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Nation news briefs
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• PAUL TALKS HEMP, FEDERAL REGULATION IN ND VISIT: BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul praised hemp as an alternative crop and said a free-market approach would protect the nation’s environment Monday during North Dakota campaign stops that drew hundreds of cheering supporters.

North Dakota, which is holding Republican presidential caucuses March 6, is one of 13 states with a caucus or primary from Feb. 28 to March 6. North Dakota has 28 delegates to the Republican National Convention in August, although the caucus results will not dictate how any of them vote.

Paul campaigned in Williston, Dickinson, Jamestown and Bismarck on Sunday and Monday, following rival Rick Santorum’s swing through Fargo, on the Minnesota border, and the northwestern oil-country town of Tioga last week.

In Jamestown, about 100 miles east of Bismarck, Paul was critical of the federal government’s ban on the cultivation of industrial hemp, a crop that is related to marijuana but does not have its mind-affecting properties.

Industrial hemp is grown in neighboring Canada and other countries, where it is used to make paper, lotions, clothing and biofuels.

North Dakota’s Legislature and Agriculture Department have pushed allowing hemp to be grown in the state. A state lawmaker who wanted to cultivate the crop filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration, seeking a declaration that doing so would be legal.

• SLAIN SOLDIER’S FATHER PROTESTS NJ FLAG-LOWERING: DETROIT (AP) — A western Michigan man whose son was killed while serving in the military has burned a replica of New Jersey’s flag to protest that state’s decision to lower it in honor of performer Whitney Houston.

John Burri set the flag on fire Saturday on a grill outside his home in Wyoming, near Grand Rapids.

The 60-year-old Burri says lowering flags should be done for men and women who have given their lives in service to the United States.

Army Specialist Eric Burri died in 2005 in Baghdad. Michigan flags were lowered in his honor.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie defended his decision to lower flags for Houston. Christie noted the 48-year-old icon was born in Newark and raised in nearby East Orange.

Houston died Feb. 11 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

• MD. TEEN DIES AFTER FALLING FROM MOVING CAR: TOWSON, Md. (AP) — Police say no charges will be filed against the driver who struck a Maryland teenager who died after falling out of a moving car.

Thirteen-year-old Michael Truluck was riding in a car on Saturday when it made a turn as he opened the door to throw up.

Kris Keys, Truluck’s mother, says her son had been drinking an energy drink with alcohol. Truluck was an eighth-grader at Parkville Middle School in Baltimore County.

She is encouraging her son’s friends to make better choices.

• EVANGELICALS WANT REVERSAL OF BIRTH CONTROL RULE: NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A group of evangelical pastors on Monday joined Roman Catholic clergy who oppose an Obama administration requirement that employees of religiously affiliated businesses receive birth control coverage.

Speaking at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said more than 2,500 pastors and evangelical leaders have signed a letter to President Obama asking him to reverse the mandate.

While most Protestants do not oppose contraception per se, the letter calls the mandate a violation of religious freedoms.

“This is not a Catholic issue,” Perkins said. “We will not tolerate any denomination having their religious freedom impinged upon by the government.”

The signers also object to a requirement that contraceptive coverage include the morning-after pill and other drugs and devices that prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus to grow.

The mandate does not apply to houses of worship, only religiously affiliated institutions like universities, hospitals and nonprofits.

• JURY SELECTION UNDER WAY IN NJ WEBCAM SPYING CASE: NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — The trial of a former Rutgers University student accused of using a webcam to spy on his roommate’s intimate encounter with another man could reveal some of the mystery that surrounds the case if the unidentified man in the video is called to testify.

The story touched off a national conversation about the impact of bullying of young gays after the roommate, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide in 2010, in the days following the alleged spying.

The suspect, Dharun Ravi, is not charged with his death; however, he is charged with bias intimidation — a hate crime punishable by 10 years in prison — invasion of privacy and tampering with evidence and a witness.

Questioning of potential jurors is scheduled to begin Wednesday.

The suicide will certainly loom over the trial. When prospective jurors went to court last week to fill out questionnaires, Judge Glenn Berman told them that Clementi had killed himself.

• NJ GIRL IN TRANSPLANT VISA FLAP LEAVES HOSPITAL: HACKENSACK, N.J. (AP) — A 5-year-old New Jersey girl whose bone marrow transplant was in doubt at one point due to a visa dispute involving her older sister emerged from the hospital Monday, ready to begin the slow process of resuming a normal life.

Doctors at Hackensack University Medical Center’s Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital are optimistic that Yarelis Bonilla will make a full recovery after spending the last six weeks in the hospital, several months after being diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia.

“She was very lucky to have a matched sibling donor; those are the patients who usually do the best,” said Dr. Alfred Gillio, who performed the transplant last month. “We had a great time with her,” he added. “She was a great patient.”

According to Gillio, Bonilla spent 28 days in isolation during which she did art projects, played with makeup and typed on a computer. One thing she didn’t do much of was eat, he said.

Asked what she looked forward to eating when she got home, she said shyly: “Eggs.”

She should be able to return to school in three months, Gillio said.

: LOS CABOS, Mexico (AP) — The United States and Mexico agreed Monday to work together when drilling for oil and gas below their maritime border in the Gulf of Mexico.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mexico’s foreign minister signed the deal at a ceremony in the Mexican resort of Los Cabos as Mexican President Felipe Calderon and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar looked on.

The cooperation stems from an understanding that President Barack Obama and Calderon reached in 2010 to share in the profits and work together to avoid spills.

Clinton said the deal would “ensure safe, efficient, responsible exploration of the oil and gas reservoirs in the Gulf of Mexico.”