Sunday, April 1, 2012

Published:

In shift away from diplomacy, international coalition plans to fund Syrian opposition groups

ISTANBUL (AP) -- A coalition of more than 70 partners, including the United States, pledged Sunday to send millions of dollars and communications equipment to Syria's opposition groups, signaling deeper involvement in the conflict amid a growing belief that diplomacy and sanctions alone cannot end the Damascus regime's repression.

The shift by the U.S. and its Western and Arab allies toward seeking to sway the military balance in Syria carries regional risks because the crisis there increasingly resembles a proxy conflict that could exacerbate sectarian tensions. The Syrian rebels are overmatched by heavily armed regime forces.

The summit meeting of the "Friends of the Syrian People" follows a year of failed diplomacy that seems close to running its course with a troubled peace plan led by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

Indeed, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other participants at the conference in Istanbul uniformly expressed concern that Annan's plan might backfire, speculating that Syrian President Bashar Assad would try to manipulate it to prolong his hold on power.

Clinton said she was waiting for Annan's report to the U.N. Security Council on Monday on the status of his peace plan.

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Opposition party: Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has won parliament seat

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- She struggled for a free Myanmar for a quarter-century, much of it spent locked away under house arrest. Now, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate whose nonviolent campaign for democracy at home transformed her into a global icon is on the verge of ascending to public office for the first time.

Aung San Suu Kyi, 66, was elected to parliament Sunday in a historic victory buffeted by the jubilant cheers of supporters who hope her triumph will mark a major turning point in a nation still emerging from a ruthless era of military rule.

If confirmed, the election win will also mark an astonishing reversal of fortune for a woman who became one of the world's most prominent prisoners of conscience. When she was finally released in late 2010, just after a vote her party boycotted that was deemed neither free nor fair, few could have imagined she would make the leap from democracy advocate to elected official in less than 17 months, opening the way for a potential presidential run in 2015.

But Myanmar has changed dramatically over that time. The junta finally ceded power last year, and although many of its leaders merely swapped their military uniforms for civilian suits, they went on to stun even their staunchest critics by releasing political prisoners, signing cease-fires with rebels, relaxing press censorship and opening a direct dialogue with Suu Kyi -- who they tried to silence for decades.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton congratulated Myanmar for holding the poll. Speaking at a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey, she said Washington was committed to supporting the nation's reform effort.

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Nomination fight could end in Wisconsin, but state contests and stars gives GOP hope for fall

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Wisconsin voters are just warming up.

The national political spotlight promises to be hotter than normal this year, considering the series of contests in the state that serve as tests on issues confronting the country as a whole. And that's after Tuesday's Republican presidential primary, which effectively could end the race for the nomination.

Energized Republicans sense opportunities they haven't seen in a generation to complete a turnaround.

"You have an incredibly engaged and active electorate right now in Wisconsin," said Mark Graul, a Republican strategist in the state. "That will certainly hold through to November."

They see the chance to turn back a national effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker in a June election stemming from the first-term Republican's aggressive effort to strip public employee unions of power, and to pick a strong U.S. Senate nominee in August whose victory in November would give Wisconsin two GOP seats for the first time since 1957.

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Blacks have trouble clearing HPV, study finds; may help explain cervical cancer rate disparity

CHICAGO (AP) -- Provocative new research might help explain why black women are so much more likely than whites to develop and die from cervical cancer: They seem to have more trouble clearing HPV, the virus that causes the disease.

Doctors have long thought that less access to screening and follow-up health care were the reasons black women are 40 percent more likely to develop cervical cancer and twice as likely to die from it. The new study involving young college women suggests there might be a biological explanation for the racial disparity, too.

If further study confirms this novel finding, it would make the HPV vaccine even more important for black women, said Worta McCaskill-Stevens, a prevention specialist at the National Cancer Institute. The vaccine is recommended for all girls starting at age 11.

The study was presented Sunday at an American Association for Cancer Research conference in Chicago.

Certain strains of HPV, the human papillomavirus, cause cervical cancer, but brief infections are very common in young women. They usually go away on their own within a year or so and only pose a cancer risk when they last long-term.

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Living history: More than 21 million people could find themselves in 1940 US census records

NEW YORK (AP) -- When the 1940 census records are released Monday, Verla Morris can consider herself a part of living history.

Morris, who is in her 100th year, will get to experience the novelty of seeing her own name and details about her life in the records being released by the U.S. National Archives online after 72 years of confidentiality expires.

"I'd be happy to see it there," she said. "I don't think anything could surprise me, really."

Morris is one of more than 21 million people alive in the U.S. and Puerto Rico who were counted in the 16th federal decennial census, which documents the tumultuous decade of the 1930s transformed by the Great Depression and black migration from the rural South. It's a distinction she shares with such living celebrities as Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman.

Morris, who has been working on her family history since 1969 and has written six books on its branches, said census records were essential for her genealogical work because oftentimes people don't want to give their personal information.

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Searchers work to recover body of renowned runner Micah True from New Mexico wilderness

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Search crews are working to recover the body of renowned long-distance runner Micah True from a remote area of southern New Mexico.

Sunday's efforts in the rugged Gila Wilderness come after a searcher found True's body Saturday evening. He disappeared Tuesday after leaving a lodge for a 12-mile run, and a search was launched the next day when his friends reported the 58-year-old hadn't returned.

New Mexico state police spokesman Lt. Robert McDonald says more than 60 people were involved in Saturday's search.

Incident Commander Tom Bemis told the Las Cruces Sun-News late Saturday that one of True's friends on a search team found him just a mile southeast of the Gila Cliff Dwellings, about five miles from where he was last seen heading out for a run.

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Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem begin Holy Week with Palm Sunday

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Hundreds of Christian pilgrims marked Palm Sunday in the Holy Land on Sunday, holding masses and processions retracing Jesus' triumphant return to Jerusalem.

Palm Sunday marks the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem, where he was greeted by cheering crowds bearing palm fronds, according to the Bible.

The day's events began with a mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher -- revered as the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. Several hundred worshippers and clergy lit candles and waved palm fronds in the dark, cavernous church.

"It's the holiest place in the world for Christians and it's important for me to come here at least once in my lifetime," said Etienne Chevremont, 49, a visitor from Paris who attended the Jerusalem Mass.

Visitors walked down the cobblestone alleyways of the walled Old City carrying olive branches, palm fronds and crosses.

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'Hunger Games' earns $61.1M to top 'Titans' sequel; 'Wrath' trails 'Clash' with $34.2M debut

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- "The Hunger Games" is still the first item on the menu for movie fans, taking in $61.1 million to remain the No. 1 film in its second weekend.

Studio estimates Sunday put Lionsgate's "The Hunger Games" well ahead of Sam Worthington's action sequel "Wrath of the Titans," which opened in second-place with $34.2 million.

That's far below the $61.2 million opening of its predecessor, "Clash of the Titans," two years ago. But distributor Warner Bros. opened "Clash" on Easter weekend, when young fans already were off school and in holiday mode. With Easter coming next weekend, the studio expects "Wrath" to catch up to "Clash" in the next few weeks.

Julia Roberts' comic "Snow White" reinvention "Mirror Mirror" debuted at No. 3 with $19 million. Released by Relativity Media, the film casts Roberts as the wicked queen opposite Lily Collins as Snow White.

Starring Jennifer Lawrence as a teen forced to compete in a televised death match, "The Hunger Games" lifted its domestic total to $251 million after just 10 days.

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Mexican police investigate poor border family in Saint Death ritual murders of 2 boys, woman

NACOZARI, Mexico (AP) -- It was a family people took pity on, one the government and church helped with free food, used clothes, and farm animals. The men were known as trash pickers. Some of the women were suspected of prostitution.

Mexican prosecutors are investigating the poor family living in shacks outside a small town near the U.S. border as alleged members of a cult that sacrificed two 10-year-old boys and a 55-year-old woman to Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, a figure adored mostly by outlaws but whose popularity is growing across Mexico and among Hispanics in the United States.

The killings have shocked the copper mining village of Nacozari, on the edge of the Sierra Madre, and may be the first ritual sacrifices linked to the popular saint condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. Known as "flaquita," or "the skinny one," the figure known as Saint Death is portrayed as a skeleton wearing a hooded robe and holding a scythe, much like the Grim Reaper.

Authorities say the throats and the wrists of the victims were cut with knives and axes, and their blood was spread on a Santa Muerte altar. Their bodies were then buried near the shacks where the alleged cult members lived.

"We never knew they were part of a Santa Muerte cult," said Jorge Sanchez Castillo, a 54-year-old hotel owner who has a corn field next to the house of the woman believed to lead the group. "This has been a tragic thing for all of us."

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Police in Ky. assess handling of post-Final Four game mayhem, prep for Monday championship

Police say they are prepared to control crowds near the University of Kentucky's Lexington campus when the Wildcats play Kansas in the national championship basketball game.

Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts told The Associated Press on Sunday that several hundred officers will be out in force on Monday to help keep order.

Police plan a few adjustments from Saturday, when thousands of fans spilled onto streets after Kentucky defeated cross-state rival Louisville in New Orleans. Fans overturned cars and torched couches.

Roberts said police did a good job of getting rowdy fans under control. Officers arrested 27 people on minor charges such as disorderly conduct and alcohol intoxication.

Police had braced for the possibility of post-game violence Saturday and resorted to pepper spray, though large amounts weren't needed before they ultimately began dispersing the throngs.