U.S. military aircraft hit in S. Sudan, 4 wounded

Gunfire hit a U.S. military aircraft trying to evacuate American citizens in a remote region of South Sudan that yesterday became a battle ground between the country’s military and renegade troops, officials said. Four U.S. service members were wounded in the attack in the same region that gunfire downed a UN helicopter the day before. The U.S. military aircraft was about to land in Bor, the capital of the state of Jonglei and scene of some of the nation’s worst violence over the last week, when it was hit. One American service member was reported to be in critical condition. The U.S. military’s Africa Command said the aircraft was “participating in a mission to evacuate American citizens in Bor.” “After receiving fire from the ground while approaching the site, the aircraft diverted to an airfield outside the country and aborted the mission,” the statement said. (AP)

Body of U.K. doctor who died in Syria released

The International Committee of the Red Cross handed over to British officials yesterday the body of a U.K. doctor who died this week in Syrian government custody. The circumstances in which Abbas Khan, a 32-year-old orthopedic surgeon from London, died while in detention in Syria remain in dispute. A senior British official has accused Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government of effectively murdering Khan, while the Syrian authorities say the doctor committed suicide and there was no sign of violence or abuse. On Saturday, a Red Cross convoy carrying Khan’s body from Damascus arrived in Lebanon’s capital of Beirut, where British officials received it, the Red Cross said in a statement. Khan’s death came only days before he apparently was due to be freed, said British lawmaker George Galloway, who had been negotiating with Syrian authorities to secure the doctor’s release. (AP)

Gays wed in Utah after judge overturns ban

Same-sex couples rushed to get married at the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office immediately after learning that a federal judge had overturned Utah’s ban on gay marriage. “I can’t believe this is Utah,” said Elisa Noel after marrying her partner in an impromptu ceremony at the office about three miles (five kilometers) from the headquarters of the Mormon church. Others had a similar reaction after a ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby that declared Utah’s voter-approved ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. The recent appointee by President Barack Obama said the ban violates the constitutional rights of gay couples and ruled Utah failed to show that allowing same-sex marriages would affect opposite-sex marriages in any way. The Republican governor blasted the ruling as going against the will of the people, while gay couples rushed to the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office en masse to secure marriage licenses, waiting in line by the dozens and getting married on the spot by the mayor and ministers. (AP)

Astronauts nail spacewalk to fix station

Two NASA astronauts, their spacesuits rigged with snorkels in case of a water leak, floated outside the International Space Station for 5-1/2 hours yesterday, successfully completing the first steps to fix the outpost’s cooling system. The spacewalk, which was broadcast live on NASA Television, was the first for NASA since July when the spacesuit helmet worn by Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano began filling with water, a situation that could have caused him to drown. No such leaks were detected in yesterday’s spacewalk, the first of two or possibly three that will be needed to complete the cooling system repair. The operation was prompted by the Dec. 11 shutdown of one of the station’s two U.S. ammonia cooling systems, which forced the crew to turn off non-essential equipment and shut down dozens of science experiments. The six-member crew is not in danger. (Reuters)