Nation, World Briefs: Army investigates surge of suicides during January

WASHINGTON — The Army is investigating an unexplained and stunning spike in suicides in January. The count is likely to surpass the number of combat deaths reported last month by all branches of the armed forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the fight against terrorism. “In January, we lost more soldiers to suicide than to al-Qaida,” the director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said. There were seven confirmed suicides last month, compared with five a year earlier. An additional 17 cases from January are under investigation.

Obama plans news conference

The White House says President Barack Obama will hold a prime-time news conference on Monday. The White House press secretary said Thursday that Obama will answer reporters questions at the 5 p.m. event. This would be the first prime-time news conference for Obama, who took office two weeks ago. Obama has used various public appearances, including a speech at the Energy Department on Thursday, to push for his economic recovery package.

Michigan: Domestic terrorist

A radical activist who helped set a $1 million fire to protest research on genetically modified crops was sentenced in Lansing Thursday to nearly 22 years in prison — even more than the prosecution recommended. Marie Mason decided to “elevate her grievances beyond the norms of civilized society” through fire and destruction, the U.S. District judge said. The case — which was prosecuted as domestic terrorism — was “about an abandonment of the marketplace of ideas,” he said. In her plea agreement, Mason also admitted causing an additional $3 million in damage through other acts from 1999 to 2003.

California: Ruling on gay marriage

A federal judge has deemed unconstitutional the government’s denial of health care coverage and other benefits to the same-sex spouse of a Los Angeles public defender, calling into question the validity of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge said the federal government’s refusal to grant spousal benefits to Tony Sears, the husband of deputy federal public defender Brad Levenson, amounted to unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation.

Pennsylvania: Inmate slips away

A private prison transportation company lost an attempted-murder suspect somewhere between Florida and Pennsylvania, leading to a search for the cuffed and shackled inmate and drawing complaints that such companies are poorly regulated. The discovery Thursday was at least the second escape in six months involving an inmate being moved by Prisoner Transportation Services of America LLC. Sylvester Mitchell, 33, was being extradited to face attempted murder charges in Philadelphia.

W. Virginia: Animal cruelty charges

Three former turkey farm workers who were videotaped stomping on birds’ heads and wringing their necks have been indicted on 19 counts of animal abuse, 11 of them felony charges that could carry significant jail time. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, based in Norfolk, Va., which had an undercover operative film the abuse last fall at Aviagen Turkeys Inc. in Lewisburg, said Thursday it believes the felony counts are the most severe such charges that U.S. factory farmers have faced. Farmworkers have in the past been charged with misdemeanor abuse.

Britain: Storm snarls transportation

The second heavy snowfall to hit Britain this week caused major travel delays Thursday, and roads and airports in neighboring Ireland also suffered snow-related shutdowns. Birmingham and East Midlands Airports in central England, Luton Airport north of London and Dublin Airport outside the Irish capital reported mass flight cancellations as officials struggled to keep runways clear of snow and ice. Train operators reported delays on routes linking London with western England and Wales after up to 4 inches of snow fell overnight in south Wales and western and central England.

Queen’s store removes racist dolls

Managers of one of Queen Elizabeth II’s country estates have apologized for selling a soft toy with racist connotations in their gift shop. Sandringham Estate’s management said Thursday it did not intend to cause any offense by selling the rag dolls, which resemble black-faced minstrels and are popularly known as “golliwogs.” They were popular toys in Britain during the early part of the 20th century, but the doll and its name are now considered racist. The toys have been withdrawn from sale at the estate in Norfolk, 110 miles northeast of London.

Canada: 31 child porn arrests

Ontario provincial police said they rescued two children and arrested 31 people in what they are calling the largest child pornography investigation in the province’s history. Police said Thursday a 4-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl were rescued. Ninety-three charges were filed against 31 people after raids Wednesday. The Provincial Police commissioner said the arrests are a direct result of improved tools to track down alleged child pornographers on the Internet. Police said the people arrested include three youths and a 60-year-old man.

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