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March 28, 2013 at 5:00 PM   |   Comments

Obama: 'Shame on us if we've forgotten'

WASHINGTON, March 28 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama, standing with families of victims of gun violence, Thursday made an emotional appeal for Congress to act on gun control.

"Shame on us if we've forgotten," Obama said in the White House East Room referring to the 26 children and adults killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14.

"It's been barely 100 days since 20 innocent children and six brave educators were taken from us by gun violence -- including Grace McDonnell and Lauren Rousseau and Jesse Lewis, whose families are here today," the president said.

"I haven't forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we've forgotten."

Also present was the mother of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old honor student killed in January at a park less than a mile from Obama's home in Chicago. Pendleton had attended the president's second inauguration in Washington as a member of a cheerleading team.

"Everything they lived for and hoped for, taken away in an instant," he said. "We have moms on this stage whose children were killed as recently as 35 days ago."

Seeking to build momentum for new gun control measures to be debated in the Senate, Obama said that's why in January he asked Vice President Joe Biden to lead a task force to develop common-sense proposals to "reduce the epidemic of gun violence and keep our kids safe."

The measures include expanded background checks on firearm purchases, tougher penalties on straw purchases of firearms and new funding for school security.

"Why wouldn't we want to make it more difficult for a dangerous person to get his or hand on a gun?" he asked. "Why wouldn't we want to close the loophole that allows as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases to take place without a background check?"

The White House event came on a "National Day to Demand Action" in which gun-control advocates planned more than 140 public events in 29 states to call for universal background checks.


Navy: 33 hunger strikers at Guantanamo

WASHINGTON, March 28 (UPI) -- The White House says it is monitoring a hunger strike at the U.S. Navy Base in Guantanamo, Cuba, where the U.S. Navy confirmed 33 detainees are participating.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday President Barack Obama remains "committed to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Progress has been made under this and the previous administration. But given the legislation that Congress has put in place, it's clear it's going to take some time."

Earnest's comments are believed to be the administration's first public remarks on the hunger strike since it was first reported, The Miami Herald said.

Navy Capt. Robert Durand said Thursday medical staff at the detention center had determined 33 detainees were refusing to eat, with 11 of them being fed through tubes and three in the hospital, the Herald said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross sent representatives to Guantanamo this week and a larger delegation is scheduled to visit the facility next week, the newspaper said.

ICRC spokesman Simon Schorno said the Red Cross -- which opposes forced feeding -- is not taking "a public position on the causes and goals of the hunger strike" and will not become involved in "any negotiations between detainees and prison authorities."

However, Schorno said the agency's medical staff will advise detainees regarding the health implications of a hunger strike and will advise Guantanamo authorities of "ethical issues and applicable standards."


Mandela hospitalized, pneumonia suspected

PRETORIA, South Africa, March 28 (UPI) -- Doctors said elderly patients with lung infections like former South African President Nelson Mandela can show a range of different symptoms.

Mandela, 94, was hospitalized with a recurrence of a lung infection that hospitalized him for the third time in four months and was likely pneumonia, ABC News said Thursday.

President Jacob Zuma's office issued a written statement saying the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was getting "the best possible expert medical treatment and comfort."

ABC said, according to medical experts, elderly patients were susceptible to pneumonia as their immune systems lose strength. Some don't show any sign of infection since their bodies aren't fighting it, but instead show signs of mental confusion.

Although the term "lung infection" often means pneumonia, it will take a lot of testing to confirm the diagnosis, doctors said.


Bachelet to seek another term as president

SANTIAGO, Chile, March 28 (UPI) -- Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet says she plans to run again for her country's highest office.

Bachelet, who became Chile's first woman president on her election in 2006, declared her intentions in the Santiago neighborhood where she spent her childhood, The Santiago Times reported Wednesday.

She completed her term in 2010 and resigned as head of the United Nations agency U.N. Women this month.

"I told you before that we would talk [about my candidacy] in March," she told a gathering at a photography exhibit devoted to her term as president. "And here I am, ready to fulfill this challenge. I have made the decision to be a candidate."

A recent poll found Bachelet 28 points ahead of her closest rival for the presidency, conservative former Public Works Minister Laurence Golborne.

Chile's current president, Sebastian Pinera, is prohibited by the country's Constitution from seeking a second consecutive term.

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