Sunday, February 19, 2012

Published:

Iran's Oil Ministry says it has halted exports to Britain, France in likely sanctions backlash

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran has halted oil shipments to Britain and France, the Oil Ministry said Sunday, in an apparent pre-emptive blow against the European Union after the bloc imposed sanctions on Iran's crucial fuel exports.

The EU imposed tough sanctions against Iran last month, which included a freeze of the country's central bank assets and an oil embargo set to begin in July. Iran's Oil Minister Rostam Qassemi had warned earlier this month that Tehran could cut off oil exports to "hostile" European nations. The 27-nation EU accounts for about 18 percent of Iran's oil exports.

However, the Iranian action was not likely to have any significant direct impact on European supplies because both Britain and France had already moved last year to sharply curtail oil purchases from Tehran to less than 3 percent of their daily needs.

The EU sanctions, along with other punitive measures imposed by the U.S., are part of Western efforts to derail Iran's disputed nuclear program, which the West fears is aimed at developing atomic weapons. Iran denies the charges, and says its program is for peaceful purposes.

The spokesman for Iran's Oil Ministry, Ali Reza Nikzad-Rahbar, said on the ministry's website Sunday that "crude oil exports to British and French companies have been halted."

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SKorea conducts live-fire drills near disputed sea boundary despite NKorean threat to attack

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea on Monday conducted live-fire military drills from five islands near its disputed sea boundary with North Korea, despite Pyongyang's threat to attack.

South Korea reported no immediate action by North Korea following the drills, which ended after about two hours. The drills took place in an area of the Yellow Sea that was the target of a North Korean artillery attack in 2010 that killed four South Koreans and raised fears of a wider conflict.

The heightened tension comes two months after the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. His young son Kim Jong Un has taken the helm of the nation of 24 million.

South Korean military officials said they were ready to repel any attack. Residents on the front-line islands were asked to go to underground shelters before the drills started, according to South Korea's Defense Ministry and Joint Chiefs of Staff.

North Korea's military maintained increased vigilance during the South Korean drills, though it hasn't done anything suspicious, a South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff officer said on condition of anonymity, citing department rules. He refused to provide further details because he said they involve confidential military intelligence on North Korea.

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Santorum said Obama's faith not the issue, but 'phony ideal' promoting environmentalism

CUMMING, Ga. (AP) -- Rick Santorum on Sunday condemned what he called President Barack Obama's world view that "elevates the Earth above man," discouraging increased use of natural resources.

The GOP presidential candidate also slammed Obama's health care overhaul for requiring insurers to pay for prenatal tests that, Santorum said, will encourage more abortions.

A day after telling an Ohio audience that Obama's agenda is based on "some phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible," Santorum said he wasn't criticizing the president's Christianity.

"I've repeatedly said I don't question the president's faith. I've repeatedly said that I believe the president's Christian," Santorum told CBS' "Face the Nation."

"I am talking about his world view, and the way he approaches problems in this country. I think they're different than how most people do in America," he said in the broadcast interview.

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Judge and prosecutor assassinated in Syria in a sign of widening armed resistance

BEIRUT (AP) -- Gunmen in Syria staged a guerrilla-style ambush that killed a senior state prosecutor and a judge Sunday in an attack that suggested armed factions are growing bolder and more coordinated in their uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime.

The roadway slayings -- reported in an opposition-dominated northern region by the Syrian state news agency -- came a day after a deadly hit-and-run attack on a political figure in the heart of the pro-Assad city of Aleppo.

The targeted killings have not reached Assad's inner circle, but they indicate a growing shift toward violent tactics by the opposition as it brings aboard more military defectors and seeks to tighten control over the small pieces of territory in its hands.

The fears of a looming civil war have neighboring Jordan racing to finish a refugee camp near the Syrian border to handle a possible exodus of people fleeing for safety.

Meanwhile, Egypt became the latest Arab nation to publicly snub Assad by ordering the withdrawal of its ambassador in Damascus.

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Prison riot that may have covered breakout kills 44; authorities detain warden, guards

MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) -- An inmate riot that may have been staged to cover a breakout killed 44 prisoners Sunday, and the jail's director and all guards on duty at the time have been detained, a security official said.

Nuevo Leon state public security spokesman Jorge Domene Zambrano said the riot broke out at about 2 a.m. in a high-security section of a state prison in the city of Apodaca outside the northern industrial city of Monterrey.

The fight between two cell blocks, each with about 750 prisoners, may have been staged as a cover for a prison break, he said. Domene said in counting the dead, officials discovered some prisoners missing, but didn't know yet how many.

Forty-four people died before state police regained control about two hours later.

Investigators are looking into whether the fight was started by members of the rival Gulf and Zeta cartels, once the same organization. Their split two years ago has caused a spike in violence in the region around Monterrey, Mexico's third-largest and once the country's symbol of development and prosperity.

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If Romney gets the nomination, he will face questions about intensity of support

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- If Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination for president, he'll face the urgent task of inspiring the party's conservative core and rallying them to beat President Barack Obama.

Judging by his performances in the primaries and caucuses so far, and the challenge he faces next week, he's got his work cut out for him.

Even Republicans who think he'll be the nominee worry about whether he can generate the intensity required to beat the Democratic incumbent.

These party leaders and activists, from the states voting Feb. 28 and the most contested ones ahead in the fall, say Romney has made strides toward addressing this problem. But, they say, he needs to do more to convince the Republican base that he's running to fundamentally reverse the nation's course, not simply manage what they see as the federal government's mess.

"I think Romney will be the nominee, but there is still tremendous work to be done," said Sally Bradshaw, a Florida Republican and adviser to former Gov. Jeb Bush. "He has got to find a way to unify the party and increase the intensity of support for him among voters who have supported Newt Gingrich, or Rick Santorum or Ron Paul or someone else. And that is going to be the key to how he does in the fall."

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Authorities: Wash. avalanche swept 4 experienced skiers far down mountain, killed 3 of them

STEVENS PASS, Wash. (AP) -- Three skiers were killed Sunday when an avalanche swept them about a quarter-mile down an out-of-bounds canyon at a popular resort, but a fourth skier caught up in the slide was saved by a safety device, authorities said.

The four were among three groups of skiers -- about a dozen people in all -- making their way through a foot and a half of fresh snow on the back side of Stevens Pass when the avalanche hit. Stevens Pass is in the Cascade Mountains, about 80 miles northeast of Seattle.

All were buried to some extent, but the men who died were swept approximately 1,500 feet down a chute in the Tunnel Creek Canyon area, King County Sheriff's Sgt. Katie Larson said.

Most of the other skiers, all well-equipped, were able to free themselves and rushed to dig out the victims. They performed CPR on the three men to no avail, Larson said.

The fourth skier who was swept down the mountain, a woman, appeared to avoid a similar fate because of the avalanche safety device she was wearing, Larson said.

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Whitney Houston is laid to rest in private ceremony at NJ cemetery where her father is buried

WESTFIELD, N.J. (AP) -- Whitney Houston was laid to rest Sunday at a brief private ceremony in New Jersey, the end of a weekend that saw the pop star's family and friends gather at a star-studded funeral to mourn her loss while celebrating her career.

Fans and onlookers gathered in several places along the route the motorcade took from the Newark funeral home to the cemetery about 20 miles away in Westfield, where Houston was buried next to her father, who died in 2003.

The 48-year-old singer died Feb. 11 in California, hours before she was to attend a pre-Grammy Awards party. No cause of death has been determined.

On Saturday, she was mourned at an invitation-only funeral at the church in Newark where she sang in the choir as a child. She was remembered by the biggest names in the music: Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys sang, and industry mogul Clive Davis was among those who spoke, as was Kevin Costner, Houston's co-star in "The Bodyguard."

The funeral was closed to fans, who were not allowed within blocks of the church. Still, many came to Newark to take part in what ways they could, some from as far as Miami and Washington, D.C.

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'Colbert Report' to return Monday, mother of comedian ailing

NEW YORK (AP) -- A representative for Stephen Colbert says "The Colbert Report" will return Monday after a sudden break due to the ailing health of the star's mother.

The Comedy Central show last week substituted repeats for scheduled shows on Wednesday and Thursday. At the time, the network said only that the cancellations were because of "unforeseen circumstances."

Colbert is expected to address his absence on Monday. His 91-year-old mother, Lorna Colbert, is ill.

Earlier on Twitter, Colbert thanked those who had offered "thoughts and prayers."

Colbert's father, James Colbert, and two of his brothers were killed in an airplane crash in 1974.

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ESPN fires employee responsible for headline in reference to Knicks' Lin

BRISTOL, Conn. (AP) -- ESPN fired an employee responsible for an offensive headline about Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin.

The headline Friday on ESPN's mobile website was used for a story about a New York loss in which Lin had nine turnovers. The headline was an idiom that contains a word that also can be used as a slur against Chinese.

"I don't think it was on purpose or whatever, but (at) the same time they have apologized. And so from my end I don't care anymore," Lin said after leading the Knicks to a 104-97 win over Dallas on Sunday. "Have to learn to forgive, and I don't even think that was intentional. Or hopefully not."

Lin is the NBA's first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. He captivated fans by leading the Knicks to seven straight wins before Friday's loss.

In a statement Sunday, ESPN apologized for that headline and said it is aware of two other "offensive and inappropriate" comments. An ESPNEWS anchor who used the same phrase was suspended for 30 days. The cable network said a similar reference was made on ESPN Radio New York, but the commentator is not an ESPN employee.