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Feb. 24, 2012 at 10:00 PM
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U.S.: 'Humanitarian disaster' in Syria

TUNIS, Tunisia, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking Friday in Tunisia, applauded the selection of Kofi Annan as U.N.-Arab League special envoy for Syria.

"We are all here because the Assad regime's escalating violence in Syria is an affront to the international community, a threat to regional security and a grave violation of universal human rights," Clinton said at the international Friends of Syria conference in Tunis.

"The Assad regime has ignored every warning, squandered every opportunity and broken every agreement," she said. "Faced with determined protesters demanding their rights and their dignity, the regime is creating an appalling humanitarian disaster."

Clinton said the United States strongly supports the Arab League's demand that Syrian forces "immediately halt all attacks against civilians" and called for a "negotiated political solution to the crisis."

The Tunis meeting came as the United Nations named top international diplomat Kofi Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general, as an envoy to Syria and targeted top Syrian officials for "gross human-rights violations."

Annan -- secretary-general from 1997 to 2006, and a Nobel Peace laureate with the United Nations in 2001 -- was named a special U.N.-Arab League envoy, with a mandate to try to end the bloodshed and arrange a political transition, the world body said.

Annan, from the West African country of Ghana, is said to have kept good lines of communications with the Syrian regime, The Wall Street Journal reported.

U.S. President Barack Obama, meeting with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt in Washington, said: "All of us who have been seeing the terrible pictures coming out of Syria and Homs recently recognize it is absolutely imperative for the international community to rally and send a clear message to President Assad that it is time for a transition. It is time for that regime to move on and it is time to stop the killing of Syrian citizens by their own government. …

"It is important that we not be bystanders during these extraordinary events," he said.

The Red Cross said Friday it has begun evacuating injured women and children from Homs, Syria, after weeks of shelling by the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Homs has been bombarded by government forces for weeks, causing death, destruction and shortages of much-needed food and medicine, even as Assad denies his troops are targeting civilians, CNN reported.

Syrian Arab Red Crescent ambulances began removing the sick and injured from the hard-hit suburb of Baba Amr after negotiating with the government, the BBC said.

"The ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent are on the spot in Baba Amr, attempting to evacuate as soon as possible everyone in need of urgent help," International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman Saleh Dabbakeh told the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph in Damascus, adding at least 11 ambulances were active in the operation, which included four Western journalists.

The BBC reported the main opposition force in Syria asked the Friends of Syria conference to supply rebel fighters with weapons to use in combat against Syrian forces

Officials from the Syrian National Council, the leading opposition group, said other countries should be allowed to supply arms if Assad refuses to give up power.

"If the regime fails to accept the terms of the political initiative outlined by the Arab League and end violence against citizens, the Friends of Syria should not constrain individual countries from aiding the Syrian opposition by means of military advisers, training and provision of arms to defend themselves," the Syrian National Council said.

White House deputy press secretary Josh Ernest repeated the administration's position that "further militarizing the situation in Syria at this point in time is not a wise course -- that is not the wise policy course to pursue at this point."

The United States was working with its partners and other countries in the region "to see if there [are] things that we can do to bring humanitarian relief and aid to those who are affected by the violence, including medical supplies," Ernest said, "to see if there are things that we can do to offer support to the Syrian National Council to speed a democratic transition -- a political solution in Syria -- and to increase the pressure through sanctions on the Assad regime."

Report: 3 GOP candidates would up debt

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Policies backed by three of the four remaining GOP presidential candidates would increase the national debt trillions of dollars, U.S. Budget Watch said.

U.S. Budget Watch, a project of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, released a report Thursday indicating debt would increase most under policies supported by former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Both propose big tax cuts without spending reductions to cover the lost revenue, the report said.

Under Santorum's proposed policies, the national debt would climb by about $4.5 trillion by 2021 and under Gingrich's proposed policies by $7 trillion during the same time span.

Romney's proposed policies would add $2.6 trillion to the debt by 2021, Budget Watch said.

Of the four major Republican candidates, only Texas Rep. Ron Paul's proposed policies would cut future borrowing, by about $2 trillion, the report said.

"As we enter the thick of the campaign season, no one can ignore the debt issue," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which supports debt-reduction efforts. "This report is designed to inform the public on the fiscal policies put forward by each of the Republican candidates and stimulate debate on this crucial topic."

The Washington Post said the report is the first independent attempt to measure the impact of GOP candidates' proposed policies on the nation's $15.4 trillion debt.

FBI: Sovereign citizens a domestic threat

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- U.S. authorities say they have increased their focus on so-called sovereign citizens, a movement that believes it can use armed force to resist police.

Followers of the notion believe the United States is under martial law, the dollar is worthless after the U.S. Treasury went off the gold standard and some constitutional amendments are invalid, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

The FBI said members of the movement have killed six police officers since 2000. A shootout in West Memphis, Ark., in 2010 left four people dead, including two officers in one of the more deadly clashes.

"We are focusing our efforts because of the threat of violence," said Stuart R. McArthur, a deputy assistant director in the FBI's Counterterrorism Division.

Studies by the Homeland Security Department and the National Counterterrorism Center listed the sovereign citizen movement alongside Islamic extremists and white supremacists as major threats to the United States, the Times reported. More than 100,000 people have aligned themselves with the movement, said the Southern Poverty Law center, which tracks domestic terrorists and hate groups.

"This is a movement that has absolutely exploded," said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the center, located in Montgomery, Ala.

Indiana rep. sorry for ripping Girl Scouts

FORT WAYNE, Ind., Feb. 24 (UPI) -- An Indiana lawmaker apologized to Girl Scouts of Indiana, but not to the national organization, for describing scouts with "reactionary, inflammatory" words.

In a letter to Indiana House Republicans, Rep. Bob Morris, a Fort Wayne Republican, had said the Girl Scouts of America was a "radicalized organization" that had "entered into a close strategic affiliation with Planned Parenthood." Morris wrote the letter to explain why he was the lone holdout on a resolution celebrating the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouts of America.

Morris said he searched the Web and found "abundant evidence proves the agenda of Planned Parenthood includes sexualizing young girls through the Girl Scouts, which is quickly becoming a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood."

Following widespread condemnation of the letter, Morris issued a statement Thursday saying the letter had been meant only for his GOP colleagues and apologizing to "the Girl Scouts of Indiana and all of the girls and parents of Indiana who are participating in and running their Girl Scout organizations in a way that promotes leadership, community involvement and family values" and acknowledging he "should not have painted the entire Girl Scouts organization with such a wide brush."

"After reflecting on the letter I wrote on Feb. 18, 2012, to my fellow Indiana Republican representatives, I realize now that my words were emotional, reactionary and inflammatory," Morris said Thursday.

"In hindsight, I never should have written the letter," he said. "However, I still would not sign the tesolution honoring the Girl Scouts -- not because of any local troops or even the Girl Scouts of Indiana, but because of the Girl Scouts of the United States of America (Girl Scouts USA) and its policies."

Morris said it is his "sincere hope that this statement will end the publicity with regard to my letter. I look forward to moving on to more important issues of state policy."

A spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana-Michiana said this week the organization's "membership is still strong, and our cookie sales are up from last year."

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