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Congressional delegation calls for Wood River Levee fix

Thursday, 16 January 2014 08:16 Published in Local News
ALTON, Ill. (AP) - Members of Illinois' congressional delegation want the Army Corps of Engineers to use some of the funding included in a spending bill to fix portions of a Mississippi River levee.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, and Republican congressmen Rodney Davis and John Shimkus made the request in a letter also signed by Democratic Rep. Bill Enyart.
In correspondence to Jo-Ellen Darcy, a top Army Corps official, the delegation asks that the corps make fixing the Wood River levee northeast of St. Louis near Alton a priority.
Calling the problem "critical," the lawmakers say the river barrier was negatively affected by a design deficiency in the construction of the Melvin Price Lock and Dam near Alton.
 

VATICAN COMES UNDER SHARP CRITICISM FOR SEX ABUSE

Thursday, 16 January 2014 08:18 Published in National News

GENEVA (AP) — The Vatican came under blistering criticism from a U.N. committee Thursday for its handling of the global priest sex abuse scandal, facing its most intense public grilling to date over allegations that it protected pedophile priests at the expense of victims.

The Vatican insisted it had little jurisdiction to sanction pedophile priests around the globe, saying it was for local law enforcement to do so. But officials conceded that it needs to do more, given the scale of the problem and the role the Holy See plays in the international community.

"The Holy See gets it," Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's former sex crimes prosecutor, told the committee. "Let's not say too late or not. But there are certain things that need to be done differently."

He was responding to a grilling by the U.N. committee over the Holy See's failure to abide by terms of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child which, among other things, calls for signatories to take all appropriate measures to keep children from harm. Critics allege the church enabled the rape of thousands of children by encouraging a culture of cover-up to defend its reputation.

The scene inside the conference room at U.N. headquarters in Geneva was remarkable by U.N. standards, with committee members themselves marveling at how such a powerful institution as the Holy See could be hauled before a relatively obscure U.N. human rights committee to answer uncomfortable questions before a packed audience.

The committee's main human rights investigator, Sara Oviedo, was particularly tough on the Vatican delegation, pressing its members on the frequent ways abusive priests were transferred rather than turned in to police.

Given the church's "zero tolerance" policy, she asked, why were there "efforts to cover up and obscure these types of cases?"

Another committee member, Maria Rita Parsi, an Italian psychologist and psychotherapist, pressed further: "If these events continue to be hidden and covered up, to what extent will children be affected?"

Committee members asked the Holy See to provide data about the scale of the problem, what it has done to address it and what Pope Francis intends to do with a new commission announced last month to find best practices to protect children from abuse and help victims heal. They also asked about specific cases currently on the Vatican's desk, including accusations that the Vatican's own ambassador to the Dominican Republic sexually abused teen-age boys.

The Holy See ratified the U.N. convention in 1990 and submitted a first implementation report in 1994. But it didn't provide progress reports for nearly two decades. It only submitted one in 2012 after coming under criticism following the 2010 explosion of child sex abuse cases in Europe and beyond.

Victims groups and human rights organizations teamed up to press the U.N. committee to challenge the Holy See on its abuse record, providing written testimony from victims and evidence outlining the global scale of the problem.

Their reports cite case studies in Mexico and Britain, grand jury investigations in the U.S., and government fact-finding inquiries from Canada to Ireland to Australia that detail how the Vatican's policies, its culture of secrecy and fear of scandal contributed to the problem.

The Holy See has long insisted that it isn't responsible for abusive priests, saying they aren't employees of the Vatican but rather members of the broader 1.2-billion-strong Catholic Church over which the Vatican exercises limited control. It has maintained that bishops are responsible for the priests in their care, not the pope.

"Priests are not functionaries of the Vatican," Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's U.N. ambassador in Geneva, told the committee. "Priests are citizens of their own states, and they fall under the jurisdiction of their own country."

But victims groups and human rights organizations provided the U.N. committee with the Vatican's own documentation showing how it discouraged bishops from reporting abusers to police. In one famous case, a Vatican cardinal sent a directive to Irish bishops warning them to strike any mandatory reporting of abusers to police from their internal policies.

The Irish prime minister cited that directive and accusations that the Vatican had undermined a string of investigations into sex abuse in a remarkable 2011 dressing-down of the Holy See that culminated with Ireland's decision to close its Vatican embassy.

Tomasi was also asked about the case of the Vatican's ambassador to the Dominican Republic, who is under investigation by Dominican prosecutors for alleged abuse. The Vatican recalled Archbishop Josef Wesolowski in August, before Dominican prosecutors announced their investigation, and he hasn't been seen since.

Tomasi dodged the committee's question about whether Wesolowski would be turned over to secular authorities for prosecution. The Vatican has said it doesn't extradite its own citizens. Rather, Tomasi said Wesolowski is being investigated by the Vatican's own prosecutors.

"It will be judged with the severity that the crimes might demand," Tomasi assured the committee.

Scicluna, a Maltese bishop, has previously said bishops who failed to discipline pedophile priests or report them to police must be held accountable.

He appeared to refer to that in saying that criminal prosecutors must go after anyone — "whoever these people are" — who obstructs justice.

Victims groups and human rights organizations were closely monitoring the hearing.

"I think it's time for the church to stop this secrecy," Teodoro Pulvirenti, who said he was abused by a priest, told The Associated Press in New York. "I believe the church puts too much its reputation before the victims and you know the pain of this abuse that we carry. That's why I was so excited when I heard about this final meeting between the Vatican representatives and the U.N."

___

Winfield reported from Rome.

OFFICIAL: EGYPTIAN VOTERS HAVE BACKED NEW CHARTER

Thursday, 16 January 2014 08:17 Published in National News

CAIRO (AP) — An overwhelming majority of Egyptians who voted on the country's new constitution have backed the draft charter, a senior Egyptian official said Thursday while an international monitoring group criticized the clampdown ahead of the vote and said authorities had imposed "severe limits" on freedom of expression.

The election official told The Associated Press that unofficial results, after most of ballots have been counted, indicate that more than 90 percent of the voters have said "yes" to the constitution.

He declined to give an estimate on the final turnout and spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media.

Meanwhile, Nabil Salib, the head of the Supreme Election Committee, was quoted by the official MENA news agency as saying ballots were still being counted and that final results would be announced in a few days. He initially said the results were expected Friday and in general, results are usually announced within 72 hours after polls close in Egypt.

The vote held Tuesday and Wednesday is a milestone for Egypt's interim government, installed by the military after the ouster last July of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, following mass protests demanding that he step down.

The draft is also a key piece of a political roadmap toward new elections for a president and a test of public opinion about the coup that removed Morsi. It is a heavily amended version of a constitution written by Morsi's Islamist allies and ratified in December 2012 with some 64 percent of the vote but with a nationwide turnout of just over 30 percent.

Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group and other Islamist groups boycotted the referendum, calling it "illegitimate." The country's second-largest Islamist group, the ultraconservative Salafis, have largely stayed away from the polls, apparently in response to a crackdown against Islamists that included confiscation of their assets, shutdown of their TV networks and the banning of their top clerics from preaching in mosques.

This left traditional Islamist strongholds across Egypt seeing only a trickle of voters during the two-day balloting.

By contrast and raising the prospects of a continued polarization among Egyptians, long lines formed outside polling stations in major urban areas and big cities, with crowds brandishing posters of the country's military chief, chanting in support of the army and women ululating.

Such patriotic outbursts followed an intense campaign by the government and the overwhelmingly pro-military media, which portrayed the balloting as key to the nation's security and stability.

In the weeks before the vote, hundreds of thousands of fliers, posters, banners and billboards urged Egyptians to vote "yes" in the referendum. People were arrested for posters and campaigns calling for a "no" vote.

The current interim government is looking for a big "yes" majority and large turnout to win undisputed legitimacy and perhaps a popular mandate for the military chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, to run for president later this year. But silencing dissent has raised questions about the legitimacy of the process.

El-Sissi has yet to say outright whether he plans to seek the nation's highest office, but his candidacy appears increasingly likely every day.

Kol Preap, the head of a Transparency International mission that monitored the referendum, said in a report Thursday that while authorities had responded to "a deep desire by the majority of Egyptians to move toward a democratic path," the political environment around the vote created "severe obstacles to advancing democracy."

Preap cited "severe limits on the freedom of expression, association, and assembly" in the campaign ahead of the vote. His group had eight observers in 15 out Egypt's 27 provinces.

"The political context in the run-up to the referendum impaired conditions to hold a free and fair referendum compared with international standards," he added. Government actions such as arresting critics "undermined a level playing field for the promotion of diverse views."

Amr Moussa, the head of the panel that drafted the charter told the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat he believes el-Sissi is making up his mind to run in the race.

"I believe that Gen. el-Sissi is likely to run" for president, he told the paper in a Thursday interview. "We need a nationalist figure trusted by the people, one who we are sure will not take the country into an abyss."

Following the referendum, Egypt's Interim President Adly Mansour is expected to also announce a change in the army's roadmap and schedule presidential elections before the vote for the next parliament. This could give Egypt a new president before the summer.

Many Egyptians saw the referendum as a final blow to the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam, whose parties have dominated the past five polls since the 2011 ouster of longtime authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak. In the past three years, the Islamists swept the vote in parliamentary and presidential elections, and seemed to have positioned themselves as the country's rulers for decades.

The privately-owned Al-Youm al-Sabea daily ran a mock, front-page death certificate for the Brotherhood, listing cause of death as "political stupidity and betrayal."

The text also gave the location for the burial — "ballot boxes." It was signed: "The Egyptian people."

Local Egyptian groups that monitored the balloting said Thursday they had spotted some irregularities, such as instances of troops barring monitors from having access to the polling centers and the presence of pro-charter activists campaigning too close to the centers.

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