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Voters in North Carolina approved a state constitutional amendment explicitly forbidding gay marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships.

The measure was passed by 61 percent against 39 percent as of 0230 GMT, according to preliminary results from the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

Similar state constitutional amendments have been approved in some 30 US states.

The amendment solidifies and expands already enacted North Carolina law forbidding same-sex marriage.

Money from national interest groups poured into North Carolina ahead of the election -- the National Organization for Marriage contributed $425,000 to the Vote for Marriage campaign, according to the latest reports, and the Human Rights Campaign contributed some $257,000 to the opposition, the Coalition to Protect All N.C. Families.

The Rev. Billy Graham, an evangelical preacher who was born and lives in North Carolina and at 93 remains enormously influential, took out full-page newspaper ads across the state supporting the ban.

"At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage," Graham said in the ads.

 

The world's leading brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev, maker of Budweiser, Beck's and Stella Artois, posted on Monday a 75 percent jump in first quarter net profit to $1.69 billion (1.28 billion euros).

The Belgium-based company attributed the increase to a strong operating performance, lower net finance costs and a lower effective tax rate, one year after recording profits of $964 million over the same period.

The first quarter 2012 result was well above the $1.39 billion forecast by analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires.

AB InBev recorded a 6.2 percent rise in turnover to $9.33 billion in the first quarter, "driven by good performances" in North America, Latin America and the Asia Pacific region, the company said in an earnings statement.

The company's three global brands, Budweiser, Stella Artois and Beck's, performed well with growth of 4.8 percent.

 

 

Syrian troops have stormed and shelled districts in a suburb of the capital Damascus, activists said.

The attacks came a day after the Security Council voted to expand the number of UN truce monitors to 300 members in the hope of salvaging an international peace plan marred by continued fighting between the military and opposition rebels.

An eight-member team is already on the ground in Syria, and has visited flashpoints of the 13-month-long conflict since Thursday. Fighting generally stops when they are present, but there has been a steady stream of reports of violence from areas where they have not yet gone.

Douma-based activist Mohammed Saeed said two people were killed by indiscriminate firing in the sprawling district, the scene of intense clashes between rebels and security forces before a ceasefire went into effect more than a week ago.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition group with a network of activists on the ground, confirmed the deaths.

It reported that a third person was killed overnight in the village of Hteita outside Damascus when troops opened fire from a checkpoint.

 

Specialized Oil-Loading Seaport Vitino captured by Russian security officials through hostage taking keeps on being a subject of carve-up and litigations by Russian and international companies.

 

The fate of Russian Specialized Oil-Loading Seaport Vitino located on the White Sea coast has been one of the most discussed Russia related topics in Great Britain for past months.

 

This case is accompanied with a chain of scandals and legal proceedings connected with a struggle for the port at the courts in Cyprus, Great Britain and Russia.

 

Co-owner of Vitino Seaport citizen of Kazakhstan Mr. Abliazov, known in Europe as enemy to the current government of Kazakhstan, struggles at the courts of European jurisdiction for one of Arctic basin’s largest terminals against his Russian ex-partners Maxim Pukhlikov and Sergey Sheklanov.

 

In February 2012, London’s Commercial Court adopted a decision to take into custody for the period of 22 months co-owner of the port, citizen of Kazakhstan Mr. Abliazov for the expressed contempt of court – for having refused to disclose his assets. Mister Abliazov appealed against the decision at the Supreme Court of London. Experts believe that the Commercial Court’s resolution may weaken the standing of Mr. Abliazov in his efforts for the Specialized Oil-Loading Seaport Vitino disputed at European courts.

 

However, the story of Vitino Seaport lies mush deeper. It dates back to the far year of 1993 that Russian businessman Zurab Musinyan made a bold venture to build Vitino Seaport in harsh environmental conditions of the north.

 

Specialized Oil-Loading Seaport Vitino successfully cooperated with Russian oil-producing companies, loaded and shipped 50-80-metric-ton tankers to Europe and North America. The port reached the peak of prosperity in 2005-2006. The port handled 4.76 million tons of oil products in 2006; the staff of over 1000 people received salaries in time, the trading volume reached USD 80 million a year, and capitalization – USD 400 mln. Ninety-seven percent of the port stocks was held by Zurab Musinyan.

 

That very time a story occurred, which laid the foundation of further events to become a subject of extended disputed and litigations at the courts in many countries.

 

The story began in Moscow. On a December day in 2005, Mister Musinyan, the port owner, was approached on the street by officials of the Murmansk Regional Federal Security Service (FSB) of Russia demanding making his property over to Alexander Mitrofanov (65 percent) and Dmitry Sorokin (32 percent), within a month. Upon his refusing to do so, FSB would initiate a criminal case on incitement to terrorism.

 

UK diplomats are investigating reports that a British man has been arrested in Somalia on suspicion of links to the Islamist rebel group al Shabaab.

The 45-year-old was held at the airport in the capital, Mogadishu, after travelling from the UK via Nairobi in Kenya, according to reports.

He is alleged to have told immigration officials he was planning to go to Kismayo in southern Somalia, a port city held by al Shabaab, which is affiliated to al Qaida.

 

A "chuffed to bits" President Barack Obama gushed over British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday, but deepening world crises conspired to darken a warm welcome for a special ally.

Obama went out of his way to hail America's "indispensable" relationship with Britain, even offering to learn the rules of cricket, gifting his guest a top of the range American grill, and laying on a sumptuous state dinner.

But both men were forced to dwell on the terrible human costs of war, with sharp questions looming about the justification for more combat in Afghanistan and the possibility of new Middle East combat over Iran's nuclear program.

Obama and Cameron

conspicuously used a joint press conference to try and convince weary American and British voters that recent sacrifices in Afghanistan had wrought "real progress" towards a future secure state.

The US leader went on the record for the first time to back NATO's planned transfer to a support role in 2013 before a full withdrawal the next year, though said there would be no sudden unscheduled drawdowns in coming months.

He also used the press conference in an unseasonably warm White House Rose Garden, with cherry blossoms in full bloom, to deliver a clear, and stiffened warning to Iran -- take new nuclear talks seriously, as time is running out.

But the elaborately choreographed event, from a 19-gun salute to Cameron to the state dinner, was about celebrating an alliance forged in war that endures.

"Through the grand sweep of history, through all its twists and turns, there is one constant: the rock-solid alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom," said Obama.

Both men quipped about the time in 1814 when the British sent a colonial army to burn down the White House.

"They made quite an impression -- they really lit up the place," Obama said.

Cameron gazed across ranks of troops in ceremonial dress on the White House lawn and joked: "You're clearly not taking any risks with the Brits this time."

Obama also lapsed into some cliche British vernacular, telling Cameron he was "chuffed to bits" to welcome him for a "good natter" and wanted to keep the US-British relationship in a "top notch" state.

After their trip to a college basketball game in Ohio on Monday, Cameron said he would get his own back by taking Obama to a cricket match, prompting a wide presidential grin.

The visit gave Obama a brief respite from the grind of a crisis-scarred presidency and allowed him to underline his credentials as a statesman as he cranks up the pace of his reelection effort.

Cameron may have enjoyed the trip even more as his coalition government is slogging through a grim period of fiscal austerity and with stagnant growth threatening to plunge Britain back into recession.

 

A US soldier has come out of his base in southern Afghanistan and started shooting Afghan civilians, the provincial governor said.

People were both killed and wounded in the shooting spree in Panjwai district of Kandahar province, Governor Tooryalai Wesa told reporters, though he did not provide numbers.

Nato forces spokesman Justin Brockhoff said a US service member had been detained as the alleged shooter but did not provide details on the incident.

He said the coalition had reports of "multiple wounded" but none killed. The wounded are receiving treatment at Nato medical facilities, he said.

The service member is being held at a Nato base and US forces are investigating the shooting in co-operation with Afghan authorities, Mr Brockhoff said. He said it was not clear if the alleged shooter knew the victims.

The shooting comes after weeks of tense relations between US forces and their Afghan hosts following the burning of Korans and other religious materials at an American base.

 

China called for an end to violence in Syria Sunday as the regime of Bashar al-Assad sparked international outrage by blocking aid from reaching the battered Baba Amr flashpoint in Homs city.

As more bloodshed was reported across Syria, Britain and Turkey joined the outcry, accusing the regime of committing a crime by barring Red Cross convoys from entering Baba Amr for the second day.

China, which twice joined Russia in blocking UN Security Council resolutions against Syria's lethal crackdown on dissent, urged all parties in Syria to "unconditionally" end the violence.

Xinhua news agency cited a foreign ministry statement attributed to an unnamed official calling for dialogue between the Syrian regime and those expressing "political aspirations."

But the official reportedly added: "We oppose anyone interfering in Syria's internal affairs under the pretext of 'humanitarian' issues.'"

As condemnation spiralled, the bodies of US reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were flown back to Paris overnight from Damascus.

Relatives of Ochlik were there to meet his coffin as the regular Air France flight, via Amman, touched down at Charles de Gaulle airport in the French capital, an airport source said.

The two western journalists were killed in a rocket attack in the rebel Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs on February 22.

Colvin's body was expected to be flown on to her native United States on Monday or Tuesday, according to a representative of her newspaper, The London Sunday Times.

French reporter Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro newspaper and British photographer Paul Conroy were wounded in the attack that killed their two colleagues.

Bouvier, 31, and photographer William Daniels, 34, who was not hurt in the rocket attack, have already been smuggled out of Homs by activists to Lebanon and on to Paris.

 

 

Syrian security forces on Sunday flooded a tense neighbourhood where a mourner was shot dead in the largest anti-regime rally seen in Damascus, activists said, blunting calls for a "day of defiance."

With protesters more emboldened in Damascus after 11 months of revolt which has largely escaped the city, President Bashar al-Assad's regime also came under regional pressure as Egypt joined other Arab League states in recalling its ambassador.

And the top US military officer warned on Sunday that intervention in Syria would be "very difficult" and said it would be "premature" to arm the opposition movement.

Although the security presence thwarted attempts to stage new protests in Mazzeh district, scene of a Saturday funeral that became a huge anti-regime rally, business there ground to a halt.

Mohammed Shami, a spokesman for activists in Damascus province, said most shops were shut in Mazzeh as well as in the Barzeh, Qaboon, Kfar Sousa and Jubar districts.

Student demonstrations had been expected in Mazzeh but security forces were stationed around schools, he said.

"Security forces are heavily deployed throughout Mazzeh," Shami said.

Another activist, Abu Huzaifa from the Mazzeh Committee, said police forced the family of Samer al-Khatib, 34, who died after being shot in the neck during the mass funeral on Saturday, to bury him in a small ceremony earlier than planned, in an apparent move to prevent protests.

Student protests however erupted after school in other areas of Damascus, including the districts of Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, Midan, Jubar and Barzeh, according to Shami.

In central Damascus shops opened as usual, witnesses said, while state television showed live interviews from Mazzeh with people who claimed life was normal there.

Deeb al-Dimashqi, a member of the Syrian Revolution Council based in the capital, told AFP earlier that "huge demonstrations" were expected, but added that security forces had imposed a tight clampdown.

In a message to Damascus residents on the "Syrian Revolution 2011" Facebook page, activists said: "The blood of the martyrs exhorts you to disobedience," after more than 6,000 deaths since anti-regime protests erupted in March, according to activist estimates.

Activists and official media reported at least 14 people killed on Sunday.

A "terrorist group" shot dead prosecutor Nidal Ghazal and judge Mohammed Ziyadeh and their driver in the northwestern province of Idlib, the official SANA news agency reported.

Four people, including a student, were killed and three wounded when gunmen fired on a bus in the central province of Hama, SANA said.

Security forces shot dead a woman when they stormed the town of Sukhna in Homs province as they hunted activists, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement.

It also said that a man was shot dead at a checkpoint in the northern province of Aleppo.

A lawyer was shot dead as troops stormed the town of Al-Ashara in the province of Deir Ezzor, the Syrian Observatory said.

An army deserter was killed in Bab Sbaa in Homs, while three troopers were killed in a gunfight with deserters in Dael village in Daraa province, the southern cradle of dissent, the Observatory said.

 

 

Outrage grew on Sunday after Russia and China blocked a UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria for its crackdown on protests, with the opposition saying it handed the regime a "licence to kill."

Saturday's rare double veto drew swift condemnation from world powers, with Washington saying it was "disgusted."

Russia blamed Western powers for the Security Council's failure to pass the resolution, saying they had failed to make an additional effort for consensus.

"The authors of the draft Syria resolution, unfortunately, did not want to undertake an extra effort and come to a consensus," Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov wrote on Twitter.

The failed resolution followed widespread disgust at what the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) labelled a "massacre" overnight Friday in the central flashpoint city of Homs and a spiralling death toll.

Activists and residents had reported more than 200 civilian deaths, including women and children, during a massive assault by regime forces there.

On the ground, activists on Sunday reported another 60 people killed in Syria, adding to the body count of one of the bloodiest weekends since the uprising against Assad's regime erupted almost 11 months ago.

Opposition groups say at least 6,000 people have now been killed in Syria since last March.

The surge of violence coupled with the second UN double veto in four months triggered a wave of international outrage at the failure to reach a common stand at the United Nations.

The SNC said in a hard-hitting statement that "Syrians and others around the world" had looked to the Security Council to issue a strongly worded resolution.

"The SNC holds both governments accountable for the escalation of killings and genocide, and considers this irresponsible step a licence for the Syrian regime to kill without being held accountable," it said of Russia and China.

US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said Russia and China "remain steadfast in their willingness to sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant."

The veto controversy comes ahead of a Tuesday visit to Damascus by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) chief Mikhail Fradkov for talks with Assad.

"Russia strongly intends to achieve a rapid stabilisation of the situation in Syria through the rapid implementation of much-needed democratic reforms," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement Sunday.