November 12, 2008

UPI NewsTrack TopNews

Obama gathering info on Iraq policy WASHINGTON, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- President-elect Barack Obama's transition team says it's gathering information about U.S. troop presence in Iraq.

Dan Pfeiffer, spokesman for Obama's transition office, told USA Today Obama will meet with advisers and U.S. military leadership "to map out a responsible drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq along the pace and scope he outlined during the campaign."

Scholars at the Center for American Progress, a think-tank led by Obama's transition co-chairman John Podesta, have urged Obama to stay true to his campaign promise of a measured withdrawal, arguing that Iraqi politicians could delay difficult security decisions unless they know U.S. troops will be out by a specific date.

Advisers from the Center for a New American Security, meanwhile, say flexibility is needed for the timing and pace of the withdrawal. Their argument for flexibility is similar to those pressing for a measured withdrawal: It would avoid a security setback and give Iraqi politicians an incentive to pass legislation crucial to a long-term peace.

Outside observers say Obama may have to improvise in a way that might be expected. USA Today reported.

"Obama is going to find he has to chart a different course in Iraq than he campaigned on," says Reidar Visser, who runs the Iraq-focused Web site

Supreme Court hears Ten Commandments case WASHINGTON, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court heard argument Wednesday on whether a city must accept all displays on public land if it allows one -- in this case the Ten Commandments.

The case comes out of Pleasant Grove City, Utah. The city's Pioneer Park has several "unattended" displays, including a Ten Commandment monument donated by the Eagles, a fraternal organization.

However, when a religious group called Summum, founded in 1975 and based in Salt Lake City, wanted to install its own Seven Principles of Creation (or Seven Aphorisms) monument, the city rejected the application.

A U.S. appeals court in Denver eventually ruled that if the city accepts one monument, it had to accept the other.

Lawyers for the city and the Bush administration argued that the country's parks would be smothered in displays if all must be accepted, The Salt Lake City Tribune said. "The Vietnam Wall Memorial did not open us up to a Viet Cong Memorial," Assistant U.S. Solicitor General Daryl Joseffer said, the newspaper reported.

Summum attorney Pamela Harris said the National Mall, where the Wall is placed, is protected by the free speech exception on federal government land, but Pleasant Grove claims the Ten Commandments monument isn't even city owned.

A decision is expected before the court term ends in late June.

(No. 07-665, Pleasant Grove City vs. Summum)

GOP governors meet in Dem-tilting Florida MIAMI, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- The 2008 Republican Governors Association meeting is being held in a state, Florida, that is showing many signs of trouble for the GOP, observers say.

The meeting is being hosted by Gov. Charlie Crist, who after being hailed as a "rock star" at the 2006 meeting for being one of only three GOP non-incumbents to win a statehouse that year, saw his key battleground state vote for Democratic U.S. President-elect Barack Obama.

Crist, while still holding good but lower approval numbers, has seen Florida lose 115,000 jobs so far this year, the most of any U.S. state, fueling worries among Republican Party leaders that Crist himself will become the target of a concerted Democratic effort to defeat him in 2010, the Miami Herald reported Wednesday.

"Crist can't be blamed for (GOP presidential nominee Sen. John) McCain running a crummy campaign and being weighed down by the burden of President Bush," Republican strategist Ed Rollins told the Herald. "But Crist needs to rebuild his own party in Florida because it's not as safe for Republicans as it once was."

Observers said the GOP spotlight will be on Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whose sharp partisanship stands in contrast to Crist's centrism.

U.N. won't send more troops to Congo UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- The United Nations won't send any more peacekeeping troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo in the near term, officials said.

The U.N. Security Council failed to reach an agreement on the Congo situation Tuesday despite a plea from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to send 3,000 more troops there, The Times of London reported.

Ban has urged the Congolese government and Tutsi rebels led by Gen. Laurant Nkunda to uphold a cease-fire to allow aid workers to reach an estimated 100,000 refugees trapped behind rebel lines in the country's North Kivu region. Ban also said he was "very concerned by reports of targeted killings of civilians, looting and rape," The Times reported.

Alain Le Roy, the head of U.N. peacekeeping operations, said he was hopeful the Security Council would reach a different conclusion later this month. But John Sawers, Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, was more cautious, telling the newspaper, "There isn't a bottomless pit of peacekeepers, so we do need to make absolutely sure we're making the best possible use of the troops that already exist in the largest peacekeeping force in the world."

Ban said he will submit a report on Congo to the Security Council next week.

Sudan president orders Darfur cease-fire KHARTOUM, Sudan, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- Sudanese President Omar Hassan Bashir says he's ordering a cease-fire with rebels based in Darfur and will move to disarm pro-government militias.

Bashir made the declaration Wednesday after receiving the recommendations of the Sudan People's Initiative, a Khartoum-backed plan that did not include any input from the key rebel group Justice and Equality Movement, the BBC reported.

A prosecutor from the International Criminal Court in The Hague is seeking genocide charges against Bashir for allegedly aiding pro-government Islamic militias in efforts to carry out an ethnic cleansing campaign against the black African inhabitants of Darfur, where up to 300,000 people have died and more than 2 million have fled their homes since 2003.

Although past Darfur cease-fires have failed, some say Bashir's move holds out hope for the troubled region. One unnamed international observer told the BBC that it could be an attempt by Bashir to put pressure on rebel groups to sign onto a 2006 peace agreement, which most of them rejected.

It could also be an attempt by the president to convince the international community to defer the ICC case against him, the broadcaster said.

Melamine found in fish feed from China HONG KONG, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- Safety officials in Hong Kong say they have found elevated levels of the industrial chemical melamine in fish feed from mainland China.

Melamine is a substance used to make plastics and other goods that is currently at the center of China's tainted-milk scandal.

Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety says the fish feed from a company in Southeastern China contained a level of 6.6 parts per million of melamine, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Fish farms have been warned not to use the feed.

Last month safety officials found melamine in eggs imported from China, leading to concerns that the chemical may be present in other parts of the food supply.

In a related matter, Hong Kong officials told the Journal they are investigating the cases of two girls with kidney stones who had consumed melamine-tainted milk products and biscuits.