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Quake shakes New Zealand

A magnitude-5.8 earthquake shook the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Sunday but there were no immediate reports of serious damage, nearly five years after a deadly, more powerful quake destroyed much of the city centre.

The quake was strong enough to prompt some stores to evacuate customers and shake items from shelves. Police said there were some rockfalls on Scarborough Hill in the city's east and were advising people to stay away from affected areas.

The St. John ambulance service reported that several people had suffered minor injuries from falls as they ran from the quake.

The earthquake came close to the anniversary of the Feb. 22, 2011, magnitude-6.3 temblor that levelled much of the centre of New Zealand's second largest city and killed 185 people.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that Sunday's quake was centred 17 kilometres (11 miles) east of the city at a relatively shallow depth of 8 kilometres (5 miles). Shallow earthquakes tend to be felt more strongly. No tsunami warning was issued.

The quake was one of the largest since 2011, and people from across the South Island reported feeling the ground shaking.

New Zealand sits on the "Ring of Fire," an arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes are common.





Baton Rouge shootout over

Police in Louisiana say a man suspected of shooting two police officers in Baton Rouge has died.

Baton Rouge police issued a statement Sunday saying that Calvin Smith, 22, of Baton Rouge died late Saturday at an area hospital. Two police officers were being treated at the same hospital for gunshot wounds that were not life-threatening.

On Saturday, the officers responded to an early morning report of a domestic disturbance reported by a woman who knew Smith. When police arrived, Smith took off in a vehicle. The officers chased him for less than 2 miles. Police say Smith then jumped out of the car with a rifle and shot the officers. They returned fire and struck Smith.

Details about Smith's injuries and cause of death were not immediately available.



Atlantic rowers rescued

Four British women trying to cross the Atlantic in a rowing boat have been rescued after they were stranded in the mid-Atlantic Ocean for more than 16 hours when their boat capsized and they lost their oars.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency says the rowers sent a distress signal early Saturday, when they were 400 nautical miles from Cape Verde, off the west coast of Africa.

The crew of four had to abandon their charity attempt to break the women's speed record for rowing almost 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometres) across the Atlantic between Gran Canaria in Spain and Barbados.

The women were rescued early Sunday by a bulk carrier on its way to Canada and are reported to be well.





Battle looms over court

The sudden death of the longest-serving U.S. Supreme Court justice has catapulted into the presidential election a new, extremely consequential issue with the potential to shape multiple aspects of American public life.

Abortion. Gun control. Money in politics. Minority-voting access. Environmental regulation. The limits of presidential power. All these issues and others could be shaped over the next few months.

Within moments of news spreading on Saturday that conservative stalwart Antonin Scalia had died in his sleep at age 79, Republicans immediately signalled that they would block anyone nominated by the current president.

It could mean a bitter confirmation battle these next few months in the Republican-controlled Senate, and an equally epic fight on the presidential campaign trail over who gets to choose the court.

The issue goes beyond Scalia. Nearly half the nine-member bench is over age 75, meaning the next president could shape the country's highest court for decades to come.

''The stakes are huge,'' said Chris Bonneau, an expert on judicial politics at the University of Pittsburgh.

''With so many 5-4 decisions on important issues, Scalia's replacement could shift the court from conservative to liberal. This would be a bigger shift than the (Samuel) Alito replacement for (Sandra Day) O'Connor.''

The battle will ultimately play out in the Senate, where confirmation requires a 60-per-cent majority. In U.S. history, the Senate has confirmed 124 nominations out of 160 proposed — with the rest either blocked or withdrawn.

But voters may get first say.

A foreshadowing of the current scenario was offered in late 2014 when top Democrat Chuck Schumer was asked to name the No. 1 issue of that year's midterm elections. He replied: ''The Supreme Court.'' In those midterms, Democrats lost control of the nominating body. The Senate is potentially up for grabs again in the current election.

That raises the importance of parties nominating a strong presidential candidate — one who can not only win, but also help elect his or her party's Senate candidates down the ticket.

Several experts said a different court wouldn't just offer different verdicts. It could even decide to hear different types of cases.

Ryan Emenaker of Brown University said the court only hears about 80 cases of the 10,000 petitions filed each year, and it requires the consent of at least four justices. He said Scalia's influence was felt in multiple ways: ''Scalia was a power writer, thinker, and the longest-serving justice,'' he said.

''The loss of his voice will change the tone of opinions and the ideas that are advanced.''

The court recently opened the floodgates for big money into American politics, ruling in the landmark Citizens' United decision that corporate donations to third-party groups constituted free speech.

It also chipped away at the Voting Rights Act, which had allowed the federal government to referee elections in states with a history of segregation. Since that verdict, several states have tinkered with the makeup of their electorate by imposing stricter conditions on the types of acceptable voter ID.

The reliably conservative Scalia lost big ones, too.

He wrote a stinging dissent in the decision that allowed same-sex marriage across the country. He was also in the minority in the decisions that upheld President Barack Obama's health reform.

Scalia's memorable dissent on same-sex marriage said the judges had no right to decide the issue for 50 states. In its opening paragraph, he wrote: ''Today's decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.''

The court is now scheduled to hear a case on Obama's climate-change regulations. It just announced last week that it would consider whether he had the constitutional right to limit emissions from power plants.

Obama has already been warned by the rival party that it won't confirm anyone before he leaves office next January.

''This will get ugly,'' said Jeffrey Lax of Columbia University. ''But I don't see a historical precedent for leaving this seat open.''

He called it ''utterly absurd'' for Obama's rivals to expect an 11-month vacancy until he steps down, which would mean cases ending in a 4-4 tie would have lower-court rulings upheld.

Bonneau said it's understandable for Republicans to choose delay. But he called it a gamble. Conservatives have some leverage now, and could probably insist on a middle-of-the-road appointment in exchange for their votes.

Or they could go all-or-nothing and hope they win in November.

''If the Republicans think they can win the White House, they should stall,'' he said.

Emenaker cited lame-duck precedents. He said Congressional Quarterly estimates that about half of non-confirmed justices were because of outgoing presidents. Congress even lowered the number of justices to seven under Andrew Johnson, then raised it to nine once he was gone.

That being said, even nominating a middle-of-the-road moderate would alter the court: ''(It) would be a big change from Scalia who is one of the most conservative justices.''



Grammys honour Ritchie

Rihanna, Usher, Stevie Wonder and John Legend paid tribute to Lionel Richie in a musical tribute touching on his roots in R&B to his string of romantic, easy-listening ballads that ruled the airwaves in the 1980s.

They joined The Band Perry, Demi Lovato, Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton and Ellie Goulding in launching Grammy weekend Saturday night by honouring Richie as the MusiCares Person of the Year.

Richie was toasted for his musical achievements and philanthropic work two days before the Grammy Awards. The 66-year-old singer-songwriter launches a string of South American tour dates later this month.

Rihanna, wearing red sneakers with her red and white floral gown, sang "Say You, Say Me" backed by a string section.

Usher showed off his dance moves on the buoyant "Lady (You Bring Me Up)."

"You really got the white people up and dancing," cracked host Jimmy Kimmel, who came out sporting a huge Afro and a white jumpsuit. After seeing old clips of Richie in sequined jumpsuits, Kimmel joked, "He has so many terrible outfits."

Lenny Kravitz, Florence Welch and Dave Grohl provided the most unpredictable versions of Richie hits. Kravitz kicked off the 2 1/2-hour show with a rock version of "Running With the Night" that included a guitar solo. Welch's take on "Dancing On the Ceiling" featured guitar-strumming and rhythmic hand-clapping from the idle string section.

Grohl, lead singer of Foo Fighters, showed off a rare romantic side with a jaunty version of "You Are" that had the crowd on its feet dancing. He explained his connection to Richie came about last year after Grohl broke his leg on tour. Richie sent the rocker a huge basket of muffins as consolation, and Grohl saluted him as the "Muffin Man."

Legend performed "Easy" on piano, and Wonder touched on Richie's early days with the Commodores by doing "Three Times a Lady."

Yolanda Adams and a choir injected powerful gospel into the proceedings, earning one of the night's standing ovations.

Pharrell and the Roots were joined by Little Big Town, Leon Bridges, Tori Kelly and Corrine Bailey Rae for a medley that culminated in the Commodores' classic "Brick House."

Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey did a cappella snippet of "Mr. Bojangles" before introducing Richie, who gave a shout-out to his "fabulous" hometown of Tuskegee, Alabama, where he met the Commodores in college.

Richie said that from his earliest hits he didn't realize how the music business worked, with R&B, pop and country in separate categories.

"I did not know that there were categories until I walked into a station one day and they said, 'We can't play your record because it's too black,' " he said. "So I went home and wrote 'Easy' and I brought it back. They said, 'We can't play the record because it's too white.' I was confused."

"The slogan in those days was, 'Lionel Richie crossed over and can't get black,' " he said, drawing laughter. "Today I am standing here celebrating all the songs they told me would ruin my career."

In his acceptance speech, Richie poked fun at his reputation for crooning baby-making music.

"I am the father of mankind," he said. "More men have come up to me and said, 'Lionel, I have made love to you many times.' "

Richie took to the piano to play and sing "Hello" before closing things out with "All Night Long (All Night)" as confetti blasted the stage.

Among the crowd were producers Quincy Jones and David Foster, Motown founder Berry Gordy, David Crosby and Joe Walsh.

Saturday's dinner and auction earned $7 million, the highest grossing evening in the tribute's 26-year history, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said.

"I cannot be more proud of all of you," Richie told the crowd at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

MusiCares, run by the Recording Academy, provides financial assistance to individuals in the music industry during times of need.



Double quakes in Okla.

A 5.1 magnitude earthquake shook northwest Oklahoma and was felt in seven other states on Saturday, the U.S. Geological Survey said, the third-largest temblor ever recorded in the state where the power and frequency of earthquakes has dramatically increased in recent years.

The earthquake centred about 17 miles north of Fairview in northwestern Oklahoma occurred at 11:07 a.m. and was reportedly felt across Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas, the USGS said. A second quake measured at 3.9 magnitude struck ten minutes later, followed at 11:41 a.m. by a 2.5 magnitude quake. Both were in the same area of the larger temblor and about 100 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.

Fairview police and the Major County Sheriff's Office had no reports of injury or significant damage. Sheriff's dispatcher Cheryl Landes said there had been several calls from concerned residents, but no damage more than pictures knocked off shelves and walls. One woman said she'd wait until it got warmer outside to check her home for damage, Landes said.

The strongest earthquake on record in Oklahoma is a magnitude 5.6 temblor centred in Prague, about 55 miles east of Oklahoma City, in November 2011 that damaged 200 buildings and shook a college football stadium in Stillwater, about 65 miles away. The second-strongest was a 5.5 magnitude earthquake in April 1952 that was centred in El Reno, on the western edge of Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma's stronger and more frequent earthquakes have been linked to the injection of the briny wastewater left over from oil and gas production underground. Regulators have recommended reducing the volume or shutting down some of the disposal wells. Oil and gas operators in Oklahoma, where the industry is a major economic and political force, have resisted cutting back on their injections of wastewater.

The hundreds of quakes have been mostly small to medium sized, and have caused limited damage. But a quake did knock out power in parts of an Oklahoma City suburb several weeks ago, and last month about 200 unhappy residents packed a forum at the state capitol convened by critics of the state's response.

Gov. Mary Fallin last month approved the use of nearly $1.4 million in state emergency funds for state agencies working to reduce the number of earthquakes linked to the wastewater disposal.



Pope visits Mexico

Pope Francis challenged Mexico's political and ecclesial elites on Saturday to provide their people with security, justice and courageous pastoral care to confront the drug-inspired violence and corruption that are wracking the country, delivering a tough-love message to Mexico's ruling classes on his first full day in the country.

The raucous welcome Francis received from an estimated 1 million cheering Mexicans who lined his motorcade route seven-deep contrasted sharply with his pointed criticism of how church and state leaders here have often failed their people, especially the poorest and most marginalized.

"Experience teaches us that each time we seek the path of privileges or benefits for a few to the detriment of the good of all, sooner or later the life of society becomes a fertile soil for corruption, drug trade, exclusion of different cultures, violence and also human trafficking, kidnapping and death, bringing suffering and slowing down development," he told government authorities at the presidential palace.

In a subsequent hard-hitting speech to his own bishops, Francis challenged church leaders known for their deference to Mexico's wealthy and powerful to courageously denounce the "insidious threat" posed by the drug trade and not hide behind their own privilege and careers.

He told them to be true pastors, close to their people, and to develop a coherent plan to help Mexicans "finally escape the raging waters that drown so many, either victims of the drug trade or those who stand before God with their hands drenched in blood, though with pockets filled with sordid money and their consciences deadened."

The speech was met with tepid applause, with only a handful of bishops standing in ovation.

Francis' entire five-day trip to Mexico is shining an uncomfortable spotlight on the church's shortcomings and the government's failure to solve entrenched social ills that plague many parts of the country — poverty, rampant drug-inspired gangland killings, extortion, disappearances of women, crooked cops and failed public services.

Over the coming days, Francis will travel to the crime-ridden Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec, preach to Indians in poverty-stricken Chiapas, offer solidarity to victims of drug violence in Morelia and, finally, pay respects to migrants who have died trying to reach the United States with a cross-border Mass in Ciudad Juarez.

The grueling schedule appeared to be already taking a toll: By Saturday evening, Francis seemed tired and winded. He appeared to doze off during Mass and lost his balance and fell into a chair set up for him to pray before the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The 79-year-old Francis has had an exhausting two days, with back-to-back public events, dozens of kilometres (miles) spent standing in his popemobile and a seven-hour time zone difference. In addition, Mexico City's altitude of more than 7,000 feet provides a challenge to anyone not acclimatized, perhaps more for Francis who lost part of one lung as a young man.

Francis began his first full day in Mexico with a winding ride into the capital's historic centre to the delight of tens of thousands greeting history's first Latin American pope. Despite an exhausting Friday that involved a historic embrace with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Francis obliged their demands and stopped to hand out rosaries to the elderly, sick and disabled who gathered in front of his residence.

The mileage that Francis is clocking standing up in his open-air popemobile is a testament to his appreciation of Mexicans' need to see him up close: After a 14-mile (23-kilometre) nighttime ride in from the airport and the 9 miles (14 kilometres) logged Saturday morning, Francis still has about 93 miles (150 kilometres) more to go in the popemobile before his trip ends Wednesday.

In a nod to his thrifty ways, three of the five popemobiles Francis will use are being recycled from his U.S. trip in September. Francis is also sticking to an economy car when he's not in a popemobile, using a tiny white Fiat to move around.

Francis began Saturday by meeting with President Enrique Pena Nieto at the presidential palace. He told the president and other members of government that public officials must be honest and upright and not be seduced by privilege or corruption.

Corruption permeates many aspects of Mexican society, from traffic cops and restaurant inspectors who routinely shake down citizens for bribes, to politicians and police commanders who are sometimes on the payroll of drug cartels.

Even Pena Nieto's administration has been tainted by what critics call fishy real estate dealings by people close to him, including the first lady, with companies that were awarded lucrative state contracts.

Francis said political leaders have a "particular duty" to ensure their people have "indispensable" material and spiritual goods: "adequate housing, dignified employment, food, true justice, effective security, a healthy and peaceful environment."

In his speech, Pena Nieto said he shared Francis' concerns about hunger, inequality and the dangers of people "letting themselves be carried away by evil."

Francis then met with his own bishops at the city's cathedral, issuing a six-page mission statement urging them to be true pastors and not gossiping, career-minded clerics who spew words and inoffensive denunciations that make them sound like "babbling orphans beside a tomb."

Speaking off the cuff, he urged them to maintain unity and show more transparency. "If you have to fight, fight. If you have to say things, say them, but do it like men: to the face," he said.

Later in the day, Francis celebrated his first Mass in Mexico at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, considered the largest and most important Marian shrine in the world.

Francis has spoken reverently of his "most intimate desire" to pray before the icon so beloved by Latin Americans, Catholic and not.

Thousands packed the square outside to welcome the pontiff, holding balloons and flags in a festive atmosphere befitting a rock star's welcome.

Catalina Ramirez, 77, said she came to beseech the Virgin and the pope to help her great-granddaughter recover from surgery for cerebral palsy. She added that she was excited to witness her first papal Mass, and hoped that Francis "comes to rescue us."

Francis' visit has been cheered by Mexicans who have been treated to six previous papal trips — five by St. John Paul II and one by Benedict XVI — and are known for their enthusiastic welcomes.

Vatican officials estimated 1 million people lined Francis' motorcade route or attended one of his events Saturday, some watching from rooftops and balconies, and thousands more gathered in Mexico's main square, known as the Zocalo, to catch a glimpse as he arrived for his meeting with Pena Nieto. Authorities set up huge TV screens that transmitted the scene inside the National Palace.

"What the pope told the president shows he is very aware of the violent situation the country is going through," said 48-year-old Jose Luis Santana, who watched the pope's speeches at the Zocalo. "I think (the speech) was good, and hopefully it will be able to change things."

Francis' denunciation of the social ills afflicting Mexico reflected the reality of the world's largest Spanish-speaking Catholic country: According to government statistics, about 46 per cent of Mexicans live in poverty, including 10 per cent in extreme poverty.

Mexico's homicide rate rose precipitously after then-President Felipe Calderon launched a war on drug cartels shortly after taking office in 2006, with the bloodshed peaking around 2011.

Murders declined somewhat for the next three years after that, before ticking up again in 2015.

Women have been particularly targeted: At least 1,554 women have disappeared in Mexico state, bordering Mexico City, since 2005, according to the National Observatory on Femicide.

 



Obama to fill Scalia seat

President Barack Obama declared Saturday night he would seek to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, charging into a heated and likely prolonged election-year fight with Republicans. Obama said a nomination was "bigger than any one party."

With a half-dozen or more major cases and the ideological tilt of the court in the balance, Obama said he pIanned "to fulfil my constitutional responsibility to nominate a successor in due time."

The president said the decision was about democracy and "the institution to which Justice Scalia dedicated his professional life, and making sure it continues to function as the beacon of justice that our founders envisioned."

Obama's remarks answered Republicans who wasted little time Saturday night, as news of Scalia's unexpected death spread, arguing that Obama should leave the lifetime appointment to his successor.

"The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. "Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president."

His position was echoed by several Republicans seeking the GOP presidential nomination. Sen. Ted Cruz said conservatives could not risk losing influence on the court "for a generation." Donald Trump urged Senate Republicans to "delay, delay, delay."

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton told a Democratic dinner in Denver that Obama "is president of the United States until Jan 20, 2017. That is a fact my friends, whether the Republicans like it or not."

"Let's get on with it," said Democrat Bernie Sanders, arguing that the Senate should vote on whoever Obama nominates.

The court has already heard — but not decided — big cases involving immigration, abortion, affirmative action and public employee unions. With many cases recently decided by 5-4 margins, with Scalia leading the conservative majority, the vacancy could have major repercussions, both legally and in the presidential race.

The nomination fight in the Senate could determine the tenor of much of Obama's final year in office — and ricochet through the campaign to replace him. Obama, who already has little goodwill on the Hill, faces stiff opposition from Republicans hungry for the chance to further tip the court to the right. A confirmation process often takes more than two months, but could be drawn out longer by the Republican-led Senate.

Obama said the Senate should have enough time for a fair hearing and timely vote.

Senate Democrats made clear that they would work vigorously to keep Republicans from trying to run out the clock. They quickly offered counterarguments to Republican statements that the decision should rest with the next president.

"It would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate's most essential constitutional responsibilities."

Democrats pointed out that Justice Anthony Kennedy was confirmed in an election year — 1988 — the final year of Ronald Reagan's presidency. Kennedy had been nominated in November 1987 after the Senate rejected Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg bowed out.

Democrats also argued that waiting for the next president in January 2017 would leave the court without a ninth justice for more than the remainder of Obama's term as Senate confirmation would not be immediate.

The court faces a crowded docket of politically charged cases that are certain to resonate in the presidential campaign on issues such as immigration, abortion, affirmative action, climate change, labour unions and Obama's health care law. Decisions were expected in late spring and early summer on whether the president could shield up to 5 million immigrants living in the United States illegally from deportation.

The immediate impact of Scalia death means that the justices will now be divided 4-4 in many of those cases. If there is a tie vote, then the lower court opinion remains in place.

A Senate looking at a limited legislative agenda in an election year now faces one of the most consequential decisions for the venerable body. Not only will voters choose the next president, majority control of the Senate is at stake in November, with Republicans clinging to control and concerned about the fate of some half dozen GOP senators running for re-election in states that Obama won.

Scalia's replacement would be Obama's third Supreme Court appointment — joining Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. A short list of possible replacements includes two judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Sri Srinivasan and Patricia Ann Millet.

Srinivasan was confirmed by the Senate 97-0 in 2013. He has served under Democratic and Republican administrations and was a law clerk to former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Millet has argued dozens cases before the Supreme Court.

Another potential nominee is Paul J. Watford, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Watford, an African-American, served as a law clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg from 1995 to 1996.

Not all the Republicans said Obama should skip a nomination fight.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is positioning himself as a moderate, said Obama has the power to nominate and should use it.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich lamented, "I just wish we hadn't run so fast at the politics."



Arrest in deadly stabbing

Police on Saturday arrested a fugitive suspected of stabbing his girlfriend and all three of her small children with a kitchen knife in a brutal attack at a hotel used as homeless housing, ending a four-day manhunt.

Michael Sykes was last seen on surveillance footage Wednesday heading to the Staten Island Ferry shortly after the fatal attack, and a call to his mother to say he'd killed his girlfriend and was going to kill himself, police said. But he took the ferry back to Manhattan and had been travelling through Brooklyn and Queens.

He was nabbed in Queens on Saturday afternoon and brought back to a police precinct on Staten Island. He was arrested on three counts of murder, attempted murder and robbery charges. Sykes was in police custody Saturday night and couldn't be reached for comment. It wasn't immediately clear if he had an attorney who could comment on the allegations.

Rebecca Cutler, 26, her 19-month-old daughter Ziana and 4-month-old Maiyah died in the attack at a Ramada Inn on Staten Island. Two-year-old Miracle was in critical condition but was stable. Sykes was the father of Maiyah.

Shortly before the attack, Sykes bought a can of Coke and a Pop-Tart from a deli near the hotel, a worker there told the Staten Island Advance this week.

"He looked like he was doing something wrong," the worker, Sammy Abdul, told the newspaper. He said Sykes used Cutler's food assistance card to pay for his purchases and "his hands were shaking, he was looking to his back."

Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said nobody apparently heard or saw what happened, but hotel surveillance video shows Sykes entering Cutler's hotel room just before 9 a.m. Wednesday and leaving four minutes later. Police said there was no history of domestic violence between the two, but a report had been filed a day before the stabbing after he was accused of stealing Cutler's phone, claiming she was contacting another man.

A housekeeper found the injured family and called police. Cutler had been stabbed more than 40 times; the girls more than five times each. Cutler's family was not doing well. "They're taking it hard, really hard," her uncle, James Mathis, told WABC-TV.

Cutler had been placed in the hotel by the Department of Homeless Services on Dec. 6, city officials said. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said after the attack the other 28 families at the hotel were being relocated and it would no longer be used, and that other hotels used for homeless services would be given access to free 24-hour security.

About 2,600 homeless New Yorkers, including 637 children, stay in 41 hotels citywide for an average of about two weeks while officials determine whether they can be placed more permanently placed in other city facilities, officials said.

It was the third stabbing death at a homeless shelter in several weeks, prompting the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance to send city officials a letter demanding "immediate action" to protect residents.

"This is the third incident of horrific violence in one of your facilities in less than a month," wrote executive director Sharon Devine. "We expect and demand that you take immediate action to protect shelter residents."



Christchurch earthquake

A magnitude-5.8 earthquake has shaken the New Zealand city of Christchurch but there are no immediate reports of injuries or major damage.

The quake Sunday comes nearly five years after a 2011 earthquake destroyed much of the centre of New Zealand's second largest city and killed 185 people.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that Sunday's quake was centred 17 kilometres (11 miles) east of the city at a relatively shallow depth of 8 kilometres (5 miles).

New Zealand authorities did not issue a tsunami warning.

Sunday's quake was one of the largest since the 2011 quake and people from across the South Island reported feeling the ground shaking.

New Zealand sits on the "Ring of Fire," an arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes are common.



Justice Scalia dead at 79

Antonin Scalia, the influential conservative and most provocative member of the Supreme Court, has died. He was 79.

The U.S. Marshals Service in Washington confirmed Scalia's death at a private residence in the Big Bend area of West Texas. Spokeswoman Donna Sellers said Scalia had retired the previous evening and was found dead Saturday morning after he did not appear for breakfast.

His death sets up a likely ideological showdown during a presidential election year as President Barack Obama weighs nominating a successor to the justice in the remainder of his White House term. Scalia was part of a 5-4 conservative majority — with one of the five, Anthony Kennedy, sometimes voting with liberals on the court.

Scalia used his keen intellect and missionary zeal in an unyielding attempt to move the court farther to the right after his 1986 selection by President Ronald Reagan. He also advocated tirelessly in favour of originalism, the method of constitutional interpretation that looks to the meaning of words and concepts as they were understood by the Founding Fathers.

Scalia's impact on the court was muted by his seeming disregard for moderating his views to help build consensus, although he was held in deep affection by his ideological opposites Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. Scalia and Ginsburg shared a love of opera. He persuaded Kagan to join him on hunting trips.

His 2008 opinion for the court in favour of gun rights drew heavily on the history of the Second Amendment and was his crowning moment on the bench.

He could be a strong supporter of privacy in cases involving police searches and defendants' rights. Indeed, Scalia often said he should be the "poster child" for the criminal defence bar.

But he also voted consistently to let states outlaw abortions, to allow a closer relationship between government and religion, to permit executions and to limit lawsuits.

He was in the court's majority in the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, which effectively decided the presidential election for Republican George W. Bush. "Get over it," Scalia would famously say at speaking engagements in the ensuing years whenever the topic arose.

Bush later named one of Scalia's sons, Eugene, to an administration job, but the Senate refused to confirm him. Eugene Scalia served as the Labor Department solicitor temporarily in a recess appointment.

A smoker of cigarettes and pipes, Scalia enjoyed baseball, poker, hunting and the piano. He was an enthusiastic singer at court Christmas parties and other musical gatherings, and once appeared on stage with Ginsburg as a Washington Opera extra.

Ginsburg once said that Scalia was "an absolutely charming man, and he can make even the most sober judge laugh." She said that she urged her friend to tone down his dissenting opinions "because he'll be more effective if he is not so polemical. I'm not always successful."

He could be unsparing even with his allies. In 2007, Scalia sided with Chief Justice John Roberts in a decision that gave corporations and labour unions wide latitude to air political ads close to elections. Yet Scalia was upset that the new chief justice's opinion did not explicitly overturn an earlier decision. "This faux judicial restraint is judicial obfuscation," Scalia said.

Quick-witted and loquacious, Scalia was among the most persistent, frequent and quotable interrogators of the lawyers who appeared before the court.

During Scalia's first argument session as a court member, Justice Lewis F. Powell leaned over and asked a colleague, "Do you think he knows that the rest of us are here?"

Scalia's writing seemed irrepressible and entertaining much of the time. But it also could be confrontational. It was a mocking Scalia who in 1993 criticized a decades-old test used by the court to decide whether laws or government policies violated the constitutionally required separation of church and state.

"Like some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried, (the test) stalks our ... jurisprudence once again, frightening the little children and school attorneys," he wrote.

Scalia showed a deep commitment to originalism, which he later began calling textualism. Judges had a duty to give the same meaning to the Constitution and laws as they had when they were written. Otherwise, he said disparagingly, judges could decide that "the Constitution means exactly what I think it ought to mean."

A challenge to a Washington, D.C., gun ban gave Scalia the opportunity to display his devotion to textualism. In a 5-4 decision that split the court's conservatives and liberals, Scalia wrote that an examination of English and colonial history made it exceedingly clear that the Second Amendment protected Americans' right to have guns, at the very least in their homes and for self-defence. The dissenters, also claiming fidelity to history, said the amendment was meant to ensure that states could raise militias to confront a too-powerful federal government if necessary.

But Scalia rejected that view. "Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem. That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct," Scalia wrote.

His dissents in cases involving gay rights could be as biting as they were prescient. "By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition," Scalia wrote in dissent in 2013 when the court struck down part of a federal anti-gay marriage law. Six months later, a federal judge in Utah cited Scalia's dissent in his opinion striking down that state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Scalia was passionate about the death penalty. He wrote for the court when in 1989 it allowed states to use capital punishment for killers who were 16 or 17 when they committed their crimes. He was on the losing side in 2005 when the court changed course and declared it unconstitutional for states to execute killers that young.

"The Court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our Nation's moral standards — and in the course of discharging that awesome responsibility purports to take guidance from the views of foreign courts and legislatures," Scalia wrote in a scathing dissent.

In 2002, he dissented from the court's decision to outlaw executing the mentally retarded. That same year, Scalia surprised some people with a public declaration of independence from his Roman Catholic church on the death penalty. He said judges who follow the philosophy that capital punishment is morally wrong should resign.

Scalia also supported free speech rights, but complained too. "I do not like scruffy people who burn the American flag," he said in 2002, but "regrettably, the First Amendment gives them the right to do that."

A longtime law professor before becoming a judge, Scalia frequently spoke at law schools and to other groups. Later in his tenure, he also spoke at length in on-the-record interviews, often to promote a book.

He betrayed no uncertainty about some of the most contentious legal issues of the day. The framers of the Constitution didn't think capital punishment was unconstitutional and neither did he.

"The death penalty? Give me a break. It's easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state," Scalia said during a talk that preceded a book signing at the American Enterprise Institute in 2012.

The only child of an Italian immigrant father who was a professor of Romance languages and a mother who taught elementary school, Scalia attended public schools in his native New Jersey, graduated first in his class at Georgetown University and won high honours at the Harvard University Law School.

He worked at a large Cleveland law firm for six years before joining the faculty of the University of Virginia's law school. He left that job to work in the administrations of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

From 1977 to 1982, Scalia taught law at the University of Chicago.

He then was appointed by Reagan to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Scalia and his wife, Maureen, had nine children.



Plane bombing claimed

Somalia's Islamic extremist rebels, al-Shabab, said Saturday they carried out the bombing of a commercial passenger jet earlier this month that blew a hole in the fuselage, sucking out the suspected bomber and forcing the plane to make an emergency landing.

The explosion targeted Western and Turkish intelligence agents aboard the Daallo Airlines flight to Djibouti on Feb. 2, al-Shabab said in a statement. It said the bombing had been planned to destroy the Airbus 321 plane but it failed. Al-Shabab, who are allied to al-Qaida, said they will continue such attacks.

The bomb exploded shortly after takeoff from Mogadishu airport, when the plane was at 11,000 feet and ascending. Experts say if the plane had been at its intended cruising altitude of 30,000 feet, the explosion could have brought down the aircraft.

Security video footage taken at Mogadishu airport shows two men handing what looks like a laptop computer to the suspected suicide bomber after he passed through the security checkpoint. Somali authorities say at least one of the men delivering the laptop was an airport employee. Authorities believe the laptop-like device was the bomb that caused the explosion. At least 20 people including the airport employee have been arrested in connection to the attack.

Abdullahi Abdisalam Borleh, the suspected suicide bomber, was blown out of the plane.

Al-Shabab is waging an insurgency against Somalia's western-backed government and has been targeting Turkish interests and personnel in the country. The Turkish government is a key ally of Somalia and is helping with efforts to rebuild the war-torn country. Al-Shabab has carried out attacks on neighbouring countries who have contributed troops to an African Union peacekeeping force bolstering the Somali government against the extremists.



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