Saturday, February 25, 2012

Published:

2 US military advisers shot dead inside Afghan ministry; NATO recalls military workers

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A gunman killed two American military advisers with shots to the back of the head Saturday inside a heavily guarded ministry building, and NATO ordered military workers out of Afghan ministries as protests raged for a fifth day over the burning of copies of the Quran at a U.S. army base.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Interior Ministry attack, saying it was retaliation for the Quran burnings, after the U.S. servicemen -- a lieutenant colonel and a major -- were found dead on the floor of an office that only people who know a numerical combination can get into, Afghan and Western officials said.

The top commander of U.S. and NATO forces recalled all international military personnel from the ministries, an unprecedented action in the decade-long war that highlights the growing friction between Afghans and their foreign partners at a critical juncture in the war.

The U.S.-led coalition is trying to mentor and strengthen Afghan security forces so they can lead the fight against the Taliban and foreign troops can go home. That mission, however, requires a measure of trust at a time when anti-Western sentiment is at an all-time high.

Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak called U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to apologize for the shooting and offer his condolences, Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a statement released in Washington.

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AP IMPACT: study suggests drones kill far fewer civilians than many Pakistanis believe

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- American drone strikes inside Pakistan are killing far fewer civilians than many in the country are led to believe, according to a rare on-the-ground investigation by The Associated Press of 10 of the deadliest attacks in the past 18 months.

The widespread perception in Pakistan that civilians, not militants, are the principal victims -- a view that is fostered by leading right-wing politicians, clerics and the fighters themselves -- fuels pervasive anti-American sentiment and, some argue, has swelled the ranks of al-Qaida and the Taliban.

But an AP reporter who spoke to about 80 villagers at the sites of the 10 attacks in North Waziristan, the main sanctuary for militants in Pakistan's northwest tribal region along the Afghan border, was told that a significant majority of the dead were combatants.

Indeed, the AP was told by the villagers that of at least 194 people killed in the attacks, about 70 percent -- at least 138 -- were militants. The remaining 56 were either civilians or tribal police, and 38 of them were killed in a single attack on March 17, 2011.

Excluding that strike, which inflicted one of the worst civilian death tolls since the drone program started in Pakistan, nearly 90 percent of the people killed were militants, villagers said.

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Principles and party loyalty debated in Michigan as Romney, Santorum seek Tuesday victory

FLINT, Mich. (AP) -- Republican Mitt Romney fought Saturday to prove he is the strongest challenger to President Barack Obama, an increasingly difficult task given the tight race in his native state of Michigan against surging conservative Rick Santorum.

In the final weekend of campaigning before Tuesday's Michigan and Arizona primaries, Romney focused on central and southeast Michigan's urban and industrial centers in hopes of pulling ahead of Santorum.

With a Michigan victory, Santorum could solidify his place as a real threat to Romney heading into Super Tuesday, the 10-state sweepstakes on March 6. Santorum's victories so far have come in lower-turnout party caucuses.

While Romney kept most of his attention on the Democratic incumbent, he also worked to lay doubt about the core principles of his lightly funded main GOP rival.

Romney is the one facing stubborn doubts from some conservatives for his changed positions on social issues, but he tried to portray Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, as a Washington insider with cracks in his own conservative credentials. Santorum called such criticism "laughable" and said Michigan, where Romney was born and raised and his father was governor, was winnable.

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Violence across Syria on eve of constitutional vote meant to quell uprising

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Syria defied international calls to halt attacks on rebel enclaves as at least 89 people were killed nationwide Saturday on the eve of a constitutional referendum that the opposition sees as a ploy by President Bashar Assad's regime.

Assad presented the revised charter -- which allows for at least a theoretical opening of the country's political system -- as an effort to placate critics and quell the 11-month uprising against his rule.

But the vote is unlikely to overshadow a new round of international condemnation and calls that Assad leave power.

The new charter would create a multiparty system in Syria, which has been ruled by the same family dynasty since Assad's father Hafez seized power in a coup in 1963. Such change as unthinkable a year ago.

After 11 months of bloodshed, however, Assad's opponents say the referendum and other promises of reform are not enough and have called for a boycott of the vote.

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Pakistan begins demolition of compound where US killed Osama bin Laden

ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- Under powerful floodlights and surrounded by rings of soldiers and police, heavy machines began Saturday night to demolish the three-story compound in northwestern Pakistan where Osama bin Laden lived for years and was killed by U.S. commandos last May.

Each blow helped eliminate a concrete reminder of the painful and embarrassing chapter in Pakistan's history that the al-Qaida chief's discovery and death in a town not far from the nation's capital represented.

Pakistan was outraged by the covert American raid in Abbottabad because it was not told about it beforehand -- a decision the U.S. explained was driven by concerns that someone in the government might tip off bin Laden.

The terror leader's death was cheered across the globe, but many Pakistanis were angry that the U.S. violated its territory and that its troops were powerless to stop American soldiers from attacking a compound located next to the country's equivalent of West Point, the elite U.S. military academy.

Just as U.S. Navy SEALs waited for the cover of darkness to descend on bin Laden's compound by helicopter from neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistani authorities held off on tearing it down Saturday until the sun had set, said local residents.

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5 blunders of a billionaire: Sometimes even Warren Buffett gets it wrong

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- The Oracle of Omaha earned his nickname -- and more than a few billion dollars -- by spotting investments that others overlooked, but Warren Buffett makes mistakes.

No, really, he does.

Just pick through Buffett's annual letters to shareholders of his conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway. His pronouncements are eagerly anticipated by investors around the world. But sometimes even the Oracle gets it wrong.

By the second page of this year's letter, released Saturday, Buffett was borrowing a tennis term to take credit for "a major unforced error" he'd made on some Texas utility bonds.

Of course, Buffett's shareholder letters are filled with a lot more good decisions than bad ones. His $44 billion fortune attests to that. But the blunders are instructive. Or at least remind us that he's human.

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Officials: Nelson Mandela, 93, hospitalized for test, but in no danger

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Former South African President Nelson Mandela was hospitalized for a test to determine what is behind an undisclosed stomach ailment, and the country's current leader said the much beloved 93-year-old icon was in no danger.

Mandela, a Nobel peace laureate who spent 27 years in prison for fighting racist white rule, has officially retired and last appeared in public in July 2010. He became South Africa's first black president in 1994 and served one five-year term.

Mandela "has had a long-standing abdominal complaint and doctors feel it needs proper specialist medical attention," President Jacob Zuma said in a statement Saturday morning, asking that Mandela's privacy be respected.

In a follow-up statement later, Zuma added that Mandela had undergone a planned, undisclosed "diagnostic procedure."

Mandela "is fine and fully conscious and the doctors are satisfied with his condition, which they say is consistent with his age," Zuma said. "We are happy that he is not in any danger."

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Reagan shooter John Hinckley wishes he could change 'would-be assassin' image

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The man who tried to kill President Ronald Reagan more than 30 years ago said he would like to be known as something other than a would-be assassin.

John Hinckley made the statement to a doctor who interviewed him in the past year at a Washington mental hospital. The statement and other pieces of information about Hinckley's life are part of hundreds of pages of documents prepared for court hearings in Hinckley's case.

Hinckley, who shot and wounded Reagan in 1981, is seeking more freedom from the hospital. He has been allowed to visit his mother's home in Williamsburg, Va., for up to 10 days at a time. Attorneys for the government believe he his trips should remain at 10 days.

A jury found Hinckley to be insane when he shot Reagan in an effort to impress actress Jodie Foster. He has spent most of the past three decades at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington. In recent years, doctors have said his mental illness has been in remission.

Hinckley said he still thinks about the actress, but only to ask himself "what was it about her that made me do this."

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Hanks, Streep, Kermit, other stars dress down for final Oscar rehearsal before the big show

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Academy Awards are a big deal -- even to A-listers. That's why a parade of stars came through the theater at the Hollywood & Highland Center Saturday to run through their lines and prepare to address their peers in front of a worldwide audience of millions.

MUPPET REHEARSAL: Even celebrities of the felt variety took time to practice their lines. Though Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy have been famous for decades, they still rehearsed like the dedicated pros they are.

The two Muppets and their invisible operators delighted the crew of show workers with their playful banter and puppet antics. Film academy president Tom Sherak was so taken with the two that he sat nearby throughout their rehearsal.

"Hey Don, it's been too long," Kermit said to the show's producer-director, Don Mischer.

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Danica Patrick gets spun out early in Nationwide Series race at Daytona, finishes 38th

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Danica Patrick's day started at the front of the pack. It ended with another frustrating wreck.

After starting from the pole position in Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway, Patrick was caught in a crash when JR Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt nudged her rear bumper and sent her spinning into the wall.

Patrick vented her frustration on the radio with her team immediately after the wreck, then acknowledged after the race that she wanted an explanation.

"I don't think it's ever great when teammates come together," Patrick said. "So we'll have to figure out what happened and move forward."

Whitt said he didn't mean to wreck Patrick, saying the incident was a result of the bumper-to-bumper style of racing at Daytona.