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  |   Jan. 16, 2013 at 5:00 PM
Obama unveils gun-law changes

WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama, saying there's no way to eliminate every act of "evil," called for an assault weapons ban and universal background checks on gun buyers.

In a White House announcement Wednesday, Obama -- flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and four children who wrote him letters supporting an overhaul of the nation's gun laws -- said Congress should reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, limit magazines to 10 rounds and institute universal background checks on gun buyers.

"While there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there's even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there's even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try," Obama said.

The announcement came slightly more than a month after Adam Lanza took his mother's weapons, killed her, and then invaded Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. -- killing 20 first graders and six school staff members before killing himself.

"In the month since 20 precious children and six brave adults were violently taken from us at Sandy Hook Elementary, more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun -- 900 in the past month," Obama said. "And every day we wait the number will keep growing."

Immediately after the announcement, Obama signed 23 executive orders that he called "commonsense measures" to help police, mental health professionals and schools to take action to protect Americans. He noted, however, the "most important changes" require congressional action.


Freedom Watch sues over gun commendations

WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- The conservative activist group Freedom Watch is suing to block the sweeping firearms restrictions recommended by the White House gun violence task force.

Freedom Watch, based in Washington, argues the task force held illegal meetings with lobbyists and gave inadequate public notice, the Washington newspaper The Hill reported Wednesday.

"President [Barack] Obama and Vice President [Joe] Biden have thumbed their nose at the law and instead have been holding closed-door meetings with special interest lobbyists on both sides of the issue," said Freedom Watch founder Larry Klayman in a written statement.

The group filed a federal lawsuit in Florida, seeking to shut down the task force and block its proposals from implementation, the newspaper said.

The group maintains the task force violated the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act requiring presidential task forces to meet in public and publish notice of meetings in the Federal Register 15 days ahead of time.

The White House did not respond to a request for its reaction to the suit, The Hill said.

Obama outlined a package of gun-control legislation he wants Congress to pass and executive actions he intends to take in an attempt to ratchet down gun violence in the United States.


U.S.: Americans abducted at Algerian site

AMENAS, Algeria, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- The U.S. State Department says U.S. citizens are among those kidnapped early Wednesday at a gas production facility in Algeria.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declined to specify at a briefing how many Americans were taken.

"The best information that we have at this time is that U.S. citizens are among the hostages," she said. "I hope you will understand that, in order to protect their safety, I'm not going to get into numbers, I'm not going to get into names."

The Algerian Interior Ministry said at least one person died in the attack, CNN reported.

Guards repelled the initial early-morning attack by terrorists, the ministry said. The terrorists then set siege to part of the site and "captured an undetermined number of workers, including foreigners," it said.

The attack appears to be a response to French military strikes on al-Qaida forces battling government forces trying to regain control of northern regions of Mali held by the militant group, the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported.

An al-Qaida-linked group that said it had come from Mali claimed responsibility for the abductions.

British oil giant BP said the incident occurred at an installation in Amenas. BP runs the facility in partnership with Norwegians and Algerians.


Taliban opens office in Qatar

MANAMA, Qatar, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- The Taliban has opened an office in Qatar with the blessing of U.S. President Barack Obama and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, Qatari officials said.

The Qatari Foreign Ministry welcomed the Taliban, describing the office Monday as a step toward a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, Gulf News reported. In a release, the ministry said the goal of the move is "to facilitate efforts to hold talks with the concerned parties to achieve security and peace in Afghanistan."

Obama and Karzai met Friday in Washington.

"In this context, the leaders called on the armed opposition to join a political process, including by taking those steps necessary to open a Taliban office," the ministry statement said. "They urged the government of Qatar to facilitate this effort."

"As a part of the outcome of any process, the Taliban and other armed opposition groups must end violence, break ties with al-Qaida, and accept Afghanistan's constitution," the ministry added.


Fake pill bottles to track NY drug thefts

NEW YORK, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Bottles containing tracking devices will be used by New York City police to deter pharmacy robberies in which thousands of pills have been taken, officials say.

The decoy bottles are in response to an upsurge of drug store robberies and burglaries over the past five years that have sometimes resulted in the deaths of store employees, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The fake medicine bottles appear to contain the painkiller oxycodone, but actually have a global positioning system device inside, a police spokesman said. The bottles have no actual pills but are weighted and will rattle when shaken to give the impression of containing the narcotic.

"We would anticipate the burglar and robber will take numerous bottles, and among them will be the bait bottle," said department spokesman Paul J. Browne.

The GPS device is triggered when the fake bottle is lifted from the shelf.


Idle No More protests slow transportation

WINDSOR, Ontario, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Canadian Indians staged numerous Idle No More rallies Wednesday and slowed traffic at North America's busiest international crossing.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported hundreds of people gathered in Windsor, Ontario, slowing traffic across the Ambassador Bridge, which about 10,000 trucks cross daily between Canada and Michigan.

"We don't want to inconvenience people too much, but we want to be in places that are going to get us noticed and allow us to get our information out," rally organizer Lorena Garvey-Shepley told the CBC.

The Toronto Star reported Delaware Nation Chief Greg Peters said the rallies are meant to draw attention to the Indian tribes' claims that the federal government has abused their treaty rights.

"I hope when people see us all come together that they'll get the message we're not divided, that we're not happy with the way the government deals with us," Peters said.

The Star said Idle No More protesters near Marysville, Ontario, forced VIA Rail passenger trains to stop between Toronto and Montreal and Toronto and Ottawa. It's the third time the tracks have been blocked recently.

CN Rail spokesman Jim Feeny said rail traffic was blocked near Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.

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