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  |   Jan. 28, 2013 at 10:02 PM
Report: BSA nears end of ban on gays

IRVING, Texas, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- The Boy Scouts of America is considering an end to its long-standing policy of banning gay scouts and scout leaders, people familiar with discussions said.

The policy language under discussion would end the ban from the national organization's rules, leaving local sponsoring organizations the ability to decide for themselves whether to admit gay scouts, NBC News reported Monday.

"The chartered organizations that oversee and deliver scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with their organization's mission, principles or religious beliefs," said Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts' national organization.

Individual sponsors and parents "would be able to choose a local unit which best meets the needs of their families," Smith told NBC News.

Sources outside of BSA said discussions on the potential policy change are nearly finished. If approved, the change could be announced as soon as next week after the organization's national board has its regular meeting.

Last summer, the Boy Scouts, based in Irving, Texas, affirmed a policy of banning gay members after a committee's nearly two-year examination of the issue.

Since then local chapters have been urging national leaders to reconsider.


Oil spills when barges hit bridge

VICKSBURG, Miss., Jan. 28 (UPI) -- An unknown amount of crude oil leaked into the Mississippi River when two tank barges collided with a bridge, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

One of the two barges towed by the tug Nature's Way Endeavor leaked oil into the river after striking the Vicksburg Railroad bridge Sunday in Mississippi, the Coast Guard said in a release.

No injuries were reported.

The source of the leak was contained and tank levels were being monitored, the Coast Guard said.

Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Vicksburg has dispatched a pollution response team to assess the size of the spill and oversee cleanup operations.

While the actual amount of the spill hadn't been determined, the leaking tank held about 80,000 gallons of light crude oil, the Coast Guard said.


Troops poised to take Timbuktu

TIMBUKTU, Mali, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- French and Malian troops were poised to retake Timbuktu from Islamic militants who burned a library and destroyed "priceless" ancient texts, officials said.

Troops had captured Timbuktu's airport and were set to take the entire storied city itself, al-Jazeera reported.

There were no updated reports on casualties.

Officials said rebels burned down City Hall, the governor's office and two buildings where the ancient texts were kept, a research center and a warehouse.

Mayor Halle Ousmani Cisse said destruction of the texts, some of which dated to the 13th century, was a "devastating blow" to world heritage, Britain's Guardian reported Monday.

Elsewhere in the country, people living in the northern city of Gao, on the River Niger, celebrated after French-led forces recaptured the city that had been under jihadist control since March 31, 2012.

Residents shouted "Liberte!" and "Vive la France!" in the streets, The Guardian said.

The French suffered no losses in the battle while about a dozen Islamic rebels were killed, the French Defense Ministry said.


Obama congratulates Netanyahu

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- President Obama congratulated Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on his party's winning a plurality of seats in the Knesset Monday, the White House said.

During his telephone conversation with Netanyahu, Obama said the United States looked forward to working with Israel's government, a readout of the conversation indicated.

Obama also reiterated his commitment to "the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel, and pledged to work closely with Israel on our shared agenda for peace and security in the Middle East," the readout said.

Results from Israel's elections last week showed Netanyahu's conservative coalition had 61 seats and the liberal bloc collected 59 seats in the next Knesset.

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