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Illinois votes

and other news briefs

Issue: "Daniel of the Year," Dec. 18, 2010

Illinois legislators voted to allow gays the right to a civil union, putting Illinois on the path to becoming the 10th state to permit civil unions or domestic partnerships. The House passed the legislation 61-52, sending it to the Senate where it has already passed a committee vote and is expected to pass quickly. The Catholic Conference of Illinois opposed the legislation, with Cardinal Francis George saying in a statement, "Everyone has a right to marry, but no one has the right to change the nature of marriage." The bill declares that the act shall not "interfere with or regulate the religious practice of any religious body," but the Conference still feared that the law would prompt discrimination against religious adoption agencies and social agencies that do not want to provide services to same-sex couples. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has promised to sign the legislation after winning a close election against a candidate who vowed to veto it.

Reunification now

China called for resumption of six-party talks between North Korea and other nations following North Korea's Nov. 23 attack on South Korea-the first since the 1950s. But U.S. officials called on China to exert its influence with its ally in Pyongyang to press for peace in the region. John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said neither option will work. He called for the United States to press China to help with efforts to reunify the Korean peninsula as power shifts hands in Pyongyang. It's unclear whether China would consider such an option-or what it would take to reunify-but Bolton warned: "North Korea's threat will only end when it [North Korea] does, and that day cannot come soon enough."

The South Korean island of Yeonpyeong remained wrecked days after the November shell attack that killed four South Koreans and damaged nearly every structure on the island of 1,400 residents. The assault targeted one of five South Korean islands near a disputed maritime border between the two countries, and signaled the North's attempt to gain control of waters in the area. The attack also likely signaled the North's attempt to assert its strength as the reclusive regime's longtime dictator-Kim Jong Il-begins the process of transferring power to his son. A week after the attack, the country's leading newspaper officially boasted of the nation's operational uranium enrichment facility, a central component of any nuclear weapons program. The stark but unsurprising news is disconcerting to both South Koreans and to U.S. officials who believe North Korea has plans to supply nuclear weapons to Iran.

Rare reaction

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A North Korean soldier told the Associated Press Television News Dec. 1 that he heard about the North Korean bombings that killed several South Koreans over Thanksgiving, and said he hopes that "such a military conflict between the North and the South never happens again." Such public comments are rare under the oppressive North Korean regime, which relies on propaganda and has maintained a bellicose stance toward South Korea and the rest of the world. Lt. Choe Song Il, stationed on the border between the two countries, said he hopes the conflict will be resolved "as soon as possible, in a peaceful way."

Aimed to kill

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, pleaded not guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction four days after FBI agents say the Somali-born U.S. citizen tried to use a cell phone to detonate what he thought were explosives packed into a van. Mohamud aimed to kill or maim thousands of bystanders at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore., but undercover FBI agents posing as terrorist contacts had intercepted the plan and provided the suspect with fake explosives.

The thwarted scheme was the latest in a string of apparent U.S.-based terror attempts dismantled by undercover agents.

According to a 36-page FBI affidavit, Mohamud said he wanted to aid Islamic jihad, and that he found the 9/11 attacks inspiring, particularly when victims jumped from the burning skyscrapers. When it came to blowing up the Portland event packed with men, women, and children, the agents said the suspect told them: "I want whoever is attending that event to leave . . . either dead or injured."

Been there too long

Human-rights groups denounced Egypt's parliamentary elections on Nov. 28, saying the government's ruling party spent weeks before the elections harassing opposition groups. Amnesty International said allies of President Hosni Mubarak, whose party has been in power nearly 30 years, arrested dissenters and suppressed opposing campaigns, and the group reported violence against opposition groups on Election Day. U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. was "dismayed" by reports of flawed elections in Egypt-a key U.S. ally in the region.

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