Annan quitting as special Syria envoy
UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- U.N.-Arab League Joint Special Envoy for Syria Kofi Annan said Thursday he would resign as of Aug. 31, the United Nations said.
"Mr. Annan has informed me, and the secretary-general of the League of Arab States, Mr. Nabil El Araby, of his intention not to renew his mandate when it expires on 31 August 2012," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.
Annan was appointed special envoy for the Syrian crisis in February to represent both the United Nations and the Arab League. He proposed a six-point peace plan to end the fighting between the regime of President Bashar Assad and the Free Syrian Army that never gained traction on the ground. Both sides have been accused of repeated human rights violations.
The United Nations estimates more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have died since the uprising began with peaceful street demonstrations 17 months ago.
"The hand extended to turn away from violence in favor of dialogue and diplomacy – as spelled out in the six-point plan – has not been taken, even though it still remains the best hope for the people of Syria," Ban said.
The United Nations said Ban would consult with the League of Arab States on a successor for Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general.
Aleppo rebels using tanks against regime
ALEPPO, Syria, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- Opposition fighters in Aleppo have captured armored tanks and are for the first time using heavy weaponry against Syrian forces, human rights groups said.
Officials with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights -- based in Britain -- said the opposition used the captured armor to shell a military airport near Aleppo.
The United Nations confirmed Wednesday rebel reports that the Syrian Army is using jet fighters to crush the opposition, The New York Times reported Thursday.
"Our observers confirmed fighter aircrafts firing rockets and cannons -- heavy machine-gun fire," said Sausan Ghosheh, a spokeswoman for the U.N. monitor mission.
"It's a rapid escalation," said Andrew J. Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Once you start using fixed-wing aircraft and you have a city under full revolt, it's clear that the Assad regime is not going to stop and is not breaking. We're entering a new phase of this conflict."
Meanwhile, the U.N. World Food Program on Wednesday supplied food assistance to 28,000 people in Aleppo, the Times reported. Residents said water, food and electricity are scarce in the region as government sources attempt to cut off supply lines.
The conflict in Syria began in March 2011 with peaceful protests against the regime of President Bashar Assad. Human rights monitors have documented atrocities committed by both sides throughout the uprising.
Judge denies Peterson mistrial
JOLIET, Ill., Aug. 2 (UPI) -- A judge Thursday denied a motion for a mistrial from lawyers for accused killer retired Bolingbrook, Ill., police Sgt. Drew Peterson.
Peterson is in the third day of his trial in Will County for the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, whose body was discovered in a dry bathtub. His fourth wife, Stacy, has been missing since 2007.
Peterson's defense attorney Steve Greenberg requested a "mistrial with prejudice" again Thursday, a ruling that would have led to the case against Peterson being dropped, the Chicago Tribune said.
Greenberg criticized prosecutors for introducing what he called an improper testimony from a neighbor, Thomas Pontarelli, who said Wednesday he was fearful after he found a .38-caliber bullet in his driveway in 2004. He accused prosecutors of deliberately seeking a mistrial with their conduct while questioning Pontarelli on the witness stand.
"We think this was calculated," he said. "The prosecution wants to goad us into a mistrial so they can start over and they can recover from their mistakes."
"They intentionally did this. They didn't get other evidence in and they want to start over," Greenberg said after the mistrial motion was denied.
Prosecutors called his charge "absolutely false."
Romney pushes middle class tax plan
GOLDEN, Colo., Aug. 2 (UPI) -- Likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was reintroducing his year-old tax plan in Colorado Thursday, tailoring it for the middle class, aides say.
Romney addresses supporters at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds in Golden on his first campaign appearance in the swing state since returning from a foreign trip to London, Israel and Poland.
"He's going to Colorado to talk about his plans for a stronger middle class," said senior adviser Eric Fegrnstorm in a morning conference call, adding Romney would remind voters "the economy is not just downshifting, it's shifting into reverse."
Romney is reintroducing the five elements of his tax plan: energy independence, skills development, trade that works for America, deficit reduction and championing small business. He has proposed reducing tax rates by 20 percent, eliminating the alternative minimum tax, ending the real estate tax and giving lower- and middle-income families a larger tax break for investment income – all the while keeping it revenue neutral.
A study by the Tax Policy Center estimated unspecified tax exemptions for individuals, deductions and credits would have to be slashed by as much as 66 percent to cover the $360 billion annual cost of the proposed Romney tax code. Campaign economic adviser Kevin Hassett disputed that analysis saying," Gov. Romney has a plan to reduce taxes of all Americans. That's where the job creation will come from."
After his economic speech, Romney joins Republican governors Chris Christie of New Jersey, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Wisconsin's Scott Walker at Basalt High School and wraps up the day at an Aspen fundraiser.
Obama, Romney cite auto bailout in Ohio
COLUMBUS, Ohio, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- President Obama's lead over likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in swing state Ohio can be traced in part to the auto bailout, observers say.
Democratic strategists and independent political also note Obama's strategy is to appeal to blue-collar workers and noted that Ohio's 7.2 percent unemployment rate is 1 percentage point lower than the national average, The Hill reported Thursday.
RealClearPolitics.com's average of polls indicated Obama held a 4.8 percentage point lead over Romney. A Quinnipiac University-CBS News-New York Times poll Wednesday indicated Obama holds a 6 percentage point edge over Romney in the Buckeye State.
"Romney is going to have to do something very unusual to take Ohio away from the president," said Jim Friedman, a Cleveland lawyer involved in the state's Democratic Party.
Observers say the auto bailout is perhaps Obama's trump card.
Obama's support and Romney's opposition to the bailout ring out in Ohio, where the car industry "is both historically and psychologically important," Friedman said.
"Even though the automotive industry in Ohio is much smaller than it once was, Ohio voters still think of it as critically important," he said.
Romney, meanwhile, is trying to challenge Obama on the bailout. On Wednesday, his campaign released a television ad featuring an Ohio car dealership owner who blamed the bailout for forcing General Motors dealerships such as his to close.
"I think the polls show the race is competitive. I expect it to remain competitive, and I think that is a good sign for Gov. Romney," Curt Steiner, a Republican strategist in Ohio, told The Hill.
Investor buys all foreclosed county land
MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich., Aug. 2 (UPI) -- Officials say Bill McMachen shocked investors at a property auction after walking in and putting down $4 million for 657 foreclosed Michigan properties.
McMachen, owner of MacRay Harbor Resort on Lake St. Clair, walked into the Macomb County Treasurer's Office tax auction minutes before 11 a.m. Tuesday, The Detroit News reported. Before the day was done, he had purchased all 657 residential, vacant, industrial and commercial properties up for sale.
The Detroit News reported McMachen's sizable bid was on behalf of himself and a handful of other investors.
More than 300 investors at the annual auction, hoping to bid on properties one by one, were refunded their $500 registration fees.
The Detroit News could not reach McMachen for comment, and it is not known what he plans to do with the properties.
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