NEW ORLEANS — Embattled GOP Chairman Michael Steele got a much-needed boost Friday from a majority of state party chiefs ahead of his speech today to party activists, his first public appearance since a spending scandal hit the Republican National Committee. “We stand behind Chairman Steele as he continues to lead us on the path victory in November,” said a letter of support signed by 31 of Steele’s state counterparts. On Thursday, North Carolina’s Tom Fetzer became the first state party chairman to call for Steele’s resignation. New Hampshire committeeman Sean Mahoney resigned his post this past week because of “out-of-touch, free-spending culture of Washington” within the party.
D.C.: Diplomat is sent home
The U.S. plans to close the book on the bomb scare aboard a Denver-bound airliner after receiving assurances from Qatar that the diplomat who touched off the panic will be sent home, officials said. The diplomat, Mohammed Al-Madadi, was flying from Washington to meet imprisoned al-Qaida sleeper agent Ali Al-Marri for a routine consular visit, a State Department official and another person close to the matter said Thursday. Al-Madadi slipped into the plane’s bathroom for a smoke, authorities said, then joked about trying to set his shoe on fire — an apparent reference to would-be “shoe bomber” Richard Reid.
Mrs. Obama to visit Mexico
First lady Michelle Obama will take her first official solo trip abroad next week, visiting Mexico and meeting with her counterpart, Margarita Zavala. Obama will arrive Tuesday and leave Thursday for a visit to San Diego, where she will talk about her campaign to fight childhood obesity. While in Mexico, Obama will visit the Escuela Siete de Enero, a public elementary school that serves local low-income students and is involved in a mentoring program with the American School Foundation.
Montana: Assisted suicide
Doctors in Montana have helped at least one patient commit suicide since a state court ruled late last year it wasn’t illegal, advocates said Friday, but authorities have no way of knowing how many others there may be, who is doing it or even how it is being done. The state Supreme Court ruled Dec. 31 that nothing in state law prevents a doctor from prescribing the lethal drugs to mentally competent, terminally ill patients, making Montana the third state to allow physician-assisted suicide. But the court didn’t determine whether the state Constitution guarantees the right to physician-assisted suicide, raising fears among doctors that they could still be prosecuted.
New York: Firefighter arson
A volunteer firefighter convicted of setting a blaze that killed a mother and three of her children in what prosecutors said was a twisted bid to become a hero protested his innocence Friday as he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Caleb Lacey, who was convicted of four counts of murder and manslaughter plus arson, spoke barely above a whisper in a jammed courtroom filled with people wiping away tears. Prosecutors said after setting the fire, he raced to the firehouse and donned his gear before the alarm had sounded.
Afghanistan: Live round
A U.S. military doctor removed a live round of ammunition from the head of an Afghan soldier in an unusual and harrowing surgery. Doctors said a 14.5 millimeter unexploded round — more than 2 inches long — was removed from the scalp of an Afghan National Army soldier at the Bagram Air Field hospital last month. The surrounding hallways were secured, and the doctors put on body armor for the surgery.
S. Korea: Pirate negotiations
SEOUL, South Korea — Reports say negotiations for the release of a South Korean supertanker hijacked by Somali pirates have begun. Authorities said Somali pirates hijacked the 300,000-ton Samho Dream in the Indian Ocean on Sunday. The ship was transporting crude oil worth about $160 million from Iraq to the U.S. with a crew of 24 South Koreans and Filipinos. A news agency reports that the owner of the ship has begun negotiations for the ship’s release.
Britain: Mail service is cut
The postal service says it has suspended deliveries to a woman following repeated attacks by her 19-year-old cat. Royal Mail said Friday that it had halted deliveries because postal workers had already sustained “nasty injuries” at the address in the town of Farsley, near Leeds. The woman told two newspapers the cat “Tiger” spent most of its day sleeping and didn’t have the energy to chase postal workers.
From Herald news services