Springsteen’s E Street Band loses key figure with death of Clarence Clemons

NEW YORK, N.Y. – E Street will never be quite the same.

The death of saxophone player Clarence Clemons ripped a hole in Bruce Springsteen’s music and onstage life, taking away a figure who had served him loyally for decades and never failed to add joy to the E Street Band’s epic performances.

Clemons died Saturday at age 69, about a week after he suffered a stroke at his home in Singer Island, Fla.

It’s not the first loss for the rock world’s best-known and most accomplished backup band. Keyboard player Danny Federici died in 2008 of melanoma. Steve Van Zandt, Springsteen’s youthful friend and closest partner, left for several years in the 1980s and was replaced on guitar by Nils Lofgren. When Van Zandt returned, Lofgren stayed.

Yet Clemons’ loss cuts deeply into the soul of the band. His importance was acknowledged whenever Springsteen performed “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out,” when he sang, “We made that change uptown and the Big Man joined the band,” inevitably followed by a wail of Clemons’ sax and a roar from the crowd. The two men met in 1971 on the New Jersey bar band circuit, and when Springsteen released his debut album two years later, Clemons left a more successful outfit for a new Boss.

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Inevitably Clemons’ introduction was the climax every night when Springsteen presented the individual band members to the audience, accompanied by a variety of regal nicknames like “Master of the Universe” and “King of the World.”

“Do I have to say his name?” Springsteen would shout to the crowd.

“No!” came the roar back. He did anyway.

Last fall’s release of “The Promise,” which included a DVD of a 1978 Springsteen concert performance, underscored the central role of Clemons in the act. The two men were a marked physical contrast: a bedgraggled, slightly scrawny white guitar player and a 6-foot-5-inch, 270-plus-pound black man with a sax – known simply as the Big Man -who would be intimidating if he didn’t so often carry a smile.

They would stalk each other on the stage, staring with ferocious eyes, and play their instruments as they stood back to back, leaning on the other for support. They’d even kiss, their relationship sending a message of brotherhood, family and – given racial undertones – tolerance and respect for all.

The relationship was captured memorably with a giant photo of the two men on the cover of Springsteen’s “Born to Run” album.

Clemons was musically vital, too, particularly given the longer, structurally ambitious songs Springsteen was writing in the 1970s, a potent mixture of rock, soul, jazz and folk. Clemons’ sax kicked “Born to Run” into overdrive, and his solo was a key moment in the majestic “Jungleland.” He had a deep, booming voice not often displayed, although he added hearty “ho-ho-ho’s” during seasonal renditions of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”

Truth be told, Clemons’ role in the E Street Band diminished as the years went on. Springsteen’s simpler song structures left less space for the sax, and the instrument competed to be heard in a dense wall of sound anchored by three electric guitar players. Clemons would add maracas or tambourines to some of Springsteen’s compositions.

Clemons’ physical ailments also made him a less active presence onstage. He underwent spinal surgery last year after many years of back pain and spent time in a wheelchair after double knee replacement surgery.

Springsteen generously made accommodations for the ailments, installing an elevator on the stage set for when Clemons couldn’t negotiate the stairs, according to Caryn Rose and Glenn Radecki of the Springsteen website Backstreets. A throne-like golden chair was placed onstage for when Clemons needed his rest.

Clemons’ death is unlikely to bring an end to the E Street Band, which Springsteen alluded to in a statement posted on his website Saturday announcing the death.

“We are honoured and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly 40 years,” he said. “He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.”

But the loss leaves Springsteen with a real challenge moving forward. While Federici’s contributions were valued and respected, he was a back bencher, tied to the shadows of the stage and his replacement not a major issue for the casual fan.

Clemons was different, and his loss will inevitably change the onstage dynamic. The saxophone is such a major presence in Springsteen’s music that it’s difficult to imagine many of his songs being performed without it. They will be big shoes for anyone to fill.

“As long as we tell the stories, as long as we play the songs, the Big Man will always be with us,” Rose and Radecki wrote on Backstreets following Clemons’ death.

Florida Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez resigns with team on long losing streak

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Through it all, Edwin Rodriguez kept his sense of humour. The Florida Marlins’ manager talked about ghost stories and the team’s hotel. He joked about moving the calendar ahead to July in hopes of escaping an awful June.

As it turns out, that long losing streak hurt more than he showed.

Rodriguez, the first Puerto Rican-born manager in major league history, unexpectedly resigned Sunday after less than one year on the job.

Bench coach Brandon Hyde managed the last-place Marlins as they dropped their 10th straight game, 2-1 to the Tampa Bay Rays. But the club will begin a search for an interim manager and potential candidates include 80-year-old Jack McKeon, the special assistant to the owner who led Florida to a World Series title in 2003.

Rodriguez said it was difficult to leave, given the “positive way the organization is moving, a new ballpark next season and the young core of players.”

“I can’t say enough about the effort that this staff and these players have put into this season,” he said in a statement released by the team. “I could tell that they continued to give 100 per cent effort each and every day on the field. I wish this organization and players nothing but success in their futures.”

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Rodriguez became interim manager June 23 of last year after Fredi Gonzalez was fired. He was given the job permanently five days later.

“It’s been extremely frustrating for everyone,” Florida president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. “I think everyone here knows what is going on – the way we’ve played, the way we’ve performed. It’s tough on everyone, especially him.

“He communicated with me early this morning that this was something he was thinking about, and when I got to the ballpark we accepted his resignation.”

Florida went 46-46 under Rodriguez, who opened the 2010 season as the Marlins’ Triple-A manager in New Orleans.

“This was an extremely frustrated, proud man,” Beinfest said. “This kind of caught us a little off guard. I know there’s been a lot of speculation, everything, but this is not something I thought was going to happen today.”

The Marlins fell to 1-18 in June with Sunday’s loss to the Rays. Ace pitcher Josh Johnson is injured and star shortstop Hanley Ramirez, struggling through a miserable slump all season, also had been sidelined during a stunning skid that left the team 32-40 and last in the NL East.

Beinfest said the club would act quickly on an interim manager.

“So we can move ahead with the business of playing baseball and trying to win games,” he said. “When you have a change like this, with a popular person, I think it’s tough on a lot of people. You just need to go play baseball, and that’s first and foremost.”

Beinfest informed the players of Rodriguez’s decision during a team meeting before Sunday’s game.

Rodriguez was at the ballpark and talked with individual players in the manager’s office. He didn’t speak with reporters.

“It was surprising, I guess, but I think it’s more shocking,” infielder Wes Helms said. “Right now, nothing is going right for us. Right now, it’s all negative with the Marlins, that’s the way it is. It’s tough to swallow, it really is. I do know he did everything he could. We didn’t do our job as a team.

“I’m sure he had a lot of sleepless nights,” Helms added. “I can’t speak for him. … I’m sure it was just killing him or he wouldn’t have done it. There’s only so much you can take mentally and physically in anything in life. I’m just sure he had enough and couldn’t do it anymore.”

First baseman Gaby Sanchez said the players have to respect the decision.

“It’s definitely difficult,” Sanchez said. “We have to continue to play hard, go out there and keep fighting. The season is not over. It’s just one of those things where we have to move forward.”

The Marlins became the second big league team to change managers this season. Oakland fired Bob Geren on June 9 and replaced him with Bob Melvin for the rest of the season.

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon believes Rodriguez was thinking about what was best for his team.

“He’s one of the nicest, most decent men I’ve met in this game, and it’s unfortunate that he has to feel the weight of this whole moment because it’s not his fault,” Maddon said. “He’s worked so hard to get to this point. They were doing so well a couple weeks ago. That’s the strange part about it. We just played them down there and they beat us two out of three. They were playing good baseball.”

Beinfest did not rule out additional changes.

“When you go the way we’ve been going, I think everything is on the table,” Beinfest said. “I’m probably on the table as well, and rightfully so. It’s been a very difficult period and I think when you go through these things you can’t rule anything out.”

As Villas-Boas is linked to Chelsea, club says it hopes to announce new manager in coming days

LISBON, Portugal – Chelsea announced plans Monday to appoint a new manager within days, after Portuguese media linked Porto’s Andre Villas-Boas with the Premier League club.

Portugal’s national news agency Lusa and several Portuguese newspaper websites reported that Chelsea has agreed to pay the 15-milion-euro (C$21 million) release clause in Villas-Boas’s Porto contract.

“We hope to be able to make an announcement regarding the new manager in the next few days,” Chelsea said in a statement responding to questions about Villas-Boas.

Porto said it has “received no information that the clause will be activated nor the coach’s willingness for it to happen.”

But Porto President Jorge Pinto da Costa said he would be powerless to prevent the 33-year-old Villas-Boas leaving if the price is met to release him from a contract that runs until 2013.

“If someone puts 15 million euros into our bank account and he wants to leave, there’s nothing we can do about it because that’s the contractual undertaking,” Pinto da Costa told Portugal’s Sport TV. “If that doesn’t happen, he won’t leave.”

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Villas-Boas would be replacing Italian Carlo Ancelotti, who was fired last month after his second season at Chelsea ended without a trophy.

And at 33, the Portuguese is the same age as Chelsea players Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba who he worked with at Stamford Bridge under compatriot Jose Mourinho.

Comparisons with Mourinho were reinforced last month when Villas-Boas emulated his compatriot by winning the same European competition that launched the career of the self-styled “Special One.”

Villas-Boas became the youngest coach to win a UEFA club competition when Porto’s unbeaten season ended with a victory in the Europa League final, eight years after Mourinho won the competition in its UEFA Cup incarnation.

After Mourinho, who now coaches Real Madrid, moved from Porto to Chelsea in 2004 he won back-to-back Premier League titles.

Villas-Boas was a scout for Mourinho at Chelsea and followed him in 2008 to Inter Milan.

Villas-Boas, who speaks fluent English, had also worked with Bobby Robson during the English coach’s spell at Porto’s Stadium of the Dragon. He coached the British Virgin Isles at just 21.

Porto ended the past season unbeaten in the domestic championship with 27 wins in 30 matches. In Europe, it recorded 14 wins in 17 games, scoring 44 goals with an attacking style of play favoured by Villas-Boas.

Porto became only the second Portuguese club to finish a league season unbeaten, after Benfica’s 1972-73 team.

“I don’t approach football with only a tactical approach – you can achieve success through various means. What I like is to make my players give their most but I give them lots of room to manoeuvre,” Villas-Boas said on the eve of the Europa League final. “I try to promote their talent and feel free to make the right decisions. I’m no dictator.”

Dutch coach Guus Hiddink was also linked with a return to the Blues, where he won the FA Cup as a caretaker manager in 2009.

Boyd Group acquires Colorado-based collision repair company

WINNIPEG – Boyd Group Income Fund (TSX:BYD.UN) has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Cars Collision Center of Colorado LLC, which owns 28 collision repair shops in the U.S. states of Illinois, Indiana, and Colorado.

The pricetag of the deal, announced Monday, is US$21 million.

The Winnipeg-based auto body repair company said the acquisition is expected to immediately boost earnings, cash flows and distributable cash per unit.

“By our estimates, the acquisition will position Boyd as the largest multi-location collision operator in North America not only in terms of number of locations, but also in terms of annual sales,” president and CEO Brock Bulbuck said in a release before stock markets opened Monday.

“After completing this transaction, Boyd will have a total of 164 collision repair centres across 13 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces. We expect to see substantial benefits from the transaction, including expanded critical mass and presence in one of our key markets, an expanded national footprint which translates into enhanced value to our U.S. insurance company clients, as well as additional synergies.”

The transaction is expected to be completed by July 1.

Cars is a private company that operates 14 locations in Illinois, eight in northern Indiana, and six shops in Colorado. It generated sales of US$65 million in the 12 months ended April 30.

The Boyd Group is the largest operator of collision repair centres in North America, operating under the trade names Boyd Autobody & Glass, Gerber Collision & Glass and True2Form.

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Austrian officials extradite to Germany terror suspect arrested in Vienna

BERLIN – An alleged German terrorist arrested last month in Vienna has been extradited to Germany, where authorities accuse him of belonging to the extremist German Taliban Mujahideen movement.

German federal prosecutors said the 26-year-old, identified only as Yusuf O., was arrested in Vienna on May 31 on a German warrant. He was taken to Germany on Monday and brought before a judge, who ordered that he remain in custody pending further investigation.

The suspect allegedly travelled to the Afghan-Pakistan border region in 2009 and joined the German Taliban Mujahideen by that September, prosecutors say.

“He is believed to have been trained in explosives and guns and have participated in the violent jihad of the German Taliban Mujahideen,” they said in a statement that also alleged he “appeared in propaganda videos of the organization.”

Upon his return to Europe in 2011, O. began recruiting supporters and members for the movement, including another suspect identified as 21-year-old Austrian Maqsood L., who was arrested on May 16 in Berlin.

Austrian Interior Ministry spokesman Rudolf Gollia also said Monday that Yusuf O. was in contact with another Austrian suspect, 25-year-old Thomas al-J., who was arrested in Vienna last week.

Austrian officials say they are investigating al-J. for planning plotting attacks in Germany, including vague plans to target the seat of Germany’s parliament, the Reichstag in Berlin.

Germany’s Interior Ministry said it had knowledge of plans for any such attack.

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Tens of thousands demonstrate Yemen’s capital, demand president’s sons leave country

SANAA, Yemen – Tens of thousands took to the streets of the capital on Monday, demanding that the president’s sons leave Yemen as pressure rose for the wounded leader being treated outside the country to step down.

Ahmed Saleh, 42, is a one-time heir apparent to his father, who was badly wounded in an attack earlier this month. A ruling party official had said last week the president would return home soon from medical treatment in Saudi Arabia despite reports that he was heavily burned.

In his absence, pressure has been mounting at home and abroad for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step aside after nearly 33 years in power.

His son Ahmed Saleh commands the elite Presidential Guard, the country’s best equipped and trained military unit. The force has played a key role in protecting his father’s regime since pro-democracy protests erupted in February.

The protesters on Monday called for Ahmed Saleh to leave, along with his brother Khaled, who is also an army commander. Their demonstration led to the closure of major streets in the capital. Most stores shuttered down, but there were no immediate reports of clashes with security forces.

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More than 100 influential religious clerics and tribal leaders have called for the president’s ouster and elections to choose a new leader, saying he is unfit to return to his post.

Militants, meanwhile, are taking advantage of the internal strife in Yemen to overrun parts of the country.

In the southern port of Aden, government forces early Monday killed one Islamic militant and wounded two others in an exchange of fire near the offices of the local branch of the Central bank at Crater, the city’s ancient historic port district, according to security officials. No casualties were reported.

Militants also seized two towns in the southern province of Abyan late last month and attacked a town in a neighbouring province last week.

Military officials, meanwhile, on Monday raised to 17 the number of militants killed in fighting in Abyan the previous day and said at least five soldiers, including two senior officers, were killed Monday when a mortar hit their position.

The security and military officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Yemen’s political turmoil began with anti-government protests in February. The country is the poorest in the Arab world, suffers numerous internal conflicts and is a potential source of instability for neighbouring Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich parts of the Arabian peninsula.

For the U.S. and Europe, the main concern is the al-Qaida offshoot that has found refuge in Yemen’s mountainous hinterlands and has been behind several nearly successful strikes on U.S. targets.

Royal Bank sells U.S. retail banking operations for US$3.62 billion

TORONTO – Royal Bank (TSX:RY) has agreed to sell its U.S. regional retail banking operations to PNC Financial Services for about US$3.62 billion and will take well over a billion dollars in losses as a result.

Canada’s biggest bank said Monday that it will face a C$1.6-billion loss that will be booked in the third quarter, which ends July 31. The loss includes an estimated $1.3-billion writeoff.

Royal Bank said the purchase will be comprised of cash as well as up to $1 billion in PNC shares.

Chief executive Gord Nixon told analysts on a conference call that Royal Bank weighed several different types of transactions but settled on PNC’s offer because it preferred the balance of cash and shares in the agreement.

“Specifically, the additional capital can be used to fuel organic growth across all of our business segments and invest in other businesses, such as wealth management, where we have been targeting some international asset managers,” Nixon said.

The transaction covers its RBC Bank operations, which will be sold for US$3.45 billion, and its credit card assets, sold for US$165 million.

Royal Bank operates under the RBC Bank banner in the U.S., with more than 400 branches throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

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The banks were formerly part of the Centura and other brands that were acquired by Royal starting a decade ago. However, the Canadian bank’s rapid expansion struck a major hurdle when the U.S. housing bubble burst and hit mortgage markets hard in southern U.S. states where the former Centura bank operated.

“Given the dynamics and highly competitive nature of the U.S. retail market and the increasing challenges as a result of both the economy and regulations, success in our view will require operational scale which can only be achieved by making large capital investments,” Nixon said.

“We believe we can achieve greater shareholder returns by investing the proceeds of this sale into higher return businesses.”

Nixon emphasized that the transaction doesn’t mean Royal Bank is fully exiting the United States, as it plans to continue operating both its U.S. wealth management and capital markets operations.

“In addition, we will maintain our existing cross-border banking platform for current and future clients with a targeted suite of cross-border products and services to meet their needs,” Nixon said in a release before stock markets opened.

Investors appeared to respond relatively favourably to the transaction, sending Royal’s shares up 22 cents to $54.55 in morning trading Monday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

“I think there’s relief that it’s over and it didn’t take a long time” to sell the assets, said Kate Warne, Canadian markets specialist at Edward Jones in St. Louis.

“To a certain extent, buying banks that did a lot of real estate loans at the beginning of the real estate crisis wasn’t a great move and we can at least be relieved that they have gotten out of them.”

CIBC analyst Rob Sedran said in as note that despite Royal Bank booking a loss on the sale, the financial implications are positive.

“The deal should … be viewed favourably since Royal Bank was able, in our view, to extract a very full price. Management can now refocus on growing its core business and the deal will be accretive to both earnings and capital,” he wrote.

Despite the Royal’s troubles in the United States, other Canadian banks – TD Bank and Bank of Montreal – are doing well in the American market.

TD’s former Banknorth and Commerce Bank franchises – renamed as TD Bank N.A – are among the biggest regional banks in the United States, operating throughout New England and the northeastern states. Meanwhile, Bank of Montreal has a growing banking and wealth management franchise from its Harris Bank operations based in the Chicago area.

The sale of the banking assets face the usual closing conditions, including regulatory approvals, and the transaction is expected to close in March 2012.

A Wall Street Journal report on Sunday said that Pittsburgh-based PNC beat out rival regional bank BB&T Corp. for the Royal Bank operations.

PNC chairman and CEO James Rohr said in a statement that the RBC acquisition will give PNC access to “attractive southeast markets in a way that will create value for our shareholders.”

The deal adds about $19 billion of deposits and $16 billion of loans based on RBC Bank (USA) balances as of April 30, Rohr said.

Kurdish rebel leader calls for cease-fire, say Turkey’s parliament must draft new constitution

ANKARA, Turkey – The jailed Kurdish rebel leader on Monday urged fighters to extend a cease-fire by several months to allow a new Turkish constitution to address their demands, but his followers refused to immediately rule out further attacks.

Abdullah Ocalan’s word carries enormous weight with rebel commanders in the field. But the group said in a statement it was coming under attack from Turkish forces and authorities were still arresting Kurdish activists.

“Taking into consideration these developments and the ambiguous nature of the current political climate, our movement has decided to discuss and evaluate the appeal of our leader in a comprehensive manner and declare our stance during the following week,” the statement from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, said.

The rebel group, considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and the West, is fighting for autonomy in Turkey in a conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984. A Turkish campaign to grant more rights to Kurds stalled amid a nationalist backlash, but the government has promised to address the issue as part of an overhaul of the constitution.

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In a message relayed to his group through his lawyers, Ocalan urged the new parliament to immediately start working on a new constitution, the rebels said. He called on PKK fighters to avoid clashes and only defend themselves if attacked.

Ocalan had previously threatened to end the cease-fire on June 15, and warned of increased violence by his rebel group unless Turkey’s government agreed to negotiate an end to the conflict.

Ocalan no longer runs rebel operations since his capture in 1999, but he retains considerable sway over the guerrillas, who are mostly in hiding in bases in northern Iraq.

The rebels also said Ocalan had met with a group of state officials on June 14, two days after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party won a third term in office.

Last year, state officials travelled to Ocalan’s prison island a few times to talk with him, his lawyers said. Turkey says it does not negotiate with the outlawed group, but has acknowledged that intelligence agents have talked to Ocalan for years.

The Kurdish minority makes up about 20 per cent of Turkey’s 74 million people, and has traditionally been a target of state discrimination.

UN refugee chief calls for open borders during war, more burden-sharing from wealthy nations

ROME – The U.N. refugee chief on Monday urged all countries to keep their borders open and offer protection to refugees fleeing violence since “new crises multiply and old crises never end.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres spoke after some European nations including Italy have shown resistance to opening their doors to people feeling unrest and violence across North Africa and the Middle East.

Guterres spoke of an “impression” seeded across Europe that all refugees were coming to the continent. But, he said, “it’s simply not true that refugees are moving massively to the north.”

A report released Monday by UNHCR said four-fifths of the world’s 15.4 million refugees are hosted by developing countries.

In Libya, for example, about 1 million people – not all of them refugees – have fled to neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt since the beginning of the violence, Guterres told reporters in Rome. Less than 2 per cent of that number have crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe.

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“My appeal to all states of the world is to keep the borders open to all those who seek protection and are entitled to receive protection,” he said. He also called for a “new deal in burden- and responsibility-sharing” in the handling of refugees, saying wealthy countries should offer more support to countries in the developing world, since they are bearing the brunt of refugee crises.

Guterres was marking World Refugee Day and the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, aimed at protecting civilians and prisoners in time of war. On Sunday he went to Lampedusa, the tiny Italian island where some 20,000 people arrived after fleeing unrest in Tunisia and Libya. Angelina Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the refugee agency, also toured the island.

Guterres called on the Italian government not to send people back to Libya.

The conservative government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi signed an agreement last week with Libyan rebels meant to stem the influx of migrants. The government includes a xenophobic party, the Northern League, as a junior partner, and the interior minister handling the crisis, Roberto Maroni, is a prominent League official.

The deal, among other things, allows for the deportation of immigrants without proper status, prompting concerns that it might prevent refugees from being properly screened for asylum claims.

“I don’t believe that we can consider that the present Libyan situation is conducive to any kind of return into Libya,” Guterres said Monday. “Imagine what would happen if the Tunisians and Egyptians would have returned the 1 million people.”

He said the best way to handle the situation is to grant access to the territory to migrant boats, and then assess whether or not the people on board are entitled to protection.

However, Guterres said he was impressed by sea rescue operations that have been carried out by Coast Guard officials off Lampedusa in the past months.

Later in the day, Guterres met with Maroni, the Italian interior minister, who has been in charge of handling the migration crisis. A statement from the ministry sought to play down any controversies, focusing on co-operation, the UNHCR’s call for burden-sharing and its commitment to support the democratic transition of “Arab spring” nations.

According to the report released Monday, more than a quarter of the world’s refugees are in just three nations: Pakistan, Iran and Syria.

Those figures don’t include the latest wave of people displaced by this year’s unrest in North Africa. Guterres said Monday that “at the end of 2010 we had the highest number of refugees and internally displaced people of the last 15 years.”

Palestinians make up one-third of the world’s refugee population – a total of almost 5 million people – many of whom have lived in neighbouring countries all their lives.

Aside from the 15.4 million refugees – a small increase of 153,000 since 2009 – UNHCR also counted 27.5 million internally displaced people and 850,000 asylum seekers last year.

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Associated Press Writer Frank Jordans contributed from Geneva.

American lawyer, professor celebrate Nepal’s first public lesbian wedding ceremony

DAKSHINKALI, Nepal – A lawyer and a college professor from the United States celebrated Nepal’s first public lesbian wedding ceremony Monday in the Himalayan nation that recently began recognizing gay rights and drafting laws to end sexual discrimination.

Courtney Mitchell, 41, and Sarah Welton, 48, from Denver, Colorado, celebrated in a Hindu Nepalese tradition at the Dakshinkali temple south of Kathmandu, the capital of the Himalayan nation. Local gay rights activists and supporters cheered the ceremony attended by their close friends.

Nepal Parliament member Sunilbabu Pant, a gay rights activist, said it was the first public wedding of a lesbian couple in the mostly conservative nation.

Same-sex marriages are not legal in Nepal, where gay couples hid their relationships until recently, when the supreme court ordered the government to legally guarantee sexual rights and end discrimination. The laws are being drafted, but broader political differences have delayed passage.

Pant said while Monday’s wedding did not hold any legal status, “it was a huge achievement for gay rights campaign in Nepal.”

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Pant and his group, called Blue Diamond Society, have been fighting for their rights and have even opened a travel agency hoping to bring in foreign gay couples to come to Nepal for weddings and honeymoon.

At the temple, 14 miles (22 kilometres) south of Kathmandu, Mitchell wore trousers, a hat and vest while Welton wore a red sari and covered her head with a veil.

A Hindu priest performed the ceremony. The couple offered flowers, fruits and money to the fire and gods at the traditional ceremony. The couple put flower garlands on each other while Mitchell put red vermillion powder on Welton’s forehead, which is equivalent of exchanging of rings in a Christian wedding.

The guests danced to tunes played by a traditional band with drums and trumpets. One musician, Sitaram Basiyar, said he has performed at hundreds of weddings in his lifetime but this was his first lesbian wedding.

“I never thought I would see such a wedding in my lifetime,” he said.

The couple said they were happy to be married in Nepal and to contribute to the campaign for gay rights in the country.

“It was my dream wedding come true. This is a fabulous ceremony,” Welton said.

Mitchell worked with the U.S. Peace Corp in Nepal between 1998 and 2003, when people did not admit homosexuality.

“It is because if everything that has been happening since 2003 with sexual minority rights we decided to come here for the wedding,” Mitchell said. “We are very excited about all the progress Nepal has made for gay rights in Nepal and I really wanted to show my support for Nepal.”

The couple who met at a birthday party five years ago have adopted a 9-month-old girl.

They plan to register their wedding in the state of Iowa, where same-sex marriage is legal, while it is not in Colorado.

Blue Diamond Society organized a ceremony last year for a Briton and Indian united in Nepal’s first wedding ceremony for a gay couple. It was a private ceremony attended by a few guests.

EU foreign ministers add 6 Libyan port authorities to assets freeze, pledge postwar help

LUXEMBOURG – European Union foreign ministers harshly condemned the regime of Libyan Col. Moammar Gadhafi on Monday, saying there could be no impunity for crimes against humanity and urging his followers to distance themselves from such crimes.

“Time is not on Gadhafi’s side,” the foreign ministers said in a statement. “He has lost all legitimacy to remain in power.”

The 27 foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, toughened the EU’s sanctions against the regime by adding six port authorities controlled by Gadhafi’s forces to its asset-freeze list. The ports were not named.

The statement said the officials were concerned about the humanitarian situation, particularly in the city of Misrata and in the western mountains, and said charity organizations must be granted unhindered access throughout Libya without delay. It reiterated the offer – made many times, but never accepted – to support the delivery of humanitarian aid with an EU military force if requested to do so by the U.N.

The statement also said the EU, working with the U.N., the World Bank and regional organizations, had started to mobilize its resources to support a political transition in Libya and will also help with post-conflict reconstruction.

“The EU is committed to supporting the building of a democratic state,” the statement said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has expressed concern about postwar stability in Libya if planning is not done.

She has said a successful post-conflict period in North Africa will require what she calls the three M’s: money, market access and mobility. She wants Europe to contribute billions of euros (dollars) to develop the economies of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.

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Embarrassing incidents for Airbus at Paris Air Show, where rivalry with Boeing heats up

LE BOURGET, France – One of Airbus’ star jets was grounded after clipping a wing on a taxiway structure, the latest in a string of embarrassments for the European planemaker at the aviation industry’s premier showcase.

The A380 superjumbo suffered damage to its wing tip Sunday after the slow-speed collision with a building at the Le Bourget airport, where the air show is taking place, EADS spokesman Alexander Reinhardt said Monday.

Airbus quickly found a replacement jet for demonstration flights during the air show, an A380 operated by Korean Air. But the plane maker is still facing other setbacks.

The Airbus A400M military transport plane had to cancel a demonstration flight because of what the manufacturer described as a minor gearbox problem, although the aircraft will still make a fly-over during President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to the air show on Monday, Reinhardt said.

On Saturday, Airbus announced that two of the three versions of its new widebody jet, the A350, would be delayed about two years.

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The stretched A350-1000 is being pushed back to 2017 to give engine supplier Rolls Royce time to develop a more powerful motor that will extend the jet’s range, Airbus said. The standard version of the plane, the A350-900, is still expected to arrive in the second half of 2013, Airbus said.

Airbus takes on its traditional rival Boeing Co. at the air show, where both are expected to announce a string of orders as they vie for the position of biggest planemaker in the world.

Qatar Airways announced an order for six Boeing 777 planes in a $1.7 billion deal at the start of the show Monday.

Beyond the rivalry, the search for more environmentally friendly aircraft is shaping up as a major theme of this year’s Paris Air Show, the world’s largest and oldest aviation showcase.

The aviation industry has suffered this year from skyrocketing fuel costs and bleak forecasts for the international air transport market.

The International Air Transport Association last month warned that natural disasters in Japan, unrest in the Middle East and rising fuel prices would cause airline industry profits to collapse only a year after they’d begun to recover from the global economic crisis.

More than 2,100 exhibitors from 45 countries have signed up to take part in the weeklong event showcasing both commercial and defence aircraft. Airbus expects to bag bountiful orders for a new, more fuel-efficient version of its workhorse A320 shorthaul jet, while Boeing is spotlighting its new mid-range 787 Dreamliner and 747-8 intercontinental passenger jets.

Gallois said the air show, at Le Bourget airport outside Paris, “will confirm the success of the A320neo,” a revamped version of the standard A320 reengineered to be 15 per cent more fuel efficient.

Airbus has booked more than 330 orders and commitments for the A320neo since its commercial launch last December, including from airlines IndiGo, Virgin American, Brazil’s TAM and airplane leasing company ILFC.

Airlines squeezed by higher fuel prices are rushing to order the jet, which isn’t scheduled to come into service until late 2015. Boeing hasn’t yet chosen how it will respond, but top marketing executive Randy Tinseth said last week it would decide in the coming months whether to upgrade its existing 737 model or design a whole new plane, which wouldn’t be in the air until the end of the decade.

Boeing and Honeywell are both boasting of having the first biofuel-powered trans-Atlantic flight, with Boeing flying in its 747-8 freighter from Seattle on a mix of biofuel and jet fuel, while Honeywell touts the “green jet fuel” it developed to power a Gulfstream business jet on its way from New Jersey to Le Bourget just in time for the air show kickoff.

EADS will also demonstrate the world’s first diesel-electric hybrid aircraft at the show, another leg in its strategy of cutting its fleet’s carbon dioxide emissions by 50 per cent by 2050.

Skyrocketing fuel costs are a major issue for Airbus and Boeing customers, who will see their profits plunge to $4 billion this year from $18 billion in 2010, according to the IATA forecast released earlier this month.

Major airlines have increased fares seven times since the start of the year as fuel prices rose.

The airshow will also be the battleground in the yearly showdown between Boeing and Airbus for dominance in booking new orders. Airlines in fast-growing Asian and Middle Eastern countries have been ordering hundreds of new aircraft to meet skyrocketing air traffic in those regions.

Airbus edged out Boeing at last year’s Farnborough International Airshow, racking up deals totalling $13.2 billion, while Chicago-based Boeing’s commitments came in at $12.8 billion.

Those results were both a big improvement over the results of the last Paris Air Show in 2009, when many airlines closed their checkbooks in the wake of the global financial meltdown.

Last week Boeing Co. upped its forecast for aircraft demand over the next 20 years, saying airlines will need $4 trillion worth of new planes to meet a pickup in passenger numbers, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

Going into next week’s event, Airbus has taken in 176 gross orders this year, compared to Boeing’s 183 gross orders.

Boeing is the world’s No. 2 commercial jet maker after Airbus, based on 2010 deliveries. Airbus delivered 510 commercial planes last year, compared with 462 for Boeing.

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Jamey Keaten at Le Bourget contributed to this report.