National Briefs: Alibaba primes for IPO in U.S.

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HONG KONG -- Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba says it's gearing up to go public on a U.S. stock exchange in what is likely to be the world's biggest IPO this year.

The company said Sunday that it has "decided to commence the process of an initial public offering in the United States."

The move ends months of speculation over where the company would list its shares after talks for a stock sale in Hong Kong fell apart late last year.

Analysts have estimated that an Alibaba IPO could raise up to $15 billion and value the company at more than $100 billion.

In a brief statement, Alibaba Group gave no details about the plan for the IPO, which it said would "enhance the company's transparency."

NYC mourns blast victims

NEW YORK -- On the first Sunday since a gas explosion leveled two buildings in New York City's Harlem neighborhood, thousands of people made their way to the neighborhood's churches to reflect on the loss of the past week and to remember the eight people killed in the blast

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, were among the mourners, speaking to two congregations that lost worshippers in the explosion, which shook the neighborhood Wednesday morning.

At Bethel Gospel Assembly, where two of the victims were members, the mayor paid tribute to the women: Griselde Camacho, 44, and Carmen Tanco, 67.

"I've heard from so many people that they were women of great generosity and warmth and spirit," he said. "They had a deep and abiding faith. And in moments like this we remember -- remember that those who get the most from life are those who give the most to others. And these two women did that in the time they had on this earth."

Many of the victims were members of Spanish Christian Church, which occupied the ground floor and basement in one of the buildings that was destroyed. On Sunday, members of the church gathered at another sanctuary, where they, too, were joined by the mayor and first lady.

Emergency workers, meanwhile, continued to dig through the rubble of the fallen buildings on Park Avenue as investigators worked to understand what caused the gas leak.

Ms. McCray announced that the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, of which she is the chairwoman, had raised $250,000 to help those affected by the disaster.

Church founder falls ill

TOPEKA, Kan. -- The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., who founded a Kansas church widely known for its protests at military funerals and anti-gay sentiments, is in a care facility, according to a church spokesman.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, frequently protest at funerals of soldiers with signs containing messages such as "Thank God for dead soldiers," and "Thank God for 9/11," claiming the soldiers' deaths are God's punishment for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.

Westboro Baptist, a small group made mostly of Rev. Phelps' extended family, inspired a federal law and laws in numerous states limiting picketing at funerals. But in a major free-speech ruling in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the church and its members couldn't be sued for monetary damages for inflicting pain on grieving families under the First Amendment.

Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, on Sunday urged the gay community to respect the privacy of the "notoriously anti-LGBT" pastor if his health is declining.

"This is our moment as a community to rise above the sorrow, anger, and strife he sowed," he said, "and to show the world we are caring and compassionate people who respect the privacy and dignity of all."

St. Patrick's festivities

NEW YORK -- St. Patrick's Day festivities were in full swing Sunday with the usual merriment of bagpipes and beer, but political tensions lingered in the northeastern U.S., where city leaders will be conspicuously absent from parades over gay rights issues.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio will become the first mayor in decades to sit out the traditional march Monday because parade organizers refuse to let participants carry pro-gay signs. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh wasn't marching in his city's parade Sunday, either, after talks broke down that would have allowed a gay group to march.

Still, thousands of green-clad spectators came out for the parade in Boston to watch bagpipers, and organizers of a float intended to promote diversity threw Mardi Gras-type beads at onlookers. A similar scene played out in downtown Philadelphia.

Some LGBT groups were to protest the parade along Manhattan's Fifth Avenue today. Others had planned to dump Guinness beer from the shelves of the Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the gay rights movement, in protest of the brewer's plan to sponsor the parade, but that demonstration was canceled late Sunday after Guinness said in a statement that it had dropped its sponsorship.

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