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March 18, 2013 at 8:48 AM   |   Comments

Obama expected to tap Perez for Labor post

WASHINGTON, March 18 (UPI) -- Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, is expected to be nominated as U.S. labor secretary, the White House said.

Word of Perez's possible selection -- which President Obama was expected to announce Monday -- came soon after a Justice Department inspector general's report found the Civil Rights Division's voting rights unit was divided by "deep ideological polarization" between liberal and conservative factions that dated to President George W. Bush's administration, The New York Times reported.

Perez would succeed Hilda Solis, who ran the Labor Department during Obama's first term.

Most of the issues in the inspector general's report occurred before Perez was confirmed in October 2009. Perez has said the report indicated the problems were cleared during his watch.

The report also raised questions about testimony Perez gave before Congress, and Republicans said they would examine his handling of some cases since his confirmation. Among questions critics are expected to raise is whether Perez acted inappropriately in getting St. Paul, Minn., city officials to drop a lawsuit seeking to limit fair housing claims when intentional bias is missing, the Times said.

If confirmed, Perez, 51, would be the only Hispanic in the Cabinet. He is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic.


Israel may ask Obama to hit Syria missiles

JERUSALEM, March 18 (UPI) -- Israel's leader will try to sway President Obama to attack Syria if its missiles appear headed to Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, The Guardian reported.

Short of that, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hopes, when he meets with Obama for 5 hours in Jerusalem Wednesday, to at least get full U.S. support for any Israeli military action to prevent such a transfer, the British newspaper reported Monday.

Jerusalem and Washington had no immediate comment on the report.

The Obama administration has said it would intervene militarily only to stop the Assad regime from using chemical or biological weapons, or to stop it from transferring them to extremist groups.

It has not stated its position if Israel intervenes for its own reasons.

Obama has been steadfast in his public support for Israel's right to defend itself from rocket attacks from the Palestinian Gaza Strip territory.

Israeli officials say they feel without getting Washington to agree to an airstrike against Syria or at least to support one by Israel, Jerusalem will be left alone to deal with the spread of Syria's arsenal of anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, the newspaper said.


Netanyahu finishes appointing ministers

JERUSALEM, March 18 (UPI) -- Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu completed his appointments of ministers to Israel's 33rd government early Monday.

The government was to be sworn-in later in the day.

Netanyahu's appointments included those of former Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz as minister of international relations, former army Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon as defense minister, Silvan Shalom as minister of energy and Gideon Sa'ar as interior minister.

The last two appointments, about 2 a.m., were those of Steinitz and Shalom.

Steinitz, among other things, will be charged with handling nuclear issues and strategic dialogue with the United States and joins the country's peace negotiating team.

The appointments were reported by the Times of Israel, Yedioth Ahronoth and Ynetnews.com.

Yair Lapid will be the next finance minister, Naftali Bennet becomes minister of trade and commerce and religious affairs, Tzipi LIvni will be justice minister and head negotiations with the Palestinians, Yaacov Perry will be science and technology minister and Yair Shamir, son of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. will be minister of agriculture.


Inmates who escaped in helicopter back in custody

SAINT-JEROME, Quebec, March 18 (UPI) -- Four people, including two escaped inmates, were arrested following a jailbreak involving a helicopter, Quebec provincial police said.

Police confirmed they arrested three people, including one of the fugitives, and a second fugitive surrendered Sunday night without incident several hours after the breakout, CTV News reported.

"It was very peaceful. Nobody was injured," provincial police Sgt. Benoit Richard said.

The men were to be in court Monday.

The breakout occurred Sunday afternoon from a jail in Saint-Jerome that has been the subject of complaints about overcrowding, officials said.

A search began after the inmates escaped by hooking themselves to cables attached to the helicopter, which then flew away with the men suspended beneath it.

Police found the helicopter about 52 miles away.

CTV reported a man who said he was one of the inmates said on a Montreal radio station he was shot in the leg. Police said they couldn't confirm whether shots were fired during the escape.

In a recording released by the radio station, the man said: "I don't want to hurt anyone. I just don't want to stay in prison, and I'm ready to die."

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