President, first lady send holiday wishes
WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama Saturday wished everyone Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, and thanked the troops for their service.
"This month, more than 90,000 people have come through the White House to see the holiday decorations," Michelle Obama said in the weekly radio and Internet address. "And our theme for this year's holiday season was 'Joy to All' -- a reminder to appreciate the many joys of the holidays: the joy of giving, the joy of service, and, of course, the joy of homecomings. ... That's what makes this season so special -- getting to spend time with the people we love most."
"And this year, that's especially true for some of our military families," Barack Obama said. "You see, the war in Iraq is over. The transition in Afghanistan is under way. After a decade of war, our heroes are coming home. And all across America, military families are reuniting. So this week let's give thanks for our veterans and their families. And let's say a prayer for all our troops -- especially those in Afghanistan -- who are spending this holiday overseas, risking their lives to defend the freedoms we hold dear," the president said.
"Our military families sacrifice so much on our behalf, and Barack and I believe that we should serve them as well as they serve this country," the first lady said. "That's why [second lady] Dr. Jill Biden and I started Joining Forces an effort to rally all Americans to honor and support our veterans and military families. Just go to joiningforces.gov to find out how you can show your gratitude for their service."
"For my family and millions of Americans, it's a time to celebrate the birth of Christ, to reflect on His life and learn from His example," the president said. "Every year, we commit to love one another. To give of ourselves. To be our brother's keeper. To be our sister's keeper. But those ideas are not just part of our faith. They're part of all faiths. And they unite us as Americans."
"In this country, we take care of each other. And in this season of giving, it's inspiring to see so many people all across America taking the time to help those most in need," Michelle Obama said.
"And this year, I know many of you are extending that kindness to the families who are still picking up the pieces from Hurricane Sandy and your prayers to the people of Newtown, Connecticut. ... And on behalf of my favorite Americans -- Michelle, Malia, Sasha and Bo -- Merry Christmas, everybody," the president said.
Pakistani man killed by mob over blasphemy
DADU, Pakistan, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- A Muslim man in Pakistan was beaten to death by an angry mob for allegedly desecrating the Koran, officials said.
The victim, whose name was not reported, was being held at a police station in Dadu after burnt pages of the Koran were found in a mosque, the BBC reported Saturday.
Hours after he arrived at the police station, a mob of people showed up, seized the man and killed him, authorities said. The victim's body was then set on fire.
District police chief Usman Ghani said the incident was recorded on cell phones and that police are reviewing video to try to identify the culprits.
Thirty people have so far been detained in connection with the attack, including the local police chief and five officers for failing to protect the man.
China outlaws extravagant banquets
BEIJING, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- China has banned state-funded banquets for top military officials in an effort to curb extravagance and corruption, officials said.
Until Friday, elaborate banquets with red carpets and liquor were common during receptions for high-ranking military officials, the BBC reported.
The Central Military Commission, however, said that must change. On Dec. 4, the committee passed a law that bans extravagance at such receptions.
The receptions will be free of welcome banners, red carpets, floral arrangements, formations of soldiers, performances, souvenirs, banquets and alcohol, China's official state-run Xinhua new agency reported.
Court stays California gay therapy law
SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- California cannot enforce a ban on homosexual conversion therapy for minors until its constitutionality is decided, a federal appeals panel said Friday.
The law was scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, but three judges on the 9th Circuit stayed it, the Los Angeles Times reported. Under the law, mental health professionals who use conversion therapy on underage patients could be disciplined by state licensing boards.
The therapy aims to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality. Critics say it is not effective and can be dangerous, especially for teenagers.
A Christian group sued the state on behalf of therapists, teenagers and their parents. The suit argues the law restricts therapists' freedom of speech.
The group appealed after a U.S. District judge denied a stay.
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