Weekend News Digest is an Open Thread
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1 3 killed in militant attack on Afghan president
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
37 minutes ago
|KABUL, Afghanistan – Militants firing rockets and automatic rifles attacked the Afghan president at a ceremony in Kabul on Sunday, missing their target but killing three and wounding eight others.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault that sent President Hamid Karzai and foreign ambassadors scurrying for cover, underscoring the fragile grip of his U.S.-backed government.
Gunmen opened fire as a 21-gun salute echoed over the capital at an anniversary ceremony to mark the mujahedeen victory over the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
2 Iraqi leaders discuss unity govt; 5 die in Baghdad violence
By SINAN SALAHEDDIN, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 11 minutes ago
|BAGHDAD – Iraq’s prime minister met Sunday with the Sunni Arab vice president to discuss reintegrating Sunni political parties into the Shiite-dominated government as militants fired a salvo of rockets or motars at the heavily guarded Green Zone.
At least eight rounds slammed into the section of Baghdad that houses the Iraqi government and U.S. Embassy, said a police official who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Sirens could be heard from the area and loudspeakers warned residents to take cover. There was no immediate word on casualties or damage.
3 Scholars run down more clues to a Holocaust mystery
By ARTHUR MAX and RANDY HERSCHAFT, Associated Press Writers
2 hours, 1 minute ago
|STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Budapest, November 1944: Another German train has loaded its cargo of Jews bound for Auschwitz. A young Swedish diplomat pushes past the SS guard and scrambles onto the roof of a cattle car.
Ignoring shots fired over his head, he reaches through the open door to outstretched hands, passing out dozens of bogus “passports” that extended Sweden’s protection to the bearers. He orders everyone with a document off the train and into his caravan of vehicles. The guards look on, dumbfounded.
Raoul Wallenberg was a minor official of a neutral country, with an unimposing appearance and gentle manner. Recruited and financed by the U.S., he was sent into Hungary to save Jews. He bullied, bluffed and bribed powerful Nazis to prevent the deportation of 20,000 Hungarian Jews to concentration camps, and averted the massacre of 70,000 more people in Budapest’s ghetto by threatening to have the Nazi commander hanged as a war criminal.
4 Strike in Scotland closes major North Sea oil pipeline
By BEN McCONVILLE, Associated Press Writer
Sun Apr 27, 10:28 AM ET
|EDINBURGH, Scotland – Hundreds of workers at Scotland’s only oil refinery on Sunday began a 48-hour strike that has forced BP PLC to shut a pipeline system that delivers almost a third of Britain’s North Sea oil.
BP said it had completed the closure of the Forties Pipeline System by 6 a.m., when 1,200 workers at the Grangemouth refinery in central Scotland walked off the job. The pipeline brings in 700,000 barrels of oil a day from the North Sea to BP’s Kinneil plant, which is powered from the Grangemouth site.
Energy industry group Oil & Gas U.K. said the strike, over pension issues, could cost $100 million a day in lost production.
5 Baghdad Green Zone blasted under cover of storm
By Wisam Mohammed and Peter Graff, Reuters
5 minutes ago
|BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Militants bombarded Baghdad’s Green Zone with rockets on Sunday, taking advantage of the cover of a blinding dust storm to launch one of the heaviest strikes in weeks on the fortified compound.
The strikes appeared to defy a renewed call for a ceasefire by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which has seen many of his masked gunmen leave the streets of the Sadr City slum where they hold sway in eastern Baghdad.
Reuters correspondents heard the missiles whistling overhead and exploding inside the heavily fortified government and diplomatic compound on the west side of the Tigris River in Baghdad. Sirens wailed, ordering people to take cover.
6 Torch faces S.Korea protests, festivities in North
By Jon Herskovitz, Reuters
Sun Apr 27, 7:33 AM ET
|SEOUL (Reuters) – Protests and scuffles greeted the Olympic flame as it began a two-day journey on the divided Korean peninsula on Sunday along a route guarded by thousands of riot policeman wielding shields and truncheons.
Thousands of Chinese wrapped in their country’s flag shouted, “Come on China,” “No politics, only Olympics” at the start of the torch relay in Seoul where they greatly outnumbered South Koreans protesting Beijing’s human rights record.
At one point, the two groups clashed with Chinese students kicking an elderly South Korean protester and hurling rocks at a group that raised banners chastising Beijing.
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7 Zimbabwe opposition retains parliament control after recount
By ANGUS SHAW, Associated Press Writer
Sun Apr 27, 9:27 AM ET
|HARARE, Zimbabwe – A recount of disputed legislative seats has confirmed opposition control of parliament and should be complete Monday, allowing the release of results from last month’s presidential election, state media reported.
The Sunday Mail newspaper, a government mouthpiece, said the state Electoral Commission planned to invite President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to a final “verification and collation exercise” on Monday.
The opposition and an independent Zimbabwean observer group say that Tsvangirai won the presidential race, and Mugabe has been accused of using delays, fraud and violence to hold onto power.
8 100-year mystery: Did Indiana woman get away with murders?
By TOM COYNE, Associated Press Writer
28 minutes ago
|LAPORTE, Ind. – Asle Helgelien didn’t believe Belle Gunness’ claims that his brother, missing for months after answering the widow’s lonely hearts ad, had left her northern Indiana farm for Chicago or maybe their native Norway.
Suspicious after a bank said his brother, Andrew, had cashed a $3,000 check – a large sum in 1908 – the South Dakota farmer came to LaPorte and discovered his brother’s remains in a pit of household waste.
A century later, modern forensic scientists hope to solve once and for all what appears to have been a web of multiple murders, deceit, sex and money orchestrated by a woman dubbed Lady Bluebeard, after the fairy tale character who killed multiple wives and left their bodies in his castle.
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9 Doomed Chernobyl reactor to be buried in giant steel coffin
By MARIA DANILOVA, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 10 minutes ago
|KIEV, Ukraine – Twenty-two years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, work is under way on a colossal new shelter to cover the ruins and deadly radioactive contents of the exploded Soviet-era power plant.
For years, the original iron and concrete shelter that was hastily constructed over the reactor has been leaking radiation, cracking and threatening to collapse. The new one, an arch of steel, would be big enough to contain the Statue of Liberty.
Once completed, Chernobyl will be safe, said Vince Novak, nuclear safety director at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development which manages the $505 million project.
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10 WITNESS: From war to election – Nepal’s exhilarating ride
By Simon Denyer, India Bureau Chief, Reuters
Sun Apr 27, 12:44 AM ET
|KATHMANDU (Reuters) – The elections have passed off peacefully, the U.N. spokesman in Nepal crowed: “bad news for foreign journalists.” He could not have got it more wrong.
Covering Nepal’s journey from hopeless civil war and royal dictatorship to democracy, peace and its first elections in nine years has been exhilarating.
I have reported from Africa and Afghanistan but few places inspired such pessimism as Nepal. Our weekly news planning calls had become an exercise in finding different ways to express that hopelessness.
11 Myanmar nationals protest constitution in Singapore
Sun Apr 27, 7:12 AM ET
|SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Hundreds of Myanmar nationals, many wearing red or t-shirts with the word “No,” gathered outside the Myanmar embassy in Singapore on Sunday to protest against the country’s proposed new constitution.
Public protest is rare in Singapore, where all outdoor demonstrations are banned and a public gathering of more than four people requires a permit.
According to Myanmar nationals outside the embassy, citizens living in Singapore can this week vote on whether to accept or reject a constitution written by the country’s military leaders.
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12 U.S. asserts new interrogation rights: NY Times
Sun Apr 27, 1:42 AM ET
|NEW YORK (Reuters) – Recent letters from the Justice Department to Congress state that U.S. intelligence agents working to prevent terror attacks can legally use interrogation techniques banned by international law, The New York Times reported on Sunday.
President George W. Bush issued an executive order last summer in which he said the CIA would observe international regulations regarding detainee treatment. The letters indicate the Bush administration now contends these boundaries may be stretched in some interrogations.
A March 5 letter from the Justice Dept. to Congress makes clear the Bush administration has not defined which interrogation methods might violate the Geneva Convention’s bans on “outrages upon personal dignity,” the Times said.
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13 Electoral map favors a Democrat, has McCain playing defense
By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer
Sun Apr 27, 4:39 AM ET
|WASHINGTON – The electoral road to the White House favors Democrats this fall – either Barack Obama or Hillary Rodham Clinton – and has Republican John McCain playing defense to thwart a presidential power shift.
A downtrodden economy, the war in Iraq and a public call for change have created an Electoral College outlook and a political environment filled with extraordinary opportunity for the Democrats and enormous challenge for the GOP nominee-in-waiting.
Both parties count on victory in dozens of states that long have voted their way. The competition to reach the 270 electoral votes needed to win is expected to play out primarily in 14 states. All but one saw the greatest action in 2004. The exception is Virginia, a longtime Republican stronghold where Democrats have made inroads.
14 Fed may be near end of rate-cut cycle: analysts
by Rob Lever, AFP
2 hours, 34 minutes ago
|WASHINGTON (AFP) – Even as an economic storm intensifies, the US Federal Reserve is likely near the end of its interest rate-cutting cycle with policymakers awaiting the impact of a massive stimulus in the pipeline, analysts say.
The Federal Open Market Committee headed by chairman Ben Bernanke is widely expected to trim its federal funds rate by a quarter point to 2.0 percent at a two-day meeting concluding Wednesday, say economists.
But some Fed-watchers say this may be the last cut for some time.
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15 Fed to hold public hearings on BofA-Countrywide deal
By ALEX VEIGA, AP Business Writer
59 minutes ago
|LOS ANGELES – Consumer advocates nervous about Bank of America Corp.’s proposed takeover of troubled mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp. are pressuring the bank to provide assurances that Countrywide borrowers facing foreclosure won’t lose their homes.
The campaign is likely to intensify Monday as members of the Federal Reserve Board begin two days of public hearings on the proposed $4.1 billion stock deal.
The acquisition, which is expected to close in the third quarter, would make Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America the nation’s largest mortgage lender in addition to the nation’s largest consumer bank.
16 Rate uncertainty hangs over U.S. stocks
By Jennifer Coogan, Reuters
Sun Apr 27, 11:56 AM ET
|NEW YORK (Reuters) – The stock market will likely start the week on a hesitant note with Wall Street facing the first Federal Reserve interest-rate decision in many months not knowing that a cut is likely guaranteed.
Sparks could fly, however, if Yahoo Inc (YHOO.O) responds to Microsoft Corp’s (MSFT.O) takeover offer this weekend. The world’s largest software company set a Saturday deadline for the two sides to reach a deal and said it would consider its options of going hostile or withdrawing its offer.
A disappointing earnings report from Microsoft capped gains by all three major U.S. stock indexes last week.
17 Microsoft takeover deadline for Yahoo expires without comment
by Glenn Chapman, AFP
Sun Apr 27, 6:21 AM ET
|SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – A Microsoft deadline for Internet service company Yahoo to accept its 44.6 billion-dollar (28.5 billion-euro) acquisition offer expired at midnight Saturday, setting the stage for a hostile takeover bid by the software giant.
The expiration of the Sunday 0700 GMT deadline — without comment from either side — was likely to pave the way for an ugly proxy battle — a fight by Microsoft for a vote by Yahoo shareholders to place pro-Microsoft officials on its board of directors.
In an open letter to the Yahoo board of directors on April 5, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer gave the Internet pioneer three weeks to accept the 31 dollars-a-share takeover offer or face a proxy fight.
18 Deutsche Bank planning major capital increase: report
2 hours, 19 minutes ago
|BERLIN (AFP) – Deutsche Bank, the biggest German bank, is planning a capital increase to raise up to 17 billion euros (27 billion dollars), news weekly Der Spiegel reported in its Monday issue.
The bank will seek approval for the move at a shareholders’ meeting at the end of May, the report said, citing a copy of the agenda for the meeting.
Some four billion euros are expected to be raised by the sale of 55 million new shares. The banks’ shareholders approved a similar step two years ago.
19 Swiss banks rethink their ways after massive subprime losses
by Hui Min Neo, AFP
Sun Apr 27, 12:12 AM ET
|GENEVA (AFP) – Switzerland’s banking sector, once synonymous with stability and secrecy, is now under intense scrutiny and undergoing serious soul-searching after its two biggest banks got caught in the subprime crisis.
Industry leaders and the authorities, who until recently had stressed that the situation was under control, appear to have changed their tune as the country’s biggest bank UBS has taken write-downs of more than 37 billion dollars, earning the dubious distinction of being the world’s worst-hit group.
The country’s second biggest bank, Credit Suisse, tumbled into the red in the first quarter as it too was badly hit, promising a more cautious approach in the future as some observers called for radical reforms in a system “rotten to the core.”
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20 Human warming hobbles ancient climate cycle
By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent, Reuters
2 hours, 28 minutes ago
|WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Before humans began burning fossil fuels, there was an eons-long balance between carbon dioxide emissions and Earth’s ability to absorb them, but now the planet can’t keep up, scientists said on Sunday.
The finding, reported in the journal Nature Geoscience, relies on ancient Antarctic ice bubbles that contain air samples going back 610,000 years.
Climate scientists for the last 25 years or so have suggested that some kind of natural mechanism regulates our planet’s temperature and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Those skeptical about human influence on global warming point to this as the cause for recent climate change.
21 New Delhi grapples with transport gridlock
by Pratap Chakravarty, AFP
Sun Apr 27, 4:29 AM ET
|NEW DELHI (AFP) – India’s capital has put the brakes on a grand project to speed up New Delhi’s bus network which has caused massive traffic jams in the city of 18 million, officials said Sunday.
The red light came as protests swelled over 5.8 kilometres (3.5 miles) of experimental bus lanes which left tens of thousands of motorists stuck for hours this week in 40-degree-Celsius (104-degree-Fahrenheit) heat.
Delhi’s under-fire chief minister Sheila Dixit said plans to construct more such bus lanes — straight down the middle of main roads — were being shelved for the mean time.
22 Warrior mosquitoe plan under fire in Malaysia: report
Sun Apr 27, 7:24 AM ET
|KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Environmentalists have condemned a trial plan to deploy millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in Malaysia to fight dengue fever, a report said Sunday.
Malaysia has expressed concern about the insect-borne scourge after 25 people were killed in the first three months of the year.
The New Sunday Times newspaper said the genetically modified (GM) male mosquitoes will be first freed in Ketam island, a fishing village south of Kuala Lumpur, in an attempt to kill Aedes mosquitoes which spread dengue fever.
23 Asia’s rainforests vanishing as timber, food demand surge: experts
by Frank Zeller, AFP
Sun Apr 27, 12:04 AM ET
|HANOI (AFP) – Asia’s rainforests are being rapidly destroyed, a trend accelerated by surging timber demand in booming China and India, and record food, energy and commodity prices, forest experts warn.
The loss of these biodiversity hot spots, much of it driven by the illegal timber trade and the growth of oil palm, biofuel and rubber plantations, is worsening global warming, species loss and poverty, they said.
Globally, tropical forest destruction “is a super crisis we are facing, it’s an appalling crisis,” said Oxford University’s Professor Norman Myers, keynote speaker at the Asia-Pacific Forestry Week conference in Hanoi.
24 European Cargo Ship Boosts Space Station’s Orbit
Peter B. de Selding, Space News Staff Writer, SPACE.com
Fri Apr 25, 2:01 PM ET
|PARIS – Europe’s first Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) cargo supply ship has successfully raised the International Space Station into a higher orbit in the first of four re-boost maneuvers scheduled between now and August, its manufacturer and the European Space Agency (ESA) announced Friday.
Using two of its four main engines, the ATV Jules Verne pushed the 308-ton orbital complex for a period of 12.5 minutes, increasing its speed by just over 8 feet (2.65 meters) per second and raising its altitude by 2.8 miles (4.6 km). The ATV consumed 537 pounds (244 kg) of its fuel in performing the task.
The station’s orbit of around 211 miles (340 km) regularly degrades from the effects of residual atmosphere at that altitude. Named after the famed 19th century French science fiction author, the Jules Verne cargo ship is scheduled to raise the station’s orbit on three more occasions in June, July and August. Russia’s unmanned Progress supply vessels are also is capable of boosting the station’s orbit, as are the U.S. space shuttles of NASA.