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Jan. 11, 2013 at 8:44 AM   |   0 comments

Activists: Rebels seize Syrian airbase

DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Rebel forces took control of a strategic airbase in northwestern Syria after days of fighting with government troops, opposition activists said.

The activists said the Free Syrian Army seized Taftanaz airport, northeast of Idlib, a base for helicopters that bomb rebel-held areas in the north, the BBC reported.

U.S. and Russian officials were in Geneva, Switzerland, Friday to meet with Bakhdar Brahimi, U.N. special envoy to Syria, to discuss how to move forward on a peace plan proposed by world leaders in June. Russia and the United States disagree on the opposition's demand that President Bashar Assad step down.

Free Syrian Army fighters, led by the jihadist groups al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and the Islamic Vanguard, had surrounded Taftanaz Military Airport for weeks, the BBC said. Rebels stormed the airbase Wednesday and by Thursday seized control of more than half of it.

On Friday, the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition activist network, said the Free Syrian Army was in full control at the base.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights said it documented the deaths of 43 people Thursday across Syria, including four children, two women, and two people tortured to death. Eighteen deaths were reported in the Damascus area and 10 were reported in Aleppo.


Different objectives as Obama, Karzai meet

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Afghanistan is almost able to secure itself, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, as Afghan President Hamid Karzai was to meet with President Barack Obama.

Karzai, by contrast, said his Islamic republic -- which borders Pakistan and Iran among other countries and still faces attacks by the Taliban insurgency -- clearly needs U.S. help.

"After a long and difficult past, we finally are, I believe, at the last chapter of establishing a sovereign Afghanistan that can govern and secure itself for the future," Panetta told a news conference with Karzai at the Pentagon after the two met.

"We've come a long way toward a shared goal of establishing a nation that you and we can be proud of, one that never again becomes a safe haven for terrorism," Panetta said.

Panetta, who plans to leave his post at the end of Obama's first term this month, said he and Karzai laid the groundwork in their meeting for Karzai's meeting with Obama Friday at the White House.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were to meet with Karzai at 10 a.m., followed by an Obama-Karzai meeting without Biden at 10:30 and a luncheon with Biden returning at noon, the White House said Thursday night.


NRA: White House is anti-Second Amendment

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- The National Rifle Association accused the White House of having "an agenda to attack the Second Amendment" and vowed to lobby Congress to stop U.S. gun limits.

At the same time, Vice President Joe Biden said the recommendations he makes to the White House would "relate primarily to gun ownership, and the type of weapons we own," adding there was growing support for tighter background checks on gun purchasers, restrictions on high-capacity clips and other moves.

Biden -- who met with the politically powerful NRA and other gun-rights groups Thursday and was to meet with video game industry representatives Friday -- said he would deliver his recommendations to President Barack Obama Tuesday. Obama has promised a quick effort to put them into practice.

But The New York Times reported Friday the White House believes a ban on military-style assault weapons will be exceedingly difficult to get through Congress. So it is pressing for other gun rules it thinks are more likely to win bipartisan support and reduce gun deaths, the newspaper said.

The White House doesn't want to make passing an assault-weapons ban the only definition of success, the Times said.

One option the administration is considering, the Times said, is toughening laws against people who buy firearms for others, a practice known as a "straw purchase," where the buyer lies about the identity of the ultimate possessor of the weapon.

The administration is considering longer prison terms for those who buy guns for others, the newspaper said.


Holmes to face trial in Aurora massacre

CENTENNIAL, Colo., Jan. 11 (UPI) -- James Holmes will face trial in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting that killed 12 people and wounded 58, a judge ruled, ordering Holmes arraigned Friday.

Chief Judge William Sylvester of Colorado's 18th Judicial District said Thursday prosecutors established probable cause to believe the crime was committed and could now proceed with all 166 felony counts of murder, attempted murder and other crimes they filed against him.

"The proof is evident or the presumption is great that [Holmes] committed the crimes charged," Sylvester said in a 61-page ruling.

Sylvester ordered Holmes, 25, to continue to be held without bail and to be formally arraigned on all counts at 9 a.m. MST.

Holmes, who has not entered a plea, will have to enter a plea at that time. His attorneys haven't said if he will plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Earlier Thursday they filed a motion seeking a delay in the arraignment.

After the arraignment, prosecutors will have 63 days to say if they intend to seek the death penalty, The Denver Post reported.

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