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Nation & World Briefs


Friday, October 12, 2018
Official: Searchers find bodies in hurricane-stricken town

MEXICO BEACH, Fla. — Search-and-rescue teams began finding bodies in and around Mexico Beach, the ground-zero town nearly obliterated by Hurricane Michael, an official said Friday as the scale of the storm’s fury became ever clearer. But he gave no details on the number of dead.

The death toll across the South stood at 13, not counting any victims in Mexico Beach.

Miami Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban, leader of a search-and-rescue unit that went into the flattened town, said: “There are individuals who are deceased. We do not have a count, but we are working to identify them.”

Zahralban spoke as his team — which included a dog — was winding down its two-day search of Mexico Beach, the town of about 1,000 people that was nearly wiped off the map when Michael blew ashore there on Wednesday with devastating 155 mph winds.

Blocks and blocks of homes were demolished, reduced to piles of splintered lumber or mere concrete slabs, by the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental U.S. in nearly 50 years.

US pastor released from house arrest, flown out of Turkey

IZMIR, Turkey — An American pastor flew out of Turkey on Friday after a Turkish court convicted him of terror links but freed him from house arrest, removing a major irritant in fraught ties between two NATO allies still strained by disagreements over Syria, Iran and a host of other issues.

The court near the western city of Izmir sentenced North Carolina native Andrew Brunson to just over three years in prison for allegedly helping terror groups, but let him go because the 50-year-old evangelical pastor had already spent nearly two years in detention. An earlier charge of espionage was dropped.

Hours later, Brunson was transported to Izmir’s airport and was flown out of Turkey, where he had lived for more than two decades. He was to be flown to the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, then on to Washington, where he was to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday.

“I love Jesus. I love Turkey,” an emotional Brunson, who had maintained he was innocent of all charges, told the court during Friday’s hearing. He tearfully hugged his wife Norine Lyn as he awaited the court decision.

“PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!” Trump tweeted after the American was driven out of a Turkish prison in a convoy.

Still no US ambassadors in Saudi Arabia, Turkey amid crisis

WASHINGTON — The disappearance of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi after visiting a Saudi consulate in Turkey has thrown the large number of diplomatic vacancies under President Donald Trump into the spotlight — notably in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It’s a gap the administration says it has been trying to fix but with limited success.

Khashoggi’s case and the fact that there are no American ambassadors in either Ankara or Riyadh have prompted concerns about dozens of unfilled senior State Department positions almost two years into Trump’s presidency. And, those concerns have sparked an increasingly bitter battle with Congress over who is to blame.

Aside from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Trump has yet to nominate candidates for ambassadorial posts in 20 nations, including Australia, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa, Singapore and Sweden. At the same time, 46 ambassadorial nominees are still awaiting Senate confirmation, prompting angry complaints from the administration and pushback from Democratic lawmakers.

It’s unclear if high-profile issues like Khashoggi’s disappearance suffer from neglect in the absence of an ambassador. Indeed, Turkey freed American pastor Andrew Brunson on Friday after repeated complaints and sanctions from Washington. But the management of day-to-day diplomatic relations can languish without a personal representative of the president present.

Matthew Shepard’s murder still haunts Wyoming after 20 years

LARAMIE, Wyo. — When two roofing workers beat a young gay man to death in Wyoming in 1998, the gruesome crime quickly reverberated around the U.S. and turned the sandy-haired college student into a powerful symbol of the quest for acceptance and equal rights.

But two decades after Matthew Shepard was bludgeoned, tied to a rail fence and left to die on the cold high prairie, the emotions stirred up by his slaying linger in Wyoming, which still struggles with its tarnished identity and resists changes sought by the LGBTQ community.

“We’re nowhere near done,” said Sara Burlingame, executive director of the Cheyenne-based LGBTQ advocacy group Wyoming Equality. The group’s work today “is the same thing that was there 20 years ago.”

As recently as Tuesday, days before the anniversary of Shepard’s death, about 200 people attended a forum in Laramie questioning the prevailing view that he was murdered because of his sexual orientation. Wyoming Equality protested by holding a dance at a civic center down the street, using the slogan “When They Go Low ... We Go Dance.”

The acrimony over Shepard’s legacy runs high here, just as it did when anti-gay and gay-rights protesters squared off at his funeral in Casper. Even now, people associate Laramie with the murder.

Pennsylvania AG: Cardinal faces no penalties by resigning

NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania — Amid unfolding sex-abuse scandals, Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl as archbishop of Washington. But the pope’s gentle words and lack of condemnation angered those who feel top Catholic leaders continue to shirk responsibility for the global crisis.

Among those frustrated by the pope’s announcement Friday was Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who oversaw a grand jury report issued in August on rampant sex abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses. The report accused Wuerl of helping to protect some child-molesting priests while he was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006.

“It is unacceptable that then-Bishop Wuerl ... oversaw and participated in the systematic cover-up that he did when leading the Pittsburgh Diocese and that he is now able to retire seemingly with no consequences for his actions,” Shapiro said. “We can’t rely on the church to fix itself.”

Wuerl had offered his resignation as archbishop in late 2015, after he turned 75. Pope Francis accepted the offer Friday, but asked Wuerl to stay on temporarily until a replacement is found and suggested he had unfairly become a scapegoat and victim of the mounting outrage over the abuse scandal.

From Associated Press