Tuesday, June 26, 2012


George Zimmerman, center, in court with his attorney, Mark O'Mara in April. (AP/Pool)
[Updated at 4:45 p.m. ET]

Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman missed two opportunities to try to peacefully approach Trayvon Martin before he fatally shot the unarmed teenager, according to an investigator's report released Tuesday.
"The encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin was ultimately avoidable by Zimmerman, if Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle and awaited the arrival of law enforcement, or conversely if he had identified himself to Martin as a concerned citizen and initiated dialog in an effort to dispel each party's concern," investigator Chris Serino wrote in an arrest warrant affidavit.
The affidavit was filed more than two weeks after the shooting when the Sanford Police Department was being criticized for not having arrested Zimmerman. Serino's March 13 affidavit recommended Zimmerman be picked up for manslaughter, but a special prosecutor assigned to take over the case upped the charge to second-degree murder.
The documents released Tuesday.

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Paraguay's Lugo changes tack ahead of summit

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — Paraguay's former president again shifted course on Tuesday, saying he has decided not to attend a South American summit this week where he had planned to protest his dismissal by Congress.
Fernando Lugo has surprised Paraguayans with conflicting announcements since the Senate voted to remove him from office last week. At first, he said he would comply and leave office. Then, he said he would fight the decision and make his case to the region's leaders.
After saying on Monday that he would travel to Mendoza, Argentina, for a summit of the Mercosur trade bloc, on Tuesday Lugo said he had decided against it.
"I don't want the other presidents to feel pressured," Lugo said on television.
South American leaders plan to discuss a regional response to Lugo's dismissal at the meeting, and Mercosur has barred Paraguay's new government from attending.
Ruben Penayo, an ally of the ex-president and a former government spokesman, said that Lugo "wanted the other presidents to have their hands free in order to analyze the situation in Paraguay."
Congress booted Lugo out of office in fast-track proceedings last week triggered by a clash between police and landless protesters in which 17 people died. The Senate found him guilty of "poor performance of his duties," citing a clause in the constitution that leaves wide room for congressional interpretation.
Former Vice President Federico Franco took office as president after Lugo's removal, and intends to serve out the remainder of his term until August 2013. Franco said Tuesday that he wouldn't support pushing up the general elections, which are scheduled for April 21.
Franco told reporters that he is "the one responsible for guaranteeing there will not be a civil war," the state news agency Ipparaguay quoted him as saying. He said he assumed the presidency "to avoid bloodshed."
Pro-Lugo protests that were held during last week's impeachment process, however, largely faded after Lugo was dismissed and left the presidential palace.
The newly appointed foreign minister, Jose Felix Fernandez, had warned on Monday night that Lugo could face legal consequences if he tried to represent the country at the summit. "Paraguay is represented by President Federico Franco, and I don't think it's appropriate for the ex-president to claim responsibilities he no longer has," Fernandez said.
Franco's newly installed government has been trying to counter growing diplomatic repercussions. Ambassadors have been called home for consultations by the governments of Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Peru.
Cuba's government said in a statement on Tuesday that it was withdrawing its ambassador and will not recognize any administration in Paraguay that isn't the product of a "legitimate vote" by the country's people. Venezuela and Argentina have taken similar stances, saying they would not have ambassadors in Paraguay under the new government and calling Lugo's ouster a congressional "coup."
Cuban President Raul Castro said the crisis in Paraguay shows that "the coups have returned, but disguised," the government newspaper Granma reported on Tuesday.
Castro recalled the 2009 ouster of President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, as well was the failed 2002 coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
The government of Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, elected five months after Zelaya was whisked out of the country at gunpoint, said Lugo's Senate trial was too short for him to mount a "legitimate defense," though it said it respects Paraguay's right to determine the outcome of its political situation.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he believes Lugo's dismissal wasn't a coup because the country's constitution lays out the impeachment process under which he was removed.
"Is it a violation of due process for a Senate to adopt rules where only two hours are given to a president to defend himself? The obvious answer is yes. The truth is that what happened here was a violation of due process," Santos said in a speech Monday night.
"What we're going to do is try to have the elections pushed forward ... and seek for democracy to be maintained," Santos said.
Officials from across the region were discussing the situation in Paraguay at a meeting of the Organization of American States in Washington on Tuesday.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Monday that U.S. officials were "consulting with a broad cross-section of our OAS partners ... and taking stock of what our reaction will be, along with our partners."
Associated Press writers Peter Orsi in Asuncion, Vivian Sequera in Bogota, Colombia, and Andrea Rodriguez in Havana contributed to this report.

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Assad says Syria 'in a state of war'

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday said his country was in a state of war and ordered his new cabinet to crush the anti-regime uprising as Turkey vowed to retaliate the downing of one of its jets.
Rebel forces and Syrian army units, meanwhile, engaged in deadly combat around elite Republican Guard posts in the suburbs of Damascus, as 116 people were killed across the country, a monitoring group said.
Amid mounting tensions in the anti-regime uprising now in its 16th month, Assad admitted that Syria is in a "real situation of war."
"When one is in a state of war, all our policies and capabilities must be used to secure victory," he told the new cabinet, the official SANA news agency reported.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday's death toll comprised 68 civilians, 41 soldiers and seven rebels.
"Violent clashes are taking place around positions of the Republican Guard in Qudsaya and Al-Hama," just miles away from central Damascus, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP in Beirut.
He said it was the first time that artillery was used "so close to the capital."
The United States said a "desperate" Assad was slowly losing his grip on power, citing defections and fighting raging increasingly close to Damascus, and offered new support to its NATO ally Turkey after Syrian forces shot down one of its fighter planes last week.
"Clearly, Bashar al-Assad has been slowly -- too slowly -- losing his grip over his country," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Air Force One as President Barack Obama flew to a campaign event in Atlanta.
"I would note that recent high-level military defections to Jordan and Turkey are another testament to the regime's loss of control over the situation in Syria."
"It is clear, however, that Assad is desperate to hang on to power at all cost, as evidenced by his continued use of air power and Shabiha gangs," Carney said, refering to the pro-regime militia in Syria.
Washington also pushed back on Russia's insistence that Iran should take part in a planned international conference on Syria in Geneva on Saturday.
"It is better to involve Iran in the settlement (of the Syrian crisis)," Russian President Vladimir Putin told a news conference in Jordan on Tuesday. "In any case it would complicate the process (if Iran is ignored)."
In Ankara, meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country had changed its rules of engagement and would now treat any Syrian security threat as a military target after Friday's incident.
The shooting of the Phantom F-4 fighter jet has split Moscow and the West, with NATO condemning Syria and voicing its solidarity with member state Turkey while Russia saying the incident should not be seen as intentional.
"We believe it is important that the incident is not viewed as a provocation or an intentional action, and that it does not lead to destabilising the situation," the Russian foreign ministry said.
Erdogan raised the heat on the Assad regime by accusing it of shooting down the jet while it was in international airspace, without warning.
"This is a hostile act... a heinous attack," Erdogan said.
"Turkey will exercise its rights, born out of international law, with determination, and take the necessary steps by determining the time, place and method by itself."
Erdogan, once a close ally of Assad, has become one of the Syrian leader's biggest critics and his reaction to the downing of the jet is his fiercest outburst to date.
Erdogan admitted the Turkish plane had violated Syrian airspace but said it was only for a short time and "by mistake," insisting that it was not in Syrian airspace when it was shot down.
Damascus has defended the downing of the jet, saying it was a response to "a gross violation" of its sovereignty.
After a request from Turkey, NATO's secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen hosted talks with ambassadors of the alliance's 28 members in Brussels.
"Allies have expressed their strong support and solidarity with Turkey," Rasmussen said after the 90-minute meeting.
"We consider this act to be unacceptable and condemn it in the strongest terms.
"It is another example of the Syrian authorities' disregard for international norms, peace and security, and human life," he said as the jet's two-man crew remain missing.
"Let me make this clear. The security of the alliance is indivisible. We stand together with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity."
Turkey requested the consultations under Article 4 of NATO's founding treaty, enabling any of the allies to call for talks should they consider their territorial integrity, political independence or security to be under threat.
But NATO has so far been notably reluctant to get sucked into the conflict in Syria.
The former chief of the main opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, meanwhile, told AFP he visited Syria for a few hours on Tuesday to "boost the morale" of rebels.
Ghalioun, a senior SNC executive board member, spoke to AFP in Beirut by telephone after his first visit to Syria in more than two years, and said he entered the country secretly and had "discussions with revolutionaries."
"The visit was also a bit to offer compassion to our people who have been killed, massacred and slaughtered" by regime forces, he added.
Meanwhile Amnesty International said on Tuesday three medics were tortured and killed in Syria a week after their arrest in the city of Aleppo in what it said was an "appalling disregard" for the profession.
All three men were students at Aleppo University -- Basel Aslan and Musab Barad were fourth-year medical students and Hazem Batikh was a second-year English literature student and a first-aid medic, Amnesty said.
"The discovery of the charred and mutilated bodies of three young medical workers a week after their arrest in Aleppo city is yet further evidence of the Syrian government forces' appalling disregard for the sanctity of the role of medical workers," a statement said.

Biden: Romney is a job creator ‘in Singapore, and China [and] India’

By Olivier Knox, Yahoo! News | The Ticket –
Vice President Joe Biden address the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors earlier this month(John R …
Vice President Joe Biden mounted an all-out assault on Mitt Romney's economic record on Tuesday, accusing him of creating jobs overseas but not in the United States.
Biden also cited the former Massachusetts governor's Swiss bank account and money socked away in the Cayman Islands as evidence he was "out of touch" with the middle class, and bluntly charged that Romney has it in for "the American worker."
"You've got to give Mitt Romney credit," the vice president said. "He is a job creator--in Singapore, and China, India. He's been very good at creating jobs overseas."
The Romney campaign hit back, with spokeswoman Andrea Saul saying that Biden had "doubled down on the Obama campaign's same misleading attacks in an effort to distrat voters from the president's disastrous economic record."
But the vice president's remarks to a boisterously supportive crowd in Waterloo, Iowa, reinforced what has become President Barack Obama's message on the sputtering recovery, the top issue on voters' minds and the incumbent's most glaring vulnerability. Obama has been arguing that the question on the ballot in November is not whether Americans are struggling three and a half years after he took office—they are—but how each candidate would boost the economy. He has painted Romney as an "outsourcing pioneer" whose policies have the intention or the effect of chiefly helping the wealthiest Americans. The Republican candidate has responded by accusing Obama of having a government-knows-best approach that has stifled job creation.
The Obama campaign has been making political hay from a recent Washington Post report that linked Romney's Bain Capital investment firm to companies that shipped jobs overseas to places like China and India. The Washington Post's politics fact-checker had previously taken a dim view of such allegations, branding them completely false.Biden expanded the campaign's line of attack, accusing Romney in unusually sharp terms of seeing demands from American workers seeking better wages or health care coverage "as part of the problem."
"The president and I don't see American workers as part of the problem," said the vice president. "We see you as part of the solution."
In a lengthy rebuttal, Saul charged that Obama "thinks that economic development means sending billions of taxpayer dollars to foreign-owned companies" and "rewarding donors"--references to foreign and politically connected firms that got cash in the president's economic stimulus legislation of 2009.
"On day One, Mitt Romney will take action to jumpstart our economy and give job creators the incentives they need to thrive here in America," she said.