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   BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian activists say President Bashar Assad's forces are pressing on with a military offensive in the rebel-held eastern Damascus suburbs where the opposition says a chemical weapons attack killed over 100 people.

   The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says it had no word on casualties in Thursday's bombing of eastern Ghouta.

   The government has denied as "absolutely baseless" allegations it used chemical weapons in artillery barrages there on Wednesday.

   The U.S., Britain and France have demanded that a team of U.N. experts already in the country be granted immediate access to investigate the site.

   Opposition figures and activists have reported widely varying death tolls, from 136 to as high as 1,300. But even the most conservative tally would make it the deadliest alleged chemical attack in Syria's civil war.

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   CHICAGO (AP) - Illinois has a new law protecting renters if their landlord's property goes into foreclosure.

   Gov. Pat Quinn signed the law Wednesday that says those who buy multifamily properties out of foreclosure to either honor existing tenant leases or give the renters 90 days to move.

   It takes effect in three months.

   The original bill was sponsored by state Sen. Jacqueline Collins and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, both Chicago Democrats. They say that about 40 percent of families affected by foreclosure are renters who might not know their landlord failed to make mortgage payments.

   Advocates of the bill say it will help avoid pushing many tenants into homelessness by giving them time to find a safe place to live. They also say it will prevent properties from standing vacant.

 
Thursday, 22 August 2013 02:59
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   St. Charles County can ban members of the Westboro Baptist Church and others from protesting outside of funerals.  That was the finding of the US District Court in St. Louis Tuesday, which dismissed a lawsuit filed by members of the controversial Kansas Church.  

   The county ordinance prohibits picketing an hour before or an hour after, at or near funerals violated in unincorporated areas.   The ordinance defines picketing at a funeral as “Protest activities engaged in by a person or persons located within three hundred (300) feet of the premises of a cemetery, mortuary, church or other place of worship or other location during, and which target, a funeral.” Those who do not follow the ordinance will be charged with a misdemeanor. If convicted, the individual(s) will be charged with a maximum $1,000 fine.

   Shirley Phelps-Roper and Megan Phelps-Roper had sued  shortly after the ordinance was passed in Dec. 2010, claiming that enforcement of the ordinance violated their First Amendment free speech, religious liberty and assembly rights.  They also claimed that the ordinance violates Missouri’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. According to the judgment, the plaintiffs assert that “they picket near certain funerals, including those of American soldiers, to publish their beliefs that God is punishing America for its failure to obey God’s Word...”

   On Aug. 20, the United States District Court in St. Louis granted a motion dismissing the lawsuit.

   St. Charles County Councilman Joe Brazil was the original sponsor of the ordinance. “I think it is a great victory for us,” said Brazil. “Families deserve privacy and the right to grieve the loss of their loved one without having hateful and disrespectful protest activities nearby.”

   The ruling in favor of St. Charles County came after the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld similar funeral restrictions for the city of Manchester and the state of Missouri.

   “Families have the right to mourn their loved ones peacefully and privately,” said St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann. “I hope this ruling sends a message and helps to set more precedents.”

Thursday, 22 August 2013 02:45
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   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Thursday accepted South Korea's request that this week's talks on reuniting families separated by war be held at a border village, Seoul officials said, the latest in a series of conciliatory gestures Pyongyang has recently taken.

   North Korea appears to be increasingly open to reducing the tensions marked by a North Korean nuclear test, war threats and annual military drills by Seoul and Washington. The Koreas agreed last week to move toward reopening a jointly run factory park closed since April, and North Korea's criticism of U.S.-South Korean training exercises this week was milder in tone than its statements on past drills.

   North Korea agreed to hold talks on Friday on the southern side of the border village of Panmunjom as South Korea proposed, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk told reporters Thursday, according to his office. Pyongyang had earlier proposed meeting at Diamond Mountain, a scenic site in North Korea.

   North Korea also proposed another set of talks between late August and early September on resuming lucrative jointly run tours to Diamond Mountain, according to the ministry. South Korea proposed holding talks on the mountain tours on Sept. 25 in response to North Korea's earlier proposal to meet on Thursday.

   "North Korea once again showed it would continue the mood of dialogue .... with South Korea," said Lim Eul Chul, a professor at South Korea's Kyungnam University. "North Korea is believed to have determined that reunions of separated families would be helpful for a resumption of Diamond Mountain tours."

   The mountain tours had provided a legitimate source of hard currency to North Korea before they were suspended after a 2008 shooting death of a South Korean tourist in the resort.

   The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, is visiting the two Koreas to discuss the family reunion and other humanitarian issues. Maurer arrived in Pyongyang for a four-day trip and is to travel on to Seoul on Sunday after a visit to China.

   The ICRC has had a permanent presence in North Korea for about 10 years. Maurer is the group's first president to make a combined visit to both countries on the Korean peninsula in 21 years, it said in a statement.

   Family reunions were a key inter-Korean cooperation project during a period of thawed relations between 2000 and 2010, but they have not been held for three years. About 22,000 Koreans were able to meet in that time. The families were separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, when there were huge movements of refugees between North and South Korea.

   But analysts say the North often follows provocations and threats with a charm offensive meant to win aid. A similar proposal on the reunions in July fizzled.

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