Assad, such as sanctions and taking "actions outside of ... the authority" of the U.N. Security Council.
Rights groups estimate that about 13,000 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on the pro-democracy uprising since it began March 2011. The Syrian government blames the revolt on foreign-backed terrorists.
Egypt's 31-year state of emergency ends
CAIRO, May 31 (UPI) -- The ruling military council in Egypt ended the country's 31-year state of emergency Thursday, a move human rights activists lauded.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' media department released a statement saying it would continue to rule the country until a new president is elected at the end of June, the Egypt Independent reported.
"Out of the armed forces' sense of national and historical responsibility, and in light of the state of emergency's expiration, the application of the provisions of the Constitutional Declaration and the law, and in response to national, popular and political aspirations, the SCAF assures the Egyptian people that it will continue to bear the national responsibility of protecting the homeland and its citizens during this important stage of our nation's history and until power is handed over," the statement said.
The emergency law had been in effect since the 1981 assassination of former president Anwar al-Sadat.
Police had extensive powers of arrest and detention under the state of emergency, which critics said meant security services were never held accountable for torture and extended detention without trial, the Financial Times reported
"The end of the emergency law is hugely significant on the symbolic level," said Heba Morayef, Egypt researcher for Human Rights Watch. "If you think of the generation of the Tahrir Square activists [who overthrew Mr Mubarak], none of them has known Egypt without the emergency law. Its expiry also means all detainees held under the law should be released immediately."
26 NYC, Philly bus operators shut down
NEW YORK, May 31 (UPI) -- Federal transportation officials Thursday shut down 26 bus operators in New York City and Philadelphia citing serious safety concerns.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also forced 10 bus company owners, managers and employees to cease all operations, The New York Times reported.
Officials began investigating carriers that transport passengers along the East Coast one year ago following several deadly bus accidents, the newspaper said.
They found the offending bus operators employed drivers who worked long hours, had driver qualification violations and did not have valid commercial driver's licenses, the transportation officials said.
"The egregious acts of these carriers put the unsuspecting public at risk, and they must be removed from our highways immediately," Anne S. Ferro, the administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said in a news release.
"These aggressive enforcement actions against unsafe bus companies send a clear signal: If you put passengers' safety at risk, we will shut you down," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.
Commuter plane skids off runway in Chicago
CHICAGO, May 31 (UPI) -- An American Eagle commuter plane skidded off a runway at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport Thursday after reporting a landing gear problem, officials said.
American Eagle Flight 4096 had taken off bound for Tulsa, Okla., when the pilot reported a landing gear indicator light was illuminated in the cockpit and returned to the airport.
The plane touched down on the runway and slid into the grass before returning to the paved surface, a Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman said. None of the 28 passengers or three crew members aboard was hurt.
"I could see the sod being sucked up from the ground, the engines were reversed so hard," a passenger told WGN-TV, Chicago. "And we stopped just short of the barrier."
The same plane had been taken out of service Wednesday because of a mechanical issue and was returned to service after being inspected, the airline said. Also Wednesday, a tail of different American Eagle commuter plane -- an Embraer 140 -- was clipped by a Chinese Boeing 747 jumbo cargo jet on a taxiway as it approached the terminal. No one was injured in that mishap.