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Obama: US embassy in Havana marks 'new chapter' in Cuba ties

PHOTO: President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Wednesday. The president announced that US and Cuba have agreed to open embassies in each other's capitals, the biggest tangible step in the countries' historic bid to restore ties after more than a half-century of hostilities. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the U.S. and Cuba will reopen their embassies in Havana and Washington, heralding a "new chapter" in relations after a half-century of hostility.


"We don't have to be imprisoned by the past," Obama said from White House Rose Garden. "Americans and Cubans alike are ready to move forward."


Cuban television broadcast Obama's statement live, underscoring the new spirit. A state television anchor read a letter from Cuban President Raul Castro to Obama in which he wrote that Cuba is "encouraged by the reciprocal intention to develop respectful relations and cooperation between our people and governments."


The embassy agreement marks the biggest tangible step toward normalizing relations since the surprise announcement in December that the U.S. and Cuba were restarting diplomatic ties. The posts in Washington and Havana are scheduled to open July 20, Cuba's Foreign Ministry said.


Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Cuba for the opening of the U.S. Embassy. Kerry, who is in Vienna for nuclear talks with Iran, called the embassy agreement "long overdue."


For Obama, ending the U.S. freeze with Cuba is central to his foreign policy legacy as he nears the end of his presidency. Obama has long touted the value of direct engagement with global foes and has argued that the U.S. economic embargo on the communist island just 90 miles south of Florida was ineffective.


Amid the celebratory rhetoric, there were words of caution from both countries.


A statement from the Cuban government said reopening embassies was just the first step in "a long and complex process toward normalization of bilateral ties." It demanded an end to the U.S. embargo, the return of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo and a halt to U.S. radio and TV broadcasts aimed at the island.


And Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said in a statement that opening a U.S. Embassy in Cuba "will do nothing to help the Cuban people and is just another trivial attempt for President Obama to go legacy shopping."


The president on Wednesday reiterated his call for Congress to lift the embargo, which he said has failed to bring political change in Cuba. However, he faces stiff resistance from Republicans, as well as some Democrats, who say he is prematurely rewarding a government that engages in serious human rights abuses.


The president also will face strong opposition in Congress to spending any taxpayer dollars for building or refurbishing an embassy in Havana. Congress would have to approve any administration request to spend money on an embassy.


The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee voted last month to curb Obama administration efforts to work on an embassy in Cuba.


Outside lane of I-10 closed Wednesday from Adams Bayou to SH 87

ORANGE (TXDOT) – The eastbound, outside lane of IH 10 from Adams Bayou to SH 87 will be closed tomorrow, July 2, from 9am-11am for repairs. Expect possible delays. 

Beaumont gives traffic, safety alert for 4th of July celebration downtown

BEAUMONT -- The City of Beaumont will be hosting its annual Fourth of July Celebration, Saturday, July 4, at 5:00 pm at Riverfront Park. The City of Beaumont suggests you please plan travel to the downtown area with this in mind.

Safety is first priority. Fireworks will start at 9:00 pm and last approximately 25 minutes.

During past celebrations, drivers traveling across the ;Neches River bridge have stopped to watch the Firework show

Do not stop on Neches River Bridge or I10. This ;is a serious safety hazard.

"We want everyone to enjoy the show in a safe location." A team of city officials have been planning this event for several months and have officers in place to help guide traffic during this fun-filled event.

"We recommend car-pooling to ease traffic congestion."

The events and parking are free and we ask that everyone be patient when entering and leaving the area. As parking lots fill up, officers will close the lots and direct drivers to the next available area.

Pay attention to officers directing traffic and do not disregard barricades. There will be a large number of first responders assigned to the downtown area, contact them if you see anything suspicious or need assistance.

The Neches River water levels are extremely high. "Please keep this in mind if you will be attending the ;festivities by boat." The Coast Guard and JCSO Marine Units will be assigned to the area.

Rifle-toting robber holds up loan business in Orange

ORANGE - Police are searching for a man armed with a rifle who held up a business Tuesday afternoon.

Police in Orange say they responded to an armed robbery at about 3:40 p.m. Tuesday at Sun Loan, 1104 16th Street.

A man carrying a rifle walked into the business and demanded money. He stole an undetermined amount of cash and ran way behind the building.  No one was injured.  

If anyone has information on the identity of the suspect, call the Orange Police Department at 409-883-1026.    

OK Top Court: 10 commandments monument must come down

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma's Supreme Court says the Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol must be removed because it indirectly benefits the Jewish and Christian faiths in violation of the state's constitution. 


The court ruled Tuesday that the Oklahoma Constitution bans using public property to benefit a religion, and said the Ten Commandments are "obviously religious in nature."


Attorney General Scott Pruitt argued that the monument is nearly identical to a Texas monument that was found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.


Oklahoma justices said the local monument violates Oklahoma's constitution. Private funds were used to erect the monument in 2012.


Since then, others have asked for space, including a Nevada Hindu leader, animal rights advocates, the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and a group pushing for a Satan statue.


Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pickup truck overturns at 69/73 in Port Arthur

PORT ARTHUR - A pickup truck overturned at Highway 69 and the intersection of Highway 73 in Port Arthur and it caused traffic to back up.

The accident was reported at about 6 a.m. Wednesday. Port Arthur Police say the driver hit the guard rail, lost control, and the pickup hit the retaining wall. Another driver traveling north hit the truck and caused it to overturn. The car ended up in a ditch.

Both drivers have been taken to a hospital. We're checking on their conditions.

Traffic was down to one lane and was backed up on Highway 69 north.


AME church on fire in South Carolina

GREEYLEYVILLE, S.C. — By WCIV, Sinclair Broadcast Group

A black church is on fire tonight 20 years after it was burned to the ground by two former members of the KKK. Firefighters in Williamsburg County are battling a fire at Mount Zion AME Church on Mackey Road in Greeleyville, sources say.

Media partner reports the fire burned through the roof. Clarendon, Manning and Kingstree fire departments are all at the scene, as is the State Law Enforcement Division.

The fire comes about a week after Mount Zion AME was featured in a Los Angeles Times story about the long history of violence against black churches and 20 years after it was burned to the ground by two former members of the KKK.

The first fire happened on June 20, 1995.

President Clinton attended a dedication of the new church on June 12, 1996.

Tuesday's fire is the seventh black church in the South to catch fire since nine people were shot to death during a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

The Rev. Nelson Rivers said Tuesday night that he worked closely with ATF while they investigated a string of arsons at black churches in the 1990s.

"My prayer is that we're not having a repeat," Rivers told ABC News 4. "But we're not going to take chances and we are plotting where the churches have burned so far, reaching out to the pastors and the congregations, and also talking to the authorities in those areas to see what they think."

A federal law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity said a Friday fire at a church in Aiken County does not appear to have been intentionally set. The official had direct knowledge of the investigations but spoke on condition of anonymity Monday because the official was not authorized to discuss them publicly.

The official said another fire Wednesday at a Charlotte, North Carolina, church appeared to be set by vandals, and investigators have found no graffiti or other evidence that it was racially motivated./ In Georgia, FBI Special Agent in Charge Britt Johnson said Monday that authorities are also looking into whether a June 23 fire could be a hate crime, which is common practice for fires at houses of worship.

"Opening a preliminary inquiry doesn't suggest that a hate crime has occurred, but rather ensures that it is getting additional scrutiny for hate crime potential," Johnson said in a statement.

Another fire was reported at the College Hill Seventh Day Adventist church in Knoxville,Tennessee, a predominantly black congregation. Knoxville Police spokesman Darrell DeBusk had said previously that the fire was not being investigated as a hate crime. Authorities have said bales of hay outside the church were set on fire, and a church van was damaged in the blaze.

Federal investigators are tracking the Knoxville blaze and several others in an arson database to determine whether there are any trends or similarities, but none of the fires appear to be related, said Michael Knight, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Tennessee.

In Elyria, Ohio, arson has been ruled out in the burning of the College Heights Baptist Church, fire Chief Richard Benton told The Chronicle Telegram newspaper.

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