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Feb. 4, 2013 at 10:39 PM
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Ala. hostage situation over, boy safe

MIDLAND CITY, Ala., Feb. 4 (UPI) -- The seven-day bunker standoff in Alabama ended Monday with the gunman dead and his 5-year-old hostage safe, authorities said.

Authorities said law enforcement officers stormed the underground bunker in Midland City after negotiations with Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, deteriorated and he was seen holding a gun, the Dothan Eagle reported.

Shortly before 3:30 p.m. EST, two loud bangs were heard emanating from the hostage scene. The noise was followed soon after by an ambulance leaving the scene without its lights or siren activated.

The ambulance traveled to Flowers Hospital where it was believed the freed young hostage, identified only as Ethan, was taken.

Authorities had not disclosed how Dykes died or details of the boy's status, the newspaper said.

"This Wiregrass [region] nightmare is finally over," state Rep. Steve Clouse said. "We're very thankful Ethan is safe and back in the arms of his family. We must still remember the family of Charles Poland [Jr.]. Because of his actions, more than 20 people on that bus are still alive."

The standoff began Tuesday after Dykes got on a school bus in Midland City and demanded Poland, the driver, hand over two children.

When Poland protected the children by blocking Dykes' access to the school bus aisle, the gunman shot the driver four times and grabbed the boy, taking him to his hiding place, police said.

1.4M gay petitions delivered to Boy Scouts

IRVINE, Texas, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Gay scouting advocates Monday delivered petitions signed by 1.4 million people to Texas where Boy Scouts leaders are considering lifting their ban on gays.

The Dallas Voice reported a representative from Boy Scouts of America had been scheduled to meet with the advocacy group in Irvine during the morning, but when no one from the scouting organization showed up by 12:30 p.m. local time, the boxes of signatures were left at the base of a Scouting statue near the front door of BSA headquarters. The newspaper said a Boy Scouts representative came out later to retrieve the signatures after most members of the media had left.

Greg Bourke, an assistant Scoutmaster removed after serving for 10 years after revealing his sexual orientation, urged the BSA's board of directors to lift its ban gays.

"In the name of fairness, in the name of equality, in the name of God, I ask the executive board to please end this harmful discrimination now," he said.

The Dallas Morning News reported Will Oliver, a 20-year-old gay Eagle Scout from Duxbury, Mass., said the Scouts' anti-gay policy forces gay youths to hide who they really are.

"It is time for this archaic policy to end," he said.

Death toll rises to 36 in Mexico explosion

MEXICO CITY, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- The death toll has risen to 36 following an explosion at a Mexican oil company's headquarters and the search for survivors has been called off, officials said.

One person remains unaccounted for amid the rubble at the Pemex compound in Mexico City. The blast injured 121 others and 35 people remain hospitalized, eight in critical condition, MNI said Monday.

Speculation abounds about the cause and nature of Thursday's blast -- there was no fireball and officials have been stumped by what might have caused the building to explode -- leading many to call on a government report to reveal the facts. It happened in the basement of an administrative building and was strong enough to blow out windows in the neighboring 52-story skyscraper.

A terrorist attack has not been ruled out, officials said.

That has put pressure on newly elected President Enrique Pena Nieto to produce a report that satisfies the public.

Mexico Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam pledged Friday afternoon the government's commitment to transparency in investigating the blast.

"The government of Mexico is prepared to discover the truth," he said. "Be it accident, carelessness or attack."

USPS selling Rosa Parks forever stamp

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- On what would have been her 100th birthday, the Rosa Parks commemorative stamp went on sale Monday honoring the civil rights icon, the U.S. Postal Service said.

The stamp is one of several new "forever stamps" being issued by the postal service commemorating the civil rights movement. A stamp commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation was introduced Jan. 1.

The Parks stamp was officially revealed during the NAACP Image Awards last week.

Biden praises French action in Mali

PARIS, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden Monday praised French President Francois Hollande for displaying "decisiveness" by sending French troops to Mali.

Biden is on a five-day trip to Germany, France and the United Kingdom to meet with world leaders.

In Paris, Biden and Hollande discussed a wide range of issues, including Mali -- where French troops helped rout Islamic militants -- Iran and its nuclear program, the Middle East peace process, the economy and climate change.

"Let me say again on behalf of the president, the people of the United States, we applaud your decisiveness and I might add the incredible competence and capability of your French military forces," Biden said at a joint appearance before the press in reference to the situation in Mali.

"We agreed on the need to as quickly as reasonably possible establish -- the establishment of an African-led international mission to Mali, and to as quickly as is prudent transition that mission to the United Nations."

Kan. court says strippers are employees

TOPEKA, Kan., Feb. 4 (UPI) -- The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that exotic dancers are eligible for unemployment insurance and other employment benefits.

The Friday decision put an end to Milano's vs. Kansas Department of Labor Contributions Unit, that stemmed from a 2005 unemployment claim filed by a former semi-nude female dancer at Topeka's Club Orleans, The Wichita Eagle reported.

Club Orleans is owned by Milano's Inc.

In court, the Kansas Department of Labor argued because of strict rules imposed on exotic dancers at the club by Milano's, they should be classified as employees, not independent entertainment contractors.

The Labor Department said dancers were required to pay non-negotiable "rent" for use of the stage and dressing rooms, as well as extra fees for the disc jockeys and bouncers, among other rules.

"Milano's rules go as far as mandating that the dancers cannot refuse a customer's offer to purchase the dancer a beverage," the Labor Department said.

The state Supreme Court agreed with the Labor Department, stating in its ruling: "Ample substantial competent evidence in the record before us ... demonstrates that Milano's possessed such a right of control over the dancers at Club Orleans. Most telling, the house set various rules, and dancers' violations of those rules were punishable by fines and termination."

The ruling means the dancers are eligible for state unemployment benefits if they're laid off and the club has to contribute to the state fund that pays the benefits, court record state.

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