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Secret Service sex scandal 'regret'

The sex scandal involving prostitutes and US Secret Service staff deepened as 11 agents were placed on leave and the agency designed to protect Barack Obama was forced to offer regret for overshadowing his diplomatic mission to Latin America.

The controversy also expanded to the US military, which announced five service members staying at the same hotel as the agents in Colombia may also have been involved. They were confined to their quarters in Colombia and ordered not to have contact with others.

All the alleged activities took place before President Obama arrived in Cartagena, a resort city with a teeming prostitution trade, for the Summit of the Americas with 33 other regional leaders.

The allegations are an embarrassment for an American president on foreign soil and threatened to scupper White House efforts to keep his trip focused squarely on boosting economic ties with fast-growing Latin America. Mr Obama is holding two days of meetings at the summit before heading back to Washington.

The White House said Mr Obama had been briefed about the incidents but would not comment on his reaction. "The President does have full confidence in the United States Secret Service," presidential spokesman Jay Carney said, when asked.

Mr Carney insisted the matter was more a distraction for the media than Mr Obama, but Secret Service assistant director Paul Morrissey said in a statement: "We regret any distraction from the Summit of the Americas this situation has caused."

Rep Peter King, chairman of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, said after he was briefed on the investigation on Saturday that "close to" all 11 of the agents involved had brought women back to their rooms at a hotel separate from where Mr Obama was staying. The New York Republican said the women were "presumed to be prostitutes" but investigators were interviewing the agents.

The 11 employees in question were special agents and Uniformed Division Officers. None was assigned to protect Mr Obama directly. All were sent home and replaced, Mr Morrissey said, given "the nature of the allegations" and a zero tolerance policy on personal misconduct.

Another jolt came last night when the US Southern Command said five service members assigned to support the Secret Service broke their curfew and may have been involved in inappropriate conduct. Mr Carney said it was part of the same incident involving the Secret Service.

General Douglas Fraser, commander of US Southern Command, said he was "disappointed by the entire incident" and said the behaviour was "not in keeping with the professional standards expected of members of the United States military".

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