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March 25, 2013 at 12:39 PM
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Court accepts huge affirmative action case

WASHINGTON, March 25 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether Michigan or any state can ban race- or sex-based preference in government actions.

The case focuses on university admissions, but is much broader.

In the November 2006 election, 58 percent of Michigan's voters approved a proposal that amended the state constitution. The amendment banned discrimination, or the granting of preferential treatment, in public education, government contracting and public employment based on race, sex, ethnicity or national origin.

Almost immediately following the election, a group of plaintiffs led by the Coalition to Defend Affirmative

Action filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the amendment.

Eventually the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled 8-7 that the law violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In asking for U.S. Supreme Court review, the state said: "Michigan recognizes that affirmative action has long been controversial; some state entities use it for some programs, some do not. But until now, no court has ever held that, apart from remedying specific past discrimination, a government must engage in affirmative action. This [Supreme] Court has said just the opposite, holding that all racial classification by government entities [is] presumptively invalid and subject to the strictest scrutiny."

Parwan prison turned over to Afghan forces

BAGRAM, Afghanistan, March 25 (UPI) -- U.S. forces in Afghanistan transferred control of the Parwan detention facility to the Afghan Defense Ministry in a ceremony Monday, military officials said.

The detention facility is next to Bagram Airfield in Parwan province.

"The transfer of the detention facility is an important part of the overall transition of security ... to Afghan National Security Forces. This ceremony highlights an increasingly confident, capable, and sovereign Afghanistan," said Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, the

commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

After the transfer, the Afghan government renamed the facility the Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan, the International Security Assistance Force said in a release.

During a January meeting in Washington, U.S. President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed to transfer the detainees held at Parwan to Afghan custody and control.

A Memorandum of Understanding signed during ceremony by Dunford and the Afghan defense minister affirmed a commitment to the lawful, humane treatment of prisoners and to the protection of the people of Afghanistan and coalition forces.

Syrian rebel army chief loses leg in blast

DAMASCUS, Syria, March 25 (UPI) -- Rebel Free Syrian Army leader Riad Asaad lost a leg in a bomb attack on his car in eastern Syria, a group spokesman said.

The spokesman said Asaad, injured when a bomb exploded next to the car while he visited Deir al-Zour province Sunday, was in stable condition, the BBC reported.

Asaad was in a Turkish hospital, the report said.

No one had claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred several days after a video posted on YouTube showed Asaad defending the al-Nusra Front and criticizing the main opposition coalition group

The United States designated the al-Nusra Front as a terrorist organization tied to al-Qaida but some rebels have said they have no problem fighting with the group against Syrian government forces.

"Nusra Front [fighters] are our brothers. They are 90 percent Syrians and the rest maybe from other Muslim countries," Asaad said in the video. "They haven't mistreated anyone in any way. We may have our own differences with them, but we respect them. Their mission is to serve the nation and the faith."

He also criticized the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the main opposition umbrella organization, saying, "The regime keeps killing our innocent civilians while the [coalition] is staying in fancy hotels, begging the world for financial support."

Asaad, a former colonel in the Syrian Air Force who defected in 2011, said rebels made a "big mistake" allowing "politicians to take over and divide our ranks."

Rebel says he heads C. African Republic

BANGUI, Central African Republic, March 25 (UPI) -- Michel Djotodia, leader of the rebel Seleka alliance, declared himself president of the Central African Republic amid reports of many people killed and injured.

Rebels, after seizing the Central African Republic's capital of Bangui and forcing President Francois Bozize to flee the country, declared the nation "opened a new page in its history, CNN reported.

For weeks, the Seleka coalition pushed toward Bangui, seizing towns along the way, until it reached the capital city on Sunday.

Witnesses said fierce gunfire lasted for hours. A government official said seven civilians were killed, CNN reported.

By the end of the day, Bozize fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo, government spokesman Jules Gautier Ngbapo said.

A statement issued by Justin Kombo Moustapha, secretary-general of the rebel alliance, said: "The Central African Republic has just opened a new page in its history."

In South Africa, President Jacob Zuma said Monday 13 South African National Defense troops were killed and many injured in Sunday clashes with Seleka rebels in several locations in Bangui.

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