AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EDT

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Associated Press

Posted on June 26, 2013 at 3:30 AM

Supreme Court to issue gay marriage decisions Wednesday in last session before summer break

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is meeting to deliver opinions in two cases that could dramatically alter the rights of gay people across the United States.

The justices are expected to decide their first-ever cases about gay marriage Wednesday in their last session before the court's summer break.

The issues before the court are California's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies legally married gay Americans a range of tax, health and pension benefits otherwise available to married couples.

The broadest possible ruling would give gay Americans the same constitutional right to marry as heterosexuals. But several narrower paths also are available, including technical legal outcomes in which the court could end up saying very little about same-sex marriage.

If the court overturns California's Proposition 8 or allows lower court rulings that struck down the ban to stand, it will take about a month for same-sex weddings to resume for the first time since 2008, San Francisco officials have said.

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Southern states promise quick action on election laws after Supreme Court ruling

ATLANTA (AP) — Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S. Supreme Court freed all or part of 15 states, many of them in the old Confederacy, from having to ask Washington's permission before changing election procedures in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination.

After the high court announced its momentous ruling Tuesday, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot. North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law. Florida now appears free to set its early voting hours however Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP Legislature please. And Georgia's most populous county likely will use county commission districts that Republican state legislators drew over the objections of local Democrats.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 5-4 opinion that struck down as outdated a key provision of the landmark 1965 law credited with ensuring ballot access to millions of black Americans, American Indians and other minorities. Roberts' opinion gives Congress an opportunity to retool the law's so-called preclearance sections that give the U.S. Justice Department veto power over local elections. But the prospects of a quick fix seem uncertain, at best, given stark ideological divides on Capitol Hill on a host of matters.

Southern Republicans largely hailed Roberts' opinion as recognition of racial progress since President Lyndon Johnson signed the law at the apex of the civil rights movement.

"Over the last half-century, Georgia has reformed, and our state is a proud symbol of progress," Gov. Nathan Deal said. "Today's decision guarantees that Georgia will be treated like every other state — a right we have earned." In neighboring Alabama, where the case originated, Gov. Robert Bentley said, "We have long lived up to what happened" in the Jim Crow era, "and we have made sure it's not going to happen again."

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In reversal, Texas abortion bill fails to pass after protesters delay vote beyond deadline

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Hundreds of jeering protesters helped stop Texas lawmakers from passing one of the toughest abortion measures in the country, shouting down Senate Republicans and forcing them to miss a midnight deadline to pass the bill.

Initially, Republicans insisted they had started voting before the midnight deadline and passed the bill that Democrats spent much of Tuesday filibustering. But after official computer records and printouts of the voting record showed the vote took place on Wednesday, and then were changed to read Tuesday, senators convened for a private meeting.

An hour later, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was still insisting the 19-10 vote was in time, but said, "with all the ruckus and noise going on, I couldn't sign the bill."

He denounced the more than 400 protesters who staged what they called "a people's filibuster" from 11:45 p.m. to well past midnight. He denied mishandling the debate.

"I didn't lose control (of the chamber). We had an unruly mob," Dewhurst said. He then hinted that Gov. Rick Perry may immediately call another special session, adding: "It's over. It's been fun. But see you soon."

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Al-Qaida, other militants said to be changing procedures to avoid surveillance after NSA leaks

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. intelligence agencies are scrambling to salvage their surveillance of al-Qaida and other terrorists who are working frantically to change how they communicate after a National Security Agency contractor leaked details of two NSA spying programs. It's an electronic game of cat-and-mouse that could have deadly consequences if a plot is missed or a terrorist operative manages to drop out of sight.

Two U.S. intelligence officials say members of virtually every terrorist group, including core al-Qaida, are attempting to change how they communicate, based on what they are reading in the media, to hide from U.S. surveillance — the first time intelligence officials have described which groups are reacting to the leaks. The officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak about the intelligence matters publicly.

The officials wouldn't go into details on how they know this, whether it's terrorists switching email accounts or cellphone providers or adopting new encryption techniques, but a lawmaker briefed on the matter said al-Qaida's Yemeni offshoot, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, has been among the first to alter how it reaches out to its operatives.

The lawmaker spoke anonymously because he would not discuss the confidential briefing by name.

Shortly after Edward Snowden leaked documents about the secret NSA surveillance programs, chat rooms and websites used by like-minded extremists and would-be recruits advised users how to avoid NSA detection, from telling them not to use their real phone numbers to recommending specific online software programs to keep spies from tracking their computers' physical locations.

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20 bodies recovered after helicopter on mission to rescue India flood survivors crashes

GAUCHAR, India (AP) — Paramilitary soldiers on Wednesday recovered 20 bodies from a steep hillside in northern India where a helicopter crashed while on a mission to rescue people stranded in monsoon floods, the country's air force chief said.

The helicopter crashed late Tuesday when its rotor blades hit the hillside while returning with survivors of flooding and landslides that have killed more than 1,000 people and washed away thousands of homes, roads and bridges since mid-June in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand.

Soldiers using ropes reached the crash site early Wednesday and found the bodies of 20 people, including five air force crew members, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne told reporters.

The helicopter's cockpit voice recorder was recovered and an inquiry has been ordered to determine the cause of the crash, Browne said.

Some 45 aircraft have been used in rescue and relief operations, but intermittent rain and dense fog have dogged the efforts since Sunday.

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South African archbishop prays for Mandela, wishes for peaceful "end" for former president

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A South African archbishop who visited Nelson Mandela in a hospital has offered a prayer in which he wishes for a "peaceful, perfect, end" for the former president and anti-apartheid leader.

There was no word early Wednesday on 94-year-old Mandela's condition, which was critical a day earlier, according to the government. Outside the Pretoria hospital where he was being treated, well-wishers have left flowers, drawings and messages of support for a man regarded as a symbol of sacrifice and reconciliation in a country that emerged from white minority rule to become a democracy two decades ago.

"Let's accept instead of crying," said Lucas Aedwaba, a security officer who described Mandela as a hero. "Let's celebrate that the old man lived and left his legacy."

Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, posted a prayer on Facebook on Tuesday night after visiting the hospital where Mandela is being treated.

In the prayer, Makgoba asked for courage to be granted to Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, and others who love him "at this hard time of watching and waiting," and he appealed for divine help for the medical team treating Mandela, who was taken to the hospital on June 8 with what the government said was a lung infection. President Jacob Zuma said Mandela's condition, previously described as serious but stable, had deteriorated to critical over the weekend.

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Financier Marc Rich, who fled to Switzerland in 1983 and was pardoned by Clinton, dies at 78

GENEVA (AP) — Marc Rich, the trader known as the "King of Commodities" whose controversial 2001 pardon by President Bill Clinton just hours before he left office unleashed a political firestorm of criticism in 2001, died on Wednesday. He was 78.

Rich died in Switzerland, where he lived, according to his Israel-based spokesman Avner Azulay. He did not give further details, but said Rich would be buried in Israel on Thursday.

Rich fled from the United States to Switzerland in 1983 after he was indicted by a U.S. federal grand jury on more than 50 counts of fraud, racketeering, trading with Iran during the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis and evading more than US$48 million in income taxes — crimes that could have earned him more than 300 years in prison.

Rich remained on the FBI's Most Wanted List, narrowly escaping capture in Finland, Germany, Britain and Jamaica, until Clinton granted him a pardon on Jan. 20, 2001 — the day he handed over the keys to the White House to George W. Bush.

Rich's pardon catapulted him into the headlines once again.

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Backed by Obama, Dems exorcize Scott Brown's ghost in Mass. special election victory

BOSTON (AP) — Drawing on the political might of the White House, Democrats have exorcized the ghost of Scott Brown.

Three years after the little-known Republican state senator shocked the political world with an unlikely victory here, veteran Democratic Congressman Ed Markey won the special election for U.S. Senate to replace John Kerry on Tuesday, defeating a Republican political newcomer with an all-star resume who failed to inspire Massachusetts voters and Washington's Republican leaders alike.

It was a resounding victory in a low-turnout election for a national Democratic Party still haunted by Brown's 2010 special election stunner.

"To everyone in the state, regardless of how you voted, I say to you tonight this is your seat in the United States Senate," Markey, 66, declared in his victory speech, echoing one of Brown's most common lines.

Markey defeated Republican Gabriel Gomez, a former Navy SEAL, 55 percent to 45 percent.

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Microsoft seeks to fine-tune flagship Windows operating system blamed for PC slump

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Microsoft is giving people a peek into Windows 8.1, a free update that promises to address some of the gripes people have with the latest version of the company's flagship operating system.

Although the preview version of Windows 8.1 is meant for Microsoft's partners and other technology developers, anyone will be able to download it for free starting Wednesday, exactly eight months since desktops, laptops and tablets with Windows 8 went on sale. The version of the Windows 8.1 update meant for the general public will come out later in the year, though a specific date hasn't been announced.

Many of the new features have been shown off already. A three-day Build conference, which starts Wednesday in San Francisco, will give Microsoft developers a chance to learn more about the new system and try it out. It also will give the company a chance to explain some of the reasoning behind the update and sell developers on Microsoft's ambitions to regain relevance lost to Apple's iPad and various devices running Google's Android software.

There's also speculation that Microsoft could show off a new, smaller version of its Surface tablet computers. One of the new features in Windows 8.1 is the ability to work well on smaller-screen devices.

Windows 8, which was released Oct. 26, was meant to be Microsoft's answer to changing customer behaviors and the rise of tablet computers. The operating system emphasizes touch controls over the mouse and the keyboard, which had been the main way people have interacted with their personal computers since the 1980s.

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Report: Yankees GM Brian Cashman angry at Alex Rodriguez for posting injury update on Twitter

NEW YORK (AP) — Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees are not seeing eye to eye on his hip injury.

The star third baseman tweeted Tuesday night that his hip surgeon has cleared him to play in rehabilitation games, a move that angered Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, according to ESPN.com.

"You know what, when the Yankees want to announce something, (we will)," Cashman told the website.

"Alex should just shut ... up," the GM said, punctuating his comment with a profanity.

Cashman added that he planned to get in touch with Rodriguez right away.

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