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March 21, 2013 at 5:00 PM   |   Comments

Obama calls for Mideast peace talks

JERUSALEM, March 21 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama said Thursday Palestinians "have a right to be a free people in their own land" and asked Israelis to see the world "through their eyes."

Obama, in a speech delivered to Israeli university students at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, said he recognizes the difficulty in the resolving issues between Israelis and Palestinians, but he said peace "is the only path to true security."

"Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine," Obama said.

"Given the frustration in the international community, Israel must reverse an undertow of isolation. And given the march of technology, the only way to truly protect the Israeli people is through the absence of war -- because no wall is high enough and no Iron Dome is strong enough, to stop every enemy from inflicting harm."

Obama said, "The Palestinian people's right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized."

"Put yourself in their shoes -- look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day.

"Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land," he said.

The speech came after Obama's meeting Thursday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, where he urged Palestinian leaders to resume peace talks with Israel, despite ongoing Israeli settlement building.

Obama, at a news conference with Abbas, reiterated the commitment of the United States to "an independent and sovereign state of Palestine."

"We will continue to look for steps that both Israelis and Palestinians can take to build the trust and the confidence upon lasting peace will depend," he said. "We cannot give up on the search for peace. Too much is at stake."

Obama called for direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

"There is no shortcut to a sustainable solution," he said.


Congress approves bill to fund gov't

WASHINGTON, March 21 (UPI) -- The House Thursday approved a short-term funding measure that keeps the U.S. government running until the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30.

House passage of the continuing funding resolution came on a bipartisan 318-109 vote after the Senate voted 73-26 Wednesday to approve a spending measure to keep the government operating after its current stop-gap funding mechanism elapses next Wednesday.

The bill funds $984 billion in spending for six months through the end of the current fiscal year. It next goes to President Obama for his signature. The measure doesn't reverse the $85 billion in sequestration cuts that went into effect March 1, The Hill, a Washington publication, reported.

"Passing this measure allows us to keep our focus where it belongs: replacing the president's sequester with smarter cuts that help balance the budget, fixing our broken tax code to create jobs and increase wages, protecting priorities like Medicare and expanding opportunity for all Americans," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said.

Left undecided is the bigger battle over taxes and spending. The House also voted 221-207 to approve Rep. Paul Ryan's, proposed budget that calls for cutting $5 trillion from future spending by overhauling Medicare and giving states block grants for programs for the poor.

"They are sticking to the status quo – more taxing, more spending, more borrowing," Ryan, R-Wis., said on the House floor. "This budget recognizes that concern for the poor is not measured by how much money we spend in Washington but instead how many people we get out of poverty."

Passage of the continuing spending resolution clears the way for members to leave Friday for a two-week spring recess, averting the threat of a government shutdown with seven days to spare.


Inmate moved after prison director killed

DENVER, March 21 (UPI) -- A Colorado prison inmate has been moved to an isolation cell after the head of the state's prison system was shot to death, officials say.

Alison Morgan, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Corrections, said Homaidan al-Turki was not being punished, but was moved for his own protection, The Denver Post reported Thursday.

The department's executive director, Tom Clements, was shot Tuesday night as he opened the front door of his home in Monument.

Morgan said al-Turki's relocation was not specifically related to the investigation of Clements' slaying.

Al-Turki, a Saudi national, became a high-profile inmate after his 2006 conviction for enslaving a housekeeper in his home for four years and sexually assaulting her.

He was sentenced to 28 years to life in prison. A judge later reduced his sentence to eight years.

His conviction angered Saudi officials and prompted the U.S. State Department to send the Colorado attorney general to meet with the Saudi royal family and al-Turki's family.

A week before his death, Clements had denied al-Turki's request to serve the remainder of his sentence in Saudi Arabia, saying the inmate had refused to undergo sex-offender treatment.

Scores of investigators from local, state and federal agencies are involved in investigating Clements' death. Deputies have used dogs to search the house.

Lt. Jeff Kramer of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said a suspect has not yet been identified and that robbery does not appear to be a motive.


54 charged in Detroit health fraud scheme

DETROIT, March 21 (UPI) -- Authorities in Detroit have indicted 54 people in a drug and healthcare scheme that allegedly defrauded federal and state agencies of more than $21.5 million.

A local concert promoter is among the several doctors and pharmacists who federal agents say were involved in a drug pipeline between Detroit and a small town in southern Ohio, The Detroit News reported Thursday.

The promoter, Deepak Kumar, is charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess controlled substances and healthcare fraud conspiracy.

He was released on $10,000 bond. If convicted of the charges, Kumar could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison and be hit with more than $1 million in fines.

Earlier this year, he was named in a civil lawsuit that accused him of financing his career in the Indian entertainment industry with money from a healthcare fraud scheme.

Others charged include seven doctors, four pharmacists and three home-health agency owners. The indictment alleges the defendants prescribed OxyContin, Xanax, codeine cough syrup and other drugs with a combined street value of more than $24 million.

Some of the drugs were taken by couriers from Detroit to Portsmouth, Ohio, a town that has received national media attention for its drug problems.

Monday, a federal grand jury indicted 13 people on charges of operating a drug scheme and committing healthcare fraud.


Man with weapons in theater sentenced

CLEVELAND, March 21 (UPI) -- Scott A. Smith, who pleaded guilty to bringing concealed weapons to an Ohio movie theater, was sentenced Thursday to six months in prison.

Smith, 38, of North Ridgeville, Ohio, was arrested in August 2012 after an off-duty police officer saw him enter a Westlake theater with a bag containing a 9-millimeter Glock semi-automatic pistol and four knives.

He pleaded guilty to concealed weapons charges, but fought and was acquitted of a charge of having a weapon while under disability, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported.

His arrest, at a showing of the Batman-themed film "The Dark Knight Rises," came two weeks after a gunman entered an Aurora, Colo., theater, showing the same film, and killed 12 people, wounding 70 others, the newspaper noted.

In sentencing, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Kathleen Ann Sutula said she had to send a message to the public that Smith's behavior could not be permitted.

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