Air Force instructor convicted of rape, assault

Posted July 20, 2012, at 10:29 p.m.

SAN ANTONIO — An Air Force instructor was convicted in military court Friday of raping one female trainee and sexually assaulting several others at a large Texas base that is embroiled in a sweeping sex scandal.

Staff Sgt. Luis Walker showed no emotion as the jury of seven military personnel was read — guilty on all 28 counts, including rape, aggravated sexual contact and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault. He faces up to life in prison and a dishonorable discharge.

Walker is among 12 instructors at Lackland Air Force Base, where all U.S. airmen go through basic training, who have been investigated for alleged sexual misconduct involving a total of at least 31 female trainees. Six instructors have been charged on counts ranging from rape to adultery, and Walker, who faced the most serious charges, was the first to stand trial.

Despite June spending, Obama has $97.5M in bank

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign spent more than it raised in June, illustrating both the fierce pace of campaigning during the month and his slightly weaker fundraising position, finance reports filed Friday show.

In a month when Obama was trying to answer a heavy barrage of advertising by outside “super” political groups supporting Republican rival Mitt Romney, his campaign spent $38.2 million buying television advertising time. Romney spent less than a third of that — $10.4 million — on TV time.

At the same time, Romney’s campaign nearly doubled its spending in June compared to the previous month, underscoring the close proximity of the November general election in which Republicans hope to unseat Obama and, in part, dismantle the president’s signature health care overhaul.

Much of Romney’s financial advantage — he raised $106 million last month with the help of the Republican Party — came from larger donations in a handful of battleground states. Those included Florida, where the Romney Victory Fund pulled in about $4.4 million in individual contributions, records show.

All told, June was the second consecutive month in which Romney surpassed Obama in fundraising. Romney’s money advantage prompted Obama’s campaign advisers to publicly warn the president could lose the election if the financial disparity continued earlier this month.

Syrians flee fierce battles in capital

BEIRUT — About 30,000 Syrians may have fled across the border to neighboring Lebanon in the past 48 hours, as intense fighting spread across the Syrian capital of Damascus and attacks spiked in other cities across the country.

“We have reports we are trying to verify that thousands of Syrians overnight and yesterday crossed into Lebanon,” Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said at a briefing in Geneva on Friday. “So far reports vary between 8,500 and 30,000 people who may have crossed.”

With so many Syrians crossing the border in such a short period, some Lebanese are concerned that the influx could spark sectarian conflict in their own country, where recent clashes between Sunni Muslims and Alawites have left more than 20 dead.

Syrian state television reported, meanwhile, that Lt. Gen. Hisham Ikhtiyar, the country’s national security chief, died of wounds suffered Wednesday when a bomb planted by rebels detonated in a meeting of high-level security officials.

Ikhtiyar was the fourth member of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle killed by the explosion, which shattered the already fragile chances of a negotiated peace deal and brought the civil revolt that has raged for 16 months into the heart of Assad’s government.

Government forces shelled residential areas of Damascus and deployed tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters Friday, claiming they had made headway in their battle against rebel forces by retaking Midan, a neighborhood where some of the heaviest fighting had taken place in recent days. The rebel Free Syrian Army claimed it had made a tactical retreat. “We pulled back to prepare other attacks,” said Malik Kurdi, deputy commander of the FSA.

The Syrian military also regained control of two border crossings between Syria and Turkey that the rebels had taken over Thursday, though rebel fighters were still in control of another border crossing between Syria and Iraq.

The heavy fighting Thursday and Friday left 431 dead across Syria, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a sign that the conflict may be headed toward a bloody endgame as the government struggles to regain control in Damascus and several smaller cities.

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