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 -- whom they tried to silence for decades.

Results continued to trickle in early Monday from poll watchers within Suu Kyi's party, and spokesman Han Than said the opposition had won at least 43 of the 44 parliament seats it had contested. Those included four in the capital, Naypyitaw, considered a stronghold of the ruling party, whose leaders helped build the city.

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Obama team sharpens Romney focus as GOP rallies behind front-runner

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- President Barack Obama's administration launched a multi-pronged assault on Mitt Romney's values and foreign policy credentials Sunday, while a fresh set of prominent Republicans rallied behind the GOP front-runner as the odds-on nominee, further signs the general election is overtaking the primary season.

A defiant Rick Santorum outlined plans to leave Wisconsin the day before the state's contest Tuesday, an indication that the conservative favorite may be in retreat, his chances to stop Romney rapidly dwindling.

"I think the chances are overwhelming that (Romney) will be our nominee," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." ''It seems to me we're in the final phases of wrapping up this nomination. And most of the members of the Senate Republican conference are either supporting him, or they have the view that I do, that it's time to turn our attention to the fall campaign and begin to make the case against the president of the United States."

Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden went after Romney Sunday, underscoring the belief inside Obama's Chicago re-election headquarters that Romney will -- sooner than later -- secure the right to face Obama this fall. Romney largely agreed, telling a Madison, Wis., crowd Sunday night that the nominee "will probably be me."

The Obama officials' involvement comes as both sides sharpen their general election strategy, perhaps weeks before the GOP contest formally comes to an end.

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Political leaders, sports stars, entertainers join thousands at Miami rally for Trayvon Martin

MIAMI (AP) -- Political leaders, sport stars and entertainers were among several thousand people who gathered Sunday at a Miami rally to call for an arrest in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Florida teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer.

The rally in 17-year-old Trayvon Martin's hometown was one of the largest yet and drew basketball stars Alonzo Mourning and Isaiah Thomas, singers Chaka Khan and Betty Wright, politicians and civil rights leaders.

Martin's father, speaking briefly, promised the crowd he would not stop fighting "for my Trayvon and for your Trayvon."

"Each and every one of us feels the pain of this family simply because Trayvon Martin could have been one of all of us," said Mourning, the former Miami Heat player.

The rally came a day after thousands marched through Sanford, the central Florida town where 28-year-old George Zimmerman shot and killed Martin in February. Martin was walking back from a convenience store, where he had gone to buy candy and iced tea, when he and Zimmerman got into an altercation. Zimmerman says he was attacked and has claimed self-defense; Martin's family disputes his version of events.

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Outage of Visa network kept people from using credit, debit cards for a time Sunday afternoon

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A technical problem affecting the Visa network barred some people around the United States from using their credit and debit cards for about 45 minutes on Sunday, the company said.

The outage was caused by a recent update Visa has made to its system, said Visa Inc. spokeswoman Sandra Chu. She said Visa had trouble processing some transactions as a result, but the system is operating normally now.

Chu said the problem Sunday was unrelated to the security breach potentially affecting Visa and MasterCard customers that was reported Friday by credit card processor Global Payments Inc.

The outage occurred from around 2:40 p.m. to 3:20 p.m. EDT, a person from a major bank said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because bank employees were not authorized to speak publicly. Visa had notified the banks that are members of its network of the problem.

Consumers and merchants reported having Visa cards rejected on Sunday.

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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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Friends recall runner Micah True's passion for the sport, and his playfulness

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Up mountainsides, through deserts and the wildest of rugged terrain, there was little that could break the serenity or solitude of Micah True as he ran. Only, perhaps, the pounding beat of his heart or the rhythm of his feet as they hit the trail, mile after mile after mile.

For True, running -- the pure act of traveling relentlessly long distances -- was a passion that needed no justification. To those who knew him well, it also brought forth an intense playfulness in the 58-year-old ultra-marathon runner.

"When he was out on the trail running, it was like someone just rang the school bell and said, 'Recess.' It was utter playfulness," recalled Chris McDougall, a friend of True's and author of the nonfiction best-seller "Born to Run."

True's body was discovered Saturday evening in a remote part of southern New Mexico's Gila Wilderness. The search began for him days earlier after he failed to return Tuesday from a 12-mile run.

He was found near a cold stream, his legs still in the water and his water bottle next to him, about a mile southeast of the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

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Taylor Swift wins ACM entertainer of the year; Lambert, Aldean, Clarkson win 2 each

Taylor Swift won her second consecutive entertainer of the year award at the Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday night, just 24 hours after she was saluted by first lady Michelle Obama for her charity work on The Kids' Choice Awards.

Even by Swift's lofty standards, it was an outstanding weekend -- though tempered with a little melancholy.

After hugging her way to the stage, she took a moment to say hello to Kevin McGuire and his family. McGuire, a high school football player and Swift fan who has cancer, was to have been Swift's date to the awards, but he was hospitalized and couldn't make it.

"He's not here but I promised him I would give him a shoutout," Swift said of the Somerdale, N.J., resident.

The 22-year-old Swift becomes just the second woman to win the award twice after Carrie Underwood accomplished that feat before Swift. She beat out an all-male field that included Kenny Chesney, who was shut out at the awards after leading all nominees nine. Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson were the night's top winners with two awards apiece.

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People familiar with Saints bounty case: NFLPA to see more evidence; hires outside counsel

The NFL Players Association told players involved in the New Orleans Saints' bounty case that there is a chance they could face criminal charges and it hired outside counsel to represent them if needed.

While Commissioner Roger Goodell weighs how to punish the two dozen or so players the league says might be connected to the bounties, the NFLPA also suggested that players have a lawyer and union representative present when they are interviewed by NFL investigators.

The union plans to head to New York this week to meet with league security staff and review additional evidence, taking up the NFL on an offer it made more than once.

The latest steps were described to The Associated Press on Sunday by two people familiar with the case. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

The NFL has said that 22 to 27 defensive players were part of the Saints' pay-for-pain bounty pool, which awarded thousands of dollars of cash bonuses from 2009-11 for vicious hits that knocked targeted opponents out of games. One example, according to the league: Linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to any New Orleans player who sidelined Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre during the 2010 NFC championship game.