Around the World: September 18, 2014

Here's what's happening across the United States and around the world today.

Voters in Scotland decide whether to break from UK and become independent

The fate of the United Kingdom was at stake Thursday as Scotland began voting in a referendum on whether to become an independent state, deciding whether to unravel a marriage that helped build an empire but has increasingly been felt by many Scots as stifling and one-sided.

The question on the ballot paper is simplicity itself: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" Yet it has divided Scots during months of campaigning — and in 15 hours on Thursday they decide on the fate of a 307-year old union with England.

More than 2,600 polling places opened Thursday at 7 a.m. (2 a.m. EDT) and will close at 10 p.m. (5 p.m. EDT). Turnout is expected to be high, with more than 4.2 million people registered to vote — 97 percent of those eligible.

Polls suggest the result is too close to call, with the pro-independence Yes side gaining momentum in the final weeks of the campaign.

First Minister Alex Salmond was casting his vote near his home in northeastern Scotland. If the Yes side prevails he will realize a long-held dream of leading his country to independence after an alliance with England formed in 1707.


Scotland, with little more than 5 million people, is one of the oldest countries in the world, having been united as a single nation by King Kenneth MacAlpin in the year 843.

It remained an independent state for more than 800 years until the formation of Great Britain in 1707.

Australian leader says intelligence of beheading plot led to Sydney police raids

Police said they thwarted a plot to carry out beheadings in Australia by supporters of the radical Islamic State group by detaining 15 people and raiding more than a dozen properties across Sydney on Thursday.

The raids involving 800 federal and state police officers — the largest in the country's history — came in response to intelligence that an Islamic State group leader in the Middle East was calling on Australian supporters to kill, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

Abbott was asked about reports that the detainees were planning to behead a random person in Sydney.

"That's the intelligence we received," he told reporters. "The exhortations — quite direct exhortations — were coming from an Australian who is apparently quite senior in ISIS to networks of support back in Australia to conduct demonstration killings here in this country."

ISIS refers to the al-Qaida splinter group leading Sunni militants in Iraq, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which now calls itself simply Islamic State.

Measure to arm Syrian rebels unites some Senate candidates as others tread carefully

Facing off in one of the most contested Senate races in the nation, Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and his Republican challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner, found something to agree on this week — giving President Barack Obama the authority he's asked for to train and arm Syrian rebels taking on brutal Islamic State militants.

Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley and Republican Joni Ernst, battling for the Senate in Iowa, also backed the Democratic president.

For those in tough races in November, opposing the commander in chief on a question of fighting terrorists posed risks aplenty. Polls show the public supports a forceful response against Islamic State fighters who've taken over portions of Iraq and Syria and beheaded two American journalists and a British aid worker.

Yet standing with an unpopular president seeking to broaden a dangerous conflict with no certain conclusion carries hazards of its own. Some lawmakers said Obama's strategy wouldn't succeed in defeating the militants, and there was little appetite among war-weary voters for an open-ended commitment or the involvement of American ground troops — something Obama promised would not happen.

Some Senate challengers avoided questions on the topic or criticized Obama's policy without saying how they'd vote. At least one endangered Democratic incumbent, Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, planned to vote "no."

Collapse of UN peacekeeping mission on Golan Heights marks new era on Israel-Syria front

For four decades, a multinational United Nations mission has quietly monitored the sleepy Golan Heights — providing a symbol of stability between bitter enemies as it enforced a truce between Israel and Syria.

But as Syria has plunged into civil war and the peacekeepers themselves have become targets of al-Qaida-linked rebels, the U.N. observer force has begun to fall apart, leaving its future — and the prospects for ever establishing peace in this rugged area of the Middle East — in doubt.

Since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war, a withdrawal from the strategic plateau was seen as the key to any peace agreement. But as Syria continues to disintegrate, the odds of Israel giving up the Golan — never a popular prospect among Israelis — appear to be dimming by the day.

The downfall of the international mission known as UNDOF is a vivid illustration of the uncertain situation across the border — and in the eyes of many Israelis, it underscores why they can never relinquish the Golan.

The force suffered its latest blow earlier this month when the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front seized the strategic Quneitra border crossing from UNDOF, sent a contingent of Filipino peacekeepers scrambling for safety in Israel and took 45 Fijian peacekeepers hostage.

Women's only workout led by ex-Miami Heat dancer puts moves on fitness, self-esteem

When Janet Jones was laid off from her job as a financial assistant two years ago and hit rock bottom, inspiration struck.

The former Miami Heat dancer decided to create a women's only workout with a safe space to let loose with girlfriends, listen to hip-hop and rap music, curse and even scream.

She called it the "Vixen Workout."

As a woman "you need some type of release," says Jones, who has a 5-year-old daughter.

"And you're not a bad mother for thinking that, you're not a bad wife, you're not a bad anything," said the 33-year-old Jones, who is based in Miami but also leads workouts in New York and other cities. "You're gonna be a better person, in turn, to your family, if you are the best version of yourself."

As NFL domestic violence trouble persists, Vikings reconsider and put Peterson on paid leave

Adrian Peterson has had the potential to be that rare post-modern NFL running back playing productively into his 30s. After that extraordinary comeback from knee reconstruction, Emmitt Smith's career rushing record became a realistic if daunting target.

The latest challenge for Peterson has taken a dark turn, though, with league-wide trouble involving domestic violence cases as the backdrop.

Placed on indefinite paid leave by the Minnesota Vikings to focus on his personal life, with a felony child abuse charge against him pending in Texas, Peterson could be finished playing for the year. In 2015, when a trial is expected, he will be 30.

This isn't the career trajectory anyone could have expected following the 2,097 yards he gained in that 2012 season to win the NFL MVP award.

"We felt it was best for him to step away," said general manager Rick Spielman, whose first draft pick with the Vikings was Peterson in the first round in 2007. The roster has been shaped around him ever since.

That's what's happening. Read more stories to jump start your day in our special Breakfast Buzz section.

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