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    Thursday, March 27, 2008

    Reuters - Obama weathers Wright storm as new details emerge

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    Obama weathers Wright storm as new details emerge

    Thursday, Mar 27, 2008 9:36PM UTC

    By Steve Holland

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A controversy over Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's former pastor has not hurt Obama, a new poll found on Thursday, even as more potential trouble surfaced involving his church.

    A poll by the Pew Research Center said videos of sermons by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Obama's subsequent speech on race in America last week have attracted more public attention than any events thus far in the 2008 presidential campaign.

    The March 19-22 survey of 1,503 American adults found that despite the flap, Illinois Sen. Obama had maintained a 49 percent to 39 percent advantage over New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

    While he seemed to have weathered the storm so far, the poll said most voters aware of the sermons were offended by them.

    Wright argued from the pulpit that the September 11 attacks were payback for U.S. foreign policy and expressed anger over what he called racist America.

    The new survey was released as new information came to light about Obama's Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, which Obama attended for two decades.

    A Christian publication called Baptist Messenger reported that the church published a pro-Hamas, anti-Israel opinion article in a church bulletin in July.

    It said the church republished the article from The Los Angeles Times. In the article, an official from the Palestinian group Hamas defended the group's refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist.

    Baptist Messenger said the column was posted on Wright's "Pastor's Page."

    In addition, Trumpet Newsmagazine, of which Wright is the chief executive officer, published an article written by Wright in which he described the crucifixion of Jesus as "public lynching Italian style."

    "(Jesus') enemies had their opinion about Him," Wright wrote in a eulogy of the late scholar Asa Hilliard in the November/December 2007 issue, according to "The Italians for the most part looked down their garlic noses at the Galileans."

    Obama was asked about the latest information about Wright during a CNBC interview.

    "I've, I think, talked thoroughly about, you know, the issue with Rev. Wright. And, you know, everybody, I think, who examines the church that I attend knows that it is a very traditional, conventional church," he said.

    He said Wright had made some "troubling statements and some appalling statements that I have condemned."

    T.I. Cops a Plea

    US/World News

    Thursday, March 27, 2008

    Rapper T.I. pleads guilty on federal weapons charges

    Thursday, March 27th 2008, 2:38 PM

    ATLANTA - Rapper T.I. pleaded guilty Thursday to federal weapons possession charges, and will receive a sentence that includes prison time after he completes a period of community service.

    In the year that he is awaiting sentencing, T.I., whose real name is Clifford Harris, must complete at least 1,000 hours of a total 1,500 hours of community service, talking to youth groups about the pitfalls of guns, gangs and drugs.

    Officials said after completing the community service he will be sentenced to serve about 12 months in prison.

    His prison time could be increased or reduced, depending on his fulfillment of the terms of the deal and good behavior, they said.

    The rapper, dressed in a gray business suit, told the judge he understands the terms of the agreement.

    He pleaded guilty to possession of unregistered machine guns and silencers, unlawful possession of machine guns and possession of firearms by a convicted felon.

    U.S. Attorney David Nahmias said Harris will remain "under strict bond conditions" during the next year. He said Harris' sentencing was deferred "to allow him to perform a unique and extensive program — at least 1,000 hours — of community service. That service will focus on using his high public visibility and his talents to tell at-risk young people about the mistakes he has made and to educate them about the dangers of violence, guns, gangs and drugs."

    Nahmias said under the agreement, Harris will have to serve a year in prison and three years of supervised home detention, perform a total of 1,500 hours of community service and pay a $100,000 fine.

    Failure to fulfill his obligations will net Harris a "much longer prison sentence," Nahmias added.

    T.I. spoke to the media briefly after the hearing.

    "I'd like to thank God for blessing me with a second chance in life and success," he said, adding that he takes the charges against him very seriously.

    "I'm looking forward to turning this negative time in my life into a positive. I know I have a long road of redemption to travel."

    Harris was arrested Oct. 13, just blocks away and hours before he was to headline the BET Hip-Hop Awards in Atlanta.

    He was charged with possession of unregistered machine guns and silencers, as well as possession of firearms by a convicted felon. He faced a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count.

    Harris was allegedly trying to buy unregistered machine guns and silencers. He initially pleaded not guilty, and has been under house arrest since he was released on $3 million bond on Oct. 26.

    Harris is co-CEO of Grand Hustle Records and is one of Atlantic Records' most successful artists.

    U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell Jr. must approve the deal.

    T.I. grew up in Atlanta and was selling crack by the time he was a teenager. After years of hustling to launch his rap career, his first taste of success came with his 2003 album, "Trap Muzik." In 2004, warrants were issued for his arrest on probation violations for a drug conviction, and he was sentenced to three years behind bars.

    In May 2006, T.I.'s best friend, Philant Johnson, was killed and three others were injured in a gun shootout after a post-performance party in Cincinnati. The killer remains at large.

    T.I.'s sixth album, "T.I. vs. T.I.P.," was released July 3 and debuted at No. 1. In November, T.I. starred in "American Gangster" alongside Academy Award winners Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.

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    The Black Rider

    Casualties in Basra

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    CNN - Dozens killed as Iraq fighting rages

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    Dozens killed as Iraq fighting rages

    Forty-two people were killed Thursday in Kut, southeast of Baghdad, Iraq's Interior Ministry said, the latest casualties in three days of clashes between militias and Iraqi security forces.

    Iraq's offensive against what it characterizes as "outlaws" of hard-line Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia began Tuesday in Basra, Iraq's second largest city.

    Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has been overseeing the operation in southern Iraq, has given militants an ultimatum to surrender their weapons by Saturday.

    The fighting, which also saw Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone -- home to the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi government -- come under fire, has threatened to unravel a delicate al-Sadr cease-fire credited with reducing bloodshed between Sunnis and Shiites.

    Since Tuesday, clashes in Basra and throughout Iraq's Shiite heartland have left more than 100 dead and many wounded in Basra, Baghdad, Hilla, Kut, Karbala and Diwaniya.

    Also Thursday, a U.S. government official was killed when militants fired rockets into the Green Zone, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said.

    Casualty figures from Basra weren't available Thursday, but the number of deaths is expected to rise from the 40 to 50 that had been reported Wednesday.

    In Baghdad on Thursday, dozens of gunmen kidnapped the spokesman of the Baghdad security plan, Tahseen Sheikhly. Three of his guards were killed and his house burned in the attack, which an Interior Ministry official said was carried out by "outlaws," a reference to al-Sadr's militia.

    Also Thursday, a car bomb explosion killed three people and wounded five others near a police patrol in central Baghdad, an Interior Ministry official said. There are no apparent links to the violence in the Shiite regions.

    Witnesses in Basra report smoke rising and gunfire and explosions ringing out across the city, where Iraqi security forces, backed by U.S. and British troops, have been taking on fighters using grenades, mortar rounds and machine guns.

    There was fighting Thursday in Jamhouriya, one of five neighborhoods the Mehdi Army controls, and Muqal, according to an official from Basra province and witnesses.

    Speaking on a condition of anonymity, the provincial official said weapons such as machine guns and grenades were stolen from a military post in the Muqal area.

    Al-Maliki briefed city and provincial officials Wednesday about the offensive and vowed to finish the job, even if it takes a month.

    Provincial officials expressed reservations about the operation, saying Basra will fall into the hands of "outlaws" if al-Maliki fails to restore order.

    Since the fighting started, Sadrists and government officials have spoken by phone in efforts to quell the violence, but no face-to-face talks have been scheduled. The Sadrists, who say security forces have unfairly targeted them in recent weeks, have been urging their followers to stage protests against the government. But so far, the cease-fire has not been rescinded.

    Basra has been relatively quiet during the war, but the southern city has seethed with intra-Shiite tensions as Sadrists, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Fadhila party have jockeyed for power.

    Much of the fighting in the Shiite heartland involves followers of al-Sadr and security forces aligned with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq's militia, the Badr Brigade.

    The council dominates the ruling United Iraqi Alliance, but the Sadrist movement left the government last year after al-Maliki refused to demand a timeline for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. Both groups have strong contingents in the Iraqi parliament. Read how the conflict could doom Iraq's future

    A provincial council official also said insurgents sabotaged an oil pipeline Thursday in Zubeir, a town near Basra. The attack sparked a large fire on the pipeline, which transfers crude oil to tanks in the city.

    Meanwhile, the FBI identified the remains of two U.S. contractors who had been missing in Iraq for more than a year, a bureau spokesman said Thursday.

    Minnesotan Paul Johnson-Reuben, 41, and Californian Joshua Munns, 25, were among four men kidnapped in November 2006 during an ambush in the southern Iraqi town of Safwan. All four worked for the Crescent Security Group, a Kuwaiti-based firm that escorts convoys.

    The other two men -- Jonathon Cote, 25, and Bert Nussbaumer, 26 -- are still listed as missing. The FBI has the remains of one more body, which the bureau is trying to identify.

    Tensions escalate in Basra


    Reuters - Iraq's Maliki says he'll fight militia to the end

    This article was sent to you from, who uses Reuters Mobile Site to get news and information on the go. To access Reuters on your mobile phone, go to:

    Iraq's Maliki says he'll fight militia to the end

    Thursday, Mar 27, 2008 6:33PM UTC

    By Aref Mohammed

    BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraq's U.S.-backed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki vowed on Thursday that security forces would battle Shi'ite militia in Basra "to the end", despite huge demonstrations to demand his resignation.

    Mehdi Army fighters loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr remained in control of much of Basra, Iraq's second biggest city and main oil hub, defying a three-day government offensive that has led to violence spreading across the south and Baghdad.

    Saboteurs blew up one of Iraq's two main oil export pipelines from Basra, cutting at least a third of the exports from the southern oilfields, a Southern Oil Company official said. U.S. oil prices briefly rose more than $1 a barrel.

    Maliki, who has traveled to Basra to oversee the crackdown, told tribal leaders it was sending "a message to all gangs that the state is in charge of the country".

    "We entered this battle with determination and we will continue to the end. No retreat. No talks. No negotiations."

    More than 130 people have been killed and hundreds wounded since the government began the operation on Tuesday, exposing deep divisions between powerful factions within Iraq's majority Shi'ite community.

    The clashes have all but wrecked a truce declared last August by Sadr, which Washington had said helped curb violence.

    The government says it is fighting "outlaws", but Sadr's followers say political parties in Maliki's government are using military force to marginalize their rivals ahead of local elections due by October.

    U.S. President George W. Bush praised Maliki's "boldness" in launching the operation and said it showed the Iraqi leader's commitment to "enforce the law in an even-handed manner".

    Tens of thousands of Sadr supporters marched in Baghdad in a massive show of force for the cleric, demanding Maliki's removal. In the vast Sadr City slum, named after the cleric's slain father, crowds of angry men chanted slogans.

    "We demand the downfall of the Maliki government. It does not represent the people. It represents Bush and Cheney," marcher Hussein Abu Ali said.

    The slum of 2 million people is in a virtual state of siege.

    "We are trapped in our homes with no water or electricity since yesterday. We can't bathe our children or wash our clothes," said a resident who gave his name as Mohammed.

    Demonstrations were also held in the Kadhimiya and Shula districts, among the largest anti-government protests Maliki's government has faced. An Interior Ministry source said hundreds of thousands took part.

    A Reuters correspondent in Basra said Iraqi forces had cordoned off seven districts but were being repelled by Mehdi Army fighters inside them. Helicopters swooped overhead.

    Reuters television pictures showed masked Mehdi fighters firing mortars, waving rocket launchers in the air and dancing with children in the streets. Some showed off captured government vehicles sprayed with Mehdi Army slogans.

    Authorities imposed curfews in other Shi'ite towns to halt the spread of the violence. Many shops in Baghdad were shut and the streets largely empty as people stayed at home.


    An Interior Ministry source said 51 people had been killed and more than 200 wounded so far in Basra alone. Basra's police chief survived a roadside bomb which killed three bodyguards.

    Clashes have spread in the past two days to the southern cities of Kut, Hilla, Nassiriya, Diwaniya, Amara and Kerbala, as well as 13 predominantly Shi'ite neighborhoods of Baghdad that have a Mehdi Army presence.

    The "Green Zone" in central Baghdad came under repeated rocket attack during the day in some of the worst barrages aimed at the government and diplomatic compound in recent months. One rocket landed inside the grounds of the U.S. embassy complex.

    Many of the rockets fell short and landed in surrounding neighborhoods. The U.S. military blamed rogue elements of the Mehdi Army for the attacks, which it said killed one Iraqi and wounded 14 others.

    Forty-four people have been killed and 75 wounded in Wasit province, police chief Abdul Hanin al-Imara said. U.S. planes flew over the provincial capital Kut and gunfire rang out as troops entered the streets, a Reuters witness said.

    Ali Bustan, head of the health directorate for eastern Baghdad, said 30 bodies and more than 200 wounded had been brought to two hospitals in Sadr City.

    Reuters television pictures showed fighters in T-shirts and jeans firing rocket-propelled grenades and rifles on the streets of the northern Shaab district. Police said Sadr followers had set ablaze a building of Maliki's Dawa party.

    U.S. and Iraqi checkpoints near Sadr City came under fire, said U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Stover.

    Gunmen also burst into the home of a government security spokesman, set it on fire and kidnapped him, police said.

    Sadr's aides say his ceasefire is still formally in place. But his followers have staged a "civil disobedience" campaign, forcing schools and shops to shut, and Sadr has threatened to declare a "civil revolt" if the crackdown is not halted.

    (Additional reporting by Aseel Kami, Wisam Mohammed, Ahmed Rasheed, Waleed Ibrahim and Ross Colvin in Baghdad; writing by Peter Graff; editing by Andrew Roche)

    Sen. Obama

    I'm so Presidential

    Reuters - Obama calls for $30 billion stimulus plan

    This article was sent to you from, who uses Reuters Mobile Site to get news and information on the go. To access Reuters on your mobile phone, go to:

    Obama calls for $30 billion stimulus plan

    Thursday, Mar 27, 2008 4:12PM UTC

    By Matt Bigg

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama called for greater government regulation of the U.S. financial system on Thursday and proposed a new $30 billion economic stimulus plan to help homeowners.

    Obama said an era of financial deregulation had created conditions that led to the housing and credit crisis that has pushed the U.S. economy to the brink of a recession.

    "It is time for the federal government to revamp the regulatory framework dealing with our financial markets," the Illinois senator said in a wide-ranging speech on the economy.

    "Our capital markets have helped us build the strongest economy in the world," Obama said. "They are a source of competitive advantage for our country. But they cannot succeed without the public's trust."

    Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president, and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton are in a heated battle for the Democratic nomination to face likely Republican nominee John McCain in the November presidential election.

    Obama was introduced by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who flirted with his own presidential bid and pointedly noted that he had not endorsed a presidential candidate.

    Obama said there were good arguments in the 1990s for changing government rules to cope with technological change and globalization in financial markets.

    But instead of establishing a new regulatory framework, the government simply dismantled the old one, encouraging a "winner-take-all, anything-goes environment that helped foster devastating dislocations in our economy," he said.

    He outlined six "core principles for reform" that he would pursue if elected, led by this one: "If you can borrow from the government, you should be subject to government oversight and supervision."

    In a month when the U.S. Federal Reserve helped shore up the ailing financial system and financed the takeover of a major Wall Street investment firm, Obama said it was time to help the most vulnerable Americans.

    He proposed a $30 billion stimulus plan that would provide relief to areas hardest hit by the housing crisis, and an extension of unemployment insurance for those out of work.

    "If we can extend a hand to banks on Wall Street when they get into trouble, we can extend a hand to Americans who are struggling through no fault of their own," Obama said to applause.


    Clinton, who would be the first woman president, called last week for a $30 billion emergency housing fund to help ease the housing crisis. An estimated 4 million American homeowners are in danger of losing their houses.

    A two-year, $168 billion stimulus aimed at propping up the U.S. economy is about to take effect, with $152 billion to be doled out this year.

    Arizona Sen. McCain in a statement reiterated that he wanted reforms aimed at "improving transparency and accountability in our capital markets -- both of which were lacking in the lead-up to the current situation."

    "However, what is not necessary is a multibillion dollar bailout for big banks and speculators, as Sen. Clinton and Obama have proposed. There is a tendency for liberals to seek big government programs that sock it to American taxpayers while failing to solve the very real problems we face," he said.

    Traveling in North Carolina, Clinton proposed a $12.5 billion package to provide job training for displaced workers.

    The package would include $2 billion a year over five years to create universally available job retraining services for the unemployed and $500 million a year for on-the-job training and worker education.

    (Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Deborah Charles and John Whitesides, writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

    (To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at

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