Weekend News Digest is an Open Thread
|From Yahoo News Top Stories
1 Leaving Iraq: Shift to south, exit through desert
By CHELSEA J. CARTER, Associated Press Writer
1 hr 19 mins ago
|BAGHDAD – The U.S. military map in Iraq in early 2010: Marines are leaving the western desert, Army units are in the former British zone in the south and the overall mission is coalescing around air and logistics hubs in central and northern Iraq.
Meanwhile, commanders will be shifting their attention to helping Iraqi forces take full control of their own security.
The Pentagon has not released the full details of President Barack Obama’s plan to end America’s combat role in Iraq by Aug. 31 of next year, but the broad contours are taking shape.
Now with World and U.S. News.
2 Obama’s balancing act on Iraq withdrawal strategy
By JENNIFER LOVEN, AP White House Correspondent
34 mins ago
|WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama leaned heavily toward field commanders’ preferences in setting a time frame for an Iraq pullout, weighing the fervent desires of anti-war supporters who propelled him into office and the equally strong worries of war generals.
“To this very day, there are some Americans who want to stay in Iraq longer, and some who want to leave faster,” Obama said in his announcement Friday, summing up a debate that has divided the country like no other since former President George W. Bush launched the U.S. invasion six years ago.
Obama’s description suggests he arrived at a split-down-the-middle compromise with one of the first and most important tasks of his young presidency.
3 Pakistan says Taliban beaten back in border region
By CHRIS BRUMMITT, Associated Press Writer
1 hr 24 mins ago
|KHAR, Pakistan – Pakistan has beaten the Taliban in a major stronghold close to the Afghan border, is close to victory in another and expects to pacify most of the remaining tribal areas before the end of the year, commanders said Saturday.
The upbeat assessment of conditions in the arid, mountainous regions of Bajur and Mohmand follows international criticism of Pakistan for accepting a cease-fire with militants behind a bloody campaign in Swat Valley, just next to the tribal regions.
Many analysts also fear that growing political turmoil between the government and opposition could distract attention from the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban just as Washington wants more concerted action.
4 Berkshire has worst year, Buffett still optimistic
By JOSH FUNK, AP Business Writer
21 mins ago
|OMAHA, Neb. – Warren Buffett says the economic turmoil that contributed to a 62 percent profit drop last year at the holding company he controls is certain to continue in 2009, but the revered investor remains optimistic.
Buffett released his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway Inc. shareholders Saturday morning, and detailed the worst performance in his 44 years leading the Omaha-based insurance and investment company.
Buffett wrote he’s certain “the economy will be in shambles throughout 2009 – and, for that matter, probably well beyond – but that conclusion does not tell us whether the stock market will rise or fall.”
5 After bitter split, unions try to heal deep wounds
By SAM HANANEL, Associated Press Writer
Sat Feb 28, 10:12 am ET
|WASHINGTON – Union leaders are talking about reuniting under a single, more powerful federation, nearly four years after a nasty breakup split organized labor.
Leaders from 12 of the largest unions, along with rival federations AFL-CIO and Change to Win, have held three meetings since January aimed at setting aside differences and taking advantage of the most favorable political climate for unions in 15 years.
“We’ve had very positive discussions and we’ve reached some significant agreements,” said David Bonior, the former Michigan congressman who is brokering the discussions.
6 Fossil skull of giant toothy seabird found in Peru
By ANDREW WHALEN, Associated Press Writer
Sat Feb 28, 9:19 am ET
|LIMA, Peru – The unusually intact fossilized skull of a giant, bony-toothed seabird that lived up to 10 million years ago was found on Peru’s arid southern coast, researchers said Friday.
The fossil is the best-preserved cranium ever found of a pelagornithid, a family of large seabirds believed to have gone extinct some 3 million years ago, said Rodolfo Salas, head of vertebrate paleontology at Peru’s National History Museum.
The museum said in a statement that the birds had wingspans of up to 20 feet (6 meters) and may have used the toothlike projections on their beaks to prey on slippery fish and squid. But studying members of the Pelagornithidae family has been difficult because their extremely thin bones – while helpful for keeping the avian giants aloft – tended not to survive as fossils.
7 Bangladesh says 72 still missing after mutiny
By PARVEEN AHMED, Associated Press Writer
2 hrs 5 mins ago
|DHAKA, Bangladesh – Bangladesh’s military said 72 officers were still missing Saturday after a two-day mutiny by border guards in which at least 76 people died. The government pledged a full investigation as it swiftly moved to restore confidence and reassert control.
Firefighters were still searching shallow graves and sewers at the border guards’ headquarters in the capital, Dhaka, where the bodies of senior officers were hurriedly dumped by the mutineers. Workers also scoured nearby areas, including a pond, in an intense search for more victims.
Among the dead was Maj. Gen. Shakil Ahmed, commander of the Bangladesh Rifles border force, and a woman that authorities believed was his wife.
8 Obama challenges lobbyists to legislative duel
By CHARLES BABINGTON, Associated Press Writer
1 hr 37 mins ago
|WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama challenged the nation’s vested interests to a legislative duel Saturday, saying he will fight to change health care, energy and education in dramatic ways that will upset the status quo.
“The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long,” Obama said in his weekly radio and video address. “But I don’t. I work for the American people.”
He said the ambitious budget plan he presented Thursday will help millions of people, but only if Congress overcomes resistance from deep-pocket lobbies.
9 AP Source: Obama to rescind Bush abortion rule
By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press Writer
Sat Feb 28, 4:33 am ET
|WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama plans to repeal a Bush administration rule that has become a flash point in the debate over a doctor’s right not to participate in abortions. The regulation, instituted in the last days of the Bush administration, strengthened job protections for doctors and nurses who refuse to provide a medical service because of moral qualms.
A Health and Human Services official said Friday the administration will publish notice of its intentions early next week, opening a 30-day comment period for advocates on both sides, medical groups and the public.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the notice has not been completed.
10 Brown, Merkel urge tighter global banking supervision
By Christina Fincher, Reuters
Sat Feb 28, 11:12 am ET
|LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for more rigorous supervision of the global banking system on Saturday, a day before EU leaders meet to thrash out ways to tackle the financial crisis.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged European Union states to work together to deal with the downturn, telling the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper: “We are working intensively on new rules for the international financial markets.”
Brown, speaking at his ruling Labour Party’s National Policy Forum, called for the global mandate of international institutions to be beefed up to deliver growth and jobs.
11 U.S. looks to China for support on Afghanistan: Pentagon
By Chris Buckley, Reuters
Sat Feb 28, 4:57 am ET
|BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States is looking to stronger Chinese cooperation on Afghanistan, piracy, and other international troubles, a Pentagon official said on Saturday after talks that he said also addressed strains over Taiwan.
The U.S. official, David Sedney, said China’s opposition to Washington’s arms sales to the disputed island of Taiwan came up in the two days of discussions in Beijing, but did not overwhelm an agenda that also covered Central Asia, China’s contribution to fighting piracy off the Somali coast, and nuclear weapons.
“The focus was not at all on obstacles. The focus was on how we can move forward,” Sedney, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, told a news briefing after the talks.
12 U.S. charges Stanford with massive Ponzi scheme
By Anna Driver, Reuters
Fri Feb 27, 8:38 pm ET
|HOUSTON (Reuters) – U.S. securities regulators on Friday accused Texas billionaire Allen Stanford, his college roommate and three of their companies of carrying out a “massive Ponzi scheme” over at least a decade and misappropriating at least $1.6 billion of investors’ money.
Meanwhile, a Houston judge ruled on Friday that Laura Pendergest-Holt, the only person arrested in the $8 billion Allen Stanford fraud investigation, could walk free after she posted a $300,000 bond.
In an amended complaint filed in a federal court in Dallas, the Securities and Exchange Commission increased its civil charges against Stanford to include a Ponzi scheme where early investors are paid with the money of new clients.
13 Citigroup gets new rescue, U.S. may own 36 percent
By Jonathan Stempel and David Lawder
Fri Feb 27, 8:51 pm ET
|NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government will boost its equity stake in Citigroup Inc to as much as 36 percent, bolstering the bank’s capital base in the latest emergency effort to save the banking giant.
In its third attempt to prop up Citigroup in the past five months, the government will convert up to $25 billion in preferred shares to common stock. Existing shareholders could see their ownership of the bank diluted by 74 percent.
While the latest rescue does not inject more money into Citigroup, it gives the government more of a voting stake and far greater influence over the bank’s operations, short of outright nationalization. The White House said a higher U.S. stake will help achieve a “better outcome” for the bank.
14 Republicans set course in Congress budget battle
By Susan Cornwell and Thomas Ferraro
Fri Feb 27, 2:54 pm ET
|WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top Republicans charged President Barack Obama with driving the United States toward socialism on Friday, opening an ideological attack on his big spending plans.
While the tough rhetoric was certain to rev up hard-line Republicans — many of whom regard “socialism” as anathema to American life — it was unclear how much it would change the debate in the Democratic-led Congress, which begins hearings next week on Obama’s $3.55 trillion budget proposal.
John Boehner, Republican leader in the House of Representatives, on Friday called Obama’s new budget proposal and recently passed economic stimulus plan “one big down payment on a new American socialist experiment.”
15 California declares drought emergency
By Peter Henderson, Reuters
Sat Feb 28, 7:46 am ET
|SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday declared a state emergency due to drought and said he would consider mandatory water rationing in the face of nearly $3 billion in economic losses from below-normal rainfall this year.
As many as 95,000 agricultural jobs will be lost, communities will be devastated and some growers in the most economically productive farm state simply are not able to plant, state officials said, calling the current drought the most expensive ever.
Schwarzenegger, eager to build controversial dams as well as more widely backed water recycling programs, called on cities to cut back water use or face the first ever mandatory state restrictions as soon as the end of the month.
16 Mugabe says Zimbabwe land seizures will continue
By Cris Chinaka, Reuters
Sat Feb 28, 10:28 am ET
|CHINHOYI, Zimbabwe (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe said on Saturday land seizures from white farmers would continue and vowed to press ahead with plans for locals to take majority stakes in foreign companies operating in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s sole ruler for nearly three decades, is holding onto power despite economic and political turmoil that have forced him into a unity government with the opposition.
“There is no going back on the land reforms. Farms will not be returned back to former (white) farmers. That work will continue, but those farms have to be used properly.
17 Russian bomber neared Canada before Obama visit
By David Ljunggren, Reuters
Fri Feb 27, 3:22 pm ET
|OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian fighters planes scrambled to intercept an approaching Russian bomber less than 24 hours before U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Ottawa last week, Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay said on Friday.
The long-range Bear bomber did not enter Canada’s Arctic airspace but the two CF-18 fighters had to order the plane to “back off”, MacKay told a news conference.
He also told reporters that Russia had not warned Canada that the flight was coming, a statement that a Russian government source in Moscow dismissed as farcical.
18 China premier says stimulus is off to good start
By Benjamin Kang Lim, Reuters
Sat Feb 28, 5:42 am ET
|BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s stimulus spending has started to nudge the economy in the right direction but the global financial crisis could still take a turn for the worse, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told an online forum on Saturday.
Wen’s message, mixing confidence and wariness, followed a series of comments over the past week by Chinese officials that suggested the government is ready to unveil new investment plans if needed to revive the world’s third largest economy.
“The financial crisis, (on a scale) rarely seen in 100 years, is still spreading and has not bottomed out yet,” Wen said during a rare online chat.
19 Suspected al Qaeda operative charged in U.S. court
By James Vicini and Andy Kravetz, Reuters
Fri Feb 27, 6:24 pm ET
|WASHINGTON/PEORIA, Illinois (Reuters) – President Barack Obama on Friday ordered suspected al Qaeda operative Ali al-Marri transferred to the U.S. court system to face newly filed criminal charges after 5-1/2 years in a military prison in South Carolina.
The Obama administration’s decision to move Marri into the U.S. judicial system marked a significant policy shift from the Bush administration, which had argued that Marri could be held indefinitely without being charged.
Marri is suspected of being an al Qaeda “sleeper” agent sent by Osama bin Laden and by Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, to disrupt the U.S. financial system by hacking into bank computers.
20 In hard times, more U.S. women try to sell their eggs
By Michelle Nichols and Angela Moore
Fri Feb 27, 6:26 pm ET
|NEW YORK (Reuters) – Drawn by payments of up to $10,000, an increasing number of women are offering to sell their eggs at U.S. fertility clinics as a way to make money amid the financial crisis.
Nicole Hodges, a 23-year-old actress in New York City who has been out of work since November, says she has decided to sell her eggs because she desperately needs cash.
“I’m still paying off college. I have credit card bills and, you know, rent in New York is so expensive,” Hodges, who has been accepted as donor and is waiting to be chosen by a couple, told Reuters Television.
21 U.S. economy plummets
By Lucia Mutikani, Reuters
Fri Feb 27, 4:31 pm ET
|WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. economy suffered its deepest contraction since early 1982 in the fourth quarter, shrinking at a much worse-than-expected 6.2 percent annual rate as exports plunged and consumers slashed spending.
A month ago, the Commerce Department had estimated the economy shrank at a 3.8 percent pace in the fourth quarter.
But downward revisions to inventories, exports and spending led it to issue a much weaker figure on Friday, just shy of the 6.4 percent rate drop seen in the first quarter of 1982, when the economy was in a recession that lasted 16 months.
22 Obama’s health budget raises hopes, worries
By Julie Steenhuysen, Reuters
Fri Feb 27, 1:24 pm ET
|CHICAGO (Reuters) – Many Americans are crossing their fingers that President Barack Obama’s ambitious $634 billion plan to reform the U.S. healthcare system — funded by a mix of tax increases and Medicare spending cuts — will succeed, but they are worried, too.
“I think it’s a major first step. Other than when Hillary Clinton tried and failed, I haven’t seen any other politician take the initiative to seriously get healthcare under control,” said George Oparanozic, a 46-year-old history teacher at a community college, while grading papers a coffee shop in Oak Park, Illinois.
“It looks like it might happen this time,” Oparanozic said, referring to the failed attempt by Hillary Clinton, when she was first lady in the 1990s, to expand health coverage during her husband Bill Clinton’s administration.
23 Afghan president orders elections by April
by Sardar Ahmad, AFP
Sat Feb 28, 11:18 am ET
|KABUL (AFP) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered Saturday that presidential elections be held by April, months earlier than the August 20 date set by a voting authority grappling with security and logistics issues.
In a decree that comes after weeks of consultations about a date for the war-torn nation’s second-ever presidential vote, Karzai said the Independent Election Commission had to conduct the poll according to the constitution.
Without specifically announcing a date, he cited an article of the constitution that says the vote must be held within 30 to 60 days before the end of the presidential term, which is on May 21.
24 Ban Ki-moon urges Congo to seize chance for peace
1 hr 29 mins ago
|KINSHASA (AFP) – UN chief Ban Ki-moon Saturday met Congolese President Joseph Kabila and urged steps to buttress peace in the country’s east after a successful military offensive against Rwandan Hutu rebels.
Ban, who arrived early Saturday in the Democratic Republic of Congo, met Kabila in northeastern Kisangani, Ban’s spokesman Yves Sorokobi told AFP.
“The recent developments have offered an opportunity to the Congolese authorities as well as to MONUC (the UN peacekeeping mission in the country) to reinforce our commitment” in the east, he told Kabila, according to Sorokobi.
25 Czech PM urges EU leaders not to "beggar thy neighbour"
1 hr 47 mins ago
|BRUSSELS (AFP) – Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek urged his fellow EU leaders Saturday on the eve of an EU summit not to divide Europe again through “beggar thy neighbour” protectionist policies as recession bites.
“Europe will only overcome the crisis if we act together in a coordinated way and if we abide by the Community rules,” said Topolanek, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency.
“We do not want any new dividing lines; we do not want a Europe divided along a North-South or an East-West line; pursuing a beggar-thy-neighbour policy is unacceptable,” he added in a pre-summit statement.
26 Some British Christians feel oppressed in the public square
By Mark Rice-Oxley, The Christian Science Monitor
Thu Feb 26, 3:00 am ET
|LONDON – For a nation shaped by an overtly Christian heritage, Britain has apparently become a difficult place to be overtly Christian.
The conservative press bewails a steady erosion of Christian values. A member of Parliament has called for debate on “systematic and institutional discrimination toward Christians.” Even former Prime Minister Tony Blair recently let slip how aides would brusquely suppress any instinct he had to bring his faith into public view.
Now, a succession of ordinary Christians are finding this rule applies to them, too.
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27 2 months into 2009, US deaths spike in Afghanistan
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
1 hr 34 mins ago
|KABUL – U.S. deaths in Afghanistan increased threefold during the first two months of 2009 compared with the same period last year, after thousands more troops deployed and commanders ramped up winter operations against an increasingly violent insurgency.
As troops pour into the country and violence rises, another sobering measure has also increased: More Afghan civilians are dying in U.S. and allied operations than at the hands of the Taliban, according to a count by The Associated Press. In the first two months of the year, U.S., NATO or Afghan forces have killed 100 civilians, while militants have killed 60.
President Barack Obama recently announced the deployment of 17,000 additional troops to bolster 38,000 already in the country, increasing the U.S. focus on Afghanistan while a drawdown begins in Iraq. The latest casualty toll among U.S. forces could portend a deadlier year in Afghanistan than the U.S. military has experienced since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001.
28 Experts trying to decipher ancient language
By BARRY HATTON, Associated Press Writer
Sat Feb 28, 1:10 pm ET
|ALMODOVAR, Portugal – When archaeologists on a dig in southern Portugal last year flipped over a heavy chunk of slate and saw writing not used for more than 2,500 years, they were elated.
The enigmatic pattern of inscribed symbols curled symmetrically around the upper part of the rough-edged, yellowish stone tablet and coiled into the middle in a decorative style typical of an extinct Iberian language called Southwest Script.
“We didn’t break into applause, but almost,” says Amilcar Guerra, a University of Lisbon lecturer overseeing the excavation. “It’s an extraordinary thing.”
29 Chechen leader imposes strict brand of Islam
By LYNN BERRY, Associated Press Writer
2 hrs 51 mins ago
|GROZNY, Russia – The bullnecked president of Chechnya emerged from afternoon prayers at the mosque and with chilling composure explained why seven young women who had been shot in the head deserved to die.
Ramzan Kadyrov said the women, whose bodies were found dumped by the roadside, had “loose morals” and were rightfully shot by male relatives in honor killings.
“If a woman runs around and if a man runs around with her, both of them are killed,” Kadyrov told journalists in the capital of this Russian republic.
30 Tibetan monk reportedly sets himself on fire
By HENRY SANDERSON, Associated Press Writer
Sat Feb 28, 9:10 am ET
|BEIJING – A Tibetan Buddhist monk doused himself with gasoline and set himself ablaze in western China in an apparent protest against government restrictions on religion, and security forces shot him, international Tibetan advocacy groups reported Saturday.
The monk, identified as Tapey, was shot Friday afternoon in the Tibetan county of Aba in Sichuan province, according to Free Tibet, the International Campaign for Tibet, and phayul.com, a news site affiliated with the Dalai Lama’s India-based government in exile.
They said Tapey was carried to a van and driven away, possibly to a hospital. No details were available on his condition.
31 Bolivia pins hopes on lithium, electric vehicles
By FRANK BAJAK and CARLOS VALDEZ, Associated Press Writers
Sat Feb 28, 12:38 pm ET
|LA PAZ, Bolivia – To Bolivia’s president, it’s the great silvery-white hope.
Lithium, the lightest metal. Half the density of water. Used in cell phone, laptop and iPod batteries, and in the years to come, many thousands of electric and hybrid vehicles propelling humanity into a cleaner energy future.
“Lithium is the hope not just for Bolivia but for all inhabitants of the planet,” President Evo Morales said before meeting in Paris last month with Bollore Group, one of several companies vying to extract the metal from remote salt flats in the poor landlocked nation.
32 Iraq: Oil prices may drag budget lower
By BRIAN MURPHY, Associated Press Writer
47 mins ago
|BAGHDAD – Iraq’s parliament pushed back voting Saturday on this year’s budget and could be forced to make further cuts because of falling oil prices.
The latest delay in trying to ratify the current $64 billion budget proposal highlights the financial squeeze facing Iraq as declining oil revenues cut into reconstruction plans such as new roads and improved utilities – which the Shiite-led government hopes to use as showcases in national elections later this year.
The pinch has also brought calls by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for proposals to diversify Iraq’s oil-dependent economy with expansion of agriculture and other trade. But Iraq’s plans for this year have been dragged down along with the price of oil, which is now less than $45 a barrel after hitting highs last summer of $150 a barrel.
33 Chinese e-cigs gain ground amid safety concerns
By AUDRA ANG, Associated Press Writer
Sat Feb 28, 6:34 am ET
|BEIJING – With its slim white body and glowing amber tip, it can easily pass as a regular cigarette. It even emits what look like curlicues of white smoke.
The Ruyan V8, which produces a nicotine-infused mist absorbed directly into the lungs, is just one of a rapidly growing array of electronic cigarettes attracting attention in China, the U.S. and elsewhere – and the scrutiny of world health officials.
Marketed as a healthier alternative to smoking and a potential way to kick the habit, the smokeless smokes have been distributed in swag bags at the British film awards and hawked at an international trade show.
34 Japan and China seek agreement beyond islands row
By Chris Buckley, Reuters
Sat Feb 28, 12:38 pm ET
|BEIJING (Reuters) – China and Japan sought to temper a row over disputed islands in the East China Sea when their foreign ministers met in Beijing on Saturday to seek common ground on North Korea and the global economy.
Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi agreed that the long-running territorial dispute should not overshadow broader ties, Nakasone’s press secretary, Kazuo Kodama, said.
Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso said this week that the small islands, claimed as the Senkaku by Japan and the Diaoyu by China, were his country’s and therefore covered by a security alliance with the United States.
35 Canada PM says Afghan mission major NATO test: report
Sat Feb 28, 11:41 am ET
|TORONTO (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the NATO mission in Afghanistan is a serious test and its failure could have major ramifications for the military alliance, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Harper also said the Iranian government’s ideology was “evil,” the newspaper reported in its online edition late on Friday.
“NATO has taken on a United Nations mission and NATO must succeed or I do think the future of NATO as we’ve known it is in considerable doubt,” Harper said in an interview with the newspaper’s editorial board.
36 ASEAN agrees measures to ease economic crisis: draft
By Nopporn Wong-Anan, Reuters
Sat Feb 28, 9:21 am ET
|HUA HIN, Thailand (Reuters) – Leaders of Southeast Asian nations have agreed to ease monetary policy and resist protectionism as they fight the financial crisis that is hurting their export-dependent economies, a draft statement showed.
The 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations also vowed to work with the Group of 20 on reforming international financial institutions.
“We agreed that counter-cyclical and more coordinated macroeconomic policies are the best response to this global financial crisis,” said the draft chairman’s statement to be issued after the summit ends on Sunday.
37 Mugabe celebrates 85th birthday with huge party
By Cris Chinaka, Reuters
Sat Feb 28, 3:38 am ET
|CHINHOYI, Zimbabwe (Reuters) – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe celebrates his 85th birthday on Saturday at a huge party which critics say is insensitive to an economic crisis which has left many families destitute.
The veteran Zimbabwean leader will, for the first time at such a party, be joined by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, his new partner in a power-sharing government formed early this month.
Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s sole ruler for nearly three decades, is holding onto power despite economic and political turmoil that have forced him into a unity government with the opposition.
38 Madagascar opposition calls for new general strike
by Gregoire Pourtier, AFP
Sat Feb 28, 12:15 pm ET
|ANTANANARIVO (AFP) – Madagascar’s opposition leader Saturday called for a general strike as fresh anti-government protests threatened to escalate a political crisis that has already led to nearly 100 deaths.
A previous general strike call by Andry Rajoelina began weeks of unrest that has killed dozens, including 28 when the presidential guard opened fire on an opposition protest earlier this month.
On Saturday, Rajoelina addressed some 5,000 supporters who gathered in the capital in his first rally since breaking off talks with President Marc Ravalomanana earlier in the week.
39 Global slump hits Japan factories, workers
by Frank Zeller, AFP
Fri Feb 27, 6:59 am ET
|TOKYO (AFP) – Japan’s factory output has dived, car production has plunged and more workers are hitting the streets, data showed Friday, highlighting the global downturn’s grim toll on the world’s number two economy.
Japan is reeling from the full force of a simultaneous worldwide slump that has devastated demand for Japanese cars and high-tech goods, putting the country on course for its worst recession since World War II.
“What’s unique about the current crisis is the steepness of the decline,” said Hideo Kumano, economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.
40 Holocaust-denying bishop’s apology sparks fresh outrage
by Martine Nouaille, AFP
Fri Feb 27, 3:37 pm ET
|VATICAN CITY (AFP) – An apology from Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson failed to placate the Vatican on Friday which called on him to “unequivocally and publicly” withdraw his comments.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said a letter of apology from Williamson “doesn’t seem to have respected the conditions” set by the Vatican on February 4, under which the bishop was to “distance himself absolutely and publicly” from his positions concerning the Holocaust.
In a letter to the Vatican released Thursday, Williamson apologised to those he offended with his remarks but stopped short of withdrawing them.
41 Muted welcome for cleared ex-Serb leader
Fri Feb 27, 4:22 pm ET
|BELGRADE, Feb 27, 2009 (AFP) – A former Serbian president cleared of war crimes at The Hague said Friday he had “mixed” feelings after returning home to a muted welcome.
“I am very happy to be back in Serbia,” Milan Milutinovic told journalists after arriving on a regular flight from Amsterdam. “I feel quite tired and my feeling are mixed,” he said, without elaborating.
A UN court on Thursday acquitted Milutinovic, president of Serbia from 1997 to 2002, of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Kosovo.
42 Karzai moves up election date, challenging opposition
By Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers
Sat Feb 28, 1:55 pm ET
|KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan President Hamid Karzai stepped up a confrontation with his opposition Saturday, ordering this year’s presidential election to be moved up by at least three months despite the top election official’s concerns that insufficient preparation time, funds and international forces could render the results illegitimate.
Karzai’s decree may also intensify tensions with the United States , which backed an Independent Election Commission decision scheduling the vote for Aug. 20 so that an additional 17,000 U.S. troops could be deployed to bolster security.
Some 60,000 troops from the United States and 40 other countries are currently helping Afghan security forces battle the al Qaida -backed Taliban insurgency, and getting reinforcements in place within the next three months presents Washington and its NATO allies a huge challenge.
43 In twist, GOP likes Obama’s Iraq plan, Democrats don’t
By Mark Johnson, Ryan Teague Beckwith and Steven Thomma, McClatchy Newspapers
Fri Feb 27, 5:15 pm ET
|CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – President Barack Obama announced here Friday that he’ll withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010 , but his plans to leave as many as 50,000 U.S. troops there through 2011 made many Democrats in Congress angry, while Republicans cheered.
It was an ironic reception for a new commander-in-chief whose presidential campaign was built initially on his early opposition to the Iraq war and his promise to end it if elected.
“I am deeply troubled by the suggestion that a force of 50,000 troops could remain in Iraq ,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey , D- Calif. “This is unacceptable.”
44 Iraqis find hope in their history _ 5,000 years of it
By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy Newspapers
Fri Feb 27, 3:32 pm ET
|BAGHDAD – Luma Yass led a visitor into the Assyrian Hall of the infamously looted museum of antiquities in Iraq’s capital city.
“Please, before you enter, close your eyes,” she said. Grabbing a hand, she led the visitor across the dusty marble threshold in silence. “Now,” she said, “Open them.”
Ten-foot-tall relief panels depicting the life of a king lined the walls, and a 12-foot-tall stone statue of a winged bull loomed ahead.
45 A Former Nun’s Memoirs Rock India’s Catholic Church
By MADHUR SINGH, Time Magazine
Sat Feb 28, 12:15 am ET
|After 26 years as a nun, Jesme Raphael gave up her robes and walked out of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel, the Catholic order in Kerala, India, that had been her home for three decades. Two years later, Raphael, now 53, has come out with her memoirs, Amen: An Autobiography of A Nun, cataloging lurid details of bullying, sexual abuse and homosexuality in the oldest Catholic women’s order in the idyllic coastal state in southern India. Shocking as it is, the book is only the latest in a long series of accusations and scandals afflicting the Catholic Church in the state with the largest population of Christians in India.
46 Nicaragua’s Vampire Problem
By TIM ROGERS / LLANO GRANDE 2, Time Magazine
Fri Feb 27, 4:35 am ET
|A shrill scream from the next bedroom jolted Maria Felix Flores from her sleep shortly after midnight on the muggy, tropical night of Feb. 22. She dashed into the adjoining room to find her adult son, Carlos, and his wife, Maria Josefa, sitting upright in bed with the lights on, panicked by the sight of the blood-drenched sheets.
47 Denmark’s Wind of Change
By BRYAN WALSH / SAMSO, Time Magazine
Fri Feb 27, 11:40 am ET
|If you want to know why Denmark is the world’s leader in wind power, start with a three-hour car trip from the capital Copenhagen – mind the bicyclists – to the small town of Lem on the far west coast of Jutland. You’ll feel it as you cross the 4.2 mile-long (6.8 km) Great Belt Bridge: Denmark’s bountiful wind, so fierce even on a calm summer’s day that it threatens to shove your car into the waves below. But wind itself is only part of the reason. In Lem, workers in factories the size of aircraft hangars build the wind turbines sold by Vestas, the Danish company that has emerged as the industry’s top manufacturer around the globe. The work is both gross and fine; employees weld together massive curved sheets of steel to make central shafts as tall as a 14-story building, and assemble engine housings that hold some 18,000 separate parts. Most impressive are the turbine’s blades, which scoop the wind with each sweeping revolution. As smooth as an Olympic swimsuit and honed to aerodynamic perfection, each blade weighs in at 15,400 lbs. (7,000 kg), and they’re what help make Vestas’ turbines the best in the world. “The blade is where the secret is,” says Erik Therkelsen, a Vestas executive. “If we can make [a turbine], it’s sold.”
48 Most Iraqis Welcome Obama’s Pullout Plan
By MARK KUKIS / BAGHDAD, Time Magazine
Fri Feb 27, 12:35 pm ET
|It should come as no surprise that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been quick to endorse emerging plans to hasten the departure of U.S. forces from his country. Maliki, after all, had opposed the Bush Administration’s decision to increase U.S. troop levels in the surge of 2007, and he had forced a reluctant Washington to accept a hard deadline for withdrawal in the Status of Forces Agreement adopted late last year. The growing abilities of the Iraqi security forces and the strengthening of his political position after last month’s provincial elections have added to Maliki’s confidence in managing without the Americans. “We welcome such a decision and support it,” said Tahseen al-Shekhli, a spokesman for the Iraqi government, of Obama’s intention to end the U.S. combat mission in Iraq by August 2010. “We consider this as a good-faith sign from the American Administration toward Iraq and Iraqis.”
|From Yahoo News U.S. News
49 High court looks at prisoners’ right to DNA test
By MARY PEMBERTON, Associated Press Writer
Sat Feb 28, 12:52 pm ET
|ANCHORAGE, Alaska – William Osborne says he’s a victim of mistaken identity and a DNA test would prove it. Alaska prosecutors say his rape and attempted murder convictions are as solid as can be, and would be pointless to revisit.
Osborne’s attorneys will argue before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday that DNA testing is not something states can choose to allow when they have doubts about a conviction, but a constitutional right.
They note that 232 prisoners around the country have been exonerated by such tests, and that Alaska is the only state that hasn’t even tried to use the ever-evolving technology to see if it might have gotten a conviction wrong.
50 Nation of Islam minister sees ‘universal’ approach
By SOPHIA TAREEN, Associated Press Writer
18 mins ago
|ROSEMONT, Ill. – A top Nation of Islam minister said Saturday that while the Chicago-based movement has primarily focused on blacks since its creation, he envisions expanding a racially universal approach across the globe.
“You can see God’s message and the good in that message is for all human beings,” Ishmael Muhammad, the religion’s national assistant minister, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “If we don’t change, then we sentence ourselves to death.”
Muhammad, 44, said the Nation of Islam has been on an “evolutionary course.” He appeared at an annual Saviours’ Day event in a Chicago suburb, where Minister Louis Farrakhan was expected to address a crowd of thousands on Sunday.
51 Definition of assisted suicide not always clear
By GREG BLUESTEIN, Associated Press Writer
Sat Feb 28, 12:23 pm ET
|ATLANTA – An undercover agent describes the setup this way: A person seeking to commit suicide places an “exit hood” over his head and inflates it by turning on a tank of helium as the gas fills his bloodstream. After a few breaths, he loses consciousness. Ten to 15 minutes later, he dies.
The question now is whether four members of an assisted suicide ring facing criminal charges in a Georgia man’s death actively helped him kill himself that way or merely gave him guidance about how to end his life on his own.
The distinction is still being hammered out by state, district and federal courts, legal experts say.
52 Video shows Wash. sheriff’s deputy kicking teen
By MANUEL VALDES, Associated Press Writer
1 hr 50 mins ago
|SEATTLE – A King County sheriff’s deputy kicks a 15-year-old girl, slams her to the floor of a jail cell, strikes her and pulls her hair in violence captured on videotape.
Prosecutors released the surveillance video Friday in the assault case against Deputy Paul Schene, who is accused of using excessive force on the girl. Schene, 31, pleaded not guilty to fourth-degree assault in Superior Court on Thursday.
The incident last November began after the girl was brought in for an auto theft investigation, according to court documents. The footage shows the attack beginning after the girl enters the cell at suburban SeaTac City Hall and kicks off one of her shoes toward the deputy.
53 Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s old shows up for sale
Sat Feb 28, 2:45 pm ET
|CHARLOTTE, N.C. – An Atlanta investment banker is auctioning off more than 15,000 videotaped episodes of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s iconic Christian talk show.
“The PTL Club,” which aired from 1974 to 1987, featured Jim Bakker offering upbeat sermons from a couch and Tammy Faye, wearing her trademark heavy mascara, singing about Jesus. Most episodes were taped at their empire – which included a hotel, campground and theme park – just south of Charlotte.
PTL, which stood for “Praise The Lord,” came crashing down in 1987 when Jim Bakker went to prison for fraud after a sex scandal. The couple divorced and Tammy Faye remarried and changed her last name to Messner. She died in 2007 from colon cancer.
54 Mom: Deployment leaves no one to care for kids
By MITCH WEISS, Associated Press Writer
Sat Feb 28, 9:57 am ET
|DAVIDSON, N.C. – When Lisa Pagan reports for duty Sunday, four long years after she was honorably discharged from the Army, she’ll arrive with more than her old uniform. She’s bringing her kids, too.
“I have to bring them with me,” she said. “I don’t have a choice.”
Pagan is among thousands of former service members who have left active duty since the Sept. 11 attacks, only to later receive orders to return to service. They’re not in training, they’re not getting a Defense Department salary, but as long as they have time left on their original enlistment contracts, they’re on “individual ready reserve” status – eligible to be recalled at any time.
55 Wall Street rates poorly for ethics, honesty
By Ellen Wulfhorst, Reuters
Fri Feb 27, 9:24 am ET
|NEW YORK (Reuters) – Americans hold a dim view of business executives, giving them poor grades for honesty and ethics and blaming them for business failures, according to a survey released on Thursday.
Nearly 60 percent gave the worst grades to Wall Street executives for honesty and ethical practices, according to research conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Corporate executives fared slightly better, getting poor grades from 49 percent of those polled.
56 U.S. satellite shootdown debris said gone from space
By Jim Wolf, Reuters
Fri Feb 27, 9:55 am ET
|ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) – No debris remains in space from the U.S. destruction a year ago of an errant spy satellite loaded with toxic hydrazine fuel, the head of the Pentagon’s Strategic Command said.
By contrast, some of the debris caused when China used a ground-based ballistic missile to destroy one of its defunct weather satellites will stay in orbit for another 80 or 90 years, said Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, the command’s chief.
“Every bit of debris created by that (U.S.) intercept has de-orbited,” Chilton told a symposium on air warfare hosted by the U.S. Air Force Association in Orlando, Florida, on Thursday.
57 Activists warn US lawmakers of uranium mining perils
Sat Feb 28, 11:58 am ET
|WASHINGTON (AFP) – A French physicist and a US actor have joined representatives of indigenous peoples from Africa, Australia and the United States to send US lawmakers a stark warning about the dangers of uranium mining.
“We want US lawmakers to understand that uranium mining is highly pollutant and that there is currently no scientific answer to the question of radioactive waste containment,” Bruno Chareyron of France’s CRIIRAD laboratory, which measures radioactivity in the environment, told AFP Friday.
“We want them to know that the information they are given by the mining companies is not wholly reliable,” he said.
58 Amazon lets authors mute Kindle books read-aloud feature (AFP)
Posted on Sat Feb 28, 2009 5:01PM EST
|SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – Amazon is yielding to concerns of authors by letting them selectively silence a read-aloud feature in Kindle 2 electronic book readers that hit the market in February.
The US Authors Guild had warned that the new Kindle feature could pose a “significant challenge” to the publishing industry and hinted at possible legal action by saying they were studying the matter closely.
“Kindle 2’s experimental text-to-speech feature is legal: no copy is made, no derivative work is created, and no performance is being given,” Amazon said late Friday in an announcement posted online.
59 New US Marine officers have Afghan war on their minds
by Daphne Benoit
Sat Feb 28, 11:57 am ET
|QUANTICO, Virginia (AFP) – The young officers in the US Marines sent here to prepare to lead troops into combat say they are eager for duty in Afghanistan, the war that President Barack Obama has made his priority.
“I am sure everyone will go there sooner or later,” said Lieutenant Steven Morris, 34, clad in desert camouflage as he watched his fellow marines warm up in the morning cold before combat training.
Obama, calling Afghanistan the central front in the fight against terrorism rather than Iraq, has approved the deployment of 17,000 additional troops to take on Taliban insurgents, including 8,000 marines.
60 Citing crisis, US newspaper editors cancel convention
Fri Feb 27, 5:33 pm ET
|WASHINGTON (AFP) – The American Society of Newspaper Editors, citing the “challenging times faced by its members,” announced Friday that it was canceling its 2009 convention.
ASNE president Charlotte Hall said that although plans for the April 26-29 meeting in Chicago were well under way the ASNE’s leadership “concluded that the challenges editors face at their newspapers demand their full attention.”
“Even though the learning opportunities at the convention would have been valuable, the greatest priority is leading our own newsrooms as we shape the future of the business,” Hall said.
61 Florida man shoots five Chilean students, kills two
Fri Feb 27, 5:36 pm ET
|MIAMI (AFP) – A man armed with a rifle shot and killed two Chilean students and wounded three others, firing through a window at their home in a Florida beach town, police said Friday.
The Walton County Sheriff’s Office was still trying to determine what prompted Dannie Baker, 60, to leave his house in Miramar Beach in northern Florida early Thursday and shoot the victims.
“We don’t know the motives of the attack, we are investigating,” said Tammy Godwin, executive assistant to the sheriff. “There were no indicators, no complaints of bad noise or something.”
62 What to Do with Gitmo Detainees: No Easy Solutions
By BOBBY GHOSH / WASHINGTON, Time Magazine
Sat Feb 28, 12:25 am ET
|When it comes to former detainees of the GuantÁnamo Bay prison, the Obama Administration is discovering that out of sight is certainly not out of mind. Since the President’s decision to shut down the controversial holding center for terrorism suspects, not a week has gone by without a number of former inmates making headlines – and, from the U.S. perspective, for all the wrong reasons. The cases are a virtual Rorschach test of where you stand on the to-close-or-not-to-close-Gitmo debate.
63 The Obama Team’s Drink of Choice? Coke, Not Pepsi
By MICHAEL SCHERER / WASHINGTON, Time Magazine
Sat Feb 28, 12:25 am ET
|In an apparent homage to the new President, PepsiCo has plastered the sides of buses and bus stops in the nation’s capital with slogans like “Yes You Can,” “Optimismmmm” and “Hope.” In each poster, the letter O is inscribed with the redesigned Pepsi logo, a red, white and blue sphere that echoes the rising-sun image used by the Obama campaign.