Pro-Russia insurgency to hold referendum
DONETSK, Ukraine — In an obscure government office guarded by a man in a red T-shirt armed only with a stick, two photocopy machines churned out ballots Thursday for eastern Ukraine’s referendum on secession, as they have been doing around the clock for days.
In apparent defiance of a call by Russian President Vladimir Putin to put off the vote, insurgents in eastern Ukraine insisted Thursday they will go ahead with this weekend’s referendum as planned.
“Putin is seeking a way out of the situation. We are grateful to him for this,” said Denis Pushilin, co-chairman of the Donetsk People’s Republic, as the pro-Russian rebels call themselves.
“But we are just a bullhorn for the people,” he declared. “We just voice what the people want.”
Ukraine has in recent weeks grown perilously polarized, with the west looking toward Europe and the east favoring closer ties with Russia. Thursday’s pronouncement was likely to further inflame tensions between the interim government in Kiev that took power amid chaos in February and the armed insurgents, who have seized police stations and government buildings in more than a dozen cities in the east.
Rebels blow up historic hotel in Aleppo
HOMS, Syria — With a gigantic explosion, Syrian rebels on Thursday leveled a historic hotel being used as an army base in the northern city of Aleppo by detonating bomb-packed tunnels beneath it, activists and militants said.
The blast near Aleppo’s medieval citadel, an imposing city landmark that was once swarming with tourists, killed an unknown number of soldiers. It turned the Carlton Hotel, known for its elegant architecture and proximity to the citadel, into a pile of rubble.
The attack was a powerful statement that the rebels could still deal heavy blows elsewhere in Syria even as they withdrew from Homs, surrendering that city to President Bashar Assad’s forces.
In Homs, 95 miles south of Aleppo, army troops were poised to enter the city’s old quarters after hundreds of fighters complete their evacuation, which was suspended after gunmen in northern Syria prevented trucks carrying aid from entering two villages besieged by rebels. The aid delivery was part of the cease-fire agreement allowing rebels to leave Homs for rebel-held areas farther north.
Earlier, footage from Homs broadcast by the pro-Syrian Al-Manar TV showed rebels, many of them covering their faces with masks and carrying backpacks, boarding a green bus, its windows covered with newspapers.
House GOP voting to start new Benghazi probe
WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Thursday prepared to ram through their demand for a new investigation of the deadly assault in Benghazi, Libya, vowing to pursue questions old and new in a search for truth. Democrats rejected the inquiry as a political ploy to raise campaign cash and motivate voters.
Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Speaker John Boehner promised an “eminently fair” investigation to answer questions that linger almost 20 months after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission. Approval of the select committee’s establishment was only a formality in the GOP-controlled House.
The panel’s investigation will be the eighth on Benghazi and will examine the entirety of the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Independent, bipartisan and GOP-led probes have faulted the State Department for inadequate security at the outpost, leading to four demotions. No attacker has yet been brought to justice.
Republicans say they’re unsatisfied with explanations so far, and they have leveled a range of accusations against President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other senior administration officials. Chief among them: That the administration misled the American people about the nature of the attack during a presidential election and stonewalled congressional investigators.
“We will not take any shortcuts to the truth, accountability or justice,” Boehner said during House debate.
Fireworks bought days before family was found dead
TAMPA, Fla. — As flames shot through the roof of a million-dollar home, neighbors reported explosions, presumably hearing fireworks go off inside the house as it burned down with a family of four inside.
Authorities called the fire arson and said they were investigating a possible murder-suicide, but they haven’t indicated who may have started it or why. The man renting the home with his family, Darrin Campbell, bought $650 of fireworks days before the blaze and the fireworks were found throughout the five-bedroom home. Still, it wasn’t clear what role, if any, fireworks might have played in the Wednesday morning fire.
Campbell, his wife and their two teenage children were found dead inside. Police were performing autopsies to determine how they died.
Campbell had been an executive for several high-profile businesses. He was currently working at a records management firm and volunteering as treasurer at his children’s private school. His wife, Kimberly, was a stay-at-home mom, according to her father, Gordon Lambie.
The family moved to Tampa more than a decade ago. They sold their home in 2012 for $750,000 and moved closer to their children’s school, Carrollwood Day School, Lambie said.
Prison officials: Convict doesn’t need sex change
BOSTON — Massachusetts prison officials on Thursday made another push to overturn a court ruling that would force them to provide a taxpayer-funded sex-change operation to a murder convict with gender-identity disorder.
The inmate has been given a substantial amount of care, including female hormones, laser hair removal and psychotherapy, and doesn’t need the surgery, the Department of Corrections attorney Richard McFarland told the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
“The clinician didn’t say you must have this surgery, but that if you want it you can get it,” McFarland said Thursday. Only 5 percent of people diagnosed with the disorder actually undergo sex-assignment surgery, he added.
Michelle Kosilek, born Robert Kosilek, has been in a heated legal battle to get the surgery, which she says is required to relieve the emotional stress caused by the disorder. Kosilek is currently serving a life sentence for killing spouse Cheryl Kosilek in 1990.
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