Thursday, March 15, 2012

Published:

Seattle lawyer: Soldier accused in Afghan killings saw friend's leg blown off the day before

SEATTLE (AP) -- The U.S. soldier accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan villagers last weekend saw his friend's leg blown off the day before the rampage, his lawyer said Thursday.

Seattle attorney John Henry Browne told The Associated Press that according to his client's family, the suspect was standing next to another U.S. soldier when that soldier was gravely injured.

"We have been informed that at this small base that he was at, somebody was gravely injured the day before the alleged incident -- gravely injured, and that affected all of the soldiers," he said.

Browne said his client had been reluctant to leave on his fourth deployment and surprised to be deployed to Afghanistan.

He offered no other details of the incident, and it isn't clear whether it prompted the horrific middle-of-the-night attack. The soldier had been injured twice during his three previous deployments to Iraq, and he was loath to go to Afghanistan to begin with, Browne said.

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Taliban nixes US talks, Karzai demands NATO pull out of rural areas after civilian killings

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The American campaign in Afghanistan has suffered a double blow: The Taliban broke off talks with the U.S., and President Hamid Karzai said NATO should pull out of rural areas and speed up the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces nationwide in the wake of the killing of 16 civilians.

Thursday's moves represent new setbacks to America's strategy for ending the 10-year-old war at a time when support for the conflict is plummeting. Part of the U.S. exit strategy is to transfer authority gradually to Afghan forces. Another tack is to pull the Taliban into political discussions with the Afghan government, though it's unclear that there has been any progress since January.

Although Karzai has previously said that he wanted international troops to transition out of rural areas, the apparent call for an immediate exit is new. Karzai also said he now wants Afghan forces take the lead for countrywide security in 2013, in what appeared to be a move to push the U.S. toward an earlier drawdown.

A statement released by Karzai's office said that during his meeting with visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the president "requested that the international forces come out of Afghan villages and stay in their bases."

Karzai also said that the "Afghan security forces have the ability to provide security in the villages of our country," the statement said.

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Signs of financial stress emerge for Mitt Romney as the long GOP campaign keeps getting longer

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (AP) -- The long and increasingly messy Republican presidential contest is starting to hit Mitt Romney where it hurts most: his wallet.

New signs of financial stress are emerging in Romney's campaign, which has built a wide lead in delegates thanks in part to the might of his bank account and multistate operation. As rival Rick Santorum's surprising strength keeps extending the nomination battle, Romney has scaled back expenses, trimmed field staff in some cases and begun to count more on free media coverage to reach voters. And he's still relying on an allied super political action committee to supplement his spending on expensive TV ads.

This week, the former Massachusetts governor was forced to spend two days privately courting donors in the New York area, even as his Republican rivals were wooing voters ahead of pivotal elections in places like Illinois, where he hasn't been in four months, and as President Barack Obama was stockpiling cash for the fall general election fight.

On Wednesday, Romney had five finance events in New York, all packed, raising about $3 million, with more set for Thursday. So the news is hardly all bad. Wednesday "was the best day we've had so far," said New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, who accompanied Romney to multiple events, including a donor breakfast in New York City.

But it's less encouraging for the campaign that the money is badly needed to re-fill coffers that had sunk close to their lowest levels since Romney launched his presidential effort last year.

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A timeline of some key events in the Syrian uprising

A timeline of some key events in the Syrian uprising:

March 15, 2011 -- Activists call for a "Day of Rage" across Syria, inspired by other popular uprisings across the Arab world. In February, several youths were arrested in the southern town of Daraa for writing graffiti calling for the downfall of the regime of President Bashar Assad.

March 18, 2011 -- Activists say five people were killed as security forces dispersed crowds in the southern town of Daraa -- one of several demonstrations across the country -- in the first deadly violence reported in the uprising. Over the next days, Daraa was reported sealed off, with no one allowed to enter.

March 23, 2011 -- Protests continue in Daraa, and Syrian state media release images of guns, hand grenades, bullets and stacks of Syrian currency said to be seized from a mosque in the town.

March 25, 2011 -- Troops open fire on protesters in several cities and crowds clash on the streets of the capital of Damascus.

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Women in Ariz. may have to tell employers reason for taking birth control to get reimbursement

PHOENIX (AP) -- Women in Arizona trying to get reimbursed for birth control drugs through their employer-provided health plan could be required to prove that they are taking it for a medical reason such as acne, rather than to prevent pregnancy.

A bill nearing passage in the Republican-led Legislature allows all employers, not just religious institutions, to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage when doing so would violate their religious or moral beliefs.

When a female worker uses birth control pills, which can be used to treat a number of medical conditions, the bill would allow an employer who opted out to require her to reveal what she was taking it for in order to get reimbursed.

The bill thrusts the state into a raging national debate about religious freedom and birth control, sparked after the Obama administration required that employers must provide contraception coverage under the federal health care overhaul.

After objections from religious groups, the administration changed course, ordering that insurers, not employers, would have to pay for the coverage. Republicans, social conservatives and some religious groups believe the new order still violates their beliefs.

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Weather Service says US to get break from spring flooding, but not from warmth, drought

WASHINGTON (AP) -- At least it's a dry heat.

The federal government's spring weather forecast offers no respite from warmer weather, but the country should get a break from the spring flooding that's hit the last four years.

The National Weather Service's outlook for spring, which arrived early with 577 warm temperature records broken Wednesday, predicts mostly warmer and drier-than-normal weather, except in the Northwest. The current summer-like weather -- with some temperatures as much as 35 degrees above normal -- is expected to stick around through next week.

All or parts of 36 states are forecast to be warmer than normal April through June, with only Alaska, Hawaii, Washington and Oregon and the tip of Idaho forecast to be cooler than normal. Every state east of the Mississippi River, except Wisconsin, and most of the Southwest should be warmer than normal this spring, the weather service predicts.

No place in the contiguous United States is forecast to be wetter than normal this spring. The seemingly snowless winter -- the third least amount of snow in the US in 46 years -- means there is less snow melting and flooding rivers. So only a small fraction of the country has an above normal risk for flooding and no areas have a high risk of flooding this spring. Only the Ohio Valley and parts of Louisiana have elevated flood risk.

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Sales begin Friday for iPad with faster processor, better screen; heavy demand, lines expected

NEW YORK (AP) -- Let the wild rumpus start.

The customary storefront crowds are expected to gather as Apple's latest iPad goes on sale Friday. Long lines are likely even though customers could have ordered the new tablet computer ahead of time for first-day home delivery.

The third version of Apple's iPad will be available in the U.S. and nine other countries beginning at 8 a.m. local time. The new model comes with a faster processor and a much sharper screen. It also boasts an improved camera, similar to that of the latest iPhone.

For many customers, visiting a store in person -- instead of having one shipped -- offers consumers a chance to mingle with die-hard Apple fans.

Two years after the debut of the first iPad, the device's launch has become the second-biggest "gadget event" of the year, after the annual iPhone release. A year ago, thousands lined up outside the flagship Apple store on New York's Fifth Avenue. The device sold out on launch day, even though it didn't go on sale until 5 p.m.

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Shannon Magrane dismissed from 'American Idol' after singing 'One Sweet Day'

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- It wasn't such a sweet day for Shannon Magrane on "American Idol."

The 16-year-old vocalist from Tampa, Fla., known for her soaring voice and towering over "Idol" host Ryan Seacrest, was eliminated from the Fox singing competition Thursday. Magrane was dismissed after reprising her rendition of Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men's "One Sweet Day." She failed to persuade the show's judges to save her from being booted.

"It feels so good standing on this stage," she said after her elimination.

Magrane was revealed to be among the bottom three vote-getters with 28-year-old teacher Elise Testone, of Charleston, S.C., and 26-year-old disc jockey Erika Van Pelt, of South Kingstown, R.I. The judges, who lauded Testone's soulful performance of Tina Turner's 1983 edition of "Let's Stay Together," were noticeably dissatisfied with the viewers' picks.

"I just feel that the great performances should be rewarded," Jennifer Lopez said.

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Record-seeking Skydiver makes practice jump from 13 miles; aiming for 23 miles in summer

Skydiving daredevil Felix Baumgartner is more than halfway toward his goal of setting a world record for the highest jump.

Baumgartner lifted off Thursday for a test jump from Roswell, N.M., aboard a 100-foot helium balloon. He rode inside a pressurized capsule to 71,581 feet -- 13.6 miles -- and then jumped. He parachuted to a safe landing, according to project spokeswoman Trish Medalen.

He's aiming for nearly 23 miles this summer. The record is 19.5 miles.

"The view is amazing, way better than I thought," Baumgartner said after the practice jump, in remarks provided by his representatives.

Thursday's rehearsal was a test of his capsule, full-pressure suit, parachutes and other systems. A mini Mission Control -- fashioned after NASA's -- monitored his flight.

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Syracuse rallies for 72-65 win over UNC-Asheville, avoids being first No. 1 to lose to 16

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Syracuse was missing its starting center. North Carolina-Asheville thought the Orange got help from three men in striped shirts.

With Syracuse facing the kind of NCAA tournament history no team wants to make, the top-seeded Orange rallied for a 72-65 victory Thursday in the second round of the East Regional.

Two calls by the officials had the sellout crowd of 18,927 at Consol Energy Center -- except for those wearing orange -- booing throughout the final minute but it didn't matter.

Syracuse made it 109-0 for No. 1 seeds against No. 16s since the NCAA went to a field of 64 in 1985.

"I don't think luck had anything to do with this game today," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said, "and I think the better team won."