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Nov. 24, 2010 at 5:00 PM
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Somali pirates convicted in Virginia

NORFOLK, Va., Nov. 24 (UPI) -- A federal jury in Norfolk, Va., Wednesday returned guilty verdicts in the first trial on international piracy charges held in the United States in 190 years.

The jury convicted five Somalis in the April 1 attack on the USS Nicholas.

"These five Somali pirates were convicted of an armed assault on the high seas against what they thought was a merchant vessel, but turned out to be a U.S. Navy frigate engaged in counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa," U.S. Attorney MacBride said. "Modern-day pirates not only threaten human lives but also disrupt international commerce by extorting hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom payments. Today's conviction demonstrates that armed attacks on U.S.-flagged vessels are crimes against the international community and that pirates will face severe consequences in U.S. courts."

The verdict followed a nine-day trial, the first on such charges since 1820.

Mohammed Modin Hasan, Gabul Abdullahi Ali, Abdi Wali Dire, Abdi Mohammed Gurewardher and Abdi Mohammed Umar were convicted of piracy, attack to plunder a vessel, act of violence against persons on a vessel, assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with a dangerous weapon on federal officers and employees, conspiracy to use firearms during a crime of violence and multiple firearm counts, including the use of a rocket propelled grenade. They face a mandatory penalty of life in prison.

Sentencing was set for March 14, 2011.

Testimony showed Hasan, Ali and Dire set out to pirate what they believed to be a merchant ship while Gurewardher and Umar remained aboard another vessel during the attack.

Ali and Dire each were armed with assault weapons and Hasan carried an RPG.

Poll: Most say war between Korean likely

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Americans say they expect tensions between North and South Korea to build and support U.S. military assistance, but not more troops, a Rasmussen poll indicates.

The Rasmussen Reports survey released Wednesday indicated 68 percent of likely voters said they think a war between the Koreas will happen soon, after North Korea fired artillery at a South Korean island Tuesday that killed at least four people.

Forty-six percent of voters told Rasmussen they believe the United States should provide military assistance to South Korea if the country is attacked by North Korea, compared to 29 percent who said military assistance should not be provided.

The United States has about 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea -- and just 33 percent of voters said additional troops should be deployed there if South Korea is attacked by North Korea. Thirty-nine percent said they oppose sending additional U.S. troops and 28 percent said they were undecided.

The survey of 1,000 likely voters was conducted Tuesday. The margin of error is 3 percentage points.

Fla. man who lasered helicopter charged

LAKELAND, Fla., Nov. 24 (UPI) -- A Florida man who allegedly aimed a laser pointer at a police helicopter and temporarily blinded the pilot has been arrested, authorities said.

Mark Clay Hazlitt, 58, of Lakeland, told deputies he had pointed the laser at the aircraft because he was "tired of hearing it" fly over his house, The (Lakeland) Ledger reported Tuesday.

Hazlitt was charged with misuse of a laser lighting device, a third-degree felony, the newspaper said.

Helicopter pilot Greg Love was involved in a search for a man who had threatened suicide and ran into a housing development.

During the search, the helicopter was hit with the green light.

"The laser illuminated the cockpit with such intensity that the pilot and flight observer's night vision equipment became inoperable," sheriff's spokeswoman Donna Wood said.

"Hazlitt's behavior was reckless and his actions felonious," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. " We will not tolerate anyone placing the lives of our deputies or residents in danger."

The man who had threatened suicide was eventually found and placed in protective custody, Wood said.

Mexicans going home warned to be careful

MEXICO CITY, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Mexicans returning from the United States for the holidays are being warned to take precautions because of drug violence.

The Mexican government is warning travelers to move in convoys and only during daylight, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The convoys can be "escorted or monitored" if travelers check in with federal agents at the border, the government said. The army is also offering protection.

"When our own government says it's not safe to travel in our own country, it really makes you feel sad," said Luis Garcia, head of a Mexican club in Lynwood, Calif.

Garcia said many of the 2,300 members of his Federacion Veracruzana are canceling their trips home this year. The topic has been a top concern among Mexican expatriate clubs, and "people are really worried," he said.

Garcia said motorists often hit roadblocks where people disguised as police demand money and possessions.

Mexicans living in the United States often return to their hometowns from late November through early January. Mexican state governments have predicted that this season their numbers may fall by half.

Bad weather predicted for Black Friday

STATE COLLEGE, Pa., Nov. 24 (UPI) -- U.S. retailers hoping for a blockbuster opening to the Christmas season are not getting much help from the weather gods.

Forecasters say much of the country will be enduring extreme cold, with snow, sleet, freezing rain and just plain rain forecast for the eastern states, Accuweather.com predicted. In much of the west, including parts of the Rockies and the Upper Midwest, the temperature could be well below freezing.

The day after Thanksgiving is the traditional opening of the holiday shopping season. Many chains are luring recession-battered shoppers with early openings and deep discounts.

Accuweather said a storm that brought heavy snow to the west Tuesday is heading east. It is expected to hit the Midwest late Thursday.

By Friday morning, northern New England is likely to be icy. Farther south, in major cities like New York and Philadelphia, shoppers can expect to brave chilly rain that could extend as far south as Birmingham, Ala., and Jackson, Miss.

Along the Gulf coast, the forecast includes thunderstorms.

Obama gives 2 turkeys new lease on life

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama pardoned turkeys Apple and Cider Wednesday, giving the pair a chance to live large instead of being a main course on a Thanksgiving table.

"For the record, It feels pretty good to stop at least one shellacking this November," Obama said Wednesday, referring to the drubbing Democrats received in the Nov 2 midterm elections.

Saying the presidential pardon was an "awesome responsibility," Obama said Apple and his stand-in Cider scratched their way to the Rose Garden ceremony, beating out about 20,000 feathered competitors.

He called the competition, which included the birds "strutting their stuff" to an eclectic music mix, "a turkey version of 'Dancing with the Stars.'"

"Except the stakes for the contestants are much higher," Obama chuckled. "Only one pair would survive and win the big prize -- life."

After "living it up on corn" at a Washington-area W Hotel, Obama said, Apple and Cider will spend the rest of their natural lives at Mount Vernon, Va.

"You are hereby pardoned from the Thanksgiving dinner table," Obama said "May you have a wonderful and joyful life in Mount Vernon."

Once at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, the pair of 45-pound, 21-week-old birds will be on display during "Christmas at Mount Vernon" through Jan. 6, 2011, then live in a "custom-made enclosure" at Mount Vernon's livestock facility, the White House said.

On a serious note, Obama noted the Thanksgiving holiday was a time to be "thankful for what we have ... and be generous for those who have less."

Obama said he and his family were delivering two turkeys to Martha's Table, a Washington-area organization "that does extraordinary work helping folks who are struggling."

After wishing everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving, Obama said he was grateful to America's military serving "bravely and selflessly" throughout the world.

"You make me so very proud to be your commander in chief," he said.

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