National briefs: Obama pushes right to pray

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Thursday scolded China, Iran, North Korea and other countries known for repressing religious minorities and declared that promoting freedom of faith around the world was a central goal of U.S. foreign policy.

Speaking at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, Mr. Obama singled out the government in Beijing and urged it to do more to allow Christians and others to worship. He also called on North Korea to release a Christian missionary held for the last 15 months and insisted that Iran release a Christian pastor held for more than 18 months.

The president also praised Pope Francis, whom he plans to visit at the Vatican next month and whose messages on economic injustice around the world have coincided with Mr. Obama's focus on U.S. income inequality.

Justice pick advances

WASHINGTON -- On a straight party-line vote Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved civil rights lawyer Debo Adegbile's nomination to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

Mr. Adegbile, a longtime voting-rights specialist for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, had drawn opposition, in particular from Philadelphia officials, because of his representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a convicted cop killer there.

Nagin corruption trial

NEW ORLEANS -- In sharp exchanges Thursday with a prosecutor in his corruption trial, former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin flatly denied seeking $60,000 from a contractor who had just been turned down for city business.

The testy back-and-forth came during cross-examination of Mr. Nagin, who is being tried on a 21-count indictment with charges including bribery, money laundering, conspiracy and filing false tax returns.

Airport tower vulnerability

WASHINGTON -- A lightning strike that injured an air traffic controller at Baltimore's main airport has exposed a potential vulnerability at airport towers during storms and is prompting Federal Aviation Administration officials to inspect hundreds of towers nationwide, The Associated Press has learned.

The FAA will look for problems with the lightning protection systems for airport towers, where air traffic controllers do the vital job of choreographing the landings and takeoffs of tens of thousands of flights each day.

Olympic terror hoax

PHILADELPHIA -- A 69-year-old Huntingdon Valley man set off an international manhunt, squandered law enforcement resources and spread unwarranted fears in the run-up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, federal authorities said Thursday.

H. Lawrence Reinhard III was in federal custody, charged with making a false report to the FBI. Officials say he fabricated an elaborate tale implicating his stepson in a plot to bomb the games and sent investigators from Philadelphia to Moscow scrambling. They say he felt local police weren't taking him seriously enough when he accused his stepson weeks earlier of theft.

Also in the nation ...

A year after his abrupt departure from CNN, James Carville, Democratic strategist and cable-news fixture, has been hired as a contributor at Fox News, the network announced Thursday. ... Hundreds of thousands of people spent a second day without electricity Thursday as utility crews scrambled to restore power lost when a heavy coating of ice took down trees and limbs in the mid-Atlantic.



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