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Jan. 30, 2013 at 11:59 AM   |   Comments

Giffords: Time is now to act on violence

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords told a Senate panel Wednesday "the time is now" to act on gun violence because "too many children are dying.

But Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Rifle Association, told the Senate Judiciary Committee, "Law-abiding gun owners will not accept responsibility" for the massacres that plague the United States.

Instead, he said, schools need to be made more secure. "It's time to throw an immediate blanket of security around our children."

Giffords was the target of multiple death threats after voting for healthcare reform in the House. She was seriously wounded Jan. 8, 2011, at a public event outside a supermarket near Tucson when a gunman shot her in the head, killed six others including a federal judge and a child, and wounded 13. She resigned her congressional seat to concentrate on her recovery.

The gunman, now serving multiple life terms, did not appear to have political connections.

Giffords was seriously wounded Jan. 8, 2011, at a public event near Tucson when a gunman shot her, killed six others including a federal judge and a child, and wounded 13. She resigned her congressional seat to concentrate on her recovery.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering curbs on assault weapons, limiting magazine size and expanding background checks on gun sales.

In a halting voice that rose when she was making her main points, Giffords told the panel, "This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats and Republicans. Speaking is difficult. But I need to say something important.

"Too many children are dying," she said, reading from a short statement. "Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard but the time is now. You must act. Be bold be courageous, Americans are counting on you."

Giffords' husband Mark Kelly told the panel, "Gabby's gift for speech is a distant memory, she struggles to walk, and she is partially blind."

Driving the debate was the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 elementary schoolchildren and six adults were killed by a gunman who took his mothers legally registered weapons, including an assault rifle with high-capacity magazine.


Alabama hostage situation 'sensitive'

MIDLAND CITY, Ala., Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Police are working an "extremely sensitive situation" to free a child abducted from a school bus by a man who allegedly shot the driver, the FBI said Wednesday.

The gunman, who has been identified as Jimmy Dykes, a military veteran about 60 years of age, is alleged to have shot the driver of a school bus Tuesday afternoon and taken a 6-year-old child hostage, ABC News reported.

Dykes is holding the child in what has been described as an underground bunker in Midland City.

"Extremely sensitive situation," a federal law enforcement agent said Wednesday morning. "Our agents are working very hard with the locals for the best possible outcome to this situation."

A Special Weapons and Tactics Team has surrounded the bunker.

Some residents of the area were evacuated Tuesday night. Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson advised those who remained in their homes to "stay home and pray."

The identities of the child and the dead bus driver have not been released.


Teen who performed at inauguration killed

CHICAGO, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- A teenage girl who performed during President Obama's inauguration festivities last week was shot and killed in a park on Chicago's South Side, police said.

Hadiya Pendleton, 15, a sophomore at King College Prep was fatally shot Tuesday as she and a group of other students gathered under a canopy in the park not far from the school, the Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday. Police said a 16-year-old boy was wounded.

Pendleton attended Obama's inauguration in Washington and performed at inaugural events with the school's band and drill team.

Police said most of the people in the park were gang affiliated and that people with Pendleton's group didn't remain on scene after the shooting. Investigators said their initial information indicated Pendleton didn't belong to a gang, but others in the group may have.

Officials said a man jumped a fence near the group, opened fire then fled in a vehicle. Police said Pendleton was not the target.


Egypt: Opposition wants to talk with Morsi

CAIRO, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Two Egyptian protesters were killed Wednesday in clashes with security forces in Cairo, the state media outlet MENA quoted the Health Ministry saying.

Violent clashes between protesters and security personnel occurred in Cairo's Tahrir Square, Ismailiya, Dagahlia and Sharqiya, al-Masry al-Youm reported.

Mohammed ElBaradei of the National Salvation Front said he would agree to engage in talks with President Mohammed Morsi and other political officials in efforts to end the violence, Ahram Online said.

Earlier, ElBaradei and other opposition officials had refused the president's request to engage in dialogue.

Opposition groups say the solution to the violence sweeping the country is to form a national unity government and rewrite parts of the Constitution, al-Arabiya said. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Omar Salem said he will choose articles of the newly ratified constitution for amendment by a committee appointed by Morsi, Ahram Online said.


Brazil club fire blamed on cheap fireworks

SANTA MARIA, Brazil, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Cheap fireworks meant for outdoor use caused the fire in a Santa Maria, Brazil, nightclub in which more than 230 people died, police said.

The chief investigator's finding supports witness accounts that indicated a band member set off a flare during a performance Sunday at the Kiss nightclub that led to the devastating fire, EuroNews.com reported.

Media outlets have differing death tolls, with some reporting 234 people died while others said the death toll was 235.

"The people who bought this material knew it was for external use and not to be used indoors but they used it because it was cheaper," police inspector Marcelo Arigony said.

Three people have been arrested, including a member of the band.

Video shot Tuesday showed soot covering the nightclub's doors and debris strewn across the floor.

Police said the number of people inside the club exceeded its capacity, and noted it had combustible material in the ceiling and faulty fire safety equipment.


Flooding recedes, cleanup begins

BUNDABERG, Australia, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Military personnel arrived in the Wide Bay-Burnett region in Australia's flood-ravaged Queensland state to assist in recovery efforts, officials said.

Officials said the death toll was at least six people after the bodies of two farm workers were found in Lockyer Valley, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported Wednesday.

Cleanup operations have begun even though some rivers haven't peaked.

Communities throughout the region were reporting shortages of food and water. Power also was out in many areas. Thousands of people were evacuated.

Officials estimated the floods cost about $200 million. The Insurance Council said it received nearly 22,000 claims so far.

In hard-hit Bundaberg, waters began receding, but officials said it could be days before residents could enter the worst affected areas.

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