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Feb. 28, 2013 at 5:00 PM
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Benedict officially resigns as pope

VATICAN CITY, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Benedict XVI officially resigned as pope Thursday evening, leaving the Roman Catholic Church without a pontiff for the time being.

The moment was marked at Castel Gandolfo, about 15 miles southeast of Rome, where the former pope is now living and plans to reside for the next couple of months. Swiss Guards formally closed the doors to the papal apartment, signalling that they no longer guard the person of Benedict.

Vatican police will now guard the former pope, who remained behind closed doors. Benedict was just a couple of weeks short of serving eight years after succeeding the late John Paul II. He was the first pope in 600 years to resign.

A Vatican official explained in Italian outside the lakeside summer residence that the closing represented the end of Benedict's papacy.

The Chair of St. Peter is now empty -- or "sede vacante" in Latin.

Earlier in the day, Benedict left the Vatican for the last time as pope, traveling by motorcade to a helipad at the train station.

To the sound of bells, the retiring pope was flown by a white Italian air force helicopter to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, with its 35 acres of grounds.

The helicopter landed at the summer residence at dusk, also to the sound of bells.

In his final day as pope, Benedict XVI told the cardinals charged with electing his successor he will be praying for them during the conclave.

The 85-year-old pontiff met with the cardinals, greeting them each individually as they kissed his ring before a golden throne in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, The New York Times reported.

Jack Lew sworn in as treasury secretary

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Jack Lew was sworn in as treasury secretary Thursday in a private ceremony hosted by President Obama.

The oath of office was administered by Vice President Joe Biden.

Lew is the 76th treasury secretary, succeeding Timothy Geithner, who announced his departure soon after Obama won his second term.

During his daily media briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama and Lew "have become close through their service together, and the president wanted to have this ceremony for Secretary Lew, in the Oval Office, because of that relationship."

Lew had been Obama's chief of staff and before that was budget director for Obama and President Bill Clinton.

The U.S. Senate Wednesday handily confirmed Lew as treasury secretary Wednesday, despite reservations by some Republicans, on a 71-26 vote. Lew had come under criticism from some GOP senators for his personal finances and connections with Wall Street.

House approves Violence Against Women Act

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. House approved reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which protects same-sex couples, sending it to President Obama Thursday.

The measure, which has already cleared the Senate, passed the House on a 286-138 vote, with 87 Republicans joining 199 Democrats, The Washington Post reported.

Obama said he was pleased with the House vote.

"I was pleased to see the House of Representatives come together and vote to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act," he said in a statement. "Today's vote will go even further by continuing to reduce domestic violence, improving how we treat victims of rape, and extending protections to Native American women and members of the LGBT community."

In thanking leaders of both parties for getting the reauthorization passed, Obama said, "Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk."

The bill also authorized the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which would provide "critical support for both international and domestic victims of trafficking and helping ensure traffickers are brought to justice," the president said.

Once Obama signs the bill into law, it will authorize up to $660 million each year for the next five years for programs that help with victim assistance and in the prosecution of sexual assault and domestic abuse. The funding amount is a 17 percent decrease from 2005, the last time the VAWA was reauthorized.

Vice President Joe Biden, who sponsored the original Violence Against Women Act, praised the vote noting that Congress "put politics aside."

Since the act was passed in 1994, there has been a 64 percent reduction in domestic violence, Biden said.

"The urgent need for this bill cannot be more obvious," he said.

The legislation, which languished in the House, includes new provisions that would bar discrimination against gays and lesbians in programs funded by the bill and would expand the authority of tribal courts to prosecute non-native American men accused of crimes on Indian reservations.

Partner sees end to same-sex benefits ban

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo., Feb. 28 (UPI) -- The partner of a deceased state trooper has asked the Missouri Supreme Court to overturn a ban on death benefits to same-sex partners of state workers.

Kelly Glossip was in a same-sex relationship with Missouri Highway Patrol Cpl. Dennis Engelhard for nearly 15 years when Engelhard was hit by a car on an icy interstate on Dec. 25, 2009, the St. Louis (Mo.) Post-Dispatch reported Wednesday.

Maurice B. Graham, Glossip's attorney, described the relationship between the two men as "almost synonymous with opposite-sex, husband and wife."

Graham argued the 2001 law at the center of the legal challenge set up a special category based on sexual orientation.

Assistant Attorney General James R. Ward defended the ban. "this is not a special law," he said. "It's open-ended because the class as described is for spouses."

Supreme Court Judge Laura Denvir Smith noted gays are not allowed to marry in Missouri.

Ward argued allowing same-sex partners to receive survivor benefits would have "tremendous ramifications" on the state's pensions plans.

Graham countered the criteria for domestic partner benefits could be "very, very carefully drawn" to ensure that only long-term relationships were covered.

U.S. OKs direct non-lethal aid to rebels

ROME, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- The United States, for the first time, will provide food and medical support directly to to anti-government rebels in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry said.

"Aiding the people who are fighting for a free Syria is a cause to which President Obama and all of us are deeply committed," Kerry said Thursday during a media availability while in Rome for a "Friends of Syria" meeting.

World powers are united in their belief that the best solution for Syria is a political one, Kerry said.

"The sooner we can get started, the more lives we'll save, and the better chance we have of preserving Syria's institutions and its rich culture and of restoring its unity," he said.

"Working together, we've already been able to do a lot," Kerry said of the international effort to resolve the crisis in Syria, including sanctions against President Bashar Assad's regime, supporting the Syrian Opposition Coalition with training, organization and some communications resources, as well as humanitarian support.

Kerry announced the United States would contribute $60 million directly to rebels fighting against President Bashar Assad's regime. Among other things, he said the aid would strengthen the Syrian Opposition Coalition's organizational structure; helping war-torn communities with respect to sanitation, food delivery and medical care, and speed up delivery of basic goods and services, including security and education.

Kerry said the United States and its partners have meet regularly and all agree that "we need to change President Assad's calculation, and we need to do more."

The aid falls short of what rebels have requested -- arms.

Great Train Robbery thief dies at 81

LONDON, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Bruce Reynolds, the mastermind of Britain's 1963 Great Train Robbery, has died, his son said. He was 81.

Reynolds had been in poor health for some months, The Guardian newspaper reported. Reynolds's son, Nick, a musician with the band, Alabama 3, with whom his father had occasionally performed, announced his death.

His death came just months before the 50th anniversary of the robbery.

In August 1963, a group of professional criminals from London robbed the Glasgow to Euston mail train in Buckinghamshire, England. The Guardian said they made off with off with 2.6 million pounds ($3.9 million), worth around 33 million pounds ($50 million) today.

Most of the robbers were caught and sentenced to what was then record sentences of 30 years.

But Reynolds fled the country and hid under an assumed name in Mexico and Canada with his wife and young son, the newspaper said.

He was when he returned to Britain in 1968. The Guardian said Tommy Butler, the detective who arrested him, greeted him by saying "Hello, Bruce, it's been a long time."

"C'est la vie," Reynolds replied.

Reynolds was jailed for 25 years, but wrote a book, "The Autobiography of a Thief."

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