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The Star Online: World Updates

Leader of Greek far-right Golden Dawn party jailed pending trial


ATHENS (Reuters) - The leader of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party was sent to jail pending trial on charges of belonging to a criminal group, a court official told Reuters early on Thursday, the first such action in decades against an elected party chief.

Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos appeared before investigating magistrates and a prosecutor during a six-hour plea session to respond to charges of founding and participating in a criminal organisation.

"He will be jailed pending trial," the court official said on condition of anonymity.

The unfolding saga has riveted a country where a crackdown on elected politicians has not been seen since a military coup nearly five decades ago.

Mihaloliakos has denied the charges against him. He was arrested on Saturday alongside other party members as part of the government's efforts to rein in a party it says is a neo-Nazi criminal gang. The party rejects the neo-Nazi label.

"Long live Greece, victory," Mihaloliakos said as he left the court.

His wife and daughter, joined by other Golden Dawn lawmakers, waited outside the court during a rainy night for the outcome of the hearing. "You are a diamond, don't buckle," she told him.

Earlier, as Mihaloliakos was brought to court by police, about 200 party supporters carrying Greek flags shouted, "Blood, honour, Golden Dawn."

Another party member was also detained pending trial after responding to the same charges, the court official said.

On Wednesday, three senior Golden Dawn lawmakers were freed pending trial on the same charges in an unexpected setback to the government's efforts to clamp down on the party.

The decision to free the three men after an 18-hour court session raised questions about the state's case against Golden Dawn after one of its sympathisers stabbed to death an anti-fascism rapper.

Party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris and fellow lawmakers Ilias Panagiotaros and Nikos Michos stormed out of the court to cheers of "Bravo" from supporters. They kicked and shoved journalists out of the way before hailing a taxi.

Golden Dawn rose from being a fringe party to win 18 seats in parliament in last year's election. It has drawn on anger over the debt crisis, budget cuts, high unemployment and corruption to become what opinion polls indicate is Greece's third most popular party.

But the latest polls show it has lost about a third of its support since the killing.

Another senior Golden Dawn lawmaker, Christos Pappas, will face the magistrates later on Thursday to respond to the charges.

(Additional reporting by Phoebe Fronista, writing by George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Eight killed as church bus crashes into car, truck in Tennessee


NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Eight people were killed on Wednesday when a tire blew out on a bus carrying passengers from a church outing and it crossed over the median on a Tennessee interstate and crashed into a sport-utility vehicle and a truck, officials said.

Six people were killed on the bus, which was from Statesville, North Carolina. The crash also killed one person in the SUV and one person in the tractor trailer truck, highway patrol spokeswoman Dalya Qualls said. A total of 14 people were injured, eight critically, authorities said.

The crash also forced the closure of Interstate 40 in both directions near its connection with Interstate 81 about 40 miles (64 km) east of Knoxville, the highway patrol said.

The crash caused the bus to overturn and the driver's cab in the tractor trailer was engulfed in flames, said Sergeant Bill Miller, a highway patrol spokesman.

"This is an extremely horrific event," Miller said.

The bus was carrying about 18 people from the "Young at Heart" group from the Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville, who were returning from a day trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

"Several went on with the Lord," said church pastor Rick Cruz. "We do appreciate all the prayers that have been given, and the community's caring concern in this time of difficulty."

The University of Tennessee Medical Centre in Knoxville was treating the eight people listed in critical condition as well as two in serious condition and four who were stable, spokeswoman Susan Wyatt said.

All of the patients being treated from the crash at the medical centre were adults, Wyatt said.

Traffic was being diverted in both directions and the roadway was expected to remain closed until late on Wednesday night, the highway patrol said.

Wednesday's crash was the latest involving passenger buses. Three people were killed and 26 injured in July when the driver of a bus returning from a church summer camp in Michigan to an Indianapolis church said the brakes failed as the bus exited an interstate highway.

Three people, including a pastor and his pregnant wife, were killed and 26 were injured in July in Indiana when the brakes on their bus failed as they returned from a church camp.

In April, a charter bus crashed near Dallas, killing two people and injuring dozens. In March, a bus carrying a university women's lacrosse team crashed on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, killing the driver and the team's pregnant coach. The other 19 passengers were not seriously injured.

In February, seven people were killed and dozens more injured when a tour bus returning to Mexico from a Southern California ski resort crashed on a mountain road. Nine people were killed last December when a charter bus skidded off an icy Oregon mountain highway and crashed down an embankment.

Obama, congressional leaders still deadlocked on shutdown


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama met with Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress on Wednesday to try to break a budget deadlock that has shut wide swaths of the federal government, but there was no breakthrough and both sides blamed each other.

After more than an hour of talks, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said Obama refused to negotiate, while House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused Republicans of trying to hold the president hostage over Obamacare.

Reid said Obama told Republicans "he will not stand" for their tactics. The White House later issued a statement saying that Obama remains hopeful that "common sense will prevail."

There was little to encourage hope for a quick solution to the two-day-old shutdown and hundreds of thousands of federal employees remained off the job without pay.

Leaders of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic-led Senate offered token concessions that were quickly dismissed by the other side. Obama, meanwhile, scaled back a long-planned trip to Asia.

Republicans have tried to tie continued government funding to measures that would undercut Obama's signature healthcare law. Obama and his Democrats say that is a non-starter.

"The president reiterated one more time that he will not negotiate," Boehner told reporters after the White House meeting. "All we're asking for here is a discussion and fairness for the American people under Obamacare."

Reid said Democrats were willing to discuss any way to tackle the budget after a temporary funding bill is passed. "We're through playing these little games," he said.

"My friend John Boehner ... cannot take yes for an answer," he told reporters.

The shutdown, which took effect Monday at midnight (0400 GMT Tuesday), has raised questions about Washington's ability to carry out its most essential duties.

Though it would do relatively little damage to the world's largest economy in the short term, global markets could be roiled if Congress also fails to raise the debt limit before borrowing authority runs out in coming weeks.

The shutdown has closed landmarks like the Grand Canyon, cut off government economic data reports and prevented some cancer patients from receiving cutting-edge treatment.

United Technologies Corp, which makes Sikorsky helicopters and other items for the military, said it would be forced to furlough as many as 4,000 employees if the U.S. government shutdown continues through next week, due to the absence of government quality inspectors.


"Am I exasperated? Absolutely I'm exasperated. Because this is entirely unnecessary," Obama told CNBC television in an interview before meeting the congressional leaders. "I am exasperated with the idea that unless I say to 20 million people, 'You can't have health insurance,' these folks will not reopen the government. That is irresponsible."

The U.S. Army's top general said the shutdown was significantly harming day-to-day operations, and intelligence leaders say it is undermining their ability to monitor threats. A Federal Reserve official said it could delay the central bank's ability to assess whether its monetary stimulus efforts are still needed.

The uncertainty in Washington has forced Obama to scale back an Asia trip that was designed to reinforce U.S. commitment to the region.

Despite the shutdown, Boehner's Republicans have failed to derail Obama's controversial healthcare law, which passed a milestone on Tuesday when it began signing up uninsured Americans for subsidized health coverage.

The government on Wednesday scrambled to add computer capacity to handle an unexpectedly large number of Americans logging onto new online insurance marketplaces.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, speaking to CNBC, described the law as a "trainwreck" that was "creating havoc across the country," and reiterated Republicans' call for a one-year delay in its implementation.

Though some moderate Republicans have begun to question their party's strategy, Boehner so far has kept them united behind a plan to offer a series of small bills that would re-open select parts of the government most visibly affected by the shutdown.

The Republican-controlled House passed and sent to the Senate on Wednesday a funding bill that would re-open the National Institutes of Health, which conducts medical research, and another bill to reopen shuttered federal parks and museums, such as the Smithsonian museums, the National Gallery of Art and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Both bills passed with the support of about two-dozen Democrats, who joined Republicans. The House was expected to vote Thursday on measures to fund veterans' care, the District of Colombia and the Army Reserve.

The measures are likely to be defeated in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and Obama said he would veto them if they reached his desk.

Still, they allowed Republicans to charge that their adversaries are standing in the way of help for elderly veterans and young cancer patients. "Will they now say 'no' to funding for veterans, our National Parks and the National Institutes of Health?" asked Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll indicated that 24 percent of Americans blamed Republicans for the shutdown, while 19 percent blamed Obama or Democrats. Another 46 percent said everyone was to blame.


The shutdown fight is rapidly merging with a higher-stakes battle over the government's borrowing power that is expected to come to a head soon.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said the United States will exhaust its $16.7 trillion borrowing authority no later than October 17.

The government could have difficulty paying pension checks, interest charges and other bills after that point.

Many Republicans see the debt limit vote as another opportunity to undercut Obama's healthcare law or extract other concessions - an approach that business groups say could lead to disaster.

"You can re-litigate these policy issues in a political forum, but they shouldn't use the threat of causing the U.S. to fail on its ... obligations to repay on its debt as a cudgel," Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein told reporters after he and other financial-industry executives met with Obama.

Some Democrats have begun to consider asking Obama to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling on his own - a move that could lead to years of court battles. The White House has said that approach is not feasible.

The U.S. dollar stayed under pressure as Asian trading began on Thursday while share markets flatlined.

Obama said Wall Street should be worried about the debt ceiling. "I think this time's different. I think they should be concerned," Obama told CNBC. "When you have a situation in which a faction is willing potentially to default on U.S. government obligations, then we are in trouble."

A short-term shutdown would slow U.S. economic growth by about 0.2 percentage points, Goldman Sachs said on Wednesday, but a weeks-long disruption could weigh more heavily - 0.4 percentage points - as furloughed workers scale back personal spending.

The last shutdown in 1995 and 1996 cost taxpayers $1.4 billion, according to congressional researchers.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Patricia Zengerle, Richard Cowan and Mark Felsenthal in Washington, Ann Saphir in San Francisco and Adrian Croft in Brussels; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Tim Dobbyn and Jackie Frank)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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