AP News in Brief at 8:58 p.m. EDT

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Associated Press

Posted on June 11, 2013 at 8:02 PM

Seeking to tamp fears, confusion, intelligence officials defend spy programs as safeguards

WASHINGTON (AP) — Dogged by fear and confusion about sweeping spy programs, intelligence officials sought to convince House lawmakers in an unusual briefing Tuesday that the government's years-long collection of phone records and Internet usage is necessary for protecting Americans — and does not trample on their privacy rights.

But the country's main civil liberties organization wasn't buying it, filing the most significant lawsuit against the massive phone record collection program so far. The American Civil Liberties Union and its New York chapter sued the federal government Tuesday in New York, asking a court to demand that the Obama administration end the program and purge the records it has collected.

The ACLU is claiming standing as a customer of Verizon, which was identified last week as the phone company the government had ordered to turn over daily records of calls made by all its customers.

The parade of FBI and intelligence officials who briefed the entire House on Tuesday was the latest attempt to soothe outrage over National Security Agency programs which collect billions of Americans' phone and Internet records. Since they were revealed last week, the programs have spurred distrust in the Obama administration from across the globe.

Several key lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, refocused the furor Tuesday on the elusive 29-year-old former intelligence contractor who is claiming responsibility for revealing the surveillance programs to two newspapers. Boehner joined others in calling Edward Snowden a "traitor."

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Riot police overwhelm protesters occupying Istanbul's Taksim Square and Gezi Park

ISTANBUL (AP) — Riot police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets in day-long clashes that lasted into the early hours Wednesday, overwhelming protesters who have been occupying Istanbul's central Taksim Square and its adjacent Gezi Park in the country's most severe anti-government protests in decades.

The crisis has left Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan looking vulnerable for the first time in his decade in power and has threatened to tarnish the international image of Turkey, a Muslim majority country with a strongly secular tradition, a burgeoning economy and close ties with the United States.

Thousands of police moved in early Tuesday, pushing past improvised barricades set up by the protesters who have swarmed through the massive square and park in their tens of thousands for the past 12 days.

Police fired repeated rounds of tear gas that rose in stinging plumes of acrid smoke from the square in running battles with protesters hurling fireworks, bottles, rocks and firebombs. In a cat-and-mouse game that lasted all day, the police repeatedly cleared the square, only for demonstrators to return.

More than 30,000 converged on the square again as dusk fell and were repelled by water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas after Istanbul's governor, Huseyin Avni Mutlu, said the police came under attack by "marginal groups."

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Obama says 'moment is now' for immigration legislation as Senate begins work on bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — In Spanish and English, the Senate pushed contentious immigration legislation over early procedural hurdles with deceptive ease on Tuesday as President Barack Obama insisted the "moment is now" to give 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally a chance at citizenship.

Despite the lopsided votes, Republicans served notice they will seek to toughen the bill's border security provisions and impose tougher terms on those seeking to gain legal status. "This bill has serious flaws," said their party leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, one of several who noted pointedly that the 60-vote majority they will demand for passage is hardly assured.

Even before the first proposed changes were considered, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 Republican presidential contender, outlined the complicated state of play for a measure that he helped draft as a member of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" and now seeks to alter. With changes to tighten control of the U.S.-Mexican border, he said, about half of the Senate's 46 Republicans are prepared to vote to create the pathway to citizenship that is backed by most or all of the 55 lawmakers aligned with the Democratic majority.

At the White House, Obama said repeatedly the current immigration system is broken, for the foreign-born who live in the United State legally and illegally alike.

Referring to the 11 million currently in the country unlawfully, he said, "Yes, they broke the rules; they didn't wait their turn. They shouldn't be let off easy. They shouldn't be allowed to game the system. But at the same time, the vast majority of these individuals aren't looking for any trouble. They're just looking to provide for their families, contribute to their communities. "

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Bill would make sweeping changes to military justice system to address rising sexual assaults

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ambitious legislation to stanch the growing number of sexual assaults in the armed forces by overhauling the military justice system faces an uncertain future due to vigorous objections from senior Defense Department leaders and key members of Congress who are concerned the proposed changes go too far.

The bill crafted by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., cleared an important hurdle Tuesday when the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee that she chairs approved the measure. But the legislation must get through the full committee and its chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., has signaled his intent to offer an alternative that would mute the most aggressive reforms in Gillibrand's bill.

Gillibrand's legislation would remove commanders from the process of deciding whether serious crimes, including sexual misconduct cases, go to trial. That judgment would rest instead with seasoned trial lawyers who have prosecutorial experience and hold the rank of colonel or above. Her bill also would take away a commander's authority to convene a court-martial. That responsibility would be given to new and separate offices outside the victim's chain of command.

But Levin and other lawmakers, echoing fears voiced by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believe that cutting commanders out of the legal process would undermine their ability to enforce good order and discipline within the ranks.

"Commanders ought to have and use the tools that are the most effective in terms of changing climate and affecting the behavior of people in their units, and that's to have available to them the power to send to a court-martial," Levin said Monday.

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Pope confirms 'gay lobby' at work at Vatican, in remarks reported by priests and nuns

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis lamented that a "gay lobby" was at work at the Vatican in private remarks to the leadership of a key Latin American church group — a stunning acknowledgment that appears to confirm earlier reports about corruption and dysfunction in the Holy See.

The Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious — the regional organization for priests and nuns of religious orders — confirmed Tuesday that its leaders had written a synthesis of Francis' remarks after their June 6 audience. The group, known by its Spanish acronym CLAR, said it was greatly distressed that the document had been published and apologized to the pope.

In the document, Francis is quoted as saying that while there were many holy people in the Vatican, there was also corruption: "The 'gay lobby' is mentioned, and it is true, it is there ... We need to see what we can do ..." the synthesis reads.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Tuesday the audience was private and that as a result he had nothing to say.

In the days leading up to Pope Benedict XVI's Feb. 28 resignation, Italian media were rife with reports of a "gay lobby" influencing papal decision-making and Vatican policy through blackmail, and suggestions that the scandal had led in part to Benedict's decision to resign.

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Manual left behind in Mali suggests al-Qaida training to use feared surface-to-air missile

TIMBUKTU, Mali (AP) — The photocopies of the manual lay in heaps on the floor, in stacks that scaled one wall, like Xeroxed, stapled handouts for a class.

Except that the students in this case were al-Qaida fighters in Mali. And the manual was a detailed guide, with diagrams and photographs, on how to use a weapon that particularly concerns the United States: A surface-to-air missile capable of taking down a commercial airplane.

The 26-page document in Arabic, recovered by The Associated Press in a building that had been occupied by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in Timbuktu, strongly suggests the group now possesses the SA-7 surface-to-air missile, known to the Pentagon as the Grail, according to terrorism specialists. And it confirms that the al-Qaida cell is actively training its fighters to use these weapons, also called man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADS, which likely came from the arms depots of ex-Libyan strongman Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — This is the fourth story in an occasional series based on thousands of pages of internal al-Qaida documents recovered by The Associated Press earlier this year in Timbuktu, Mali.

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Syrian rebels' describe harrowing flight from Qusair, say loss highlights need for new tactics

BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian rebels' defeat in Qusair cost them more than a strategic stronghold. It has left them with a battered spirit and deep frustration.

Their lesson from the fight: No matter how hard they try, they run into a major wall — their weapons are no match for the regime's. Desperate for successes, some in the opposition are calling for changes in tactics, away from trying to hold untenable territory toward more radical operations, such as attacks on military bases to seize weapons or even increased suicide bombings against regime strongholds.

The loss of Qusair, a town near the Lebanese border, was particularly stinging. Over the course of a year, rebels holding the town had heavily fortified it with tunnels, mine fields, and booby traps. When the regime assault came last month, with Syrian troops backed by elite Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, they fought back ferociously.

But in the end they were outgunned and outnumbered, and were forced into a harrowing flight when the town fell last Wednesday.

Only now emerging from hiding after their escape, several activists and a doctor who had been in the town described fleeing with thousands of residents and fighters, with the wounded hobbling on crutches or being carried for miles across the countryside. They came under repeated attack in the fields as regime forces chased them from village to village in a four-day pursuit, killing more than 100 rebels and civilians, they told The Associated Press.

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Fed prosecutors tell NY panel both sides of morning-after pill fight agree to stop litigating

NEW YORK (AP) — The Obama administration's appeal in the legal fight over morning-after pills has been officially put on hold until a judge weighs a new plan to allow girls of all ages to buy the contraceptives without a prescription, according to a government letter filed Tuesday.

Lawyers with the Department of Justice and those for the plaintiffs who sued over the issue told the clerk for the federal appeals court in Manhattan that they wanted to suspend the appeals case until they hear again from U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in the letter.

The government had appealed the judge's underlying April 5 ruling, which ordered emergency contraceptives based on the hormone levonorgestrel be made available without a prescription, over the counter and without point-of-sale or age restrictions.

But on Monday, the Department of Justice notified him that it was reversing course and seeking prompt Food and Drug Administration approval of all-age sales — an announcement that pleased girls' and women's rights advocates who said it was long overdue and disappointed social conservatives who claim it threatens the rights of parents and their children.

"It is the government's understanding that the course of action ... fully complies with the district court's judgment in this action," Lynch wrote.

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90-year-old Maine lobsterman swims to shore after sinking; he's ready to get back to work

HARPSWELL, Maine (AP) — A 90-year-old lobsterman is eager to get back on the water after surviving the sinking of his boat by swimming to a nearby island through the cold waters of the Gulf of Maine.

Philip Tuttle, of the Great Island community of Harpswell, is on the mend, but his boat needs more work to ensure the engine is OK and the electronics are restored, daughter-in-law Verian Tuttle said Wednesday.

His boat, Queen Tut, hit rocks Saturday, lurched and took on water in choppy, 50-degree seas after the remnants of Tropical Storm Andrea passed through the area.

After the boat filled, he ended up swimming 20 to 30 yards to Hen Island. He got scrapes on his legs while crawling on the slippery rocks, where Verian Tuttle's husband and brother-in-law found him, close to hypothermia.

"He's bruised and banged up," Verian Tuttle said. "He definitely took a little bit of a beating."

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Dispatch call describes Paris Jackson's injuries after taking pills, cut with kitchen knife

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Paramedics were dispatched to Paris Jackson's home on a report that the 15-year-old had taken 20 Motrin pills and cut herself with a kitchen knife, audio of an emergency dispatch released Tuesday shows.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department released audio of a call describing the need for paramedics between one of its dispatchers and a sheriff's department dispatcher who was relaying information from the home.

Paris is the only daughter of pop superstar Michael Jackson and was hospitalized after the June 5 incident.

The teen was described as conscious and breathing during the call, but no other details about her condition or what led to the injuries were given on the call, which lasted approximately a minute.

Perry Sanders Jr., a lawyer for her grandmother and guardian, has said Paris is physically fine and receiving appropriate medical treatment. He did not return a phone message seeking comment Tuesday.

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