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March 6, 2013 at 12:00 PM   |   Comments

White House tours succumb to sequester

WASHINGTON, March 6 (UPI) -- Public tours at the White House have been canceled due to the automatic $85 billion in across-the-board cuts to federal spending, administration officials said.

The move, told to congressional offices Tuesday by email, drew jabs from congressional Republican aides who questioned the Obama's administration's commitment to transparency and open government, Politico reported.

Public tours are set up by the offices of members of Congress.

"Due to staffing reductions resulting from sequestration, we regret to inform you that White House Tours will be canceled effective Saturday, March 9, 2013, until further notice. Unfortunately, we will not be able to reschedule affected tours," the White House email said. "We very much regret having to take this action, particularly during the popular spring touring season."

A senior administration official confirmed the cancellations to Politico.

"So much for the most open administration in history," the congressional GOP aide said. "I guess the only way for the public to visit the White House now is to donate to Organizing for Action," the president's non-profit organization.


Iraq: $60 billion and nothing to show

WASHINGTON, March 6 (UPI) -- A top Iraqi minister said you can't find a single project in Iraq today that was built and completed by the United States during the past decade.

The statement by Iraqi Interior Minister Adnan al-Asadi is contained in a report released Wednesday about the shortcomings of a $60 billion rebuilding effort in that country, The Washington Post reported.

"With all the money the U.S. spent, you can go to any city in Iraq and you cannot find one [completed] building or project," al-Asadi told Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he was grateful for America's investment but told Bowen he wished the billions in aid "could have brought great change to Iraq" if it had been managed better.

Bowen's 171-page assessment, "Learning from Iraq," is his final major report.

In addition to covering the money spent on projects, the report also provides summaries of interviews with senior U.S. and Iraqi officials, The New York Times reported.

Officials from both countries said the United States took on too many large projects and often did not consult sufficiently with the Iraqis about which projects were needed and how best to go about them.

Ryan C. Crocker, who served as American ambassador in Iraq from 2007 to 2009, said that a major problem was the United States' failure to obtain "genuine" Iraqi support for major projects.


Sistine Chapel prepared for conclave

VATICAN CITY, March 6 (UPI) -- The Sistine Chapel is closed to the public as a team prepares the space for the conclave to elect a successor for Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican Museums said.

Workers Tuesday began painstakingly recreating the smallest of details and traditions from conclaves going back hundreds of years, with photographic documentation of the more recent sessions, ANSA reported.

Engineer Paolo Sagretti was put in charge of the project, including arrangements for audiences, pontifical ceremonies and the interior decoration of the chapel.

The last two of the 115 cardinal electors are expected to arrive in Rome by Thursday, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Wednesday.

Kazimiers Nycz of Poland should arrive Wednesday and Jean Baptiste Pahm Minh Man of Vietnam will arrive Thursday, ANSA reported.

Once the cardinals arrive, a date for the conclave should be set. The conclave was initially scheduled for March 11 though that could be pushed back because cardinals are taking more time to examine the problems facing the church ahead of the election.


Pistorius pushes away from dad's comments

PRETORIA, South Africa, March 6 (UPI) -- Paralympian runner Oscar Pistorius, accused in his girlfriend's death, distanced himself from his dad's comments about South Africa's government and crime.

The runner's father, Henke Pistorius, told Britain's The Daily Telegraph Sunday that he and other family members owned 55 guns because they couldn't count on police protection against criminals, blaming South Africa's violent crime rates on the ANC-led government.

"It speaks to the ANC government, look at white crime levels, why protection is so poor in this country, it's an aspect of our society," he said. "You can't rely on the police, not because they are inefficient always but because crime is so rife."

Oscar Pistorius is charged in the Feb. 14 shooting death of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, through a locked bathroom door in his Pretoria home. He said he fired because he thought she was a burglar, but prosecutors said he shot her after a fight.

Oscar Pistorius and other family members tried to put some space between themselves and Henke Pistorius' remarks, the Telegraph reported Tuesday.

"Oscar Pistorius' family is deeply concerned about the comments made by Oscar's father, Henke Pistorius, to the Telegraph about the family using its weapons to defend themselves against crime in South Africa, and especially about his comments that the ANC government is not willing to protect white South Africans," the runner said in a statement.

"Oscar and the rest of the Pistorius family distance [themselves] from the comments," the statement said. "The comments don't represent the views of Oscar or the rest of the Pistorius family."

Jackson Mthembu, ANC's national spokesman, said in a statement Henke Pistorius' statement was "racist" and accused him of trying to "politicize" a "tragic incident."

"The African National Congress rejects with contempt the accusation made by Henke Pistorius to a U.K. newspaper that 'the ANC government is not willing to protect white South Africans,'" Mthembu said. "Not only is this statement devoid of truth, it is also racist. It is sad that he has chosen to politicize a tragic incident that is still fresh in the minds of those affected and the public."

Oscar Pistorius, whose legs were amputated, won two gold medals and a silver medal at the 2012 London Paralympic games. He also was the first paraplegic runner to participate in the able-bodied games in London.


Five die, hundreds injured in Egypt

PORT SAID, Egypt, March 6 (UPI) -- Five people have been killed and 455 injured in clashes between protesters and Egyptian police in the city of Port Said, authorities said Wednesday.

The latest protests began after the Egyptian Interior Ministry announced it would transfer defendants in the 2012 Port Said Stadium massacre to another prison, Egypt Independent reported.

Protesters threw Molotov cocktails at the Port Said Security Directorate.

Police responded with tear gas, birdshot and live ammunition.

Eyewitnesses said some of the protesters set fire to the garage of the National Security Authority branch office, burning some of the vehicles inside.

On Sunday, five people were killed during clashes in Port Said.


Electronic troubles beset Kenya elections

NAIROBI, Kenya, March 6 (UPI) -- An electronic tabulation breakdown prompted Kenyan officials to send aircraft to collect ballots, while dashing hopes for a quick end to the country's election.

Election officials' original plan of collecting preliminary results electronically was scrapped late Tuesday when only 43 percent of the 32,000 polling stations transmitted results, The Wall Street Journal reported. The number has barely moved since.

The preliminary reports from Monday's elections indicated Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta secured 2.8 million votes, or 53 percent, to Prime Minister Raila Odinga's 2.3 million votes, or 42 percent.

Some electoral officials drove hundreds of miles to the counting center in Nairobi to deliver paper copies of the tallies of their returns, the BBC reported.

Election officials said the computer system built to relay results broke under the volume of data transmitted. The breakdown came after electronic failures on Election Day when many of the laptop computers the election commission supplied polling places to identify voters' fingerprints malfunctioned or ran out of power, the Journal said.

Kenyatta was indicted by the International Criminal Court for his role in the violence in the aftermath of the 2007 election. In the ethnic confrontations that followed, more than 1,000 people died. Kenyatta has denied the allegations.

To avoid similar turmoil, Kenya's election commission Wednesday stepped up collection of black briefcases that contained local vote totals from each of Kenya's 47 counties.

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