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Aug. 13, 2009 at 5:00 PM
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Clinton urges Liberian reconciliation

MONROVIA, Liberia, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday urged Liberia to reconcile politically, healing the wounds of its brutal 1990s civil war.

Speaking to the country's National Legislature in Monrovia, Clinton reminded lawmakers that while free elections are a vital part of democracy, it is also necessary to unite for the good of the country once they're over, the Voice of America reported.

"It is important not to let politics, which is a noble and critically essential profession, overwhelm governing," Clinton said, citing her own experience of running for the U.S. presidency and losing in the Democratic Party primaries to President Barack Obama.

"He won, and then I went to work to elect him," she said. "And then, much to my amazement, he asked me to be his secretary of state. And I must say that one of the most common questions I am asked around the world -- from Indonesia to Angola -- is, 'How could you go to work for someone you were running against?' I said, 'Because we both love our country.'"

Earlier, Clinton gave Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf a vote of confidence as she faces political opposition.

Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is investigating the country's civil war, has linked Johnson-Sirleaf to then rebel leader Charles Taylor and has recommended she be banned from political office, VOA reported.

But Clinton, speaking to reporters along with Johnson-Sirleaf at a press conference in Monrovia, indicated the United States strongly supports her government in the West African nation.

Jackson urges fair Ivory Coast election

YAMOUSSOUKRO, Ivory Coast, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson says a positive election outcome in Ivory Coast could help bring an end to U.N. sanctions against the West African nation.

The U.S. civil rights activist, who is visiting Ivory Coast, officially known as the Republic of Cote d'Ivoire, at the behest of Young Patriots Leader Charles Ble Goude, said the three expected presidential candidates in the upcoming election all offer hope for a "decisive election," Radio France Internationale reported Thursday.

"Having met with all of the three different forces who will be running for president I'm convinced that all of them look forward to Nov. 29 as a decisive election," Jackson said.

The civil rights activist used his three-day visit to meet with President Laurent Gbagbo, along with former presidents Henri Konan Bedie and Alassane Ouattara. Bedie and Ouattara are expected to run.

Jackson told Radio France Internationale that whatever happens in November's election, all candidates should remained dignified to help ensure the possible end to U.N. sanctions on Ivory Coast. Sanctions have been imposed by the United Nations to punish those accused of derailing peace efforts in Ivory Coast.

"The winner must win with grace and the two that lose must do so with dignity," Jackson said.

Israel: Rights group report unreliable

JERUSALEM, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- The Israeli army says a report published by an international human rights organization on alleged "white flag" Gaza killings of civilians is unreliable.

A statement issued by the army Thursday said the Human Rights Watch report is based on testimony by a number of Palestinians whose credibility has not been substantiated.

The report released by the rights group also alleged Israeli soldiers killed 11 Palestinian civilians, including five women and four children waving white flags signifying civilian status, during the Gaza offensive.

Displaying a white flag does not automatically grant immunity, and in cases of suspicion that a person holding a white flag is endangering security forces, the forces are authorized to take necessary precautionary steps in accordance with the rules of engagement, the army said. To back up its statement, the army released video footage purporting to show a Hamas terrorist planting an explosive device and hiding amongst civilians waving white flags.

Human Rights Watch said its 63-page report, "White Flag Deaths: Killings of Palestinian Civilians during Operation Cast Lead," is based on field investigations of seven incident sites in Gaza. It said the Israeli forces declined to discuss the matter. The organization accused Israel of "stonewalling."

The 11 civilians killed and at least eight wounded comprise a small fraction of the more than 1,100 Palestinian civilians and combatants killed during Operation Cast Lead in December and January, the group said.

Mexican court frees 22 tied to massacre

MEXICO CITY, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- Mexico's Supreme Court ordered the release of 22 people linked to a 1997 massacre in the town of Acteal, saying it found prosecutors manufactured evidence.

In a 4-1 vote, the high court ruled that prosecutors and lower court judges violated the rights of 22 indigenous people accused of opening fire on the village in Chiapas state, killing 45 people, The New York Times reported.

The court also ordered that four other prisoners be re-sentenced, and said convictions of 31 others would be reviewed in coming days. Of the 79 people convicted of participating in the killings, 57 have appealed.

In their ruling Wednesday, the justices said they were not considering the guilt or innocence, but making a statement about the prosecution of the accused, all Tzotzil Indians.

"Acteal is a good opportunity for the court to reiterate a clear message to the authorities in charge of pursuing crimes -- your actions ought to always respect, scrupulously, the constitution and human rights," said Juan Silva Meza.

The justices said federal prosecutors used forged evidence and false testimony to implicate the defendants.

One suspect piece of evidence prosecutors introduced was a list of the massacre's perpetrators supposedly prepared by Agustin Arias Diaz, a local resident, the Times said. However, list was written in Spanish, a language the man barely spoke, and he later acknowledged that authorities had given him the list.

The massacre appeared to stem from the rebel revolt begun by the Zapatistas on New Year's Day in 1994. The people of Acteal formed a group called Las Abejas, which backed the rebels, the Times said. Government investigations showed officials and police officers ignored warnings of the impending violence then tampered with the crime scene afterward.

Calif. wildfires prompt evacuations

BONNY DOON, Calif., Aug. 13 (UPI) -- A wildfire near California's Santa Cruz Mountains forced the mandatory evacuation of about 250 residences, fire officials said.

Officials said "details were sketchy" about the origin of the fire, which started Wednesday near the town of Bonny Doon, CNN reported Thursday.

The evacuation order was expected to affect 500 people, officials said.

Sheriffs deputies were going door-to-door to alert residents of the evacuation, but expressed concern that they wouldn't be able to reach all the residents because of the remoteness of the area, KGO-TV, San Francisco, reported.

The fire had consumed at least 2,000 acres as of 1 a.m. Thursday, the television station reported.

Meanwhile, firefighters battled a 29,000-acre forest fire east of Santa Maria as investigators sought the public's help in locating the driver of a late-model Chevy van last seen in the area where the fire was first spotted, the Los Angeles Times reported.

U.S. Forest Service special agents said they wanted to talk to the driver to learn why he was in the area around the time the blaze began.

Throughout Wednesday, 1,800 firefighters and 10 water-dropping helicopters battled the wildfire that churned through steep and inaccessible terrain, the Times said. The weather has been hot and dry, with occasional 25-mile-per-hour wind gusts, prompting some evacuations.

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