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Cumberland (United States) (AFP) - By day, Scott Strzelcyzk is an IT consultant in this rural Appalachian corner of the US state of Maryland. "It's time for a 51st state!" declared Strzelcyzk at a town hall meeting in Cumberland, rallying support for an "amiable divorce" from the coastal state's more urban eastern half. The United States hasn't added a state since 1959 when Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states, but Strzelcyzk is optimistic that western Maryland -- five counties -- could strike off on its own in as little as three to five years. "In Maryland, we have a number of irreconcilable differences with the state government and how they govern," he said.
In a country known for its drug war and where Bill Clinton once caught hell for admitting to smoking pot, new ground is being broken: legal marijuana markets in two states. The pioneers of this sea change are out west, in Colorado and Washington, and grassroots support for their experiment is strong. But Colorado and Washington are taking a big jump forward. In Colorado, famous for its Rocky Mountain ski resorts, at least 130 licenses have been issued for small shops which, starting January 1, will be able to sell up to 28 grams of marijuana to people aged 21 or older.
US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle will attend a South African national memorial service Tuesday in honor of late civil rights icon Nelson Mandela, a White House official said. It was unclear whether Obama would stay through December 15, when Mandela receives a state burial at his boyhood home of Qunu. The memorial service, at Johannesburg's 94,000-seat soccer stadium, comes ahead of the funeral, which will see a cortege with Mandela's coffin pass through the streets of Pretoria on three consecutive days. "The president and Mrs Obama will be attending the national memorial service for former president Mandela on Tuesday in Johannesburg," the official said, adding that further details would be provided later.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Barring uncharacteristically swift work by Congress, more than a million victims of the recession will lose long-term unemployment benefits over the holidays, the price of milk could shoot up in late winter and government payments might fall sharply for doctors who treat Medicare patients.
President Barack Obama warned Saturday that Israel's vision of an "ideal" nuclear agreement with Iran was unrealistic and put the chance of any acceptable final deal emerging at no more than 50/50. But Obama argued that the best possible available agreement with Tehran was likely to be better than the alternatives, and it was therefore imperative to try to secure one. Obama, speaking at the Brookings Institution's Saban Forum in Washington, said a deal was possible that included enough verification safeguards to assure foreign powers Tehran could not build a nuclear bomb. He indicated that could include a very "modest" option for Iran to enrich uranium as part of a peaceful nuclear program under intense scrutiny by outside observers that would ensure Tehran was kept from "breakout" capacity needed to race to build an atomic weapon.
By Steve Holland and Susan Cornwell WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, battered by weeks of turmoil over the malfunctioning HealthCare.Gov website, turned to a fresh item on his agenda on Saturday as he pressured Republicans in Congress to extend benefits for jobless Americans. It was a sign Obama may be slowly turning the corner from one of the worst crises of his five years in office, emerging bruised and weakened from the troubled rollout of his signature healthcare law, even as big challenges remain. "For decades, Congress has voted to offer relief to job-seekers - including when the unemployment rate was lower than it is today," Obama said in his weekly address. Attending memorial services in South Africa next week for anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela and then launching into holiday season will also allow for a change of subject from the healthcare controversy.
By Laila Kearney SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - An 85-year-old Korean War veteran held for more than a month by North Korea as a war criminal arrived in San Francisco on Saturday to be reunited with his family North Korea detained Merrill E. Newman for crimes it accused him of committing during the conflict six decades ago as a member of the U.S. special forces. "I'm tired, but I'm ready to be with my family." He was visiting North Korea, one of the world's most isolated and unpredictable states, as a tourist when he was pulled off an Air Koryo flight in Pyongyang minutes before it was due to depart for Beijing on October 26. The official added that "all efforts are now on (Kenneth) Bae," referring to another U.S. citizen being detained by North Korea since November 2012. Bae, a Korean American who worked as a Christian missionary, was convicted by North Korea in May of crimes against the state.
US lawmakers are preparing a possible vote on new sanctions against Iran, a move President Barack Obama and his P5+1 partners fear could sabotage the nuclear deal reached in Geneva. Administration officials have beaten a path to Capitol Hill in recent weeks, warning Congress against short-circuiting the delicate negotiations. Now that the talks have borne fruit in the form of an interim accord on Tehran's nuclear program, officials are again encouraging a go-slow approach by lawmakers to allow the parties to reach a final deal. But the public and private lobbying has not deterred many in Congress who are determined to tighten the noose on Iran's oil sector and industries like mining, construction and engineering.
China's parliament has declared that Japan has no right to criticize the establishment of a Chinese air defense zone which it said was in accordance with international law, state media reported on Saturday. Japan, South Korea and their ally the United States have all protested at China's decision last month to declare an air defense identification zone in an area that includes islands at the heart of a territorial dispute between Beijing and Tokyo. China's National People's Congress firmly opposes the so-called resolution passed by Japan's lower house of parliament, said Xinhua, citing a statement by the congress. Japanese lawmakers had adopted a resolution protesting China's "reckless and risky measures" and said they would never accept Beijing's "unilateral attempts to change the status quo".