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Islamic Militants in Somalia Display Corpse of Murdered French Commando Commander

The Al-Shabaab Mujahideen put out the following press release along with photos of the murdered French Commando Commander:

 The French rescue operation in Bulo-Marer, Lower Shabelle region, not only failed to secure the release of Dennis Alex but also resulted in the death of several of the French forces and injured many more.

Among those severely injured during the botched operation was the French commander leading the operation.

The commander was deserted by his comrades after a fierce firefight and subsequently captured by the Mujahideen. HSM paramedic teams arrived at the scene shortly after the firefight had ended and transferred him to a hospital at the base, but he succumbed to his injuries hours later. 

The Mujahideen recovered several weapons and the soldier’s gear from the scene of battle and later also managed to retrieve valuable information from the soldier before his death. The body of the soldier is still within the custody of the Mujahideen.

Harakat Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahideen has also today reached a unanimous verdict on the fate of Dennis Alex after three and a half years in captivity. The details of that verdict and some background information of the events leading up to the failed rescue operation will be published in the coming hours Insha'allah.

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AMBUSH! Two NY Firefighters Shot To Death In Ambush Set By Arsonist

A gunman ambushed four volunteer firefighters responding to an intense pre-dawn house fire Monday morning outside Rochester, N.Y., killing two before ending up dead himself, authorities said. Police used an armored vehicle to evacuate more than 30 nearby residents.
 
The gunman fired at the firefighters when they arrived shortly after 5:30 a.m. at the blaze near the Lake Ontario shore in Webster, town Police Chief Gerald Pickering said. The first Webster police officer who arrived chased the suspect and exchanged gunfire with him, authorities said.
 
"It does appear it was a trap" for the first responders to the fire, Pickering said at a news conference.
 
Authorities didn't say how the gunman died or whether anyone might have died in the fire itself.
 
One of the dead firefighters was also a town police lieutenant; it wasn't clear whether he returned fire. An off-duty police officer who was driving by was injured by shrapnel, Pickering said.

The fire started in one home and spread to two others and a car, officials said. The gunfire initially kept firefighters from battling the blazes. Police say four homes were destroyed and four damaged.
 
The West Webster Fire District learned of the fire early Monday after a report of a car and house on fire on Lake Road, on a narrow peninsula where Irondequoit Bay meets Lake Ontario, Monroe County Sheriff Patrick O'Flynn said.
 
The fire appeared from a distance as a pulsating ball of flame glowing against the early morning sky, flames licking into treetops and reflecting on the water, with huge bursts of smoke billowing away in a brisk wind.
 
Two of the firefighters arrived on a fire engine and two in their own vehicles, Pickering said. After the gunman fired, one of the wounded men managed to flee, but the other three couldn't because of flying gunfire.
 
A police armored vehicle was used to recover two of the men, and eventually it evacuated 33 people from nearby homes, the police chief said.
 
The dead men were identified as Police Lt. Michael Chiapperini, 43, the Webster Police Department's public information officer; and Tomasz Kaczowka, also a 911 dispatcher, whose age was not released.
 
Pickering described Chiapperini as a "lifetime firefighter" with nearly 20 years with the department, and called Kaczowka a "tremendous young man." 
 
The two wounded firefighters, Joseph Hofsetter and Theodore Scardino, were in guarded condition in the intensive care unit at Strong Memorial Hospital, authorities said. Both were awake and alert and are expected to recover.
 
Hofsetter, also a full-timer with the Rochester Fire Department, was hit once in the pelvis, and the bullet lodged in his spine, authorities said. Scardino was hit in the chest and knee. 
 
Monday's shooting and fires were in a neighborhood of seasonal and year-round homes set close together across the road from the lakeshore. The area is popular with recreational boaters but is normally quiet this time of year.

"We have very few calls for service in that location," Pickering said. "Webster is a tremendous community. We are a safe community, and to have a tragedy befall us like this is just horrendous."
 
O'Flynn lamented the violence, which comes on the heels of other shootings including the massacre of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
 
"It's sad to see that that this is becoming more commonplace in communities across the nation," O'Flynn said.
 
Webster, a middle-class suburb, now is the scene of violence linked to house fires for two Decembers in a row.
 
Last Dec. 7, authorities say, a 15-year-old boy doused his home with gasoline and set it ablaze, killing his father and two brothers, 16 and 12. His mother and 13-year-old sister escaped with injuries. He is being prosecuted as an adult.
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Wanted: Chicago Escaped Prisoners Joseph "Jose" Banks and Kenneth Conley

Police launched a manhunt for Joseph "Jose" Banks, 37, and Kenneth Conley, 38, on Dec. 18, 2012 after they vanished from Chicago's Metropolitan Correctional Center. The two stuffed their beds with clothes in the shape of bodies, broke the window of their cell at the federal prison and scaled down the side of the building 17 stories on a rope of sheets and towels taken from the prison.
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Road Rage in California- Man Shot in the Head 

A man was hospitalized after being struck in the head in a car-to-car shooting in Whittier on Thursday.

Whittier police responded to a single-vehicle accident around 6 a.m. at Workman Mill Road and Beverly Boulevard.

When officers arrived at the scene, they found a man who had suffered a gunshot wound to the back of the head.

The victim, a man in his 40s, was coherent and speaking, authorities said.

Police determined that the shooting happened on Beverly Boulevard between Citrus Avenue and Floral Drive.

The bullet went through the victim’s head rest and into his skull, according to police. He was hospitalized in unknown condition.

The suspect escaped in an SUV, but no vehicle description was immediately available.

Police are investigating the shooting as a road-rage incident. They do not believe it was gang-related.
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Ahmad Fakhouri, Syrian state TV news anchor disguises himself to flee from Assad

Ahmad Fakhouri, known by many as one of the most famous news anchors on Syrian state TV, declared that he defected from the Syrian regime 9 months ago when he suddenly upped and left his job at the Syrian satellite channel.

In disguise, he lived in Damascus for six months until he was able to smuggle his wife, daughter, parents, his sister, and one of his two brothers through Beirut airport to Cairo, then followed them to Cairo where he lives now without work.

Fakhouri told Al Arabiya in a telephone interview this week that he succeeded so well in disguising himself that nobody but his own family could recognize him. He rented an apartment close to his old neighborhood in Damascus and used many disguises, fearing that the intelligence forces would recognize him. 

“Once, I shaved my hair to become bald, and then I grew a moustache and wore dark glasses. Another time, I grew my beard so nobody could recognize me,” he said.


Fakhouri ,35 years old, is a husband and father of an 18-month- old baby. 

His father Abdulraheem Fakhouri was the head of the radio and TV center in the province of Hama before retiring last year at the start of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. 

Fakhouri, who provided Al Arabiya with some of his pictures while he was disguised in Cairo, said that he’s not one of the most famous presenters in Syria as described by some, but the well-known by Syrians.

He said he saw Assad only once at the beginning of 2012, while he was covering his visit to Austria and Slovakia, and didn’t speak to him during that trip.

He noted that he has enough money to cover his needs and his family in Cairo for three months only, and that he rented an apartment in Cairo, choosing the Egyptian capital because “the cost of living is lower, unlike nearby Istanbul or Beirut” as he said.

Fakhouri hopes to find a job in an Arabic satellite channel. 

“Not because I am defector from the regime media … I want to work at a credible TV station which will give me the opportunity to prove my skills, he said. Fakhouri was widely known for producing documentaries.

He said that it is not necessary to repeat the reason behind his defection as “everybody knows the criminal acts of Assad’s regime against Syrians,” saying most of his colleagues wish to defect and are waiting for the right opportunity to flee. 

Fakhouri who started in 2004 at Damascus Radio before moving two years later to the Syrian satellite channel, said that some of the opposition fighters from Hama escorted him from Damascus to a village in Idlib where he spent the night before taking him to an area close to the border with Turkey.

He then fled to Istanbul and “took a plane to join my family [in Cairo] who fled two months ago, running away from the atrocities of the regime.”

He likened working at Syrian state media is like working in a dictatorship, where “nobody has the right to give his opinion.

“Even during the meeting with the president’s advisor Butheina Chaaban, I was always aware that as an anchor I didn’t have any right to interfere in any news item and I was waiting for things to change as I had believed that Assad is intended to make reforms. When I discovered his violent path, I decide to run away to a safer place,” he added. 
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Demand for $300 Bulletproof “Ballistic Backpack” Overwhelms Manufacturer

Parents may have a new option when it comes to protecting their children while at school in the wake of the Connecticut school shootings.

A Salt Lake City, Utah, company called Amendment II is offering a “Ballistic Backpack” lined with carbon nanotube armor sewn into the rear of the pack and comes in boys, girls, and teen/young adult models.

Jill Stringham with Amendment II told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO that the product is the result of the company’s overall mission.

“Our goal has always been from the very beginning of this company is that we wanted to save lives, whatever level that is, we don’t care, whether that is children or military or Secret Service or whoever it is,” Stringham said. “Our passion and our goal and our science behind it is that we want to save lives.”

The backpacks – which cost $300 – weigh just slightly more than a regular backpack and can be easily swung to the front of the body to be used as a shield, or even “serve as center of mass protection while fleeing the scene of the shooting,” according to the company’s product description.

Demand for the product spiked so quickly following the shootings on Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that the company’s website has crashed at least once.

“[Customers] can’t get through because it’s taken them two to five minutes to upload our website,” Stringham said.

The “Ballistic Backpack” was initially offered in different styles for boys, girls and teens before Amendment II announced those styles were “no longer available.”

Other products being sold on the site include a tactical vest for children and designer armor for adults.

Stringham said the company will not make any profit off of sales of the backpacks.
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Dad Refuses To Backdown in Case of Soldier Who Was Shot In Head After Discovering Wife's Lesbian Affair

The father of a Queens-born Army sergeant murdered in Iraq is taking the Army’s stalled investigation into his own hands.

Kevin Green — whose son LaShawn Evans was shot in the head on Valentine’s Day 2011 after discovering that his fellow soldier wife was having a lesbian affair with another officer — has filed papers in Brooklyn Federal Court demanding the preservation of cell phone and text messages from devices belonging to Evans; his wife, Florinda Evans, and LaShawn’s mother-in-law from Jan. 1, 2011, to Sept. 1, 2011.

“I made my son a promise that I would honor him and fight till I know what happened,” Green told the Daily News.

The Army initially ruled Evans’ death a suicide, but the crime was reclassified as a murder six months later. That’s where the investigation remains.

“We cannot think of any good reason why the Army has not provided the father of one of their soldiers with information about a death they ruled a homicide,” said lawyer Jeffrey Schwartz.

An Army spokesman confirmed Evans’ death remains under investigation.
Little is known beyond the basics of the crime:

Evans, 24, was found dead in his wife’s barracks with a rifle next to his body and a blanket over his head.

Green was told by Army officials that Florinda Evans and another unidentified soldier were present at the death scene.

About one month earlier, LaShawn Evans had caught his wife, who had served with him in Baghdad, in bed with a female soldier. The couple separated after that, according to Green.

 But LaShawn Evans was moving on with his life, this dad said. He reupped for four more years in the military and was about to be shipped back to Fort Riley in Kansas — and there was no hint of depression over his wife’s infidelity, which was reported to Army officials, Green said.

“My son was the happiest kid in the world,” Green said. “His last message on Facebook was, ‘I love you pop. I’ll see you on Friday.’ ”

That was five days before he died.Green said his daughter-in-law refused to speak with him at the funeral and has not allowed him to have contact with his son's 5-year-old daughter. He said Florinda Evans collected a $300,000 death benefit. She has since left the Army and lives in South Carolina. She did not return calls seeking comment.

Green operates two not-for-profit shelters for homeless veterans in upper Manhattan and Brooklyn — both have been dedicated in memory of his son.
“We don’t know who did this but we’re going to find the truth,” vowed Green, 52.
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Syrian rebels say they've captured military base that has anti-aircraft weapons

Syrian rebels have seized a military base in the country's north, capturing weapons they hope will repel air raids by President Bashar Assad's forces, rebels said on Sunday.

Under cover of rain and fog, Col. Anas Ibrahim Abu Zeid led 200 fighters in a four-hour operation to take over the 135 Infantry Brigade base in the village of Hawa, a mostly Kurdish area in northern Aleppo province, on Saturday, they said, as they showed the base to journalists.

The rebels found about 150 soldiers at the base, though it can hold up to 3,000 troops, Abu Zeid said. Between 10 to 15 soldiers were taken prisoner, he said. They would not say what happened to the other troops, although a Reuters journalist saw at least one corpse.

The rebels said they lost six of their men.

The weapons were hidden in secret locations in Aleppo's countryside, where the majority of the rebels fighting in this part of the country are from. At a warehouse in a residential area down a narrow street, rebels showed off two .57mm field guns and three 14-1/2 mm anti-aircraft guns.

The weapons, which could be dated back to World War Two, looked like they had never been used. The guns were still greased and wrapped in brown paper.

"We can now take down planes and helicopters ... by using more than one anti-aircraft gun to guarantee superior firepower at the same time on the target," Abu Zeid, a bearded man with specks of grey dressed in army combat gear, told Reuters.

Rebel momentum

The capture of artillery and anti-aircraft guns has been a turning point for the rebels, who have gained momentum in recent months, seizing swathes of territory in northern Syria and surrounding key army bases and airports across the country.

Assad has relied increasingly on airpower to repel advances by the rebels, who do not have the firepower to take on Assad's helicopters, MiGs and Sukhoi jets.

Abu Zeid, who defected from Assad's brother's 4th Mechanised Division in February, said they made the raid after intelligence a plane would drop ammunition for the weapons the next day.

Also seized were several dozen wooden boxes of new Kalashnikov assault rifles, mortar base plates, rocket-propelled grenades, bayonets, grenades, sniper rifles and at least 22 boxes of gas masks.

The weapons could help make up for rebel shortages. They complain they are yet to receive steady supplies from Western or Arab nations despite promises of support after most rebel forces vowed to unify under a regionalized chain of command this month.

"No group can now say they have no ammunition," one fighter said. Another chimed in: "These are the bombs we will liberate Aleppo with."

The base, with buildings perched on a hilltop overlooking miles of olive groves, served mostly for restocking and refueling forces in the northern sector, Abu Zeid said.

Activists said the base was set up in 2004 when tensions flared with ethnic minority Kurds. Because of its presence in mostly Kurdish territory, activists said the army had not used it to launch attacks to prevent Kurds from siding with rebels.

Soldiers from the rebel Fatah brigade tore down a picture of Assad perched on the roof of a deserted mess hall and spray painted Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest) in red across walls.

A pool of blood lay behind the sentry post. The body of a dead Alawite soldier, the same minority sect to which Assad belongs, lay in a field, covered in a brown blanket. Most of the rebel forces are from Syria's majority Sunni population.

A prisoner lay on an army issue mattress. The young, bearded man was covered in a blanket, smoking, in a debris-filled room. He said he was a special forces sniper and had fought in Azaz, a border village near Turkey partially destroyed by tanks and shelling when rebels captured the town last summer.

Bone protruded from his wounded shin. Asked by Abu Zeid why he hadn't defected, the prisoner said: "I feared for my family. They told us they were terrorists and killers."
 
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Road Rage In Houston- Woman Killed In Barrage of Bullets Fired By Angry Driver

A road-rage confrontation left a 30-year-old woman dead and her killer facing a murder charge after the victim was shot in the head in far southwest Harris County early Thursday morning.

Veronica Soto was discovered fatally shot about 12:30 a.m. at 7703 Las Brisas near Paso Real, according to the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

Investigators later determined the gunfire erupted as Soto and her husband were in their vehicle and he got into an argument with people in two other cars. The argument escalated when the Sotos' vehicle was boxed in by the other drivers.

Then a passenger in one of the other vehicles got out and went to his nearby home. He grabbed a rifle, came back outside and opened fire on the Sotos as they drove away. Several bullets hit the rear of the Sotos' car.

Soto, who was a passenger in the front seat, was wounded in the head. She died at the scene.

No other injuries were reported.

Investigators later learned the identity of the gunman. The 20-year-old man admitted his role in the shooting when investigators questioned him about it. He was taken into custody.

Deputies said charges have not been filed so far, but the gunman is expected to be charged with murder.

The Chronicle has not named him because he has not been formally charged yet.
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Ikea Monkey's Owner Says He Is "Like A Little Child"

The owner of a monkey that was confiscated after it escaped and ran around the car park of a Toronto Ikea has been speaking to the BBC about her relationship with the primate.

Yasmin Nakhuda described her pet as "very special" and said that he was "like a little child".

Animal control officers captured Darwin and he was placed in a primate sanctuary, but his owner is unhappy about this and determined to regain custody of her pet.
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Thieves Target Canada's Maple Syrup OPEC

It was an inside job of sorts. Thieves with access to a warehouse and a careful plan loaded up trucks and, over time, made off with $18 million of a valuable commodity.

The question is what was more unusual: that the commodity in question was maple syrup, or that it came from something called the global strategic maple syrup reserve, run by what amounts to a Canadian cartel.

On Tuesday, the police in Quebec arrested three men in connection with the theft from the warehouse, which is southwest of Quebec City. The authorities are searching for five others suspected of being involved, and law enforcement agencies in other parts of Canada and the United States are trying to recover some of the stolen syrup.

Both the size and the international scope of the theft underscore Quebec’s outsize position in the maple syrup industry.

Depending on the year, the province can produce more than three-quarters of the world’s supply. And its marketing organization appears to have taken some tips from the producers of another valuable liquid commodity when it comes to exploiting market dominance.

“It’s like OPEC,” said Simon Trépanier, acting general manager of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. “We’re not producing all the maple syrup in the world. But by producing 70 to 78 percent, we have the ability to adjust the quantity that is in the marketplace.”

Since 1999, Quebec’s maple syrup industry has used a marketing system found in other Canadian agricultural sectors, particularly dairy and poultry.
Put simply, the supply management system sets strict quotas for producers and, in the case of maple syrup, requires them to sell their product through the federation.

The sap that becomes maple syrup after being boiled down often flows for only a short period each spring. Weather changes can introduce wild fluctuations in how much emerges from sugar maple trees.

Strategic syrup reserve? 

To maintain stable and high prices, the federation stockpiles every drop its members produce beyond their quota. During bad seasons, it dips into that supply.

“In the States you have the strategic oil reserve,” Mr. Trépanier said, continuing with his petroleum analogy. “Mother Nature is not generous every year, so we have our own global strategic reserve.”

Mr. Trépanier estimates that the reserve now holds 46 million pounds of syrup.

The spring of 2011 produced so much maple syrup that the federation added a third rented warehouse, in an industrial park alongside a busy highway in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, to accommodate the overflow. The surplus was pasteurized and packed into 16,000 drums, each holding 54 gallons, and left to rest except for inspections twice a year.

Lt. Guy Lapointe of the Sûreté du Québec, the police force that led the investigation, said that the thieves rented another portion of the warehouse for an unrelated business. That enabled them to drive large trucks into the building.

“They were basically inside guys,” Lieutenant Lapointe said. “The leader wasn’t with the federation, but he had access to the warehouse that would not attract any suspicion.”

When no one else was around, Lieutenant Lapointe said, the thieves gradually began emptying syrup barrels. Some Quebec news reports indicated that they also filled some barrels with water to disguise the theft.
Over time, the thieves helped themselves to six million pounds of syrup. Mr. Trépanier said their work was discovered in July, when inspectors found a few empty barrels. The full extent of the theft, he said, became clear once the police arrived.

The police spared no resources. Lieutenant Lapointe said that about 300 people were questioned and 40 search warrants executed. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement service joined the investigation.

Like many thieves, the maple syrup gang was faced with how to unload a large quantity of a commodity that is not easily moved. But unlike most thieves, Lieutenant Lapointe said, they found a way to get full price on the open market.

Because the investigation is continuing, Lieutenant Lapointe declined to describe the resale process in detail. But he did say that the thieves set themselves up as legitimate maple syrup dealers in neighboring New Brunswick, a province with an open, if much smaller, maple syrup industry. From there, they shipped the stolen syrup to buyers in that province as well as in Ontario, Vermont and New Hampshire.
Whatever the arrangement, it was convincing. Lieutenant Lapointe said investigators believed that the buyers were unaware of the syrup’s illicit origins.

Two-thirds of syrup tracked down 

The police have tracked down about two-thirds of the stolen syrup and are trying to seize it, particularly a large quantity in the United States, which is the largest buyer of Quebec’s legitimate production. Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the agency was investigating what happened to the syrup after it slipped across the border.
It may be difficult to prove that syrup is stolen property, however.

“Maple syrup doesn’t have a bar code,” Lieutenant Lapointe said. “There’s no way to tell it apart.”

Although the stolen syrup was insured, Mr. Trépanier acknowledged that some of the federation’s 7,400 members were not happy that it allowed six million pounds of syrup to disappear.

Despite the displeasure of members, though, Pascal Thériault, professor of agriculture at McGill University in Montreal, said the future of the federation was secure. While the closed market system restricts the ability of large, commercial syrup producers to expand, the federation’s voting structure means that it is dominated by part-time producers, many of whom are also dairy farmers. They have no interest, Mr. Thériault said, in returning to an open market.

Canada’s supply management systems for other agricultural products, like dairy and poultry, have been protested unsuccessfully for decades by the United States and other countries in trade negotiations.

While the latest theft was a record breaker, it was not the first significant maple syrup theft in the province. In 2006, thieves took about $1.3 million from a stockpile that was the subject of an ownership dispute. Lieutenant Lapointe said that investigation remained open.
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Putin Avoids Questions on Ban To End Adoption of Russian Children By U.S. Citizens

Russian President Vladimir Putin dodged numerous questions Thursday about efforts of some Russian lawmakers to cut off U.S. adoptions of Russian children.

At his first major news conference since his return to the presidency in May, Putin seemed to sidestep the adoption issue, repeatedly telling reporters that he had yet to study the ban in depth.

“I do not know details. I have not seen the text. I need to take a look at it. I will do that today or tomorrow,” he said at one point.

“I will make a decision depending on what is written there,” he continued, declining to say if he would sign such a ban.

Russia is the third most-popular country for Americans looking to adopt children. About 45,000 Russian children have been adopted by U.S. parents since the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991. Putin said he believed that most Americans trying to adopt children were “decent and honest people.”

Putin did, however, express strong support for the broader bill that is making its way through the lower house of parliament, which, by imposing reciprocal sanctions on American human rights abusers, including those accused of abusing Russian adopted children, signals retaliation for a set of human rights sanctions passed by the U.S. Congress earlier  this month.

Putin blasted U.S. courts for treating those accused of abusing Russian adopted children too leniently, and criticized U.S. officials for failing to properly set up a new adoption agreement between the two countries that would give Russian officials access to adopted children who were allegedly abused.

Members of the ruling United Russia Party added the adoption ban as an amendment before a second reading of the bill on Wednesday. It faces a third and final reading as early as Friday, but it still requires the support of the upper house of parliament, as well as Putin’s signature before it becomes law.

Since its introduction, several human rights advocates have complained that the measure is playing politics with the lives of orphans. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov came out against the adoption ban earlier this week, calling it “wrong” and adding that foreign adoption was a legal right. The country’s education minister also voiced his opposition.

Russia’s children’s ombudsman Pavel Astakhav, however, said he supported the ban, adding that he believes it should have happened years ago.

At today’s news conference, meanwhile, Putin lashed out at the United States for imposing the human rights sanctions, known as the Magnitsky Act. Putin said the act — which would refuse visas and freeze the U.S. assets of Russians accused of human rights violations — “poisoned” U.S.-Russian relations, and was just another effort by Congress to pass anti-Russian legislation.  “If they spank us, we must reply, otherwise they will keep spanking us.”

At one point Putin chastised a Russian journalist who challenged his support for the adoption sanctions, asking him why he would support sending Russian children overseas, and to the United States in particular.
“Are you a sadomasochist?” Putin asked him.

The news conference was a marathon, lasting more than four hours. It became unruly at times, with journalists hollering and waving banners, signs, scarves, even balloons, to try to get the attention of Putin’s spokesman, who picked the questioners. Foreign journalists were invited, but only a few were selected to ask questions. Even so, it was the Russian journalists who asked most often about the possible adoption ban.

One female journalist fawned over the president, calling him “handsome” and “energetic,” then asked where the rumors of his poor health were coming from. Putin dismissed the rumors, saying they were spread by his political opponents.

Another journalist asked about Putin’s family, usually a taboo topic considered off-limits. The president answered tersely, saying that his daughters were living, working and studying in Moscow, and doing well. Putin is famously protective of his family. No photos of his adult daughters can be found, even on the Internet.

“I am proud of them,” he said, ignoring the part of the question that asked if he was a grandfather yet.

A number of questions were uncharacteristically pointed, including ones about human rights in Russia and judiciary independence. Putin denied that he had ever sought to influence a court ruling, and often compared reports of abuses in Russia to similar reports in the United States.

Asked by a Russian newspaper reporter about how he built an “authoritarian regime,” Putin was put on the defensive, saying he did not agree with that characterization.

Putin was also asked whether Russia was becoming diplomatically isolated because of its continued support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He denied that was the case and reiterated Russia’s opposition to international intervention. He pointed to the post-liberation chaos in Libya as an example of why foreign interference is not a good idea. He said he was more worried about what happens in Syria after Assad leaves than if he stays.

The press conference ended when a Russian journalist asked Putin to sign a birthday card for his daughter. The president whipped out a pen and said he was happy to oblige.
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