Obama, Merkel discuss Mideast, climate
DRESDEN, Germany, June 5 (UPI) -- Middle East peace and Iran's nuclear program were on the agenda for U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel Friday.
Obama went to Germany after visiting the Middle East and delivering an address seeking to improve relations between the United States and the Muslim world.
"We have made very good use of that time, talking about the political agenda, pressing issues," Merkel said through a translator during a media availability. "President Obama (Thursday) gave a very important speech in Cairo, which I think will be an ideal basis for a lot of action of a positive nature, particularly as regards speeding of the peace process in the Middle East."
She said a two-state solution was needed, adding "whatever we can do in order to constructively accompany this along the way we will gladly do."
Obama said, "I think the moment is now for us to act on what we all know to be the truth, which is that each side is going to have to make some difficult compromises; we have to reject violence."
Concerning Iran's nuclear aspirations, Merkel said Germany "will try its utmost" with contacts and expert knowledge "to give a positive contribution to this issue."
Obama said discussions on Iran were "in a broader context of avoiding a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could be profoundly dangerous."
The two also discussed the international financial crisis.
"We continue to work closely together to confront the global economic crisis and to restore growth and prosperity for our people," Obama said.
Climate change also was discussed, Merkel said.
"We very much welcome the very, very hard work that the United States has done in order to see to it that the necessary answers are found for this phenomenon of climate change," the chancellor said.
After their talks, Obama and Merkel were to visit Buchenwald, a former concentration camp, where about 56,000 people, mainly Jews, were worked as slaves or killed in gas chambers during World War II.
Obama also is in Europe to mark the 65th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, when Allies forces invaded Europe in the campaign to defeat Adolf Hitler.
N. Korea silent on trial of 2 journalists
PYONGYANG, North Korea, June 5 (UPI) -- North Korean officials were mum Friday about the fate of two U.S. journalists tried in the country's top court on espionage charges.
The country's state-run news agency hasn't released verdicts against Current TV journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who were detained March 17 near the North Korea-Chinese border while working on a story about North Korean defectors, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
North Korean officials said the reporters entered the country illegally, accused them of hostile acts and charged them with spying.
It was not known whether their trial, which began Thursday, was completed, Yonhap said.
Lee and Ling could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in a labor camp for hostile activities or espionage. A ruling by the top court would be final and cannot be appealed, Seoul officials said.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said no observers were allowed at the trial. Mats Foyer, Sweden's ambassador in Pyongyang who handles consular affairs involving U.S. citizens in North Korea, was denied access to the trial, the State Department spokesman said. Sweden represents the United States in North Korea because the two countries have no diplomatic relations.
Republican senator urges tobacco ban
WASHINGTON, June 5 (UPI) -- A Republican U.S. senator who also is a physician is seeking to ban cigarette smoking and other tobacco use.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla, a staunch free-market conservative, says lawmakers should stand up to the tobacco industry and ban smokes and chews, The Hill reported Friday.
"What we should be doing is banning tobacco," Coburn said recently on the Senate floor during a debate on a tobacco regulation bill. "Nobody up here has the courage to do that. It is a big business. There are millions of Americans who are addicted to nicotine. And even if they are not addicted to the nicotine, they are addicted to the habit."
While not outright banning its use, lawmakers have made buying tobacco products difficulty by raising fees and imposing regulations. For example, the popular State Children's Health Insurance Program is funded in part with a 62-cent federal tax on cigarettes.
The Senate also is expected to pass next week the Family Smoking Prevention Tobacco Control Act, which would authorize the Food and Drug Administration to restrict the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products, the Washington publication said.
"If we really want to make a difference in health and we want to eliminate dependence on tobacco, what we have to do is to stop the addiction," Coburn said.
AARP says recession hitting retirees hard
WASHINGTON, June 5 (UPI) -- The non-governmental organization AARP says more than 600,000 senior citizens in the United States are in foreclosure or behind in their mortgage payments.
USA Today said Friday the ongoing recession has forced some retirees to put off plans to sell their homes and relocate to retirement communities, while many other seniors are struggling to survive on their fixed incomes.
"It's terrible," certified credit counselor Dean Wegner said of the current situation. "I've got a lot of seniors who have just been nailed. They don't have retirement savings, and they've exhausted their equity. They're upside down (owing more on their mortgage than their homes are worth), they can't refinance and they're on a fixed income."
Center for Economic Policy and Research economist Dean Baker agreed those seniors who chose home purchases over saving for their retirement are facing difficult times amid the economic downturn.
"This whole group is going to be hugely dependent on Social Security, and people don't fully appreciate the magnitude of the problem," he told USA Today.
Bus blaze kills 25 in China
CHENGDU, China, June 5 (UPI) -- Fire broke out on a public bus in Chengdu in China's Sichuan province, killing more than two dozen people officials said.
The provisional Work Safety Supervision Bureau said 25 died in the blaze and 78 people were injured, China's state-run news agency Xinhua reported.
The bus, traveling from Tianhui Township to downtown Chengdu, caught fire under the Chuanshan Viaduct, city spokesman Mao Zhixiong said.
Traffic police told Xinhua they were unsure what caused the accident.
"The bus was not a new one and the temperature in Chengdu is not high," a police officer said.
Officials said an inspection team of provincial and city officials will examine fire and safety facilities at bus and coach stops.