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Gun showdown down south

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate's top Democrat set the first showdown vote in Congress on U.S. President Barack Obama's gun control drive for Thursday as a small but mounting number of Republicans appear willing to buck a conservative effort to prevent debate from even beginning.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid criticized Republicans anew Tuesday for trying to prevent a gun control debate. Conservatives say they will use procedural tactics to prevent the Senate from even debating firearms restrictions, meaning 60 out of 100 senators will need to vote for allowing a debate -- though several Republicans are coming out against the obstruction effort.

The Senate machinations follow Obama's remarks in Connecticut on Monday night on gun control, an issue catapulted into the national arena by the gruesome December slaying of 20 young children and six educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Obama's proposals -- headlined by background checks for more gun buyers and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines -- have hit stiff opposition from the powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, and are struggling in Congress. A federal ban on assault weapons has gone nowhere, though some states are imposing their own.

Participants from both parties said a bipartisan deal was imminent on expanding required federal background checks to gun purchases conducted at gun shows and online.

Charged with smuggling

FARGO, N.D. -- A man accused of spearheading an operation to smuggle people into the U.S. at the border of North Dakota and Canada has been charged in federal court.

Darwin Catarero-Sanchez is charged with bringing people into the country illegally and harbouring them. He made his first court appearance Monday and was assigned a public defender but was not asked to enter a plea.

Catarero-Sanchez and seven other people accused of entering the country unlawfully were arrested about 1:30 a.m. on April 6, according to court documents. A U.S. Border Patrol agent apprehended the suspects while they were walking along a highway near Sherwood, in northwestern North Dakota.

Authorities said Catarero-Sanchez arranged transportation for the group from Montreal. Witnesses said he agreed to smuggle one person into the U.S. for $2,000 and another for $1,500.

Austin Skero II, chief Border Patrol agent for the Grand Forks sector, said the arrests were the result of co-operation among federal, local and Canadian law enforcement authorities.

Border Patrol agents detained a total of 11 people in the case. Three people -- Carlos Ayala-Bonilla, Ericka Vasquez-Barerra and Sahin Iyibas -- are charged with illegal entry.

Vasquez-Barerra told authorities she has known Catarero-Sanchez for nine years and both of them lived in Montreal. She said she wanted to visit family in New Jersey and agreed to pay Catarero-Sanchez $1,500 to get into the U.S., investigators said.

Vasquez-Barerra and Iyibas told police Catarero-Sanchez and another man took turns driving a group of five people from Montreal to Carnduff, Sask., where they checked into a hotel. Catarero-Sanchez then led people around the port of entry at Sherwood in the middle of the night.

The investigation led agents to a residence in Minot, where others were taken into custody on allegations they crossed the border illegally.

Dozens dead in earthquake

TEHRAN, Iran -- A 6.1 magnitude earthquake killed at least 37 and injured hundreds more in a sparsely populated area in southern Iran on Tuesday, Iranian officials said, adding it did not damage a nuclear plant in the region.

The report said the earthquake struck the town of Kaki some 96 kilometres southeast of Bushehr, a town on the Persian Gulf that is home of Iran's first nuclear power plant, built with Russian help.

Nun has gambling problem

ALBION, N.Y. -- A Roman Catholic nun with a gambling addiction has pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $130,000 from two parishes in rural western New York state.

The Daily News of Batavia reports 68-year-old Sister Mary Anne Rapp pleaded guilty Monday in Orleans County Court to grand larceny.

Investigators said she stole the money to feed a gambling addiction and spent the money at western New York casinos.

-- from the news services

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2013 A11

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