Tuesday, January 3, 2012

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Abortion doctors facing murder charges could be extradited to Maryland

Hearings for suspects are pending in Utah, New Jersey

One of the two abortion doctors indicted in Elkton on murder charges under the state's fetal homicide law may not fight extradition and could soon be brought from New Jersey to Maryland, according to the Cecil County State's Attorney.

Dr. Steven Chase Brigham, 55, of Voorhees, N.J., is being held on $3 million bail in Camden County and an arraignment hearing is scheduled there Thursday. He is charged with five counts of first-degree murder and other charges in Maryland.

Cecil County's top prosecutor, Edward D.E. Rollins, said Tuesday that he believes the doctor may not contest returning to Maryland based on conversations with the suspect's defense attorney. That lawyer, C. Thomas Brown, could not be reached for comment.

Another doctor charged in the case, Nicola I. Riley, who is being held without bail in Utah, had a brief appearance in Salt Lake County District Court. The hearing is being continued on Jan. 9 to discuss bail. Riley is charged with one count each of first- and second-degree murder in Maryland.

Salt Lake County Deputy District Attorney Jeff Hall said prosecutors plan to discuss the case with counterparts in Cecil County to see how they want to proceed. One option, Hall said, is for all sides to agree on a bail, for Riley to post it and voluntarily return to Maryland to face the charges. Hall said Riley also could waive extradition and be "transported back to Maryland."

Riley could fight extradition but she would have to prove that either the charges filed in Maryland are not valid or that she isn't the person named in the arrest warrant, according to Hall. Neither argument deals with the merits of the murder case.

Rollins said he would discuss the issue with prosecutors on Wednesday before commenting. Riley's attorney, Stuart Simms, a former Baltimore state's attorney, said he had not yet been briefed by the Utah attorney who handled the case and could not comment.

The doctors are charged with aborting a late-term fetus that prosecutors and the Maryland Medical Examiner's Office have deemed viable, or showing signs of healthy development, stemming from an abortion that authorities said was botched.

A grand jury indicted Brighman on four additional counts of first-degree murder. Police who searched the Elkton abortion office said they found nearly three-dozen late term fetuses in a freezer. Details of the case won't be made public until the suspects are arraigned in Maryland and court files are unsealed.



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Iran threatens U.S. Navy as sanctions hit economy

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran threatened Tuesday to take action if the U.S. Navy moves an aircraft carrier into the Gulf, Tehran's most aggressive statement yet after weeks of saber-rattling as new U.S. and EU financial sanctions take a toll on its economy.
The prospect of sanctions targeting the oil sector in a serious way for the first time has hit Iran's rial currency, which has fallen by 40 percent against the dollar in the past month.
Queues formed at banks and some currency exchange offices shut their doors as Iranians scrambled to buy dollars to protect their savings from the currency's fall.
Army chief Ataollah Salehi said the United States had moved an aircraft carrier out of the Gulf from because of Iran's naval exercises, and Iran would take action if the ship returned.
It did not name the carrier, but the USS John C Stennis leads a task force in the region, and the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet website pictured it in the Arabian Sea last week.
"Iran will not repeat its warning ... the enemy's carrier has been moved to the Sea of Oman because of our drill. I recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf," army chief Salehi said.
"I advise, recommend and warn them over the return of this carrier to the Persian Gulf because we are not in the habit of warning more than once."
Lieutenant Rebecca Rebarich, spokeswoman for the U.S. 5th Fleet based in Bahrain, said she was not immediately able to respond.
Tehran's threat comes at a time when sanctions are having an unprecedented impact on its economy, and the country faces political uncertainty with an election in March, its first since a 2009 vote that triggered countrywide demonstrations.
The West has imposed the increasingly tight sanctions over Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran says is strictly peaceful but Western countries believe aims to build an atomic bomb.
After years of sanctions that had little impact, the latest measures are the first that could have a serious effect on Iran's oil trade, 60 percent of its economy.
New sanctions signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama on New Year's Eve would cut off any financial institutions that work with Iran's central bank from the U.S. financial system, blocking the main path for payments for Iranian oil.
The EU is expected to impose new sanctions by the end of this month, possibly including a ban on oil imports.
Even Iran's top trading partner China - which has refused to back new global sanctions against Iran - is demanding discounts to buy Iranian oil as Tehran's options narrow. Beijing has cut its imports of Iranian crude by more than half for January and, paying premiums for crude from Russia and Vietnam to replace it.
Iran has responded to the tighter measures with increasingly belligerent rhetoric.
It spooked oil markets briefly when it announced last month it could prevent shipping through the Straight of Hormuz - a narrow shipping lane through which flows 40 percent of the world's oil trade - if sanctions hurt its own oil business.
It then held 10 days of naval exercises in the Gulf, test firing long range missiles that could hit Israel or U.S. bases in the Middle East. But Tuesday's apparent threat to take action against the U.S. military for sailing in international waters takes the aggressive rhetoric to a new level.
The new U.S. sanctions law, if implemented fully, would make it impossible for many refineries to pay Iran for crude. It imposes measures gradually and allows Obama to offer temporary waivers to prevent an oil price shock.
The European Union is expected to consider new measures by the end of this month, possibly including a blockade. EU members such as such as crisis-hit Greece are still buyers of Iranian oil, which trades at a discount.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris wants new measures taken by January 30, when EU foreign ministers meet.
"France ... wants sanctions toughened and the president (Nicolas Sarkozy) has made two concrete proposals on that front - the first being the freezing of Iranian central bank assets, a tough measure, and the second an embargo on Iranian oil exports," Juppe told i>tele, a French TV channel.
Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said member states would discuss the issue this week in the hope of reaching an agreement on new steps before the January 30 meeting.
"The ball is still in the Iranians' court," he said.
Although China, India and other countries are unlikely to sign up to any oil embargo, they will be able to insist on deeper discounts, potentially reducing the income Tehran receives from oil.
Beijing has been driving a hard bargain. China, which bought 11 percent of its oil from Iran during the first 11 months of last year, has cut its January purchase by about 285,000 barrels per day, more than half of the close to 550,000 bpd that it bought through a 2011 contract.
The impact of falling government income from oil sales can be felt on the streets in Iran in soaring prices for state subsidized goods and a falling rial currency.
Some exchange offices in Tehran, when contacted by Reuters, said there was no trading taking place until further notice.
"The rate is changing every second ... We are not taking in any rials to change to dollars or any other foreign currency," said Hamid Bakshi in central Tehran.
Housewife Zohreh Ghobadi, waiting in a long line at a bank, said she was trying to withdraw her savings and change it into dollars.
Iranian authorities played down any link between the souring exchange rate and the imposition of the new sanctions.
"The new American sanctions have not materialized yet," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told a news conference Tuesday. "It will take a few months until these sanctions are fully implemented."
The economic impact is being felt ahead of a nationwide parliamentary election on March 2, the first vote since a disputed 2009 presidential election that led to the worst unrest since Iran's 1979 revolution.
(Additional reporting by Hashem Kalantari in Tehran, Humeyra Pamuk in Dubai, Brian Love in Paris and Florence Tan in Singapore; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Giles Elgood)

NATO to pull $30B worth of gear from Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — As the drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan steps up in 2012, NATO military planners are trying to figure out the logistics of how to ship out the massive quantities of alliance vehicles, weapons and other equipment from the mountainous landlocked country.
The operation requires the removal of $30 billion worth of state-of-the-art military gear by the end of 2014, when U.S. and other coalition troops are to end their combat role, a senior NATO official said Tuesday.
Most of the American equipment will be shipped to military depots in the United States for refurbishment and then redistributed to bases around the country, but some assets will go to bases in Europe, primarily Germany, or in Asian nations such as South Korea.
"The stuff we have here is the very best the U.S. has ever produced," the NATO official said. "It's better than anything available (to military units) in the United States."
He spoke on condition of anonymity because the planning for the equipment pullout is still in its initial stages.
Aside from the armored vehicles and trucks, other gear that will be shipped out includes large quantities of armor, communications and optical equipment, and large crew-served artillery systems.
In 2011, the U.S.-led coalition began the withdrawal of nearly 140,000 foreign troops serving in Afghanistan, and 10,000 U.S. service members have already pulled out. By the end of this year, another 23,000 Americans are due to depart, along with thousands more allied soldiers, which will reduce the coalition force in Afghanistan to about 90,000.
The quantity of military equipment that was accumulated here by the United States and its allies in 10 years of war is formidable. Although small quantities have already been removed, the planning is complex due to inherent complications of moving so much heavy gear out of a landlocked nation with problematic relations with some of its neighbors, said the official.
Only a relatively small amount of the tens of thousands of vehicles can be flown out by air, due to the massive weight of some, such as the as the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, and its all-terrain variety, the M-ATV.
Afghanistan's neighbor Pakistan has shut down NATO's main transit routes from the port of Karachi in November in response to a NATO aerial attack on a Pakistani border post that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The alliance has been able to ship equipment and supplies in from the north, through Russia and the Central Asian nations. But there is no current agreement allowing the two-way traffic needed to transport it back to Europe via the northern route.
During the recent pullout from Iraq, the U.S. military was able to simply drive its vehicles in large convoys to neighboring Kuwait where a deep sea port was available. In contrast, the main routes out of Afghanistan require vehicles and containers to be loaded on trucks or trains for the onward journey.
"The challenges of geography are enormous," the official said. "I wish Afghanistan was a coastal country with a great port, but it's not."
Slobodan Lekic can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/slekich