Obama officially steps down as Illinois senator

CHICAGO : On the day he formally stepped down as Illinois' junior senator, President-elect Barack Obama released an open letter to state residents, saying they had taught him lessons he would draw on during his presidency. Obama, whose resignation after nearly four years in the Senate was a formality in the aftermath of his Nov. 4 election victory, thanked Illinois residents in a nostalgic letter published in newspapers throughout the state yesterday. "I will never forget, and will forever be grateful, to the men and women of this great state who made my life in public service possible," Obama wrote. The education he received in Illinois, he added, has prepared him for the White House job that he will have beginning Jan. 20.


Strong quake strikes off eastern Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia : A powerful earthquake struck waters off eastern Indonesia early today, briefly generating tsunami warnings for coastlines within 600 miles of the epicenter. Thousands of people in nearby coastal towns fled homes, hotels and hospitals in panic, but there were no immediate reports of serious damage or injuries. The U.S. Geological Survey put the quake's magnitude at 7.5 and said it struck 54 miles from the nearest city, Gorantalo, on Sulawesi island. It was centered 13 miles beneath the sea and was followed by two strong aftershocks. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the temblor had the potential to generate a destructive tsunami along coasts within 600 miles. But even after local officials lifted the tsunami alert, frightened Sulawesi residents were refusing to return to their homes.


U.S. raises its count on juvenile detainees to 12

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico : The U.S. has revised its count of juveniles ever held at Guantanamo Bay to 12, up from the eight it reported in May to the United Nations, a Pentagon spokesman said yesterday. The government has provided a corrected report to the U.N. committee on child rights, according to Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon. He said the United States did not intentionally misrepresent the number of detainees taken to the isolated Navy base in southeast Cuba before turning 18. "As we noted to the committee, it remains uncertain the exact age of many of the juveniles held at Guantanamo, as most of them did not know their own date of birth or even the year in which they were born," he said. Rights groups say it is important for the U.S. military to know the real age of those it detains because juveniles are entitled to special protection under international laws recognized by the United States. Eight of the 12 juvenile detainees identified by the human rights center have been released, according to the study.

Boy whose parents battled hospital dies

NEW YORK : A 12-year-old New York boy with brain cancer has died after his family battled a hospital to keep him on a ventilator. The lawyer for the Orthodox Jewish family says Motl Brody's bodily functions ceased Saturday. A machine had continued to work his lungs after he was pronounced dead Nov. 4 at Children's National Medical Center in Washington. Some adherents of Jewish religious law say death occurs only when the heart and lungs stop functioning. The family had asked a judge to prevent further tests for brain activity. The hospital argued that its "scarce resources" were being used "for the preservation of a deceased body."