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Combat positions open to women

WASHINGTON -- Senior U.S. defence officials say Pentagon chief Leon Panetta is removing the military's ban on women serving in combat, opening hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after more than a decade at war.

The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule prohibiting women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Panetta's decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

A senior military official says the services will develop plans for allowing women to seek the combat positions. Some jobs may open as soon as this year. Assessments for others, such as special operations forces, including navy commandos and the army's Delta Force, may take longer.

The official said the military chiefs must report back to Panetta with their initial implementation plans by May 15. The announcement of Panetta's decision is not expected until today, so the official spoke on condition of anonymity.

Panetta's move expands the Pentagon's action nearly a year ago to open about 14,500 combat positions to women, nearly all of them in the army. This decision could open more than 230,000 jobs, many in army and marine infantry units, to women.

In recent years, the necessities of war propelled women into jobs as medics, military police and intelligence officers that were sometimes attached -- but not formally assigned -- to units on the front lines.

Women comprise 14 per cent of the 1.4 million active military personnel.

Senators urge pipeline progress

WASHINGTON -- More than half the Senate on Wednesday urged quick approval of TransCanada's controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, ramping up pressure on U.S. President Barack Obama just days after he promised in his inaugural address to respond vigorously to the threat of climate change.

A letter signed by 53 senators said Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman's approval of a revised route through his state puts the long-delayed project squarely in the president's hands.

Calgary-based TransCanada is seeking approval for a $5.3-billion pipeline that would carry crude from Alberta's oilsands and U.S. shale formations to Steele City, Neb.

That pipeline would link up with another $2.3-billion conduit line to Texas refineries, which is 40 per cent complete. That segment does not require a U.S. federal permit.

Ex-Scientologists sue

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Two former members of the Church of Scientology claimed in a lawsuit filed Wednesday the church and its affiliates deceived members into donating millions of dollars to misrepresented causes.

Luis and Maria Garcia of Irvine, Calif., filed the complaint in Federal Court in Tampa, Fla., near the church's national headquarters in Clearwater. The couple claims they were duped into giving more than $420,000 for a building campaign, disaster relief efforts and other Scientology causes, only to find the bulk of the money went to inflate the church coffers and line the pockets of its leader, David Miscavige.

The Garcias were 28-year members of the church, rising to upper levels of Scientology. They left in November 2010 over their disenchantment with its direction under Miscavige, who has led the church since founder L. Ron Hubbard's death in 1986.

Never mind, Gilda's name stays

MADISON, Wis. -- Stung by the overwhelmingly negative reaction to removing the name of original Saturday Night Live cast member Gilda Radner from a cancer support group's title, a Wisconsin chapter is borrowing one of the comedian's catchphrases for its next announcement: Never mind.

Gilda's Club Madison will remain just that, group leaders told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The board voted last week to keep the name after an avalanche of criticism in November when it announced it was switching to the more generic Cancer Support Community Southwest Wisconsin, in part out of concern that young people today were unfamiliar with Radner, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989.

Anger over the name change, which was supposed to take effect this month, came from members of the local Gilda's Club chapter, fans of Radner who saw it as a slight to a woman who confronted cancer with dignity and humour, leaders of other clubs who reaffirmed their commitment to keeping the name, as well as Radner's husband, actor Gene Wilder.

Chimp Haven for test subjects

NEW ORLEANS -- Chimpanzees who have spent their lives in U.S. research labs being prodded, poked and tested may be headed for retirement in a leafy sanctuary where they can climb trees, socialize at will, play with toys and even listen to music.

More than 300 chimpanzees should be retired from U.S. government-funded research and sent to live in a sprawling refuge outfitted with play areas under a recommendation approved Tuesday by a top national panel of scientists.

The proposal from a National Institutes of Health committee is the latest step in a gradual shift away from using chimps as test subjects, because of technological advances and because of ethical concerns about their close relation to humans.The chimpanzees would be sent to a national sanctuary, Chimp Haven, that opened in 2005 to house former federal research chimps on an 81-hectare site in rural northwest Louisiana.

-- from the news services

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 24, 2013 A14

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