Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts

Man slain on way to dialysis treatment: police

South Side shooting

Police at the scene of a fatal shooting early Saturday at Homicide at Eberhart and 95th Streets.
(Peter Nickeas / Chicago Tribune / March 2, 2013)

A 72-year-old man was shot and killed in his gangway on the Far South Side early Saturday morning as he left a home for dialysis treatment. 

The man's grandson was inside and heard the shots that killed his grandfather.

The man was shot about 3:30 a.m. and pronounced dead about 4 a.m., according to authorities.

The motive appears to be robbery, police said, but detectives are still investigating. 

Detectives remained at the scene, across from Chicago State University, into the morning.  

Police taped off the northeast corner of 95th Street and Eberhart Avenue, surrounding the two houses between which the man was killed. 

Check back for more information.
Twitter: @peternickeas 

Read More..

Washington stares down start of sequester cuts

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government hurtled on Friday toward deep spending cuts that threaten to hinder the nation's economic recovery, after Republicans and Democrats failed to agree on an alternative deficit-reduction plan.

Locked in during a bout of deficit-reduction fever in 2011, the time-released “automatic” cuts can only be halted by agreement between Republican lawmakers and the White House.

That has proved elusive so far.

Both sides still hope the other will either be blamed by voters for the cuts or cave in before the worst effects - like air traffic chaos or furloughs for tens of thousands of federal employees - start to bite in the coming weeks.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, all but killed any hopes that President Barack Obama and top leaders of Congress can hammer out a deal in talks that begin shortly after 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT).

“I'm happy to discuss other ideas to keep our commitment to reducing Washington spending at today's meeting. But there will be no last-minute, back-room deal and absolutely no agreement to increase taxes,” McConnell said.

Barring any breakthroughs, across-the-board cuts totaling $85 billion will begin to come into force at some time before midnight on Friday night.

Obama will huddle at the White House with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, McConnell, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top U.S. Republican, and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

The full brunt of the belt tightening, known in Washington as “sequestration,” will take effect over seven months so it is not clear if there will be an immediate disruption to public services.

Democrats insist tax increases be part of a solution to ending the automatic cuts, an idea Republicans reject.

Congress can stop the cuts at any time after they start on Friday if the parties agree to that. In the absence of any deal at all, the Pentagon will be forced to slice 13 percent of its budget between now and Sept. 30. Most non-defense programs, from NASA space exploration to federally backed education and law enforcement, face a 9 percent reduction.

The International Monetary Fund warns that the cutbacks could knock at least 0.5 percentage point off U.S. economic growth this year and slow the global economy.

If the cuts were to stay in place through September, the administration predicts significant air travel delays due to layoffs of airport security workers and air traffic controllers.


Some Pentagon weapons production could grind to a halt and the budget cuts would ripple through the sprawling defense contracting industry.

Meat inspections could get hung up, medical research projects on cancer and Alzheimer's disease canceled or curtailed and thousands of teachers laid off.

Instead of these indiscriminate cuts, Obama and Democrats in Congress urge a mix of targeted spending cuts and tax increases on the rich to help tame the growth of a $16.6 trillion national debt.

Republicans want to cut the cost of huge social safety nets, including Social Security and Medicare, that are becoming more expensive in a country with an aging population.

By midnight, Obama is required to issue an order to federal agencies to reduce their budgets and the White House budget office must send a report to Congress detailing the spending cuts. In coming days, federal agencies are likely to issue 30-day notices to workers who will be laid off.

Read More..

Low-key departure as Pope Benedict steps down

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict slips quietly from the world stage on Thursday after a private last goodbye to his cardinals and a short flight to a country palace to enter the final phase of his life "hidden from the world".

In keeping with his shy and modest ways, there will be no public ceremony to mark the first papal resignation in six centuries and no solemn declaration ending his nearly eight-year reign at the head of the world's largest church.

His last public appearance will be a short greeting to residents and well-wishers at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence south of Rome, in the late afternoon after his 15-minute helicopter hop from the Vatican.

When the resignation becomes official at 8 p.m. Rome time (02.00 p.m. EST), Benedict will be relaxing inside the 17th century palace. Swiss Guards on duty at the main gate to indicate the pope's presence within will simply quit their posts and return to Rome to await their next pontiff.

Avoiding any special ceremony, Benedict used his weekly general audience on Wednesday to bid an emotional farewell to more than 150,000 people who packed St Peter's Square to cheer for him and wave signs of support.

With a slight smile, his often stern-looking face seemed content and relaxed as he acknowledged the loud applause from the crowd.

"Thank you, I am very moved," he said in Italian. His unusually personal remarks included an admission that "there were moments ... when the seas were rough and the wind blew against us and it seemed that the Lord was sleeping".


Once the chair of St Peter is vacant, cardinals who have assembled from around the world for Benedict's farewell will begin planning the closed-door conclave that will elect his successor.

One of the first questions facing these "princes of the Church" is when the 115 cardinal electors should enter the Sistine Chapel for the voting. They will hold a first meeting on Friday but a decision may not come until next week.

The Vatican seems to be aiming for an election by mid-March so the new pope can be installed in office before Palm Sunday on March 24 and lead the Holy Week services that culminate in Easter on the following Sunday.

In the meantime, the cardinals will hold daily consultations at the Vatican at which they discuss issues facing the Church, get to know each other better and size up potential candidates for the 2,000-year-old post of pope.

There are no official candidates, no open campaigning and no clear front runner for the job. Cardinals tipped as favorites by Vatican watchers include Brazil's Odilo Scherer, Canadian Marc Ouellet, Ghanaian Peter Turkson, Italy's Angelo Scola and Timothy Dolan of the United States.


Benedict, a bookish man who did not seek the papacy and did not enjoy the global glare it brought, proved to be an energetic teacher of Catholic doctrine but a poor manager of the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy that became mired in scandal during his reign.

He leaves his successor a top secret report on rivalries and scandals within the Curia, prompted by leaks of internal files last year that documented the problems hidden behind the Vatican's thick walls and the Church's traditional secrecy.

After about two months at Castel Gandolfo, Benedict plans to move into a refurbished convent in the Vatican Gardens, where he will live out his life in prayer and study, "hidden to the world", as he put it.

Having both a retired and a serving pope at the same time proved such a novelty that the Vatican took nearly two weeks to decide his title and form of clerical dress.

He will be known as the "pope emeritus," wear a simple white cassock rather than his white papal clothes and retire his famous red "shoes of the fisherman," a symbol of the blood of the early Christian martyrs, for more pedestrian brown ones.

(Reporting By Tom Heneghan; editing by Philip Pullella and Giles Elgood)

Read More..

Kelly says win in Congressional primary a 'message' to the NRA

Former state Rep. Robin Kelly easily won the special Democratic primary Tuesday night in the race to replace the disgraced Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress, helped by millions of dollars in pro-gun control ads from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's political fund.

A snowstorm and lack of voter interest kept turnout low as Kelly had 52 percent to 25 percent for former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson and 11 percent for Chicago 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale with 99 percent of precincts counted.

Kelly will formally take on the winner of the Republican primary in an April 9 special general election in the heavily Democratic district. In the GOP contest, less than 25 votes separated convicted felon Paul McKinley and businessman Eric Wallace.

Kelly framed her win as a victory for gun control forces.

"You sent a message that was heard around our state and across the nation," Kelly told supporters in a Matteson hotel ballroom. "A message that tells the NRA that their days of holding our country hostage are coming to an end.

"To every leader in the fight for gun control ready to work with President (Barack) Obama and Mayor (Rahm) Emanuel to stop this senseless violence, thank you for your leadership and thank you for your courage," she said.

Halvorson told supporters to rally around Kelly as the Democratic nominee. But Halvorson also made it clear she believed her biggest opponent was the mayor of New York, whose anti-gun super political action committee spent more than $2.2 million attacking her previous support from the National Rifle Association while backing Kelly.

"We all know how rough it was for me to have to run an election against someone who spent ($2.2) million against me," Halvorson said at Homewood restaurant. "Every 7½ minutes there was a commercial."

Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC was the largest campaign interest in the race and dominated the Chicago broadcast TV airwaves compared to a marginal buy by one minor candidate.

Beale also called Bloomberg's influence "the biggest disservice in this race."

"If this is the future of the Democratic Party, then we are all in big trouble," Beale said.

Bloomberg, an Emanuel ally in the fight for tougher gun restrictions, called Kelly's win "an important victory for common sense leadership on gun violence" as well as sign that voters "are demanding change" in a Congress that has refused to enact tougher gun restrictions, fearing the influence of the NRA.

But as much as Bloomberg sought to portray the Kelly win as a victory over the influential NRA, the national organization stayed out of the contest completely while the state rifle association sent out one late mailer for Halvorson.

Be it the TV ads or a late consolidation toward Kelly in the campaign, the former Matteson lawmaker made an impressive showing with Democratic voters in suburban Cook County, where the bulk of the district's vote was located, as well as on the South Side.

Despite the size of the field, Kelly got more than half of the votes cast in the two most populated areas of the district. Halvorson won by large percentages over Kelly in Kankakee County and the district's portion of Will County, but those two areas have very few votes.

The special primary election, by its nature, already had been expected to be a low-turnout affair — an expedited contest with little time for contenders to raise money or mount a traditional campaign.

Adding to the lack of interest was the fact that there were no other contests on the ballot in Chicago and most of the suburban Cook County portion of the district. Few contests were being held in Kankakee County and the portion of Will County within the 2nd District.

Turnout was reported to be around 15 percent in the city and suburban Cook. More than 98 percent of the primary votes cast in Chicago were Democratic, as were 97 percent of those cast in suburban Cook.

On the Republican side, the unofficial vote leader was McKinley, 54, who was arrested 11 times from 2003 to 2007, mostly for protesting, with almost all of the charges dropped. In the 1970s and '80s, McKinley was convicted of six felony counts, serving nearly 20 years in prison for burglaries, armed robberies and aggravated battery. He previously declined to discuss the circumstances of those crimes but has dubbed himself the "ex-offender preventing the next offender" in his campaign.

Records show McKinley also owes $14,147 in federal taxes, which might explain his answer at a forum when asked if he would cut any federal programs. "Certainly," he said. "The IRS."

Read More..

Porch collapses on 2 firefighters battling extra-alarm blaze

Two firefighters were hurt in an extra-alarm fire on the South Side early this morning

Two firefighters were hurt when a porch collapsed at an extra-alarm fire in Gresham on the South Side this morning, sending them through the floor into the basement, officials said.

The collapse trapped both firefighters and officials called a mayday as firefighters scrambled to free them. They were finally able to reach the two by breaking through a side window, and the injured firefighters were taken to Little Company of Mary Hospital.

The firefighters, both veterans of the department, suffered relatively minor injuries but the situation "could have been a lot worse," said Deputy Fire Commissioner John McNicholas.

"Had we had fire in that basement, things could have been a different story here," he said.

The 2-11 alarm fire broke out about 3:40 a.m. in vacant home in the 8800 block of South Parnell Avenue, spreading to a house next door.   A family of five was living in the second home but escaped uninjured.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Tribune photographer John J. Kim contributed.

Twitter: @AdamSege

Read More..

Storm watch issued as system bears down on Chicago

For the second time in less than a week, the Chicago area is in line for a snowstorm that promises a mixture of freezing rain, sleet and snow with enough accumulation to bring out the snow shovels.

Early predictions from the National Weather Service pegged the potential snowfall at about 3-6 inches, about what the storm left the end of last week. But the weather service says it's still unclear which areas will be hit with what: If the temperature is above freezing, there will be less snow, and if it's below, there will be more.

The weather service has issued a winter storm watch from Tuesday morning through the evening.

The weather service said the snow will start sometime after midnight Tuesday morning, with freezing rain turning to sleet to wet snow by early afternoon. With winds gusting about 35 mph, some of that snow will drift and made Tuesday a bad day on the roads.

The track of the storm is over the Texas panhandle northeast and through Missouri and southern Illinois and central Indiana, the Lake Erie area early Wednesday. North of the low pressure path, winter storm watches are in effect from late Monday through Tuesday from Missouri through northern Illinois, the southeastern corner of Wisconsin, extreme northern Indiana and much of Lower Michigan.

In the Chicago area, there could be heavy snow of 6 inches or more Tuesday generally north of Interstate 80, with northeast winds at 25 to 35 mph whipping and blowing the snow, according to the Chicago Weather Center.

Rain, a period of freezing rain and sleet will spread north out of central Illinois early Tuesday, changing over to a heavy wet snow in the Chicago metro area and across the far west through north suburbs into southern Wisconsin.

A combination of freezing rain, sleet and snow will cause hazardous driving across northern Indiana Tuesday. The precipitation will be all snow across Illinois later Tuesday.

According to the Chicago Weather Center, February has been an unusually snowy month during a winter that has been unusually snowless. Through Saturday, there has been 10.1 inches of snow, about 136 percent of normal, while the winter's total has been 13.6 inches, way below normal.

Midwest roundup

A wind-driven snowstorm blanketed eastern Colorado on Sunday, creating blizzard conditions on the High Plains and prompting the cancellation of 200 flights in and out of Denver International Airport, authorities said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered all non-essential state workers to report to work two hours later than scheduled on Monday to give Denver snow plow drivers more time to clear city streets.

By early evening, 10 inches of snow had accumulated in the Denver metropolitan area, as snowfall tapered off. Blizzard conditions will remain through the night on the eastern Colorado plains, weather forecasters said.

"It's still snowing out there and there's been a lot of blowing and drifting that's made the roads tough," National Weather Service meteorologist Brad Gimmestad said.

The Denver International Airport remained open but travelers could expect delays of up to two hours as crews de-iced departing aircraft and plowed the runways, said spokeswoman Laura Coale. The airport typically handles about 1,500 flights on a Sunday.

A deep, low-pressure system near the Four Corners borders of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah had stalled, dumping heavy snow in eastern Colorado, the weather service's Jim Kalina said.

"That setup makes it a snow event mostly for areas east of the Continental Divide," Kalina said.

Reuters contributed

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

Read More..

28 fans hurt in fiery Daytona pile-up

A pile-up at the Daytona speedway on Saturday injured at least 28 fans after a 10-car crash sent car debris, including a tire, flying into the crowd in the final lap of the Nationwide NASCAR race.

Race officials said 14 fans were sent to nearby hospitals and another 14 were treated at the Florida track, which will host the prestigious Daytona 500 race on Sunday.

"Stuff was flying everywhere," spectator Terry Huckaby, whose brother was sent to the hospital with a leg injury, told the ESPN sports network. "Tires were flying by and smoke and everything else."

Among the injured were a 14-year-old boy in critical but stable condition, and a man who was in surgery for a life-threatening head injury, according to

Joie Chitwood, president of the Daytona International Speedway, said Sunday's main race would go ahead despite the incident as crews were repairing the track and the grandstand.

"First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with our race fans," Chitwood said. "Following the incident, we responded appropriately according to our safety protocols and had emergency medical personnel at the incident immediately."

Tony Stewart won the race at Saturday's event, which is the curtain-raiser for American stock car racing's biggest event on Sunday which will feature Danica Patrick as the first woman to start on pole position.


Saturday's wreck happened after driver Regan Smith, who was leading the race, attempted to block another driver as they were nearing the checkered flag and hit the other car, a report on said.

"My fault," Smith, who finished 14th, told "I threw a block. I'll take the blame for it. But when you see the checkered flag at Daytona, you're going to block, and you're going to do everything you can to be the first car back to the stripe. It just didn't work out today. Just hoping everything is okay, everyone who was in the wreck and all the fans."

The crash sent driver Kyle Larson's car airborne and ripped out its engine, although he climbed out of the wreckage afterward unhurt.

"I was getting pushed from behind, it felt like," Larson told ESPN after the crash.

"By the time my spotter said, 'Lift,' or to go low, I believe, it was too late and I was in the wreck. Then I felt like it was slowing down, and it looked like I could see the ground, and had some flames in the cockpit. Luckily, I was all right and could get out of the car quick," he added.

The injured were carried away on stretchers from the chaotic scene in the stands. They were taken to Halifax Health Medical Center and Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center in Daytona Beach.

NASCAR's vice president of race operations, Steve O'Donnell, said that the fencing, which was ripped through by the flying debris, was being replaced and the incident would be reviewed.

"We're very confident that we'll be ready for tomorrow's event with the 55th running of the Daytona, but as with any of these incidents, we'll conduct a thorough review, we'll work closely with the tracks as we do for all our events, learn what we can and see what we can apply in the future," he said.

It is rare that spectators get hurt in American racing, but it has happened before. In 2009, Carl Edwards's car slammed into the catch fencing at Talladega and injured nine fans. Three were killed in Charlotte, North Carolina, a decade earlier in the IndyCar Series, and three others were killed in 1998 in Michigan during CART's U.S. 500.

Driver Michael Annett of the Richard Petty Motorsports team was treated at the Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach for bruises to his chest and sternum received in a crash on the 116th lap of the 120-lap race. He was given a CT scan and was being kept in for observation, the team said in a statement.

Read More..

Charges filed in slaying of Clemente High School student

Authorities filed charges against a 34-year-old man in connection with the shooting death of an 18-year-old Clemente High School student killed on the West Side last week.

Larry Luellen Jr., 34, was charged with first degree murder in the death of Frances Colon. Luellen is due in court today.

Luellen lives in the 3900 block of West Division Street in West Humboldt Park, around the corner from where Colon was shot. Police don't believe she was the target.

Colon is the third student at Roberto Clemente to be killed this school year, according to the school's principal Marcey Sorensen.

Rey Dorantes, 14, of the 2400 block of West Augusta Boulevard, was shot and killed on Jan. 11. His death came about a month after another Clemente student, 16-year-old Jeffrey Stewart, of the 5200 block of West Race Avenue, was shot and killed on Dec. 9.

Colon was a senior who was preparing to attend college. Hours before the shooting, she had watched President Barack Obama speak at Hyde Park Academy on the South Side about gun violence, according to her father.

Check back for more information.
Twitter: @peternickeas

Read More..

Storm loses punch, but still socks morning commute

A winter storm that buried the Great Plains in more than a foot of snow lost some of its punch as it blew through Chicago overnight, but it still managed to slow the morning commute with slick roads and dozens of spinouts on expressways.

Snow began tapering off around 5:30 a.m., but the National Weather Service was warning of freezing drizzle through the morning and light snow in the afternoon. A winter weather advisory remains in effect until 6 p.m.

At 6 a.m., 2.7 inches had fallen at O'Hare International Airport, tying the highest total recorded there this winter, according to the National Weather Service. Accumulation ranged from 2 to 5 inches throughout the area, according to the Chicago Weather Center.

At the height of the storm shortly after midnight, state police described road conditions as "horrible." But conditions had improved by the time the morning rush hour began. Still, state police said they had responded to 22 accidents as of 7 a.m. but there were many other spinouts that didn't require their assistance.

The city of Chicago sent 284 plows to work clearing main thoroughfares, according to the Streets and Sanitation Department.

Dozens of schools closed because of the storm, or delayed start times.

The storm, which is moving toward the Northeast, has forced the cancellation of nearly 400 flights at O'Hare and delays for 80 more.

Flurries could linger into the weekend, with a chance for light snow on Saturday.  High temperatures both days should be around 30, with lows in the low 20s and high teens both mornings.

Kansas bore the brunt of the storm, with up to 15 inches of snow in some parts of the state, according to the National Weather Service. A 200-mile stretch of Interstate 70 in central Kansas was closed and strewn with cars stuck in snow.

National Guard troops riding in Humvees were dispatched to look for stranded motorists along the interstate and other highways, said Sharon Watson, a spokeswoman for Kansas emergency management services.

The fierce storm triggered severe thunderstorms from eastern Texas to Georgia. Thunder accompanied snow in Kansas City, hit by 2 to 3 inches of snow per hour on Thursday morning.

"When there is thunder and lightning, it's a pretty screaming clue that you are going to have massive snowfall," said Andy Bailey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, Missouri.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback declared states of emergency because of hazardous travel and possible power outages. Brownback ordered state offices closed because of the storm.

Kansas City International Airport was closed on Thursday while crews cleared runways. It was unclear when the airport would reopen, spokesman Joe McBride said.

At the Denver International Airport, some 55 commuter flights were canceled overnight, spokeswoman Laura Coale said. More than 320 flights in and out of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport were scrapped and nearly 50 flights in and out of Omaha's Eppley Airfield were listed as canceled by midday.

In Nebraska, a 19-year-old woman was killed in a two-car accident on Wednesday on Interstate 80 near Giltner. The Nebraska State Patrol said weather was a factor.

An 18-year-old man died in Oklahoma when his vehicle slid into a semi-truck on a slushy state highway, the state's highway patrol said.

The storm is expected to reach the East Coast this weekend, delivering heavy snow to parts of New England for a third straight weekend, from northern Connecticut to southern Maine.

Reuters contributed

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

Read More..

Judge poised to rule in Drew Peterson case

Drew Peterson could be sentenced to up to 60 years in prison today if a judge rejects defense team arguments that his former lead attorney's inept trial performance violated his constitutional rights to a fair trial.

Judge Edward Burmila is expected to rule Thursday whether the former Bolingbrook police sergeant will get a new trial, a rarely granted motion.

If not, Burmila will begin a sentencing hearing at which prosecutors have said they plan to argue Peterson also killed his fourth wife, Stacy, who went missing in 2007, in asking for the maximum sentence.

Peterson, 59, was convicted by a jury last fall of first-degree murder in the 2004 bathtub drowning of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

Among the oddities Wednesday, during the unusual hearing on post-trial motions that has stretched across two days, was former Peterson lead attorney Joel Brodsky chatting in a courthouse hallway with Stacy's sister Cassandra Cales.

Both declined to detail their conversation. “We were just discussing how to make sure that her sister Stacy isn't forgotten after Drew goes away,” Brodsky said.

Much of Wednesday's hearing focused on Brodsky's trial decision to call Wheaton divorce attorney Harry Smith, who represented Savio in her bitter divorce fight with Peterson and also fielded a call from Stacy about her divorce options shortly before she vanished.

Smith testified at trial that Stacy had asked him if the fact that Peterson killed his third wife could be used as leverage in a divorce.

Several jurors said after trial that the testimony convinced them of Peterson's guilt. There was no physical evidence tying Peterson to Savio's death, which was initially treated as an accident.

Retired Cook County Judge Daniel Locallo, called as a witness by Peterson's attorneys, blasted Brodsky for calling Smith, saying the testimony for the first time at trial connected Peterson to Savio's death.

The retired judge said that, in his opinion, Brodsky's decisions constituted ineffective assistance of counsel, which can be grounds for a new trial.

“It was an awful decision,” defense attorney Steve Greenberg later argued in court. “It ruined the case -- we brought out the worst possible evidence, and the best evidence for the state.”

The defense team also attempted to call to the stand Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow to explain his comment in a courthouse hallway during the trial that Smith's testimony was “a gift from God.”

Greenberg wanted to use the statement to contradict prosecutors' argument that Smith's testimony was part of well-thought-out defense strategy.

Burmila first called Glasgow to be sworn in, but stopped the process after prosecutors said Peterson had failed to meet the legal standards necessary to call him.

Assistant State's Attorney Marie Czech argued that Brodsky's decision to call Smith was a calculated risk to discredit Stacy by attempting to show she was out for money, and not grounds for a new trial.

“There was a strategic decision,” she argued. “It was well-conceived.”

Greenberg argued that the upside was so small and the risks so monumental that there was no way Brodsky's decision could have been part of a reasonable trial strategy.

“Whatever kernel of impeachment Mr. Brodsky thought he was going to get out of it paled in comparison to the mountain of damage that it brought out,” Greenberg said. “It was awful strategy, and that strategy alone means Mr. Peterson should get a new trial from this court.”

Brodsky, who could be heard sighing loudly as he listened to Wednesday's arguments in an overflow room, continued to assert that he was not alone in the decision to call Smith, saying Greenberg supported the decision.

“A number of lies and misrepresentations were made about me today, but you know, I've got tough skin,” Brodsky said. “I can handle that.”

Stacy's older sister Cales said she was “very excited” that Peterson could be sentenced Thursday.

“Even if he gets the minimum of 20 years, technically that's life for him because he's an old man,” she said.

Cales said that she still holds out hope that someone will come forward with information about her sister's disappearance. Prosecutors have said they are reviewing the case again with an eye to possibly bringing charges.

“Maybe that person out there will have a conscience and come forward because Drew will be away at prison and will be unable to hurt them,” Cales said.

Read More..

Police shoot robbery suspect in Bucktown intersection

Chicago police chased a robbery suspect from River North into Bucktown and shot him after he tried to run over an officer, according to authorities.

Police said the man wanted in more than a dozen robberies of North Side convenience stores and restaurants. He was wounded after robbing a Subway shop on State Street just north of Chicago Avenue, police said.

Officers working a robbery mission team pursued an SUV that matched the description of one fleeing the scene to the intersection of North, Milwaukee and Damen avenues. The man tried to run over an officer after backing into a squad car, police said in a statement.

The man did not respond to commands and made suspicious movements inside the vehicle before he was shot, and police said they recovered a weapon at the scene.

The man, whose age was not available, was taken to Stroger Hospital.

Police from a number of nearby districts responded to the scene after officers called a "10-1," a term used to signal an officer, firefighter or paramedic in distress. Detectives from two of the three city detective areas also responded.

Detectives approached people at the bars that line the intersection, asking if anyone saw anything.  Police blocked access to the area and the CTA rerouted its bus traffic around the intersection.

Hours after the shooting, as the bars wrapped up for the night, people stood outside smoking and exchanging stories of the cop cars they saw speeding toward the scene.

The other robberies linked to the suspect usually occurred between 11:30 p.m. and 2:15 a.m. They included hold-ups within two hours of each other at 2200 N. Lincoln Avenue and 300 W. Chicago Avenue early in the morning of Feb. 6.
Twitter: @peternickeas

Read More..

Weather cited in Antioch crash that killed 2 teens

Lake County crash

Two teens were killed after the vehicle they were traveling in left Wilmot Road in Antioch and struck a tree, police say.
(WGN-TV / February 18, 2013)

Two teenagers were killed when their SUV crashed into a tree in Antioch in heavy rain, authorities said.

The 16-year-old boy and 17-year-old girl were traveling west when their Chevrolet Trailblazer left the road in the 27000 block of Wilmot Road around 7 p.m. Monday, according to the Lake County sheriff's office. The SUV went through a yard before hitting the tree, the office said.

Both teens died on the scene. The boy, who was driving, was from Antioch and the girl was from Lindenhurst. The Lake County coroner's office was expected to release further details after notifying family members.

Authorities said they believe weather contributed to the crash. A man who lives where the crash occurred said it was raining hard when the accident occurred.

"It was pouring," said Tim Staples.

Staples said he was home when "I just saw the headlights spin ... We ran out and you could see the car was in the tree, the tree was on the car ... a mangled car I couldn't recognize."

"We checked the scene," he said. "We had flashlights and we looked inside. It didn't look promising, it looked really bad."

He said firefighters reached the scene in 7 or 8 minutes. "It took them an hour to get them out. They had to take the top of the car off."

Staples said the car hit a tree he had planted on his property 30 years ago.

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

Read More..

2 questioned in fatal shooting of Chicago teen

Janay McFarlane, 18, was shot on the way to a store, the same day Obama spoke on gun violence.

Two people are being questioned in connection with the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old Chicago woman who was killed Friday, the same day her sister attended President Barack Obama's speech on gun violence, officials said Sunday.

An 18-year-old man and a 20-year-old man are considered persons of interest in the homicide investigation and are being questioned by North Chicago police and officials from the Lake County State's Attorney's Office in connection with the death of Janay McFarlane, according to a statement released Sunday afternoon by North Chicago police.

The men were arrested after McFarlane was shot at about 11:30 p.m. Friday on the  1300 block of Jackson Avenue in the northern suburb.

Angela Blakely, McFarlane’s mother, said she knew few details about the investigation but was encouraged by the news of the arrests.

“I’m just hoping that they do find out who did this to my baby, so they can pay for the crime they committed,” she said.

Blakely urged anyone with information about the killing to talk with police.

McFarlane, 18, of the 8900 block of South Lowe Avenue, was in North Chicago visiting family and friends and was walking with friends when she was shot, according Blakely. McFarlane was walking with friends, one of whom may have been the intended target, Blakely said.

When police responded to a call of shots being fired in the area they found McFarlane fatally shot, police said. They canvassed the area and were tipped off to the men who were taken in for questioning, according to police.

McFarlane was killed just hours after her sister, Destini Warren, 14, had attended President Barack Obama's speech against gun violence Friday.

Blakely, the mother of both girls, said that the family had been anticipating the President's visit to the school where Destini is a freshman.

Leading up to the visit, McFarlane frequently mentioned the recent death of Hadiya Pendleton, 15, whose own shooting death a mile from the Obama's home spurred the President's visit.

"It's terrible, it's terrible the only thing I can remember is my daughter telling me, 'Mommy, it's so sad about Hadiya. That makes no sense,' " Blakely said. "She always asked me a lot of questions about death."

The speech resonated even more when her family got the call from McFarlane's father in North Chicago, who told Destini that her sister was dead, she said.

"It was like real painful," said Destini, her voice choking back tears.

North Chicago officials said McFarlane's killing is the first in the northern suburb since October. The October slaying was the only homicide for the town last year.

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

Read More..

Woman shot, killed hours after sibling attends Obama speech

Hours after Destini Warren, 14, attended President Barack Obama’s speech against gun violence Friday, her family learned of a terrible irony.

Destini’s sister, Janay McFarlane, 18, was the victim of the very thing that the President was condemning at Hyde Park Academy in Chicago.

McFarlane, of the 8900 block of South Lowe Avenue, was visiting friends and family in North Chicago when she was shot on her way to a store in the northern suburb, her family said.

She was pronounced dead at 11:30 p.m., shortly after sustaining a single gunshot wound to her head, according to the Lake County Coroner’s office.

North Chicago Police officials did not return calls for comment Saturday.

Angela Blakely, the mother of both girls, said that the family had been anticipating the President's visit to the school where Destini is a freshman.

Leading up to the visit, McFarlane frequently mentioned the recent death of Hadiya Pendleton, 15, whose own shooting death a mile from the Obama's home spurred the President's visit.

“It's terrible, it's terrible the only thing I can remember is my daughter telling me, 'Mommy, it's so sad about Hadiya. That makes no sense,'“ Blakely said. “She always asked me a lot of questions about death.”

Blakely said that McFarlane was still trying to make sense of the violence that claimed Pendleton’s life. She kept questioning why someone so innocent could die from violence.

McFarlane, who attended Hyde Park Academy before she became pregnant with her son Jayden — 3-months-old — and dropped out, was excited that her younger sister was able to attend Obama’s speech.

Destini said that during the days before the President arrived to Chicago, her sister would come by and talk to her about the visit. Destini said she last spoke to her sister on Thursday night before the younger girl went to sleep.

“She was like 'Just tell me how it's going to be.' She was excited for me,” said Destini. “ (The violence) was really wracking her because she was talking to my momma about Hadiya.”

Destini said she was sitting on a bench about two rows behind the President on stage listening as he spoke about gun violence.

“I could relate to it because that's been happening to a lot of people,” said Destini.

The speech resonated even more when her family got the call from McFarlane's father in North Chicago, who told Destini that her sister was dead, she said.

“It was like real painful,” said Destini, her voice choking back tears.

Since President Obama's speech on Friday, two people have been killed and six injured by guns in Chicago.

Freelance reporter Ruth Fuller contributed

Read More..

More than 1,000 injured when meteor explodes over Russia


Thousands of Russian emergency workers went out on Saturday to clear up the damage from a meteor that exploded over the Ural mountains, damaging buildings, shattering windows and showering people with broken glass.

Divers searched a lake near the city of Chelyabinsk, where a hole several feet wide had opened in the ice, but had so far failed to find any large fragments, officials said.

The scarcity of evidence on the ground fuelled scores of conspiracy theories over what caused the fireball and its huge shockwave on Friday in the area which plays host to many defense industry plants.

Nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky told reporters in Moscow it could have been "war-mongers" in the United States. "It's not meteors falling. It's a new weapon being tested by the Americans," he said.

A priest from near the explosion site called it an act of God. Social media sites were flooded with speculation about what might have caused the explosion, if not a meteorite.

"Honestly, I would be more inclined to believe that this was some military thing," said Oksana Trufanova, a local human rights activist.

Asked about the speculation, an official at the local branch of Russia's Emergencies Ministry simply replied: "Rubbish".

Residents of Chelyabinsk, an industrial city 1,500 km (950 miles) east of Moscow, heard an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt a shockwave that blew out windows and damaged the wall and roof of a zinc plant.

A fireball traveling at a speed of 30 km (19 miles) per second according to Russian space agency Roscosmos, blazed across the horizon, leaving a long white trail visible as far as 200 km (125 miles) away.

NASA estimated the meteor was 55 feet across before entering Earth's atmosphere and weighed about 10,000 tons.

It exploded miles above Earth, releasing nearly 500 kilotons of energy - about 30 times the size of the nuclear bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in World War Two, NASA added.

"We would expect an event of this magnitude to occur once every 100 years on average," said Paul Chodas of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"When you have a fireball of this size we would expect a large number of meteorites to reach the surface and in this case there were probably some large ones."


Search teams said they had found small objects up to about 1 cm (half-an-inch) wide that might be fragments of a meteorite, but no larger pieces.

The Chelyabinsk regional governor said the strike caused about 1 billion roubles ($33 million) worth of damage.

Life in the city had largely returned to normal by Saturday although 50 people were still in hospital. Officials said more than 1,200 people were injured, mostly by flying glass.

Repair work had to be done quickly because of the freezing temperatures, which sank close to -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) at night.

Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov inspected the damage after President Vladimir Putin sent him to the region.

His ministry is under pressure to clean up fast following criticism over the failure to issue warnings in time before fatal flooding in southern Russia last summer and over its handling of forest fires in 2010.

Putin will also want to avoid a repeat of the criticism that he faced over his slow reaction to incidents early in his first term as president, such as the sinking of the Kursk submarine in 2000 which killed all 118 people on board.

($1 = 30.1365 Russian roubles)

Additional reporting by Katya Golubkova, Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Andrew Heavens

Read More..

Exhausted passengers describe woes on disabled cruise ship

MOBILE, Alabama—

Thousands of relieved passengers poured ashore from a stinking cruise ship on Friday after five days adrift in the Gulf of Mexico with overflowing toilets and stench filled cabins.

Exhausted passengers lined the ship's decks, waving towels and flashlights, cheering and singing "Sweet Home Alabama" as tug-boats pulled the stricken Carnival Triumph into the port of Mobile, Alabama.

Some travelers kissed the ground when they walked off, others disembarked wearing the ship's white bath robes, part souvenir and part protection against a chilly night.

With only one working elevator, it took several hours to get the more than 4,200 people off the ship, Carnival said. Passengers were greeted dockside with warm food, blankets and cell phones to call family and friends.

About 100 buses waited to carry passengers on a seven-hour bus ride to Galveston, Texas, while others buses departed for shorter rides to New Orleans, as well as hotels in Mobile, before eventually flying home.

The end of the saga, documented live on U.S. cable news stations, was another public relations disaster for cruise giant Carnival Corp. Last year, its Costa Concordia luxury liner grounded off the coast of Italy, killing 32 people.

Carnival officials said the Triumph, which entered service in 1999, would be towed to a Mobile repair facility for damage assessment.

The 893-foot vessel was returning to Galveston from Cozumel, Mexico on the third day of a four-day cruise when an engine-room fire knocked out power and plumbing across most of the ship on Sunday.

Passengers described a gut-wrenching stench on parts of the ship and complained to relatives and media by cellphone that toilets and drainpipes overflowed, soaking many cabins and interior passages in raw sewage.

"The stench was awful," said Robin Chandler, a 50-year-old from Dallas who spent her birthday on the ship. "A lot of people were crying and freaking out."

Jacob Combs, an Austin, Texas-based sales executive with a healthcare and hospice company, praised the ship's crew.

"Just imagine the filth," said Combs, 30. "People were doing crazy things and going to the bathroom in sinks and showers. It was inhuman. The stewards would go in and clean it all up. They were constantly cleaning," he said.

Debbie Moyes, 32, of Phoenix told the Los Angeles Times she was awakened Sunday by a fellow passenger banging on her door, warning people to escape.

"That was one of the only points in my life I thought I might die," the mother of four said as she stood in the parking lot.

Soon after, she said some passengers panicked.

"People were hoarding food -- boxes and boxes of cereal, grabbing cake with both hands," she said.


Facing criticism over the company's response, Carnival Cruise Lines Chief Executive Gerry Cahill boarded the ship to personally apologize to passengers.

"I know the conditions on board were very poor," he told reporters, sounding shaken in a brief media appearance before he boarded the ship. "I know it was difficult. I want to apologize for subjecting our guests to that," he said.

"We pride ourselves with providing our guests with a great vacation experience and clearly we failed in this particular case," Cahill added.

Operated by Carnival Cruise Lines, the flagship brand of Carnival Corp, the ship left Galveston a week ago carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew. It was supposed to return on Monday.

Some passengers said conditions deteriorated rapidly on the Triumph earlier in the week, saying people were getting sick and passengers had been told to use plastic "biohazard" bags as makeshift toilets.

"It wasn't a vacation anymore it was like survival mode. Eat what you can. Snack when you can. It was awful," said passenger Tammy Garcia.

Smoke from the engine fire was so thick that passengers on the lower decks in the rear of the ship had to be permanently evacuated and slept the rest of the voyage on the decks under sheets, passengers said.


Some passengers said they tried to pass the time playing cards and organizing Bible study groups and scavenger hunts for the children on board the ship.

Cahill has issued several apologies and Carnival, the world's largest cruise company, said passengers will be reimbursed in full plus transportation expenses, a future cruise credit equal to the amount paid for this voyage, plus a payment of $500 a person to help compensate them.

Chandler, the passenger, scoffed at the compensation offer. "There are lost wages, I've got a baby sitter at home and I had to take off work," she said.

Some passengers said conditions improved on Thursday after a generator was delivered to the ship, providing power for a grill to cook hot food. Passengers said toilets began flushing again on Thursday and the ship served steaks and lobster - a relief after a steady diet of cold sandwiches of cucumber and cheese.

Carnival Corp Chairman and CEO Micky Arison was criticized in January last year for failing to travel to Italy and take personal charge of the Costa Concordia crisis. The tragedy unleashed numerous lawsuits against his company.

He has not publicly commented on the Triumph incident.

"I think they really are trying to do the right thing, but I don't think they have been able to communicate it effectively," said Marcia Horowitz, an executive who handles crisis management at Rubenstein Associates, a New York-based PR firm.

Carnival Corp shares closed down 11 cents at $37.35 in trading on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Triumph is a Bahamian-flagged vessel and the Bahamas Maritime Authority will be the primary agency investigating the cause of its engine room fire.

Earlier this month, Carnival repaired an electrical problem on one of the Triumph's alternators. The company said there was no evidence of any connection between the repair and the fire.

For all the passengers' grievances, they will likely find it difficult to sue the cruise operator for any damages, legal analysts said. Over the years, the cruise industry has put in place a legal structure that shields operators from big-money lawsuits.

Reuters and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times

Read More..

Anxiety grows as officials consider closing 129 Chicago schools

After trimming the number of schools that could be closed to 129, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's school administration has entered the latest and what is likely to be the most intense phase so far in trying to determine which schools should be shut.

Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett is expected to pare the preliminary list, released Wednesday, before unveiling a final one at the end of March. She said administrators will determine which schools are saved in the coming weeks amid a final round of community meetings to hear arguments from parents, teachers and community groups about why their schools should stay open.

If a hearing Wednesday night in North Lawndale was any indication, CPS still has a long way to go to gain the public's trust.

"Our schools don't need to close," Dwayne Truss, vice chairman of CPS' Austin Community Action Council, said in front of hundreds of people packed inside a church auditorium in the West Side neighborhood. "CPS is perpetrating a myth that there's a budget crisis."

CPS initially said 330 of its schools are underenrolled, the chief criterion for closing. Members of a commission assembled to gather public input on the issue told CPS officials earlier this year that closing a large number of schools would create too much upheaval. The Tribune, citing sources, said the commission indicated a far smaller number should be closed than initially feared, possibly as few as 15.

CPS then started holding its own hearings and on Wednesday, while following many of the formal recommendations made by the Commission on School Utilization, said 129 schools still fit the criteria for closing.

The new number and the latest round of hearings sets the stage for the administration to counter questions about the district's abilities to close a large number of schools and the need to do so.

For many who have already turned up to school closing meetings, this final round of hearings will be even more critical. School supporters must show how they plan to turn around academic performance and build enrollment, and also make the case for any security problems that would be created by closing their school.

"We are prepared now to move to the next level of conversation with our community and discuss a list of approximately 129 schools that still require further vetting and further conversation," Bryd-Bennett said. "We are going to take these 129 and continue to sift through these schools."

In the past, political clout has played a role in the district's final decisions. Already this year, several aldermen have spoken out on behalf of schools in their wards.

On the Near Northwest Side, for instance, the initial list of 330 underused schools included about six in the 1st Ward. Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno helped organize local school council members, school administrators and parents to fight any closing. He also took that fight to leaders in City Hall and within CPS' bureaucracy. Nearly all of the schools in the ward were excluded from the list of 129.

"It is effort and it's organizing and not just showing up at meetings and yelling. Anybody can do that," Moreno said. "Those schools that proactively work before those meetings and explain what they are doing, what they need and that they are willing to accept new students, that's when politics works.

"My responsibility in this juncture was to focus on these schools," he said. "I had to work on the inside, with CPS and with City Hall, and with my schools on the outside."

Most of the schools on the list of 129 are on the West, South and Southwest sides, many in impoverished neighborhoods that saw significant population loss over the last decade. Largely spared were the North and Northwest sides.

In all, more than 43,000 students attend those 129 schools on the preliminary list, according to CPS records.

The area with the most schools on the list is a CPS network (the district groups its schools in 14 networks) that runs roughly from Madison Street south to 71st Street and from the lake to State Street. The preliminary list includes 24 schools in that area.

The Englewood-Gresham network has the second-largest number, 19, while the Austin-North Lawndale network where Wednesday night's meeting was held still has 16 schools on the list.

CPS critics said the preliminary list is still too large to be meaningful and that the district's promise to trim it before March 31 is only a tactic to make the final number seem reasonable.

"They started out with such a far-fetched, exaggerated list of schools, many of which are nowhere near underutilized," said Wendy Katten, co-founder of the parent group Raise Your Hand. "They might appear to be looking like they're listening, but they're not. They have not done a thorough and substantive assessment of these schools."

Read More..

Obama to Republicans: Can we just move on?

President Obama highlighted numerous parts of his agenda during his State of the Union Address. AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace reports, the tough part will be turning words into action. (Feb. 13)

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address on Tuesday night to try to push past the fiscal battles that plagued his first term - and still threaten his second - as he laid out an agenda he hopes will shape his legacy.

Obama's overarching message was that other things matter beside the Republicans' seemingly all-consuming drive for deficit cutting, embodied in a looming showdown just three weeks away over automatic across-the-board spending cuts.

Those other things, he told Congress, include some traditionally liberal causes, like raising the federal minimum wage and pursuing climate initiatives, and some that have gained bipartisan support, such as immigration reform and curbing gun violence.

"Most of us agree that a plan to reduce the deficit must be part of our agenda," Obama said. "But let's be clear: deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan."

But with Washington so deeply divided, Obama's speech appeared unlikely to go far in helping the Democratic president and his Republican opponents find common ground to ease the ideological gridlock. He offered no tangible new concessions of his own.

Still, Obama's sense of urgency and frustration was almost palpable. He alternately scolded and cajoled lawmakers while expanding on his vision for a more activist government so loathed by conservatives, the same theme he struck in his second inauguration address on January 21.

"The American people don't expect government to solve every problem. They don't expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation's interests before party," he said, pressing Republicans to resolve budget and fiscal differences without drama.

Obama - whose first-term promise to become a transformational, post-partisan president failed to materialize in part because of struggles over the deficit - knows the clock is ticking.

The consensus among Washington insiders is that he has a limited window, possibly as little as a year and a half, to take advantage of the Republicans' post-election disarray and push through his congressional priorities before being reduced to lame-duck status.


Just three weeks after staking out a decidedly liberal philosophy at his inauguration, Obama used his State of the Union address to start fleshing out and prioritizing his goals for the rest of his presidency.

He made clear that job creation and bolstering the middle class would top the list, but he also gave due attention to immigration reform and gun control, which have moved to the forefront at the start of his second term.

Obama's renewed emphasis on pocketbook issues that dominated the 2012 campaign appears to reflect the view that advancing other legacy-shaping initiatives could hinge on how he fares with unfinished economic business from his first four years.

Many of the economic plans he presented in his State of the Union address were familiar to listeners as proposals that Republicans have blocked before, including new investment in modernizing infrastructure, boosting manufacturing, creating construction jobs and helping to ease homeowners' mortgage woes.

There is ample reason to doubt that these ideas - even in repackaged form - will gain much traction in a still-divided Congress where Republicans control the House of Representatives and will oppose almost any new spending Obama proposes.

But the biggest red flags for Republicans may be Obama's call for a hike in the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, a traditional liberal idea, and his demand that Congress pursue a "market-based solution" to climate change - with a warning that if lawmakers do not act soon, "I will."

Obama's call for a nationwide program to expand pre-school education for the low-income families - another progressive cause - is also expected to run into Republican opposition.

There is little doubt the president is aware that many of these proposals, especially those with spending attached, may be dead-on-arrival in Congress.

But he may be counting on being able to accuse Republicans of obstructionism in the 2014 midterm elections - as he did with some success in the 2012 campaign - as his Democrats seek to win back the House.

Read More..

China joins U.S., Japan, EU in condemning N. Korea nuke test

AFP) - North Korea stages its most powerful nuclear test yet, claiming a breakthrough with a "miniaturized" device in a striking act of defiance that drew condemnation from global powers, including its sole patron China.

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on Tuesday in defiance of existing U.N. resolutions, drawing condemnation from around the world, including from its only major ally, China, which summoned the North Korean ambassador to protest.

The reclusive North said the test was an act of self-defense against "U.S. hostility" and threatened further, stronger steps if necessary.

It said the test had "greater explosive force" than the 2006 and 2009 tests. Its KCNA news agency said it had used a "miniaturized" and lighter nuclear device, indicating that it had again used plutonium which is more suitable for use as a missile warhead.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the third of his line to rule the country, has presided over two long-range rocket launches and a nuclear test during his first year in power, pursuing policies that have propelled his impoverished and malnourished country closer to becoming a nuclear weapons power.

China, which has shown signs of increasing exasperation with the recent bellicose tone of its neighbor, summoned the North Korean ambassador in Beijing and protested sternly, the Foreign Ministry said.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said China was "strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed" to the test and urged North Korea to "stop any rhetoric or acts that could worsen situations and return to the right course of dialogue and consultation as soon as possible".

China is a permanent member of the Security Council.

U.S. President Barack Obama labeled the test a "highly provocative act" that hurt regional stability and pressed for new sanctions.

"The danger posed by North Korea's threatening activities warrants further swift and credible action by the international community. The United States will also continue to take steps necessary to defend ourselves and our allies," Obama said in a statement.

The Security Council will meet on Tuesday to discuss its reaction to the test, although North Korea is already one of the most heavily sanctioned states in the world and has few external economic links that can be targeted.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the test was a "grave threat" that could not be tolerated. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the test was a "clear and grave violation" of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear arms program and return to talks. NATO condemned the test as an "irresponsible act" that posed a grave threat to world peace.

The test "was only the first response we took with maximum restraint", an unnamed spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry, which acts as Pyongyang's official voice to the outside world, said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

"If the United States continues to come out with hostility and complicates the situation, we will be forced to take stronger, second and third responses in consecutive steps."

North Korea often threatens the United States and its "puppet", South Korea, with destruction in colorful terms.

North Korea told the U.N. disarmament forum in Geneva that it would never bow to resolutions on its nuclear program and that prospects were "gloomy" for the denuclearization of the divided Korean peninsula because of a "hostile" U.S. policy.

South Korea, still technically at war with the North after the 1950-53 civil war ended in a mere truce, also denounced the test.

The magnitude was roughly twice as large as that of 2009, Lassina Zerbo, director of the international data centre division of the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organization, said. The U.S. Geological Survey said that a seismic event measuring 5.1 magnitude had occurred.

"It was confirmed that the nuclear test that was carried out at a high level in a safe and perfect manner using a miniaturized and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment," KCNA said.

Read More..

Pope Benedict to resign at month's end, cites deteriorating 'strength'

ROME -- Pope Benedict surprised the world on Monday by saying he no longer had the mental and physical strength to cope with the demands of his ministry, becoming the first pontiff to step down since the Middle Ages and leaving his aides "incredulous".

The 85-year-old German-born Pope, hailed as a hero by conservative Catholics and viewed with suspicion by liberals, said he had noticed that his strength had deteriorated over recent months.

A Vatican spokesman said the Pope had not resigned because of "difficulties in the papacy" and the decision had been a surprise, indicating that even his closest aides were unaware that he was about to quit. The Pope does not fear schism in the Church after his resignation, the spokesman said.

Cardinal Francis George returned to Chicago from a committee meeting in Rome Sunday, spokeswoman Colleen Dolan said. She said he was just as surprised as she was and would release a statement later today.

The Pope's leadership of 1.2 billion Catholics has been beset by a child sexual abuse crisis that tarnished the Church, one address in which he upset Muslims and a scandal over the leaking of his private papers by his personal butler.

In a statement, the pope said in order to govern "...both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.

"For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter."

Before he was elected Pope, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was known by such critical epithets as "God's rottweiler" because of his stern stand on theological issues.

But after several years into his new job he showed that he not only did not bite but barely even barked.

In recent months, the Pope has looked increasingly frail in public sometimes being helped to walk by those around him.

A Vatican spokesman said the pontiff would step down from 1 p.m. CST on Feb. 28, leaving the office vacant until a successor was chosen to Benedict who succeeded John Paul, one of history's most popular pontiffs.


A spokesman for the German government said he was "moved" by the news while Israel's chief rabbi praised Benedict's inter-faith outreach and wished him good health.

Elected to the papacy on April 19, 2005 when he was 78 -- 20 years older than John Paul was when he was elected -- he ruled over a slower-paced, more cerebral and less impulsive Vatican.

But while conservatives cheered him for trying to reaffirm traditional Catholic identity, his critics accused him of turning back the clock on reforms by nearly half a century and hurting dialogue with Muslims, Jews and other Christians.

Under the German's meek demeanor lay a steely intellect ready to dissect theological works for their dogmatic purity and debate fiercely against dissenters.

After appearing uncomfortable in the limelight at the start, he began feeling at home with his new job and showed that he intended to be Pope in his way.

Despite great reverence for his charismatic, globe-trotting predecessor -- whom he put on the fast track to sainthood and whom he beatified in 2011 -- aides said he was determined not to change his quiet manner to imitate John Paul's style.

A quiet, professorial type who relaxed by playing the piano, he managed to show the world the gentle side of the man who was the Vatican's chief doctrinal enforcer for nearly a quarter of a century.

The first German pope for some 1,000 years and the second non-Italian in a row, he traveled regularly, making about four foreign trips a year, but never managed to draw the oceanic crowds of his predecessor.


The child abuse scandals hounded most of his papacy. He ordered an official inquiry into abuse in Ireland, which led to the resignation of several bishops.

Scandal from a source much closer to home hit in 2012 when the pontiff's butler, responsible for dressing him and bringing him meals, was found to be the source of leaked documents alleging corruption in the Vatican's business dealings, causing an international furor.

He confronted his own country's past when he visited the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

Calling himself "a son of Germany", he prayed and asked why God was silent when 1.5 million victims, most of them Jews, died there during World War Two.

Ratzinger served in the Hitler Youth during World War Two when membership was compulsory. He was never a member of the Nazi party and his family opposed Adolf Hitler's regime.

But his trip to Germany also prompted the first major crisis of his pontificate. In a university lecture he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor as saying Islam had only brought evil to the world and that it was spread by the sword.

After protests that included attacks on churches in the Middle East and the killing of a nun in Somalia, the Pope later said he regretted any misunderstanding the speech caused.

In a move that was widely seen as conciliatory, in late 2006 he made a historic trip to predominantly Muslim Turkey and prayed in Istanbul's Blue Mosque with a Turkish Mufti.

But months later, former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami met the Pope and said wounds between Christians and Muslims were still "very deep" as a result of the Regensburg speech.


Read More..