Sunday, March 18, 2012


Army sergeant accused of Afghan killings struggled to pay bills, passed over for promotion

LAKE TAPPS, Wash. (AP) -- A diverging portrait of the Army sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers is emerging as records and interviews show a man appreciated by friends and family who won military commendations, yet one who faced professional disappointment, financial trouble and brushes with the law.

The deeper picture included details on how Robert Bales was bypassed for promotion, struggled to pay for his house and eyed a way out of his job at a Washington state military base months before he was accused of the horrific nighttime slaughter in two Afghanistan villages.

While Bales, 38, sat in an isolated cell at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.'s military prison Saturday, classmates and neighbors from suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, remembered him as a "happy-go-lucky" high school football player who took care of a special needs child and watched out for troublemakers in the neighborhood.

But court records and interviews show that the 10-year veteran -- with a string of commendations for good conduct after four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan -- had joined the Army after a Florida investment job went sour, had a Seattle-area home condemned, struggled to make payments on another and failed to get a promotion or a transfer a year ago.

His legal troubles included charges that he assaulted a girlfriend and, in a hit-and run accident, ran bleeding in military clothes into the woods, court records show. He told police he fell asleep at the wheel and paid a fine to get the charges dismissed, the records show.


Puerto Rico votes; Romney, Santorum campaign in next-up primary states of Illinois, Louisiana

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are campaigning in next-up primary states of Illinois and Louisiana, while Puerto Ricans get their say in picking the GOP's presidential nominee.

Puerto Rico's residents cannot vote in general elections, but are set to award 20 delegates in their Sunday Republican primary.

Meanwhile, Romney was hoping to cement his lead in Illinois ahead of Tuesday's primary, with chief rival Santorum in Louisiana ahead of that state's vote on March 24.

The former Massachusetts governor and former Pennsylvania senator both campaigned in Puerto Rico ahead of the voting.

But Romney dramatically curtailed his trip to the U.S. territory Saturday in favor of spending more time in Illinois, where polls have shown him slightly ahead of Santorum.


Occupy protest 6-month anniversary ends with police sweep at NYC park where movement began

NEW YORK (AP) -- Dozens of police officers cleared the park where the Occupy movement was born six months ago and made several arrests after hundreds of protesters returned in an anniversary observance and defiantly resisted calls to clear out.

Some demonstrators locked arms and sat down in the middle of Zuccotti Park near Wall Street after police announced on a bullhorn at around 11:30 p.m. Saturday that the park was closed. Officers then poured into the park, forcing most of the crowd out and surrounding a small group that stayed behind. Police formed a human ring around the park to keep protesters out.

Several people were arrested, police said. An unused public transit bus was brought in to cart away about a dozen demonstrators in plastic handcuffs. One female under arrest had difficulty breathing and was taken away in an ambulance to be treated.

For hours, the demonstrators had been chanting and holding impromptu meetings in the park to celebrate the anniversary of the movement that has brought attention to economic inequality, as police mainly kept their distance.

But New York Police Det. Brian Sessa said the tipping point came when the protesters started breaking the park rules.


Syrian opposition to protest on one-year anniversary of uprising's first big rallies

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian opposition groups are calling for protests Sunday in the capital Damascus and elsewhere to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the first nationwide demonstrations of the country's uprising.

Many activists consider March 18, 2011, the start of the uprising against authoritarian President Bashar Assad. On that day, thousands took to the streets in cities across Syria, and security forces killed marchers in the southern city of Daraa.

Since then protests have spread and many in the opposition have taken up arms to defend themselves and attack government forces as the conflict has grown more militarized.

The U.N. says more than 8,000 people have been killed.

It is unclear if demonstrations will go ahead Sunday in Damascus, an Assad stronghold. Tens of thousand rallied there in support of the president last week.


Police: 2 critical, 3 others also wounded by gunfire as people throng Indianapolis downtown

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Gunfire erupted as throngs were celebrating a mild St. Patrick's Day along a popular downtown canal in Indianapolis and at least five teenagers were wounded by shots, two critically, police said.

The shots rang out Saturday night near the Downtown Canal on the west side of this Midwest city shortly after 10 p.m., police spokeswoman Linda Jackson said in a statement. The canal with its pedestrian pathway and restaurants dotting the area is a popular gathering place and had been thronged during the weekend, reports said. Police said patrolling officers were already downtown and had gone to check on a report of young people fighting when they suddenly heard gunfire nearby, according to the statement.

Indianapolis Public Safety Director Frank Staub was quoted by The Indianapolis Star ( ) as initially saying that the sound of gunfire sent people scrambling and that police had stopped a car afterward. However, the police statement released early Sunday reported no arrests and made no mention of any car being halted or some initial media reports suggesting the gunfire had come from a car.

Sgt. Jackson said in the statement that the investigation was continuing. The police statement did not indicate if the reports of fighting were linked to the gunfire.

"Detectives from multiple units are working together to follow up on leads that have developed," her statement added, without elaborating.


Floor of NYC house collapses under party, injuring 12 people; cause under investigation

NEW YORK (AP) -- Authorities say a floor of a New York City three-story house where a large party was taking place collapsed, injuring a dozen people.

The Fire Department said two people were hospitalized. One was seriously injured. Ten people refused medical attention. Fire officials said the third floor of the private home in Far Rockaway, Queens, collapsed onto the second floor Saturday night.

One person was trapped and had to be extracted.

The cause of the collapse is under investigation.

Far Rockaway is a remote neighborhood on a peninsula south of John F. Kennedy International Airport. It is about 23 miles southeast of Manhattan.


Yemen official: Gunmen on motorcycle kill US teacher in central city

SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Two gunmen on a motorcycle shot dead early Sunday an American teacher working at a language institute in a central Yemeni city, the region's provincial governor said.

Hamoud al-Sufi said the teacher was shot in his car in Taez city. He did not have details on who the killers might be, and said an investigation is ongoing.

Much of Yemen saw a collapse of central state authority during the yearlong uprising against longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down as president last month.

Militants affiliated with al-Qaida took advantage of the chaos to seize control of towns in nearby provinces.

Yemeni security officials said tribesmen kidnapped a Swiss woman working as a researcher in the western city of Hodeida on Tuesday.


Listening party: Norah Jones plays entire new album 'Little Broken Hearts' at SXSW

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Norah Jones unveiled something new at South By Southwest -- again.

Ten years after she shook Austin and the music world with "Come Away With Me," the 25 million-selling debut she released just weeks before the 2002 conference and festival, she returned to play her entire new album "Little Broken Hearts" at La Zona Rosa on Saturday night.

"It's a little scary sharing these songs with new people, but we're all friends, right?" she asked a crowd of a few hundred.

This was just the second time she's played in public the stylish yet deeply emotional material on the 12-song collaboration with Danger Mouse, out May 1.

In an interview Friday, Jones described "Little Broken Hearts" as a concept album of sorts that examines a difficult breakup. She said she and Danger Mouse, the producer whose given name is Brian Burton, wrote most of the songs as a team, working out lyrics and the instrumentation together.


India's former Mr. Universe turns 100, says happiness key to his longevity

KOLKATA, India (AP) -- A former Mr. Universe who has just turned 100 said Sunday that happiness and a life without tensions are the key to his longevity.

Manohar Aich, who is 4 foot 11 inches (150 centimeters) tall, overcame many hurdles, including grinding poverty and a stint in prison, to achieve body building glory.

His children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered Sunday in the eastern city of Kolkata to celebrate his birthday the day before.

Hindu priests chanted prayers while a feast was laid out to honor Aich, winner of the 1952 Mr. Universe body building title.

Rippling his muscles and flashing a toothless grin, Aich says his ability to take his troubles lightly and remain happy during difficult times are the secrets to his long life.


BracketRacket: Big over little, haves over have-nots no coincidence in NCAAs

Welcome to a special academic-themed edition of BracketRacket, your one-stop shopping for all things NCAA on tournament game days. Ohio State fans may want to go directly to item No. 2. Everyone else begin here:

March Madness isn't just about basketball. It's not the only championship this month. It's not even the only one that makes heavy use of a pool.

In case you missed it, Ohio State, with a basketball team plenty good enough to cut down the nets in New Orleans, just won the U.S. Collegiate Synchronized Swimming championship. Neither is a coincidence. Decide for yourself whether that's a good thing.

On the one hand, if we want Olympians in minor-minor sports, they have to come from -- and train -- somewhere. And you can't do better than Ohio State. On the other, the Buckeyes nudged out tiny University of the Incarnate Word to win, and almost-as-small Lindenwood finished a distant third. Those two, combined, probably could squeeze into the OSU cafeteria.

When we spoke to NCAA boss Mark Emmert last week, he said one of his toughest tasks was keeping the playing field level when teams that spend $5 million a year play those that spend $150 million. He's got some good ideas, and a few will make it into his "State of the NCAA" speech on the eve of the Final Four.