Russia’s defense minister visits Syria, meets Assad
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s defense minister visited Syria on Saturday to meet the country’s leader and inspect the Russian air base there, a high-profile trip intended to underline Moscow’s role in the region.
Sergei Shoigu met with President Bashar Assad in Damascus for talks that focused on cooperation between the two militaries and “some aspects of cooperation in the fight against terrorist groups,” the Russian Defense Ministry said. It said Shoigu held talks with Assad on orders from President Vladimir Putin.
The visit comes a day after President Vladimir Putin suggested that some in the Syrian opposition could join the Cabinet to help advance the stalled peace process.
Shoigu also visited the Hemeimeem air base in the coasvival province of Lattakia, where he met with pilots and inspected their quarters, according to the Defense Ministry’s spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov.
Russia has conducted an air campaign in Syria since last September, helping Assad’s forces win back some ground. Putin pulled back some of Russia’s warplanes in March in what he described as a move to help encourage peace talks, but the military has maintained a strong presence at Hemeimeem.
Democrats to give Trump ‘rude awakening’ in summer onslaught
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Donald Trump’s unconventional campaign is about to feel the heat of political organization.
Hillary Clinton and her Democratic allies have invested at least $41 million in commercials in crucial states such as Ohio, Florida and Nevada over the next six weeks, a series of summer broadsides against her Republican opponent. Those messages will be echoed by hundreds of Clinton workers in those same states and amplified by President Barack Obama and other top Democrats.
Trump has made few preparations for contending with that sort of well-oiled political machine. His campaign has no advertising plans and is just now hiring employees in important states. Republican leaders are far from in agreement on how best to talk to voters about the polarizing billionaire, or if they will at all. And Trump is running out of time: Early voting starts in Iowa in just 3 1/2 months.
“It’s political malpractice,” said Mitch Stewart, Obama’s 2012 battleground states director and a Clinton backer. “He’s in for a rude awakening. This isn’t a national vote contest where you can be on cable news every day and dominate coverage. This is literally going state by state and coming up with a plan in each.”
Clinton’s large June and July ad buy comes as a reward for her near-constant fundraising. In May, she raised $27 million in primary election money that must be used before she accepts her party’s nomination at the convention in late July.
Funerals, fear and uncertainty loom as Orlando grieves
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — People marched down Orlando streets with rainbow flags and others lined up to wait hours for a “One Pulse” tattoo on Saturday as supporters tried to boost the somber city’s spirits while more victims of last weekend’s nightclub shooting were buried.
Across from Cathedral Church of St. Luke, where Christopher Andrew Leinonen’s funeral was held, hundreds lined the street holding “We Support You” and other signs. The 32-year-old Leinonen was with his friends at Pulse early Sunday when gunman Omar Mateen opened fire, leaving 49 club-goers dead and wounding 53 others. Mateen died later after being shot by police.
Brandon Wolf was with Leinonen and shooting victim Juan Ramon Guerrero. The 27-year-old Wolf managed to make it out alive.
He says Leinonen, whom he called Drew, changed his life, and eased his pain when he was hurting.
“He looked me in the eyes that night and did what Drew always did, he said ‘I love you,’ Wolf said. “That is Drew’s lasting message to us, ‘I love you.'”
Gay leaders turn to old nemesis, the police, for safety
Decades ago, an early morning raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York sparked violent protests among gay patrons who fought back after police burst in and tried to arrest them for daring to drink and dance with members of the same sex.
Nearly 50 years later, officers armed with assault rifles stand guard outside the historic bar, protecting patrons after a gunman in Florida staged a massacre at a gay nightclub and spread fear of more attacks.
The irony isn’t lost on the gay community that used to see police as the oppressor and counts the 1969 Stonewall Inn raid as the start of the gay rights movement.
“Once upon a time they hit us with nightsticks, and now they’re our protectors,” said Gil Horowitz, 80, a retired research psychologist in New York who took part in the riots at Stonewall.
At gay pride parades this weekend, that evolution will be on display in cities like Denver, where the first parade in 1975 was in response to police raids on gay bars and arrests of gay men. On Sunday, police will march in solidarity and will have a robust presence among the crowd of 300,000 plus people.
A year after marriage ruling, LGBT rights struggles continue
NEW YORK (AP) — On a Friday evening almost a year ago, the White House was awash in rainbow-colored lights, celebrating the momentous Supreme Court ruling that led to nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage. Across the country, gays and lesbians embraced and partied and in some cases scrambled to arrange can’t-wait-another-day weddings.
“Love Wins!” was the catchphrase of the moment.
Since that ruling last June 26, same-sex marriage has been widely accepted as the law of the land, with only small pockets of defiance. Yet it has not been a year for LGBT-rights activists to bask in triumph, as starkly underscored by the June 12 attack that killed 49 patrons and staff at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“We’re still living with this random violence that can strike at any time,” said Ken Darling, owner of a gay bar in Minneapolis. “We had the White House lit up with colors, the Supreme Court finally acknowledges our right to marry, and at the same time this kind of stuff can happen.”
In the aftermath of the attack, some conservative leaders have expressed a new degree of empathy for LGBT Americans — raising the question of whether the massacre could change the political equation on LGBT rights the way the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, church bombing and other acts of violence against blacks helped change the course of the civil rights movement. Thus far, however, there’s been no rush by Republican politicians to back a pending LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination bill in Congress or to enact state-level versions of that bill in the many states, including Florida, that lack such protections.
Iraqi troops seize Fallujah hospital, clear mines
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi forces gained control of the main hospital in Fallujah on Saturday and were clearing mines after driving the Islamic State group from most of the city, one of its last remaining strongholds in the Anbar province west of Baghdad, a military official said.
Fighting was still underway in parts of the city, where U.S. and Iraqi warplanes targeted snipers and other IS positions, Brig. Gen. Haider al-Obeidi told The Associated Press.
Troops had cautiously advanced toward the hospital, fearing that the militants would use patients as human shields, but when they stormed the facility they found no patients inside, he said, adding that the Iraqi flag has been raised over the building.
The troops later captured the Dubbat neighborhood and are now pushing into the northern neighborhood of Golan and several small areas, he said.
Iraqi special forces swept into Fallujah on Friday, recapturing most of the city after weeks of fighting on its outskirts. Al-Obeidi said Friday that Iraqi troops controlled 80 percent of the city, with IS fighters concentrated in four districts on its northern edge.
Belgian authorities charge 3 in major anti-terror raid
BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgian authorities charged three men with terror-related crimes after two days of raids and the detention of 40 people in a major investigation which they said required “immediate intervention” because they feared a new attack was close.
Across Belgium parties were held Saturday to watch live broadcasts of the country’s soccer team playing Ireland at the European Championships in neighboring France and some media said such events could have been the targets. Belgium won 3-0 and no major incidents were reported during the game.
Prime Minister Charles Michel said the nation would remain “extremely vigilant, hour by hour,” but that the terror level across the nation would remain at the second-highest level, meaning a threat of an attack “is possible and likely.” Belgium has been living under such a threat level since the November attacks in Paris, some of whose perpetrators were either Belgian nationals or had lived in Brussels. On March 22, attacks on the Brussels subway and airport killed 32.
“It will be the case in the coming hours that we will take additional and adapted measures,” said Michel after a meeting of the nation’s security council. He refused to elaborate on the nature of the threat.
The federal prosecutor’s office said Saturday that homes and car ports were searched in 16 municipalities, mostly in and around Brussels There were no major incidents during the raids and that no arms or explosives were found.
Accused killer of UK lawmaker makes defiant court statement
LONDON (AP) — The man accused of murdering British lawmaker Jo Cox gave his name as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain” in court Saturday, following the killing that has brought campaigning ahead of the country’s EU referendum to a standstill.
Thomas Mair, 52, made his defiant statement as he made his first appearance in Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London after being charged overnight with the murder of the popular Labour Party lawmaker.
Mair refused to give his correct name and did not answer when asked for his address and date of birth.
Labour Party lawmaker Cox, 41, was shot and stabbed to death Thursday after getting out of her car in the town of Birstall in her home constituency.
The rare killing in broad daylight of a British politician has stunned the country and silenced what had been a furious campaign ahead of Thursday’s referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union.
Revelers: Gay pride events a victory over fear after Orlando
CHICAGO (AP) — The music was thumping and crowds were dancing Saturday at gay pride events around the U.S., with some revelers saying the partying was proof that people won’t give in to fear after last weekend’s attack at a gay nightclub in Florida.
Festivals and parades went ahead under increased security in cities such as Chicago, Columbus, Ohio; and Providence, Rhode Island, a week after a gunman fired on a crowd at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The attack left 49 people dead.
At Chicago Pride Fest, security staff meticulously checked bags, unzipping each and every pocket, and extra police patrolled on foot in a highly visible presence.
The annual two-day street festival in the Boystown neighborhood draws thousands of revelers and serves as a warmup to Chicago’s even bigger Pride Parade the following weekend.
Attorney Kavita Puri said that after Orlando, the Chicago event took on even more importance.
Nashville rape case echoes sex assault by Stanford swimmer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The cases are tragically similar: Student-athletes at two elite universities accused of sex crimes against unconscious women. Yet one is given six months in a county jail, while the other is facing at least 15 years in prison.
Some have questioned why 20-year-old former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who is white, received a far less severe sentence for a January 2015 assault than the one faced by former Vanderbilt football player Cory Batey, 22, who is black. The differences have taken on added significance this week as a white former teammate of Batey’s, Brandon Vandenburg, stands trial again in Nashville for his role in the dorm room assault, which took place in June 2013.
But the comparison is not so simple.
The difference in punishment reflects the number of alleged perpetrators in one case, the acts committed, overwhelming evidence documenting one of the crimes, and variations in how rape is defined in Tennessee and California.
“It does seem like an extreme disparity, but I would say this: With these sex crimes, the facts are very important, the details are very important, and the law punishes the conduct differently depending on what conduct can be proven,” said Dmitry Gorin, a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor specializing in sex crimes. “In the Stanford case, they did not prove rape.”
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