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.
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.
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.
'Tis the season
Next to the Lincoln Tunnel in New York City, American Atheists has erected a confrontational anti-Christmas billboard. It shows the three Wise Men approaching the stable with a starry sky reading, "You know it's a myth. This season, celebrate reason." David Silverman, president of American Atheists, told FOX News the organization hopes the billboard prompts atheists to "come out." The organization says Christianity "stole Christmas" by appropriating the winter solstice to celebrate Jesus' birth.
Christians are fighting back with ads of their own. One, from ChurchAds.net, drew national attention for using a sonogram image to depict Jesus as an unborn baby wearing a halo. Liberty Counsel released its "Naughty and Nice" list of retailers who "censor . . . or recognize" Christmas. Best Buy and Disney.com, according to the group, have moved to the "Nice" list by mentioning Christmas in their ads or stores.
For Haitians, peace may prove elusive this Christmas: Authorities said they would announce the country's presidential election results by Dec. 20, leaving many citizens preparing for potential turmoil, and many candidates declaring they won't accept tallies they believe are unfair.
Turmoil marked the country's Nov. 28 Election Day: Voters spent hours searching for polling stations or wandered from station to station, finding that their names weren't registered on any voting lists. Some found their names on lists outside of stations, but left when poll workers said they weren't registered inside. The confusion turned violent: In one neighborhood, a group of some 30 young men raided a voting station at a local school, dumping ballots in the street. Officials canceled voting at the location, stranding at least 300 people still waiting in line. Voters charged government intimidation in some quarters, saying observers for the ruling party stood near open ballot boxes. Others reported pre-stuffed ballot boxes in other locations. By 2 p.m. that day 12 of the 19 presidential candidates gathered in a Port-au-Prince hotel ballroom to read a joint statement demanding that officials scrap the election results: "We denounce a massive fraud that is occurring across the country. . . . We demand the cancellation pure and simple of these skewed elections." The group accused outgoing President René Préval of tampering with the elections to secure victory for Jude Celestin, the president's protégé.
The electoral council immediately declared the elections successful, saying it found irregularities at only 56 of 1,500 polling stations. The council-appointed by Préval-didn't indicate how it calculated that number. UN observers pointed to "numerous incidents that marred the elections," but didn't immediately call for new contests.
Even if Haitian authorities certify election results on Dec. 20, a close contest may lead to runoffs in January for both presidential and legislative seats-just as the island nation remembers the anniversary of its earthquake. But unrest may come sooner if Haitians believe their government is trying to rig the election, especially after months of dissatisfaction with Préval's response to the January 2010 quake.
Celestin-Préval's pick for president-was the only major contender who didn't condemn the elections. But even Celestin encountered trouble voting on Election Day: When a poll worker tried to verify the candidate's identity by looking up Celestin's photo on the voting list, he said Celestin didn't match the photo-leaving the candidate to vote by provisional ballot.