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A member of the Lesotho military looks on as he stands guard in front of an armed personnel carrier at the entrance of the army barracks in the capital Maseru on Saturday. Lesotho's Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has accused the army of staging a coup. (Reuters/Landov)

South Africa Condemns Apparent Coup In Lesotho

Aug 30, 2014

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South Africa has condemned an apparent coup in Lesotho, an independent kingdom within its borders where the army appears to have seized power, driving out the prime minister. Lesotho's defense forces, however, have denied a takeover.

Lesotho's military seized two police stations Saturday as gunfire rang out in the capital of the mountainous kingdom. The military justified the move by saying that police planned to arm factions at an upcoming demonstration in the capital, Maseru. An army spokesman denied a coup and said the army had returned to the barracks.

The Associated Press reports:

"Political tensions have been high in the tiny kingdom ... since June when there was a power struggle after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane suspended parliament to dodge a vote of no confidence."

"Early Saturday, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane was forced to flee across the South African border to escape the violence."

"By all accounts the actions of the Lesotho defense force bear the hallmarks of a coup d'etat," South African Foreign Ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela told reporters.

"We are calling on the commander of the armed forces to return to the barracks and allow the democratically elected government to return to its business," Monyela said.

"The situation in Lesotho is still unfolding. No one has claimed to take over government ... so we are monitoring that ... our interest is to see it resolved through peaceful means," Monyela was quoted by the AP as saying.

The news agency reports: "Thabane told South Africa's eNCA television that the military actions amounted to a coup. He said he did not give permission for the action and that something like this should not be happening in a democratic state. He is going to meet with South African officials, and expects South Africa to help his government restore law and order, he said."

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Smoke rises near a Syrian flag hoisted up a flagpole as a result of the fighting between Syrian rebels and the Syrian Army over the control of Quneitra crossing, on Saturday. The area is where dozens of U.N. peacekeepers had been under siege by Nusra Front fighters. (EPA/Landov)

U.N. Peacekeepers Rescued After Being Trapped By Syrian Militants

Aug 30, 2014

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Dozens of besieged United Nations peacekeepers were safely extracted after being surrounded for days on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

After rebels of the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front seized 44 Fijian peacekeepers on Thursday, they laid siege to two encampments of Filipino peacekeepers totaling more than 70 soldiers.

The rebels demanded the Filipino soldiers, part of the U.N. mission known as UNDOF, surrender their weapons, but the peacekeepers refused.

"There was a firefight but I would like to assure everyone that our troops are safe at the moment," said Ramon Zagala, chief of the Philippines Armed Forces public affairs office. He did not give any more details.

"The U.N. peacekeepers returned fire and prevented the attackers from entering the position," a U.N. statement said. It said there were no reported casualties among the U.N. personnel.

It wasn't immediately clear which U.N. peacekeepers were involved in the firefight with Nusra Front fighters.

The Associated Press reports: "The gunbattle began early Saturday at the Rwihana base some 1.5 miles (2.3 kilometers) from Quneitra, where 40 Filipino peacekeepers were surrounded by Nusra fighters who were ordering them to surrender, said Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Philippines' Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin gave a similar account but did not name the armed group."

The Irish Times quotes an unnamed military official as saying an Irish U.N. peacekeeping battalion, which is tasked with emergency responses, evacuated all the Filipino peacekeepers on Saturday morning.

The U.N. said in a statement that that the Fijian peacekeepers are, according to reliable sources, "safe and in good health."

UNDOF, with peacekeepers from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines, has monitored the disengagement zone between Israel and Syria since 1974 in the wake of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Reuters says.

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A miner after he was rescued at the El Comal gold and silver mine in Bonanza, Nicaragua, on Friday. A total of 26 were trapped after a collapse on Thursday. (AP)

Nicaraguan Miners Trapped After Collapse

Aug 30, 2014

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Rescue workers in Nicaragua were trying to reach four trapped miners in the gold and silver mine in the country's south-central city of Bonanza, after 22 others were freed.

The Associated Press quotes the country's first lady Rosario Murillo as saying 20 of the miners were rescued on Friday, in addition to two others who escaped a collapse on Thursday.

The AP says:

"Hundreds of relatives and fellow miners had gathered to pray outside the mine as rescuers lined up several ladders along a 200-foot long tunnel leading toward where the men were trapped. The mine cuts into the side of a mountain and then goes upward.

"Commander Javier Amaya of the rescue team said the rescue plan involved groups 'of five or 10 miners entering the mine on wooden ladders, tying themselves off and going in until they reach them.'"

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry talks to the media and supporters after he was booked on August 19 in Austin. Perry is charged with abuse of office and coercing a public official. (AP)

Rick Perry's Legal Trouble: The Line Between Influence And Coercion

Aug 30, 2014 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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The day he was booked, Texas Gov. Rick Perry gave a big smile for his mug shot — which was then printed up on t-shirts to demonstrate just what a farce he thought the indictment was. In a press conference, the scorn dripped from Perry's voice as he took up the sword — defender, not of himself, but of the state's constitution.

"We don't settle political differences with indictments in this country," he said. "It is outrageous that some would use partisan political theatrics to rip away at the very fabric of our state's constitution."

Perry has been pushing back hard against allegations he misused the power of his office. Texas's longest serving governor is indicted on charges he tried to coerce the Austin district attorney into resigning by threatening to veto part of her office's funding if she didn't.

Perry has fired up his base, but like it or not his future will be decided not in the court of public opinion but inside the Texas legal system. So after the initial week-long artillery volley, Tony Buzbee, Perry's lead lawyer, is taking a softer tone.

"I think we're taking it seriously, and we're going to defend it in court," Buzbee says. "We're going to be careful about not attempting to try the case in the press. But I think it raises very serious constitutional issues; it raises issues with regard to the constitutional right of the governor to veto legislation."

The case revolves around Perry's attempt to oust Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg after she had an embarrassing drunk-driving conviction. At the time, Lehmberg's Public Integrity Unit was in the middle of a corruption investigation involving a state agency near to Perry's heart.

The Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas hands out billions of dollars in state grants to recruit cancer research and biotech companies to Texas. But the agency was accused of dolling out grants to companies whose owners were better known for giving campaign contributions to Perry and Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott.

That's why, when Perry said he'd veto the Public Integrity Unit's budget if Lehmberg didn't resign immediately, it raised a few eyebrows. After all, the governor would have picked her replacement.

As it played out, Lehmberg refused to resign and Perry vetoed her budget, and those actions brought the indictment — coercion of a public official.

But the governor's lawyer argues it doesn't matter what Perry threatened or when he threatened it. If he wants to veto the PIU's budget, he's allowed: It's an appropriation, and he's the governor.

"To suggest that if he says something before the veto vs. after it, that that's coercion, is criminalizing something that the governor is frankly required to do under the constitution," Buzbee says.

Where do you draw the line between permissible influence and illegal coercion of a public official? Is there one? Retired state district judge John Cruzeot believes there is a line and that Perry may have crossed it when he both made his veto threats to Lehmberg and then carried them out.

"For example, had he never said anything at all about her, about her DWI, and just vetoed that particular legislation for the funds, you and I wouldn't be having this conversation right now," Cruzeot says.

Cruzeot thinks Perry's threat raises the question of coercion, and that a Texas jury should hear the case.

But the case may never even get to trial, says Southern Methodist University criminal law professor Chris Jenks.

"I believe that a Texas court likely wants nothing to do with this case for a variety of reasons," Jenks says. "This case represents separation of powers issues. I do think there are both free speech and a constitutionally over-broad statute."

Earlier this week, lawyers for the governor filed a writ arguing the charges are unconstitutional and asking for them to be dismissed. A judge is expected to rule on that application in the next few weeks.

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Trainer Jimmy McConnell of Shelbyville, Tenn., rides champion walking horse Watch It Now before a 2009 football game in Knoxville, Tenn. Celebrations of the breed's distinctive gait are a 75-year-old tradition, but animal rights activists say that for many of those decades, the walking horse industry has abused animals to get their knees even higher. (AP)

Making Sure Those Walking Horses Aren't Hurting Horses

by Blake Farmer
Aug 30, 2014 (Weekend Edition Saturday / Nashville Public Radio)

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A Tennessee walking horse is put through its paces on a horse farm in October 1975. Celebrations of the breed's distinctive gait are a 75-year-old tradition, but animal rights activists say that for many of those decades, the walking horse industry has been abusing animals to get their knees even higher. Tennessee walking horses have a distinctive, high-stepping gait -- but animal rights groups say that trainers regularly abuse the animals to make their steps more impressive.

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In Shelbyville, Tenn., the Tennessee walking horse is an icon and a way of life. For 10 nights in August, thousands of fans cheer from their box seats as well-manicured horses prance around a dirt oval track.

But the 75-year-old tradition has come under a cloud. Animal rights groups say the most spectacular high-stepping comes from inflicting pain on the horse. Congress has chimed in, and the walking horse industry is trying to show it's cracking down.

The 'Big Lick'

When Tennessee walking horses show off their smooth, high-stepping gait, their powerful back legs swing forward, reaching well beyond their front hooves. Those front hooves then kick up and out, with the knees reaching above the horses' chests, while the horses shake their heads in cadence.

Mike Inman, director of the annual Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, says the unmistakable gait comes naturally. "That's what they do," he says. "It is actually in their genetics. No other breed has that, which is what separates this walking horse."

But for years, trainers have been pushing horses well past genetics to get that eye-catching step called the "big lick." One banned practice is called "soring." Trainers make tiny cuts on a horse's ankles and splash diesel fuel or mustard oil on them. The pain is believed to make the horse step even higher.

The Humane Society of the United States has been trying to end soring for years. "This is an industry that has been based for over 40 years on intentional infliction of pain and cruelty to animals," says Keith Dane, the organization's equine specialist. "And it's so widespread in the 'big lick' segment of this industry that it's got to stop."

Soring was outlawed by Congress in the '70s, but enforcement has been spotty. The Humane Society has gotten fresh traction with new legislation that would give more teeth to the law; dozens of members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have signed on, but it's been fought to a standstill by the industry.

On The Watch For Horses In Pain

Trainer Sylvester Skierkowski, watching his horses go through some final paces before competition, says he's worked with horses that have won "just about every class" at the Celebration.

There's money at stake, though not huge sums. The top prize was $15,000 last year. Skierkowski says it's really about being named "World Grand Champion." He helped train one in the late '70s.

"We worked more keeping that son of a gun sound than we did trying to hurt him," Skierkowski says.

Still, there have been some high-profile soring cases. Just two years ago, one trainer was indicted on more than 50 counts of abuse.

"Nobody is denying that there are people that will try to game the system in any competition," says Celebration director Inman. "But the best way to make it so they can't game the competition is through objective testing."

This year, for the first time, the Celebration will use blood tests to screen for pain killers that may have been used to mask that a horse is hurting, and X-rays to find other banned practices, like shoeing horses so tightly that they step higher out of pain.

Dr. Jerry Johnson, who chairs this new enforcement panel, says, "We feel like now, with what we're doing, that they're really going to have to clean up their act, because I think we can really get a handle on just about anything they can come up with."

But Dane, the Humane Society's equine specialist, is skeptical. "This looks like one more attempt by the Celebration to try — at the 11th hour — to suggest that they are serious about reform and about protecting the horses," he says.

He points out that results of the drug tests will take three weeks to get back, well after everyone's gone home.

As The Horse Owners See It

In Shelbyville, the Humane Society is widely seen as an unrelenting pest. Leading her horse to its stall, Lauren Hamilton suggests the organization should move on to a different issue.

"Race horses — they're falling out on the track," she says. "Do you see these horses die out there? That's when I get upset."

But even among walking horse owners, there are a few voices calling for an end to the obsession with exaggerated high-stepping. Van Barnes competes in what's called the "flat shod" division. He says those horses don't have a problem getting through inspection, but in order for the walking horse industry to survive, trainers, owners and fans are going to have to move away from the "big lick."

"I think for the industry to survive, you're going to have to," Barnes says.

If it's any indication, at this year's Celebration, the number of horses competing is down at least 10 percent. So is attendance — even after ticket prices were slashed.

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