Archive for March 2010

Prosecutor Greed Prompted Ill Fire That Killed 7

Prosecutor Greed Prompted Ill Fire That Killed 7

MAYWOOD, Ill. – The owner of a suburban Chicago apartment house had his maintenance man set fire to the building, killing seven people including a newborn, because he wanted to cash in on a 250,000 insurance policy, prosecutors said Friday.
The landlord told police he wanted the house burned when the children living there were at school. Instead, authorities allege, the maintenance man started the fire on a Sunday morning when residents were sleeping inside.
“The sheer greed alone is difficult enough to understand, but the inhumanity of this crime is almost beyond comprehension,” said Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
The landlord, Lawrence Myers, 60, and maintenance man Marion Comier, 47, pleaded not guilty Friday in a Maywood courtroom to seven counts of first degree murder and two counts of aggravated arson. Judge James Zafiratos ordered them held without bond. Alvarez said her office would review the case before deciding whether to seek the death penalty.
Alvarez said the charges were based on secret recordings, made over five days, that caught the two accused men discussing how Comier had set the fire at the Cicero house and arguing over how much he would be paid.
The recordings were made after three witnesses told police they had overheard Myers and Comier talking about setting the blaze, prosecutors said. Authorities then got a court order allowing the electronic listening device to be worn by an unidentified informant.
The fire gutted the two-story building, which had been converted into separate living units. Alvarez said residents in an attic apartment had no chance to escape.
“This fire was set at a particularly chilling time of the day, on a Sunday morning at about 6:30 when it would be pretty safe to assume that most residents in that building were there and were sleeping,” Alvarez said.
On the day of his arrest Wednesday, Myers told a police detective he had wanted the house burned when the children were at school and the women were at work, according to prosecutors. He also told the detective he was having financial difficulties.
The recordings caught Myers saying his plan was to flee to West Virginia where he would live without a mailbox or phone, prosecutors said.
Public defenders assigned to the case asked the judge to set a reasonable bond based on Myers’ lack of criminal convictions and Comier’s clean record since a pair of drug convictions more than 10 years ago.
Comier “is as you can imagine feeling alone and rather distraught and very confused about this turn of events,” said Cook County Assistant Public Defender Parle Roe-Taylor, who represented Comier in court Friday. “He expects it all to be made clear once the evidence is released.” The next hearing in the case is set for Tuesday.
Fire officials have said as many as 40 people may have been in the house. Some who escaped awoke to the sound of screaming and banging coming from the attic.
The fire killed Byron Reed, 20; Sallie Gist, 19; their sons, 3-year-old Rayshawn Reed and 3-day-old Brian Reed; Sallie Gist’s 16-year-old brother and sister, twins Elijah and Elisha Gist; and 18-year-old family friend Tiera Davidson.
Three Cicero firefighters were injured fighting the blaze.
Elijah Grays, who lost three children and two grandchildren in the blaze, called the crime senseless. Grays said he’s struggling to forgive the accused.
“If I could talk to them, I would say why? Why would you do something like this to anybody?” Grays said, his eyes wet with tears. “I don’t know what’s going through their minds, but I know what’s going through my mind and my heart. I want to say it would be hatred, but I can’t. I can’t hate nobody, you know?”

Methane Bubbles In Arctic Seas Stir Warming Fears

Methane Bubbles In Arctic Seas Stir Warming Fears

OSLO (Reuters) –
Large amounts of a powerful greenhouse gas are bubbling up from a long-frozen seabed north of Siberia, raising fears of far bigger leaks that could stoke global warming, scientists said.
It was unclear, however, if the Arctic emissions of methane gas were new or had been going on unnoticed for centuries — since before the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century led to wide use of fossil fuels that are blamed for climate change.
The study said about 8 million tonnes of methane a year, equivalent to the annual total previously estimated from all of the world's oceans, were seeping from vast stores long trapped under permafrost below the seabed north of Russia.
“Subsea permafrost is losing its ability to be an impermeable cap,” Natalia Shakhova, a scientist at the University of Fairbanks, Alaska, said in a statement. She co-led the study published in Friday's edition of the journal Science.
The experts measured levels of methane, a gas that can be released by rotting vegetation, in water and air at 5,000 sites on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf from 2003-08. In some places, methane was bubbling up from the seabed.
Previously, the sea floor had been considered an impermeable barrier sealing methane, Shakhova said. Current methane concentrations in the Arctic are the highest in 400,000 years.
GLOBAL WARMING
“No one can answer this question,” she said of whether the venting was caused by global warming or by natural factors. But a projected rise in temperatures could quicken the thaw.
“It's good that these emissions are documented. But you cannot say they're increasing,” Martin Heimann, an expert at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Germany who wrote a separate article on methane in Science, told Reuters.
“These leaks could have been occurring all the time” since the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago, he said. He wrote that the release of 8 million tonnes of methane a year was “negligible” compared to global emissions of about 440 million tonnes.
Shakhova's study said there was an “urgent need” to monitor the region for possible future changes since permafrost traps vast amounts of methane, the second most common greenhouse gas from human activities after carbon dioxide.
Monitoring could resolve if the venting was “a steadily ongoing phenomenon or signals the start of a more massive release period,” according to the scientists, based at U.S., Russian and Swedish research institutions.
The release of just a “small fraction of the methane held in (the) East Siberian Arctic Shelf sediments could trigger abrupt climate warming,” they wrote.
The shelf has sometimes been above sea level during the earth's history. When submerged, temperatures rise by 12-17 degrees Celsius (22-31 F) since water is warmer than air. Over thousands of years, that may thaw submerged permafrost.
About 60 percent of methane now comes from human activities such as landfills, cattle rearing or rice paddies. Natural sources such as wetlands make up the rest, along with poorly understood sources such as the oceans, wildfires or termites.
Most studies about methane focus on permafrost on land. But the shelf below the Laptev, East Siberian and Russian part of the Chuckchi sea is three times the size of Siberia's wetlands.
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)
(For Reuters latest environment blogs, click on: http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/)

Leading Pakistani Taliban Deputy Believed Killed

Leading Pakistani Taliban Deputy Believed Killed

ISLAMABAD – A top Pakistani Taliban commander close to al-Qaida is believed to have been killed in an army airstrike, officials said Saturday, in the latest apparent blow to insurgents who have attacked Pakistan and threatened U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
Maulvi Faqir Mohammed was believed to be among a number of insurgents killed Friday at a sprawling compound in the northwest Mohmand tribal region, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.
He said authorities had not identified the bodies of Mohammed or his fellow commander Qari Ziaur Rehman, but all the militants hiding at the site were killed after the helicopter gunships were dispatched on “real-time” intelligence.
“If Faqir Mohammed and Qari Ziaur Rehman are alive, then I will be surprised,” he told Pakistan’s Express news channel after receiving a briefing from the paramilitary Frontier Corps in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
Mohammed was a deputy commander in the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan — Pakistan’s Taliban Movement — leading the network’s operations in the Bajur and Mohmand tribal regions. He also was close to al-Qaida No. 2 leader Ayman al-Zawahri, who along with Osama bin Laden is suspected of using Pakistan’s tribal badlands as a hide-out.
Two intelligence officials also said that Mohammed was believed dead and that about two dozen insurgents had died in Friday’s airstrike.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said they were confident of their information, but warned that the remote, dangerous nature of the region made it nearly impossible to offer a definitive confirmation at this stage.
A Pakistani Taliban spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
If confirmed, Mohammed’s death would be the latest in a series of victories for Pakistan and the U.S. in the battle against Islamist extremists.
Over the past two months, Pakistan has captured several Afghan Taliban leaders hiding on its soil, intelligence officials have said. Among them is Mullah Baradar, the top deputy to Mullah Omar, the Afghan Taliban’s supreme chief.
The U.S. has relied heavily on missile strikes to take out targets in the tribal areas, often aiming for al-Qaida operatives, but also broadening its targets to include Pakistani Taliban leaders.
A January U.S. missile strike is believed to have killed Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud. The Taliban have denied that, but have not provided any evidence to prove he is still alive.
Last year, after then-Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was reported killed in an August U.S. missile strike, Mohammed declared that he was taking over the group on a temporary basis.
There were suggestions, however, that the move rankled others in the Pakistani Taliban, making Mohammed’s final status in the network somewhat murky after Hakimullah Mehsud was selected as the heir to Baitullah.
The Pakistani Taliban have staged numerous attacks that have killed hundreds across Pakistan, and they are suspected to aid militants involved in attacks across the border in Afghanistan. The group is also a prime suspect in the suicide bombing that killed seven CIA employees in eastern Afghanistan in late December.
Bajur and to some extent Mohmand have come under fierce assault by Pakistani army and paramilitary forces. Just days ago, a top general declared for the second time in a year that Bajur was cleared of militants.
Pakistan has waged multiple army offensives throughout the tribal belt, though it has avoided pushing into North Waziristan, the stronghold of several militant groups that have focused on defeating U.S. troops in Afghanistan rather than taking on the Pakistani state.
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Associated Press Writer Habib Khan contributed to this report from Khar.

Bears Sign Peppers Rolle Becomes Richest Safety

Bears Sign Peppers Rolle Becomes Richest Safety

NEW YORK – Julius Peppers found a new home and a big payday as the NFL’s free agency period opened with a few teams doling out some serious dough.
The Chicago Bears were the biggest spenders Friday, agreeing with Peppers on a six-year deal worth potentially 91.5 million. Agent Carl Carey said a record 42 million is guaranteed, with Peppers earning 20 million in the first year.
“It’s one thing to play football in this league and make a living,” Pepper said, “but it’s a totally different thing to come to a place with a rich tradition like the Bears.”
The five-time Pro Bowl defensive end joined Chicago in the biggest move by a team that showed it’s fixated on contending again after missing the playoffs the past three seasons.
The Bears also added running back Chester Taylor from Minnesota and blocking tight end Brandon Manumaleuna from San Diego.
“You always shoot for the stars, and hopefully if you don’t get there you’re going to wind up high anyhow,” general manager Jerry Angelo said.
The New York Giants also got in on the action, making Pro Bowler Antrel Rolle the richest safety in the league in the waning hours of the opening day of the first offseason without a salary cap since 1993.
Rolle signed a five-year, 37 million contract that has 15 million in guaranteed money.
Agent Drew Rosenhaus tweeted the announcement late Friday, offering his personal congratulations to Rolle on becoming “the highest paid safety in NFL history!” The Giants formally announced the deal around 11:30 p.m.
“I’m ecstatic,” the 27-year-old Rolle said. “Words can’t really express how I feel now. I had five great years with the Cardinals organization. But I felt it was time for a change.”
Miami and Atlanta were also active, with the Dolphins agreeing to terms with Rolle’s former Arizona teammate, linebacker Karlos Dansby, and the Falcons and cornerback Dunta Robinson also coming to terms.
Dansby agreed to a 43 million, five-year deal, a person familiar with the negotiations said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Dolphins didn’t announce an agreement. The contract includes 22 million guaranteed and will pay Dansby 27 million over the next three years.
The deal was part of a big one-day shake-up in the Dolphins’ defense. Miami terminated the contracts of disgruntled outside linebacker Joey Porter, inside linebacker Akin Ayodele and free safety Gibril Wilson.
Robinson and the Falcons agreed to terms on a six-year deal, a person familiar with the negotiations said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no contract had been signed. Financial terms of the agreement were not immediately available.
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie, a former All-Pro who struggled in coverage last season for San Diego, was traded to the New York Jets. Receiver Anquan Boldin was traded from the Arizona Cardinals to the Baltimore Ravens.
The Cleveland Browns restructured the final three years of the six-year deal Pro Bowl return specialist Josh Cribbs signed in 2006.
In other moves Friday, linebacker Gary Brackett, the leader of the Indianapolis defense, re-signed with the Colts; All-Pro fullback Leonard Weaver re-signed with Philadelphia for three years; Oakland re-signed free agent offensive lineman Khalif Barnes to a one-year contract; and Detroit, coming off two wins in the past two seasons, upgraded its defense by trading with Cleveland for tackle Corey Williams and agreeing to a four-year deal with end Kyle Vanden Bosch.
Carolina waived longtime starting quarterback Jake Delhomme — in teary fashion.
A year after the Panthers gave Delhomme a lucrative contract extension, the only quarterback to lead them to the Super Bowl was released to make way for new starter Matt Moore. A career-high 18 interceptions in 2009 and 23 in his final 12 games did in Delhomme.
Cromartie should become a starter opposite All-Pro Darrelle Revis in the Jets’ secondary. New York gave up a conditional draft pick for a former All-Pro who has had off-field issues.
“I think this is going to work out for me and the Jets organization,” Cromartie said. “I’m not going to let them down in any way.”
The Cardinals received a third- and fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft for the 29-year-old Boldin. He caught 84 passes for 1,024 yards and two touchdowns last season and gives quarterback Joe Flacco a much-needed deep threat.
Boldin received a new four-year, 28 million deal with Baltimore in which 10 million is guaranteed.
Cribbs has a new three-year contract after two seasons of threats, broken promises and back-and-forth negotiations. The agreement includes 7.5 million in guaranteed money. Cribbs is the NFL’s career leader with eight kickoff returns for touchdowns.
“It’s been a long road,” Cribbs said. “It worked out. We reached a good compromise. I’m happy to wear this uniform proudly, as I’ve been saying the whole time.”
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AP Football Writer Barry Wilner and AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., Rachel Cohen in New York and Andrew Seligman in Chicago contributed to this report.

Witness Will Testify In Broncos Players Death

Witness Will Testify In Broncos Players Death

DENVER – A witness too afraid to testify against the man accused of killing Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams has changed his mind after a night in jail.
The surprising twist came Friday, after defense attorneys spent a day calling witnesses to build an alibi for the defendant, 26-year-old Willie Clark. His attorneys are hoping to switch the focus away from him to an alternative suspect.
Denver prosecutors said the man who refused to testify on their behalf Thursday is important because he is expected to say Clark admitted to killing Williams in a drive-by shooting on New Year’s Day 2007.
The witness, who has said in court that he fears for his life if his name became public, is scheduled to testify when prosecutors present their rebuttal to the defense’s case sometime next week.
Two other witnesses have also been jailed for refusing to testify in the trial, which has featured tight security and a ban on cell-phones and other electronic devices inside the courtroom.
Clark, a suspected gang member, is also expected to decide next week whether he’ll take the stand in his own defense.
“I have to confess,” Denver district Judge Christina Habas told Clark on Friday. “I’ve given you a lot of time to think about this.”
Clark responded that he’s undecided, adding that he wants to wait until all of the witnesses testify in his defense.
Clark faces first-degree murder and other charges. Clark maintains he is innocent.
Williams was in a Hummer limousine with other football players when he was shot. They had just left a Denver nightclub where prosecutors say Williams’ group had gotten into an altercation with a group that included Clark.
The defense on Friday called on security guards to testify about what they saw as people were leaving the nightclub where Williams had been.
One security guard said she remembers seeing a short, light-skinned man she described as looking like he was an Arab. She said she used pepper foam on him and that the man got into a green SUV, the same vehicle another security staffer later told police he vaguely remembers as being associated with someone having a gun.
Prosecutors say the vehicle used in the drive-by shooting was a white SUV.
The light-skinned man, Daniel “Ponytail” Harris, testified this week that he was a passenger in the white Chevy Tahoe that Clark was allegedly driving, and he identified Clark as the shooter.
Harris is under federal protection and Clark’s attorneys have questioned his motives, saying he has gotten multiple plea deals for his testimony.
A woman who said she’s a cousin of Williams, Jazelle Hudson, also testified Friday that she saw Clark almost immediately after the shooting at another nightclub and that he was driving a black Range Rover.

Partisanship Comes In Waves At US Turning Points

Partisanship Comes In Waves At US Turning Points

WASHINGTON – The current partisan divide is as stark and nasty as any in recent history and on almost every issue — from health care to energy independence to reviving the economy — there’s little or no effort to find common ground.
But fierce political battle is also a tradition ingrained in American history. If today’s hostile environment is particularly intense, it’s downright genteel compared to many battles of the past.
The Civil War, when anti- and pro-slavery forces split the nation, is the most extreme example. But there’s also the beginning of the 20th century, when the country was becoming more urban and trust-busting Teddy Roosevelt was redefining the role of government.
The current economic troubles have collided with President Barack Obama’s efforts to change government amid waves of public anger and protest movements like the tea party.
The angry mood was so discouraging for Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh that the Democrat recently said “I do not love Congress” as he announced he would not run for re-election.
His sentiments have been heard before.
Party politics, President George Washington said in his farewell address in 1796, “agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms.” It “kindles the animosity of one part against another (and) foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”
After two centuries, the nation continues to ignore its founding father’s message.
“We’ve had partisanship ever since we’ve had federal government,” Senate historian Donald Ritchie said. “Bipartisanship is really the exception to the rule.”
Partisanship got off to a raucous start in the presidential election of 1800 when the incumbent, John Adams, a Federalist, faced his vice president, Thomas Jefferson, a Democrat-Republican. Adams’ supporters portrayed Jefferson as a libertine who would bring French Revolution-style anarchy to the country. Adams was branded a monarchist and characterized as toothless and senile.
The election’s repercussions were deadly. Jefferson beat Adams, but under the electoral system at the time the House had to decide between Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr, who received the same number of electoral votes. Federalist Alexander Hamilton helped sway the vote to Jefferson, a source of personal animosity that led to a duel in 1804 where Burr shot and killed Hamilton.
But it wasn’t until the 1830s — when populist Democrats led by Andrew Jackson took control of the government — that party politics as we know it today really began to take shape, says Sarah Binder, a political science professor at George Washington University. Jackson’s opponents referred to him as “jackass,” often credited as the source of the donkey as the Democratic Party’s symbol.
Binder said waves of partisanship tend to coincide with major changes to the nation as a whole.
The most dramatic example came in the middle of the 19th century. In 1856, Republican abolitionist Sen. Charles Sumner, in a Senate speech, accused a Democratic colleague, Andrew Butler of South Carolina, of taking an ugly mistress, “the harlot, slavery.” Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina, Butler’s relative, entered the Senate chamber and beat Sumner with a cane, nearly killing him.
The redefinition that developed under Teddy Roosevelt became even more pronounced during the Depression, when Franklin Roosevelt’s Democrats and the Republicans debated big government and fought over the creation of Social Security.
The golden age of bipartisanship, to the extent it existed, came in the 1940s through the 1960s, when politicians united behind World War II and the Cold War and neither party had a clearcut ideology. Democrats had their Northern liberals and Southern conservatives, while the GOP was divided between Goldwater Republicans and Rockefeller Republicans.
That all began to change with the civil rights movement and the Republican takeover of the South. After that, said Ritchie, “the Democrats became the liberal party and Republicans the conservatives. There just aren’t that many people in the middle who can be persuaded to break rank.”
The Congressional Quarterly, which tracks voting trends, says that in 2009 both House and Senate Democrats voted with their party 91 percent of the time on votes where the two parties were at odds. That was at or near record levels of unity for both. House and Senate Republicans were nearly as unified.
That’s a sharp contrast to 1968, when only 51 percent of Senate Democrats backed their party on so-called party unity votes, or 1970, when only 56 percent of Senate Republicans fell in line with their party position.
“Clearly you see the country moving into rival camps much more readily and that filters through to the Congress in a hurry,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has served in the House and Senate for nearly three decades and is known for working well with Republicans.
In the 1980s, he said, there were sharp philosophical differences but it was still possible for President Ronald Reagan and his main antagonist in Congress, House Speaker Tip O’Neill, to work together on Social Security reform.
Voters are disgusted that the two sides increasingly are unable to work together, Wyden said. But he acknowledged it’s not going to change until more voters convey that to their representatives in Congress.
According to Wyden:
“It’s a lot easier for people to say, ‘Look I’m going to go with my partisan friends and try to avoid the shrapnel.’”

Pentagon Shooter Little Known By Neighbors

Pentagon Shooter Little Known By Neighbors

HOLLISTER, Calif. – John Patrick Bedell was a brilliant and seemingly gentle computer whiz, yet so withdrawn that people in this rural community where his parents and grandparents are civic leaders knew little about him — until he opened fire at the Pentagon this week.
Family and friends now paint a portrait of a troubled man who sank deep into mental illness and anti-government rants, even as his mother — a nursing instructor — tried to seek help.
“The family tried over and over to get him into some kind of treatment, but because he was an adult, they were restricted,” said Reb Monaco, a family friend for three decades. “Patrick himself was in some sort of denial.”
It is still unclear why Bedell opened fire at the Pentagon entrance Thursday — wounding two police officers before he was fatally shot — though he had railed on the Internet about his distrust of the government and his distaste for marijuana laws.
“We may never know why he made this terrible decision,” his devastated family said in a statement Friday. “One thing is clear though — his actions were caused by an illness and not a defective character.”
Bedell, 36, a graduate student in electrical engineering at San Jose State University, was diagnosed as bipolar, or manic depressive, and had been in and out of treatment programs for years.
After a 2006 marijuana and resisting arrest case in Orange County, Calif., his psychiatrist said Bedell tried to self-medicate with pot, inadvertently making his bi-polar disorder symptoms more pronounced.
In a letter to the court in 2008, Bedell explained: “I was experiencing an episode of mental illness… which subsequently led to psychiatric hospitalization. I do not have any record of threatened or actual violence prior to this incident, and I am deeply sorry…”
Bedell lived here with his parents in a gated golf course community. His mother Kaye is director of the nursing program at Gavilan College. His father, Oscar John Bedell Jr., is a private financial adviser.
“In my opinion, they are the typical American Family,” said Pat Loe, a county supervisor who has known the family for 30 years.
But John Bedell disappeared at least twice recently from his parents’ home.
On Jan. 3, a Texas Department of Public Safety officer stopped him for speeding near Amarillo, smelling of marijuana and saying he was heading to the East Coast. Bedell acted strangely, sitting on his knees by the roadside and turning off his cell phone whenever it rang.
After his mother called, the officer asked to speak to her. A patrol spokesman declined to reveal the conversation Friday but said Bedell was cited for possessing drug paraphernalia and released.
Bedell’s mother told Monaco, the family friend, that she had wanted her son taken to a mental institution. “But they couldn’t because he is an adult and he refused,” Monaco said.
The next morning, fearing for their son’s well-being, Bedell’s parents filed a missing person’s report.
Within days, Kaye Bedell found a message on her son’s computer indicating he had spent 600 at a gun store or shooting range in El Dorado County, east of Sacramento. She was afraid he had purchased a gun or ammunition, said San Benito County Sheriff Curtis Hill.
When Bedell returned to his parent’s home Jan. 18, he would not say where he had been, Hill said. Then he left for parts unknown.
On Feb. 1, authorities say he was arrested in Reno, Nev., with more than two ounces of marijuana in his car but no weapons.
Internet postings suggested Bedell was fascinated with conspiracy theories, computer programming, libertarian economics and the science of warfare.
In a 28-page document, Bedell proposed in 2004 that the Pentagon fund his research on smart weapons that might “provide significant new capabilities for the Department of Defense and the individual warfighter.”
On the day of his Pentagon attack, the six-foot tall, blue-eyed software devotee approached the entrance, then opened fire with a 9 mm handgun, wounding two officers. He was mortally wounded.
Bedell seemed an unlikely gunman to David Parent, a professor of electrical engineering at San Jose State University, who knew him as a gentle, star student — “somebody seeking to help others.”
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Associated Press writers Matt Apuzzo and Devlin Barrett in Washington, D.C.; Danny Robbins in Dallas; Juliana Barbassa and Marcus Wohlsen in San Francisco; Haven Daley in Hollister, Calif.; Gillian Flaccus in Orange County; and Scott Sonner in Reno, Nev., contributed to this report.

Malaysia Muslim Mag Sorry For Offending Christians

Malaysia Muslim Mag Sorry For Offending Christians

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – A Malaysian magazine apologized Saturday for upsetting Christians after it published an article researched by two Muslims who pretended to be Roman Catholics and took Communion in a church.
The apology is likely to soothe frustrations among religious minorities who feel that overzealous government authorities and clerics are trying too hard to champion the interests of Islam and ignoring the rights of non-Muslims.
The Al Islam monthly magazine, which focuses on issues affecting Malaysian Muslims, acknowledged in a statement on its publisher’s Web site that its article had “unintentionally hurt the feelings of Christians, especially Catholics.”
Al Islam’s article, published in May last year, was meant to investigate rumors that Muslim teenagers were being converted to Christianity in churches. The article said its two reporters had found no evidence of that.
The apology came after Archbishop Murphy Pakiam, who heads the Catholic Church in peninsular Malaysia, criticized government authorities earlier this week for not prosecuting the two men who researched the article. Pakiam, however, said that church leaders would be satisfied if the magazine issued a formal apology.
Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail responded that no charges were filed because the two men committed only “an act of sheer ignorance” without any malicious intention.
The magazine’s statement Saturday said it “never meant to insult the Christian faith, let alone to disturb or trespass into its house of worship.”
“The Al Islam magazine apologizes in connection with the publication of the article,” the statement said, adding that its two writers were also sorry and had been unaware that their actions would offend Christians.
The men had spat out Communion wafers and took a photograph of a partially bitten one. Catholics believe the Communion wafer is transformed into the body of Christ by the priest during Mass.
Non-baptized persons are not allowed to receive Communion in the Catholic church. While the church allows non-Catholics to attend Mass, many Catholics in this case were unhappy the two men entered the church under false pretenses.
Mabel Sabastian, president of Malaysia’s Catholic Lawyers’ Society, said her group accepts the apology and plans to take no further action. It had previously been urging government authorities to act against the magazine.
The apology “gives us some closure,” Sabastian said.
Religious minorities have often accused the Muslim-dominated government of being slow to protect their interests compared to its strong defense of Islam, the official religion of nearly two-thirds of Malaysia’s 28 million people.
Most prominently, the government has tried to enforce a ban on the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims as a translation for “God.” Court rulings in many inter-religious disputes involving child custody and religious conversion issues have also favored Muslims.

Kathy Griffin Takes Aim At Sarah Palin

Kathy Griffin Takes Aim At Sarah Palin

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Comedian Kathy Griffin brought her “Life on the D-List” show to Sarah Palin’s home state Friday, skewering the former Alaska governor at a raucous show in Anchorage.
Griffin was escorted on stage by Playgirl model Levi Johnston, who fathered a child with Palin’s oldest daughter and is involved in a child support battle with Bristol Palin.
Earlier in the day in Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, Griffin said she went to her house and left a note inviting the Republican leader to the show.
She asked the crowd to look around and see if anyone was doing a pageant wave.
Griffin welcomed news that Palin is trying to shop a reality show or docudrama about Alaska. She called that a “gift from God,” all wrapped up with a ball on top.

Iceland Braces For Consequences Of Icesave Vote

Iceland Braces For Consequences Of Icesave Vote

REYKJAVIK, Iceland – A proposal to use taxpayer funds to pay off Iceland’s substantial debts to foreign governments seemed likely to be defeated in a national referendum Saturday.
Opinion polls indicated that a strong majority intend to reject the 5.3 billion plan to compensate the governments of Britain and the Netherlands for money those governments paid out to depositors in their countries who lost savings in a failed Icelandic bank.
“I voted no,” said Rognvaldur Hoskuldsson, a 36-year-old machine technologist, after casting his vote Saturday morning. “It makes no sense to say yes when the UK and Dutch have put a better deal on the table in talks this week. Also we have to send a message that these countries are not going to profit from this situation.”
Many Icelanders who have been badly hurt by the country’s financial collapse say they don’t want to be bullied by larger nations seeking to profit from Iceland’s severe economic problems.
A rejection of the deal because of the public backlash would create another obstacle on Iceland’s difficult road out of a deep recession. A “no” vote could further jeopardize its credit rating and make it harder to access much-needed bailout money from the International Monetary Fund.
It could also harm Iceland’s chances of being granted entry to the European Union.
Some voters seemed undecided even after the polls opened. Kristofer Hannesson, 27, said he was not yet sure but was leaning toward voting against the plan.
“I feel that I should go and vote no to send the message to the British and the Dutch that we, the innocent Icelandic public, are not going to let them walk all over us,” he said.
Iceland has been desperately seeking a revised deal with its European creditors since President Olafur R. Grimsson tapped into public anger and used a rarely invoked power to refuse to sign the so-called Icesave bill into law in January, triggering the national poll.
At the heart of the dispute is the payment of 3.5 billion to Britain and 1.8 billion to the Netherlands as compensation for funds that those governments paid out to around 340,000 nationals with savings in the collapsed Icesave internet bank.
Britain and the Netherlands offered better terms last week — including a floating interest rate on the debt plus 2.75 percent, representing a significant cut on the 5.5 percent under the original deal hammered out at the end of last year.
The British say their “best and final offer has been turned down.”
But Iceland continues to hold out for more, aware that any new deal must win substantial political and public support to avoid another veto by the president.
Locals largely view the deal both as intimidation by bigger nations and an unfair result of their own government’s failure to curtail the excessive spending of a handful of bank executives that led the country into its current malaise.
Because of Iceland’s tiny population, around 320,000, the original deal would have required each person to pay around 135 a month for eight years — the equivalent of a quarter of an average four-member family’s salary.
That’s a step too far for many ordinary Icelanders who resent forking out the money to compensate for losses incurred by potentially wealthier foreign investors who chased the high interest rates offered by Icesave.
There’s also residual anger that Britain invoked anti-terrorist legislation to freeze the assets of Icelandic banks at the height of the crisis, prompting the worst diplomatic spat between the two countries since Cod Wars of the 1970s over fishing rights in the North Atlantic.
“I am going to say no on Saturday because it’s not fair and justifiable that the Icelandic nation should pay for other people’s mistakes,” said Benedikt Mewes, 33, a cashier at the National Post Office in Reykjavik.
Officials within Iceland’s Social Democrat-Left Green coalition government, whose authority is being challenged by the weekend poll, acknowledge the repercussions of a failure to settle the dispute.
Although the International Monetary Fund has never explicitly linked delivery of a 4.6 billion loan to the reaching of an Icesave deal, it is committed to Iceland repaying its international debt — the months taken to reach the original Icesave deal were responsible for holding up the first tranche of IMF funds last year.
There are also fears that Britain and the Netherlands will take a hard-line stance on Iceland’s application to join the EU and refuse to approve the start of accession talks until an Icesave deal is signed into law.
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Associated Press Writers Helga Armadottir contributed to this story.

President To Meet With Key Senators On Immigration

President To Meet With Key Senators On Immigration

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama plans to focus attention on immigration next week by meeting at the White House with two senators crafting a bill on the issue.
White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro said Obama will meet with Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Monday.
The president is “looking forward to hearing more about their efforts toward producing a bipartisan bill,” Shapiro said Friday.
The meeting will be the first Obama has had with Schumer and Graham on the proposal they are developing since they began focusing on it last year.
Immigration has taken a back seat to the economy and health care on Obama’s agenda since he took office just over a year ago. Immigrants and their advocates — promised by then-candidate Obama that he would tackle the issue in his first year as president — have been growing frustrated by the inaction.
Several community groups planned to vent some of that frustration in a news conference Monday in Washington. The groups also are trying to organize tens of thousands of people from around the country for a March 21 demonstration in Washington.
“The president’s commitment to fixing our broken immigration system remains unwavering,” Shapiro said.

GM To Reinstate 600 Dealerships Slated To Be Cut

GM To Reinstate 600 Dealerships Slated To Be Cut

NEW YORK – General Motors Co. will reinstate 661 dealerships it sought to drop from its sales network.
GM executives said Friday that the dealerships — more than half of those seeking to stay with the automaker — will receive letters giving them the option to remain open. GM said it would not have enough time to negotiate with all 1,100 dealerships that appealed the automaker’s decision to close them within a four-month window imposed by the federal government.
“By doing this we save a lot of time, energy and dollars,” said Jim Bunnell, GM general manager of network support, saying the company wished to avoid a “very large arbitration process.”
As part of its restructuring, GM last year told about 2,000 dealerships it would not renew their franchise agreements once they run out in October 2010. But the dealerships have said GM treated them unfairly, and last month Congress passed a law requiring an appeals process for the dealers.
GM’s decision to keep the additional showrooms open effectively shrinks the number of appeals it has to contend with. Arbitration hearings for the dealers who didn’t get offers but still want to stay with GM will begin later this month.
The cuts to GM’s 6,000-dealer network were designed to compensate for much lower demand for cars and trucks, but some dealers have argued that lots that are still profitable are at risk, and that the automaker hasn’t offered enough details about how it’s choosing which businesses to shutter.
GM would not offer any details on Friday about which dealerships it was reinstating and where they are located. It said it chose the 661 based on a variety of criteria, including sales and other business factors.
The company said it hoped to have every letter of intent with dealerships by Monday. At that point, dealers have 10 days to respond and 60 days to meet a set of criteria that would allow them to stay with GM.
A spokeswoman with Chrysler Group LLC, which has cut 789 dealers, said the company was preparing a statement in response to questions about whether they also intended to reinstate dropped dealerships. Chrysler showrooms slated for closure are also appealing to stay open, though it remained unclear how many.
Michael Boudreau, an auto industry turnaround expert with O’Keefe & Associates, said GM likely saw the reinstatement of the dealers as the “lesser of the two evils” versus the costs of litigating their termination.
“It’s not exactly what they wanted to do, and it’s always I think a little embarrassing when you have to make changes based on an arbitration process, but they’ve had to adjust and move forward,” he said.
Boudreau added that the decision could have ripple effects.
“The Chrysler dealers are taking a close look at this,” he said.
Tammy Darvish of the Washington-area Darcars chain, which has three dealerships slated for closure, said she was encouraged by GM’s decision.
“If they are genuinely, truly sincere, it’s overwhelmingly heartwarming,” Darvish said of the company’s offer to allow dealers to demonstrate their eligibility to remain open.
But as of Friday, Darvish said she didn’t know if her franchises are among those being reinstated. She said she plans to go into arbitration if they are not.
Congress-brokered talks between dealer groups and the automakers began in September. But those talks stalled over disputes about the review process for targeted dealerships and other issues. Looming over the fight has been the threat of federal legislation to deal with the closures. Lawmakers warned that if a deal wasn’t reached, that legislation would move forward.
The White House has opposed the legislation over concerns that it could hurt GM’s and Chrysler’s efforts to rebound from their government-led bankruptcies.
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AP Business Writer Jordan Robertson contributed to this story from San Francisco.

Steelers QB Accused Of Sexual Assault In Georgia

Steelers QB Accused Of Sexual Assault In Georgia

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. – A jovial night of bar-hopping in a central Georgia college town ended in a new allegation against Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after a 20-year-old college student told police he sexually assaulted her in a nightclub.
The two-time Super Bowl winner already faces a lawsuit from a woman who claims he raped her in 2008 at a Lake Tahoe hotel and casino, an allegation he strongly denies.
The latest accusation came early Friday in downtown Milledgeville, about 85 miles southeast of Atlanta and about 30 miles south of the lake home the player owns.
Roethlisberger, who turned 28 on Tuesday, and two or three friends went to Buffington’s bar earlier Thursday night to watch the University of Pittsburgh men’s college basketball game, said Paul Kurcikevicus, a 24-year-old college student.
He said the group was friendly, at first joking that Roethlisberger was not the NFL player. Kurcikevicus said Roethlisberger bought shots for him and some other people in the bar: “O-Bombs,” a mixture of energy drink and flavored rum.
The student said Roethlisberger got excited at the end of the game, when a Pitt player hit a 3-point shot at the buzzer to win 73-71 and avoid an upset by Providence.
The group later went to The Brick restaurant nearby, owner Frank Pendergrast said.
“He was very polite with everybody,” Pendergrast said. “He was down here from about 11:30 until about 1:30 having a good time, talking to a lot of people. Looked like he was signing autographs and letting people take pictures. Other than that, it was really uneventful.”
Roethlisberger was later seen at Capital City, a popular nightclub for students at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville. The club was bustling Friday night, with a country band playing and a 20 cover charge.
One patron, 21-year-old college student Brandon Harris, said he saw Roethlisberger come in the night before with two or three big men, who were keeping other club goers away from the player. Harris said the group went into a curtained VIP area in the back of the club, and some women were let inside.
What happened next is under investigation.
Deputy Police Chief Richard Malone said Roethlisberger had been with three other people who were mingling with another group that included the alleged victim. Malone said the woman and her party contacted a nearby police officer following the alleged assault.
“He’s been identified as being at the scene and there are allegations naming him as the perpetrator,” Malone said.
Several areas of the nightclub were considered a crime scene, Malone said, but he would not elaborate. The nature of the assault was not described, but Malone did say it was being termed a sexual assault, not a rape.
Roethlisberger and the alleged victim were interviewed and the woman was taken to a hospital, where she was treated and released, Malone said.
The woman was not identified by police and The Associated Press does not generally identify possible victims of sexual abuse.
Police said Roethlisberger and his attorney were cooperating with investigators. He was not in custody and has not been charged with a crime.
The player’s agent, Ryan Tollner, said in a statement they are skeptical of the motive of the alleged victim in Milledgeville because of the previous Lake Tahoe allegations.
“Last night, Ben and his friends met a group of women and everyone mingled together throughout the evening,” the agent’s statement said. “We have spoken to law enforcement. Based on information currently available, an allegation was made against Ben, which appeared to be dismissed after a preliminary investigation last night. Obviously, given the prior accusation against Ben, we are skeptical of motive, but we will continue to cooperate with everyone involved.”
Steelers spokesman Dave Lockett said the team was gathering information and had no more comment.
As Pittsburgh’s first-round draft pick out of Miami of Ohio in 2004, Roethlisberger led the Steelers to Super Bowl victories in 2006 and 2009. But he has had his share of problems off the field.
His previous accuser was working as a VIP hostess at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe in July 2008 when she alleges Roethlisberger lured her to his room under false pretenses and forced himself on her. He was in town playing in a celebrity golf tournament.
Roethlisberger maintains the woman acted voluntarily at all times while in his room. His lawyers have said the fact that she never filed a formal criminal complaint with police is proof she made up the story to try to secure a big payout from the NFL star.
Her lawsuit seeks at least 440,000 from Roethlisberger and at least 50,000 from Harrah’s claiming they conspired to cover up the incident.
Roethlisberger broke his jaw and several other facial bones in 2006 when he got into a motorcycle crash while driving without a valid license.
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Associated Press Writer Don Schanche in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Obama Turns Up The Heat For Health Care Overhaul

Obama Turns Up The Heat For Health Care Overhaul

California Park Searched In 2nd Missing Teen Case

California Park Searched In 2nd Missing Teen Case

ESCONDIDO, Calif. – Police drained a pond in a park north of San Diego on Friday in their efforts to find a girl who vanished about a year ago in the same region where 17-year-old Chelsea King disappeared last week.
Investigators located a bag near the pond in Kit Carson Park that three children reported finding in May — three months after Amber Dubois, 14, vanished while walking to school, Escondido police Lt. Craig Carter said. The children told their parents the bag contained what looked like human hair, but the parents didn’t think it significant at the time.
Carter said the bag doesn’t appear to be connected to the Dubois case, but an FBI evidence response team will analyze the contents.
Carter said other bags also were found Friday and the contents of those will be analyzed as well. He said investigators will continue searching for evidence on Saturday after the pond is drained.
King’s disappearance and the discovery of a body in a grave in another park near Escondido drew a huge public outcry and renewed interest in Amber’s case.
Authorities said there is a strong likelihood the body found by Lake Hodges is that of King, but an official identification won’t be made immediately.
Convicted sex offender John Albert Gardner III has pleaded not guilty to murdering King during a rape or attempted rape. He also was charged with assaulting a woman in December with intent to rape.
King, a student at Poway High School, was last seen alive Feb. 25. Her car was found at Rancho Bernardo Community Park.
Gardner, 30, pleaded guilty in 2000 to molesting a neighbor girl in Rancho Bernardo. He was registered as a sex offender living about 55 miles away in Lake Elsinore in Riverside County. His mother has a home in Rancho Bernardo.
Escondido, Rancho Bernardo and Poway are neighboring communities in San Diego County.
In Lake Elsinore, authorities are looking into a report in October that a 16-year-old girl fled from a man who tried to force her into a car at gunpoint. A sketch of the suspect appears similar to Gardner.

New Afghan Chief In Marjah Has Criminal Record

New Afghan Chief In Marjah Has Criminal Record

KABUL – The man chosen to be the fresh face of good Afghan governance in a town just seized from the Taliban has a violent criminal record in Germany, but Western officials said Saturday they are not pushing to oust him.
Court records and news reports in Germany show that Abdul Zahir, the man appointed as the new civilian chief in Marjah, served part of a more than four-year prison sentence for stabbing his son in 1998. A U.S. official confirmed that he did serve time in Germany, though Zahir denies he committed any crime.
“I was not a killer. I was not a smuggler. … I didn’t commit any crime,” Zahir told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday evening. He said allegations of a criminal record were “all a lie.”
Zahir’s integrity is an issue because his job is to convince residents of the town in Helmand province that the Afghan government can provide them with a better life than the Taliban, which were routed during a three-week offensive by thousands of U.S., NATO and Afghan troops. Marjah is the first major test of NATO’s counterinsurgency strategy since President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 new American troops to try to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.
Adm. Gregory Smith, director of communications for NATO, said the international alliance strongly supports Helmand Gov. Gulab Mangal, who picked Zahir for the job. “Zahir, from our reporting, is doing good work down there,” Smith said Saturday, adding that NATO is not pushing Afghan officials to oust him.
Zahir said he lived in Germany for 15 years before returning to Afghanistan in 2000. During his time in Germany, he said he worked in a hotel and at a laundry service.
Zahir, a leading member of the Alizai tribe, has lived with his family for the past four years in Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gah, residents of the city said. He worked there with Jilani Popal, head of the Afghan Independent Directorate of Local Government, an agency seeking to boost the effectiveness and capacity of local governments.
He said he took the job as civilian chief in Marjah because “I love my country and my country needed me. My relatives, my tribe were here.”
Zahir said his adversaries in Afghanistan were trying to tarnish his reputation.
“This news is coming from those people who are against me,” he said. “They are against my relations with the foreigners. They want to sabotage me. They don’t want such a person to serve the people, who has good relations with Americans, British, and foreigners.”
In an interview last week, Mangal, the governor of Helmand, said he wasn’t aware of anything illegal in Zahir’s background.
“He is not being appointed forever, but he will be here for some time,” he said.
Mangal said that a request was made of Interpol to check whether the new Marjah district governor had any outstanding warrants or was being sought. He said Interpol said he was not on any watch list or wanted for any crime.
Zahir has been tasked with bringing good governance to Marjah and ensuring that the new police in the area are symbolic of a new breed of Afghan policeman that is honest and committed to bringing security to the country.
“In Marjah we have a new strategy,” Mangal said. “If we don’t bring security and development and if we don’t solve their problems, then they will think the Taliban is better than us.”
If Zahir isn’t up to the task, Mangal said, “We will dismiss him. If he doesn’t have the ability, if he doesn’t bring law and order and security, then we will dismiss him.”
In Kabul, President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman Waheed Omar said he wasn’t familiar with Zahir but that Marjah’s residents will support the government if it brings security and an administration free of corruption.
Omar warned that poor governance could drive residents back to the Taliban.
Court and news accounts from the late 1990s provide details of Zahir’s past.
Annette von Schmiedeberg, a spokeswoman for the Offenbach branch of the prosecutor’s office in Darmstadt in central Germany, said Friday that an Afghan citizen with the name Abdul Z. was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison for attempted manslaughter by the county court in Darmstadt on Nov. 2, 1998. Von Schmiedeberg said that in accordance with German privacy laws she could not give the full name or details about the crime.
A person familiar with Zahir and the 1998 court sentencing in Germany identified him Friday for the AP after viewing a pair of photographs of him taken last month. He asked that his name not be published because he feared for his life.
An American official in Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, also confirmed that Zahir has a criminal record in Germany.
The newspaper Darmstaedter Echo provided three archived articles to the AP that confirmed a court hearing and sentencing of an Afghan citizen at the county court in Darmstadt on the same date, Nov. 2, 1998.
In an article from Nov. 3, 1998, it said the defendant from Afghanistan was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison because “he attempted to stab his 18-year-old son to death with a kitchen knife in the kitchen of his stepdaughter in Nieder-Roden on Dec. 15, 1997, around 4:45 p.m.” Nieder-Roden is part of the small town of Rodgau in the central German state of Hesse.
The newspaper said the defendant, who was 47 years old at the time of the sentencing, confessed to the allegations.
He was described as a father of 13 children and husband of two wives.
“The court’s chamber assesses that the attack, in which the young man received life-threatening injuries to his liver, was a deliberate attempt of manslaughter and it is therefore sentencing the accused to four years and nine months,” the Darmstaedter Echo said.
According to the newspaper’s account, the accused said he had been persecuted by the Taliban in Afghanistan and moved with his family to Rodgau in 1989. The court said the man could not cope with the fact that three of his stepchildren, among them two twin sons, turned away from him and moved into their own apartment in the fall of 1996, it reported.
In August 1997, he lured them back to Afghanistan saying he wanted them to attend a wedding there, the newspaper said. But once they arrived in Afghanistan, he took away their passports and plane tickets and abandoned them, it said.
In early December, the sons returned to Germany with financial help from somebody else, the newspaper said.
Back in Rodgau, the convicted man told other Afghans that his children had been kidnapped by an “archenemy in Afghanistan,” the newspaper said. However, when one of his wives told him on Dec. 15 that his sons had returned to Germany, he beat her, it said.
One of his sons consequently confronted him about the beating, and he reacted by stabbing his son with an eight-inch (21-centimeter) kitchen knife, it said.
After the incident, the accused fled via the Netherlands and the Czech Republic to the German-Polish border where he was arrested on Jan. 7, 1998, near the German town of Goerlitz, it said.
In an earlier article about the ongoing court trial in Darmstadt, the Darmstaedter Echo reported on Oct. 15, 1998, that the accused was a driver for the defense minister in his homeland and also worked as a salesman.
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Grieshaber reported from Berlin. Associated Press writers Kathy Gannon and Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.

Doctors Warn Of Health Threat From Chile Wreckage

Doctors Warn Of Health Threat From Chile Wreckage

CONCEPCION, Chile – Huge piles of wreckage and tons of rotting fish and other debris blanketing the ground are turning the coastal towns shattered by Chile’s earthquake and tsunami into nests of infection, doctors warned.
As Chileans lined up for hepatitis and tetanus shots Friday on the opening day of an extensive vaccination campaign, doctors said cases of diarrhea are increasing from people drinking unclean water and a growing number of patients are suffering injuries wading through the mess.
“We are going to keep needing water, electric systems, a functioning sewage system. We need to clean up rotting fish in the streets. We need chemical toilets, and when it starts raining, people living in tents are going to get wet and sick. All this is going to cause infections,” said Talcahuano Mayor Gaston Saavedra, whose port city was heavily damaged by the Feb. 27 quake and tsunami.
The government faces other health care problems. Looting of pharmacies has made medicine scarce for people suffering from diabetes, hypertension and psychological illnesses, and 36 hospitals were heavily damaged or destroyed in the quake.
Chile said more than a dozen of its own military and civilian field hospitals were operating Friday. Mobile hospitals from a half-dozen other countries also were opening or about to open — an unusual situation for a country that proudly sends rescue and relief teams to the world’s trouble spots.
But most of the foreign units weren’t treating anyone a week after the disaster. Chile insisted donor nations first figure out how to coordinate with Chile’s advanced, if wounded, public health system.
A Peruvian field hospital opened in Concepcion on Thursday with three operating rooms and 28 beds. But surgeons and trauma specialists stood with their arms crossed Friday, waiting for patients to be sent by local health officials.
Luis Ojeda, a Spanish doctor working with Doctors Without Borders, said his team arrived Monday but was still waiting for Chile’s instructions on where to deploy.
“This country is atypical,” Ojeda said, adding he’d spent his time checking on the displaced in tent camps.
Chile signed an operating agreement for a U.S. field hospital Friday, enabling 57 U.S. military personnel to work side by side with civilian Chilean doctors in coming days to support a population of 3,000 in the town of Angol. Two U.S. Air National Guard C-130 transport planes were en route to Chile to help deliver supplies.
In Rancagua, a Cuban field hospital was fully operational.
Chile’s health ministry said that there had been no outbreaks of dysentery or other communicable diseases and that it has enough tetanus and hepatitis vaccinations for the disaster zone.
Field hospitals being provided by Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Peru, Spain and the U.S. are meant to relieve 36 heavily damaged or destroyed Chilean hospitals, including Santiago’s now-closed 522-bed Felix Bulnes Hospital. Brazil’s emergency field hospital was sent to western Santiago to pick up the slack.
Powerful aftershocks Friday forced the evacuation of an older wing of Concepcion’s five-story regional hospital.
Doctors couldn’t access clean scalpels because a sterilization room was too dangerous to enter. Peruvian doctors donated their sterilizing equipment, which was quickly put to use for the amputation of four infected toes from Aaron Valenzuela, who stepped on broken glass Monday while looking for drinking water.
He was sent home after surgery because of the hospital damage.
“They threw us all out and told us to go home,” Valenzuela said as he limped away.
The emergency room supervisor, Dr. Patricia Correa, said her part of the hospital “is on the point of collapsing. The walls cracked.”
The most powerful aftershock in six days sent terrified Chileans fleeing into the streets and forced doctors to evacuate some patients from the regional hospital. The magnitude-6.6 shock at 8:47 a.m. rattled buildings for nearly a minute and sent office chairs spilling from an exposed upper floor of a badly damaged 22-story office building.
Patients struggled to find medicines and fill prescriptions because pharmacies were looted earlier in the week and power outages still affected businesses and clinics. More than 100 people lined up outside one of Concepcion’s few open drug stores. Soldiers stood guard nearby.
“I haven’t taken my medicine for two or three days. I really should take it every day,” said Miguel Hidalgo, a retired truck driver with chronic hypertension who was told there was one package left of a drug he needs to keep his kidneys working.
“People have nowhere to go to get medicine,” said Dr. Solange Cadiz Iturrieta, who joined volunteers handing out donated drugs to people outside a community radio station.
Chile’s health ministry said its top priorities included mental health care for quake survivors, garbage removal, drinking water and shelter.
Housing Minister Patricia Poblete said at least 500,000 homes were destroyed but she expected that figure to reach as high as 1.5 million once surveys are complete. In New York, Chile’s U.N. ambassador, Heraldo Munoz, said reconstruction will cost Chile an estimated 30 billion.
Officials struggled to determine the death toll. Disaster officials announced they had double-counted at least 271 missing as dead — an error that would drop the official death toll to about 540 without other mistakes. Interior Department officials said they would now release only the number of dead who had been identified: 452 as of late Friday.
In Santiago, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon promised quick aid deliveries to President Michelle Bachelet and President-elect Sebastian Pinera. The U.N. has said Chile needs temporary bridges, field hospitals, satellite phones, electric generators, damage assessment teams, water purification systems, field kitchens and dialysis centers.
After days of finger pointing over the disaster response, Bachelet and Pinera agreed Friday to set aside their differences and work with “unity, solidarity and generosity.”
“The new government will have an immense challenge, and we will do our job until the last day” before Thursday’s inauguration, Bachelet said.
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Associated Press writers Vivian Sequera in Concepcion and Federico Quilodran in Rancagua contributed to this report.

Oscar Producers Urge Viewers To Tune In Early

Oscar Producers Urge Viewers To Tune In Early

LOS ANGELES – The people behind Sunday’s Oscars show are urging people to tune in early for one of the program’s best sequences.
Bill Mechanic, who is producing the awards ceremony with Adam Shankman, promised “the most dynamic opening, from drama to spectacle to humor, that has ever been staged.”
Shankman said the show will be funny, lively and fun.
“People hate it when I say this,” he said, “but I always say this is the best-dressed reality competition show on TV.”
The two men joined film academy President Tom Sherak on the red carpet outside the Kodak Theatre for a brief news conference Friday about the big show.
Dismissing a gloomy weather forecast, Sherak said definitively that it will not rain at Oscar time. Mechanic quipped that it would “rain humor.” And Shankman said that when you produce the Oscars, there’s no one you can’t call, so “I just called God.”
“Like everything in Hollywood, it’s a negotiation,” he said.
The show will be heavy on humor, thanks to the hosting duo of Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, Mechanic said, adding that the Oscar show hasn’t had two hosts since 1928.
Expect “greater emotional content” too, he said: “We want this to touch people.”
The Oscar honchos also announced a new round of presenters: Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Sarah Jessica Parker, Demi Moore, Zoe Saldana and Pedro Almodovar will appear on the telecast. And they urged viewers to tune in at the top of the program, which begins at 8 p.m. EST and will be broadcast on ABC.
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On the Net:

http://www.oscars.org

(This version CORRECTS Corrects to `tune in’ in lede)

Who Is The Lone Democrat Some Think Could Kill Health Care Reform

Who Is The Lone Democrat Some Think Could Kill Health Care Reform

Anyone who’s followed the health care debate even casually over the past year has probably heard Rep. Bart Stupak’s name mentioned a time or two. The nine-term Democrat from Michigan is the author of the “Stupak Amendment,” a rider attached to the House health care legislation that would effectively ban most government funding of abortion under the new health care system. Now, as House and Senate leaders prepare to hammer out next steps, Stupak is claiming that he and a dozen or so anti-abortion Democratic colleagues who supported the House bill in November will refuse to back any compromise bill that doesn’t keep his amendment intact. That is more than enough votes to kill the legislation.
All of which might lead many outside the Beltway to wonder who Stupak is, and how he’s come to wield such clout.
Before his star turn in the health care debate, Stupak was a fairly typical midlevel Democrat. His Michigan district is culturally conservative, but heavily pro-labor, so he’s simultaneously a fierce critic of free-trade agreements like NAFTA and a vocal opponent of abortion. He’s best known in policy-wonk circles for his profile as Congress’ main consumer watchdog on food safety issues. His consumer protection workload also takes in pharmacy regulation—an issue Stupak feels a strong personal connection to, via his conviction that his son B.J. was driven to commit suicide in 2000 by side effects of the powerful anti-acne drug Accutane.
Now, however, Stupak’s name is forever linked to the abortion issue. A longtime co-chair of the House’s Pro-Life Caucus (with New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith), Stupak has marshaled his swing bloc of anti-abortion Democratic votes into a perch sufficiently influential to prompt the House’s Democratic leaders to ponder creative legislative options to secure the group’s continued support, like a separate bill or an executive order from President Obama containing the language banning federal money for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or imminent danger to a mother’s life.
Stupak also has been tied to the “The Family,” an influential but reclusive group that includes several of Washington’s biggest Christian power players, some of whom have rented apartments in a townhouse on C Street, near the Capitol. It is a connection Stupak is now doing his best to downplay.
Much of what is known about the group comes from the work of investigative journalist Jeff Sharlet. His New York Times best-seller, “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” notes the group’s core theological instruction reinforces a belief among its members that they’ve been handpicked by God to “rule the world.”
When contacted by Yahoo! News for comment on Stupak’s membership in the Family or other associated groups, such as the Fellowship Foundation and the International Foundation, a spokesperson for Stupak provided us with a letter that the congressman recently penned for constituents. It reads in part:
Thank you for your communication on C Street, a house where I previously rented a room in Washington, D.C. I no longer reside at the C Street house. Due to the recent controversy regarding the International Foundation and some former residents of the C Street house, I decided to move… I do not belong to any religious group referred to as “The Family” and I have never been asked to sign a contract or oath of secrecy concerning C Street or its residents. I remain a devout Catholic and practice my faith. At no point did renting a room at C Street influence any of my votes or my ability to serve as your congressman.
(Read the full text of Stupak’s letter here.)
However, in a telephone interview with Yahoo! News, Jeff Sharlet dismissed Stupak’s effort to distance himself from the group. When researching his book, Sharlet lived at a Family-run Virginia home with another member of the group who said that Stupak was serving as his spiritual mentor. Stupak’s disclaimer about never signing a secrecy oath is beside the point, Sharlet added, because no member does this. And as to whether he was influenced by the organization’s teaching, Sharlet noted: “This is absolutely unfeasible. The only way this is possible would be if he walked around with his eyes and ears covered for at least seven years.”
Of course, it’s always possible that Family-style tutelage has aided Stupak’s sudden storming of the center of the House’s health care debate. After all, the Obama White House deliberately left a power vacuum open in the reform package by leaving most of the details up to Congress. And as Sharlet quotes some of the group’s key instructional material in The Family, strong leaders throughout history “understood the power of a small core of people.”
– Brett Michael Dykes is a contributor to the Yahoo! News blog.

Its Official An Asteroid Wiped Out The Dinosaurs

Its Official An Asteroid Wiped Out The Dinosaurs

LONDON (Reuters) –
A giant asteroid smashing into Earth is the only plausible explanation for the extinction of the dinosaurs, a global scientific team said on Thursday, hoping to settle a row that has divided experts for decades.
A panel of 41 scientists from across the world reviewed 20 years' worth of research to try to confirm the cause of the so-called Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) extinction, which created a “hellish environment” around 65 million years ago and wiped out more than half of all species on the planet.
Scientific opinion was split over whether the extinction was caused by an asteroid or by volcanic activity in the Deccan Traps in what is now India, where there were a series of super volcanic eruptions that lasted around 1.5 million years.
The new study, conducted by scientists from Europe, the United States, Mexico, Canada and Japan and published in the journal Science, found that a 15-kilometre (9 miles) wide asteroid slamming into Earth at Chicxulub in what is now Mexico was the culprit.
“We now have great confidence that an asteroid was the cause of the KT extinction. This triggered large-scale fires, earthquakes measuring more than 10 on the Richter scale, and continental landslides, which created tsunamis,” said Joanna Morgan of Imperial College London, a co-author of the review.
The asteroid is thought to have hit Earth with a force a billion times more powerful than the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.
Morgan said the “final nail in the coffin for the dinosaurs” came when blasted material flew into the atmosphere, shrouding the planet in darkness, causing a global winter and “killing off many species that couldn't adapt to this hellish environment.”
Scientists working on the study analyzed the work of paleontologists, geochemists, climate modelers, geophysicists and sedimentologists who have been collecting evidence about the KT extinction over the last 20 years.
Geological records show the event that triggered the dinosaurs' demise rapidly destroyed marine and land ecosystems, they said, and the asteroid hit “is the only plausible explanation for this.”
Peter Schulte of the University of Erlangen in Germany, a lead author on the study, said fossil records clearly show a mass extinction about 65.5 million years ago — a time now known as the K-Pg boundary.
Despite evidence of active volcanism in India, marine and land ecosystems only showed minor changes in the 500,000 years before the K-Pg boundary, suggesting the extinction did not come earlier and was not prompted by eruptions.
The Deccan volcano theory is also thrown into doubt by models of atmospheric chemistry, the team said, which show the asteroid impact would have released much larger amounts of sulphur, dust and soot in a much shorter time than the volcanic eruptions could have, causing extreme darkening and cooling.
Gareth Collins, another co-author from Imperial College, said the asteroid impact created a “hellish day” that signaled the end of the 160-million-year reign of the dinosaurs, but also turned out to be a great day for mammals.
“The KT extinction was a pivotal moment in Earth's history, which ultimately paved the way for humans to become the dominant species on Earth,” he wrote in a commentary on the study.
(Collins has created a website at http://impact.ese.ic.ac.uk/ImpactEffects/Chicxulub.html which allows readers to see the effects of the asteroid impact.)
(Editing by Myra MacDonald)

Belgium PM Offers Resignation Over Banking Deal

Belgium PM Offers Resignation Over Banking Deal

Belgium’s Prime Minister Yves Leterme has offered his government’s resignation amid a row over the break-up of the stricken Fortis bank, according to national media reports.
Belgium’s Prime Minister Yves Leterme has offered his government’s resignation, according to reports.
Belgian newspapers and state television reported that Leterme was tendering the government’s resignation to the king. King Albert II will decide whether to refuse or accept the resignation. Earlier, Justice Minister Jo Vandeurzen quit after Belgium’s highest court suggested the government had tried to influence a ruling on the Fortis case. Judges last week effectively blocked the government’s bailout and sale of its stake in Fortis to French bank BNP Paribas. The court found in favor of 2,200 shareholders who wanted more say in the bank’s future. Fortis was among the banks worst-hit by the credit crunch, leaving it short of cash and needing help from the governments of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. They agreed to provide 15.5B to Fortis in a move to reassure savers and clients about the financial health of the cross-border bank. Each government took a 49% stake in the bank in their respective countries, with Belgium then lining up BNP to buy its stake. Leterme tried to tender his resignation for different reasons in July, after failing to form a coalition government and mend political infighting that threatened to splinter the country, but the king refused. Belgium has been mired in political instability since 2007 elections that left no clear winner and highlighted growing political strife between the Flemish north and French-speaking south.
Source:CNN

News – Baghdad Diary At Home With Umm Sheyma

News - Baghdad Diary At Home With Umm Sheyma

Baghdad diary: At home with Umm Sheyma
By Gabriel Gatehouse
BBC News, Baghdad
We arrived at Umm Sheyma’s home in the early morning.It was still dark in her small kitchen and by the light of a kerosene lamp she was making breakfast for her two little granddaughters.”I have five children and seven grandchildren,” Umm Sheyma explained, as she set out cups of tea, beakers of milk, some cheese and some bread on a low table. “Our house is a small one, and you can imagine how noisy it gets when all my children and grandchildren are here. They have food with us every day.” I wanted to spend the day with Umm Sheyma and her extended family to get a sense of how the daily challenges of life in Baghdad – the intermittent electricity supply, the endless checkpoints, the underlying fear of violence – was shaping people’s views of this election. Just before 8am, the girls picked up their backpacks and set off to walk to school, under the watchful eye of grandma.
“When my daughters were kids, they used to walk to school alone. But now there is no security, I trust nothing now. There is no security even with the guard in school,” she told me. NostalgiaIt would be wrong to say that Umm Sheyma and her family live in fear. There is laughter and carefree chatter as they made their way through the backstreets overhung by a profusion of electrical cables. But life in Iraq is highly unpredictable. The threat of violence hangs in the air, and anyone can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Umm Sheyma talks about the past with sense of nostalgia. “Things changed after the fall of Saddam because of the explosions and the kidnappings. We began to worry about our children’s safety.” Few people would say they wanted Saddam Hussein back. But many look back with fondness on a simpler, more stable life.
ShoppingAfter dropping the kids off at school, Umm Sheyma made her way to the market to buy provisions for lunch. To get there, you have to pass through numerous checkpoints and negotiate your way around blast walls. The main street is lined with stalls selling fruit and vegetables, wire cages full of live chickens and whole carcasses of lamb hanging in the doorways to butcher’s shops. The cries of the fishmonger compete with the sounds of generators. This particular market has been hit by bombers in the past and that, says Umm Sheyma, wreaks havoc with her budget. “When there are bombings, prices go up. Plus, it’s election season now and people tend to stock up on food in case of surprises – this also pushes the prices up.” We bought tomatoes and aubergines. A little further on, we came across one of Umm Sheyma’s relatives, selling brightly coloured pickles down a side street, a river of deep black mud. People seem familiar with each other here. As we progressed through the market the friendly greetings of the stall holders went some way to offset that thought which is always at the back of one’s mind in Baghdad: expect the unexpected.
Three generations gather for lunch with Dolma on the menu
Nothing untoward occurred and at 2pm the family gathered back in Umm Sheyma’s small front room to eat lunch. She, her husband and her two daughters, sat around a big metal platter placed in the middle of the floor. Umm Sheyma had prepared Dolma, a dish of onions, aubergines, and tomatoes stuffed with seasoned rice and mince. Assorted grandchildren clambered over laps and tugged on elbows, as everyone tucked in, tearing off pieces of flatbread and scooping up the food. Hopes and fears”I usually don’t vote but this time I have to because I don’t want to be deceived anymore. The current ruling parties haven’t delivered anything these past four or five years,” she said.
Her eldest daughter Sheyma has a family of her own. One of her main concerns is high unemployment. “We want more jobs. Most of our men are out of work, even though they are well educated,” she said. But, as so often in Iraq, very quickly the conversation returned to the subject of security. “The situation has got worse recently. Iraqi security forces have started arresting people in their homes,” Sheyma told me. “The other day they launched a search campaign. We were so frightened. They come and they arrest people without clear reason, and then release them a couple of months later,” she said. Umm Sheyma’s youngest daughter Aya is just 19. She is about to get married to an officer in the Iraqi navy. She too has had bad experiences since US troops handed over control in the towns and cities to Iraqi forces last summer. “The other day they [Iraqi security forces] knocked on the door at two o’clock in the morning, saying that they wanted a cup of tea. It’s scary and they also shoot in the air.” “They take away gold items and mobiles. They took away our rifle recently, and never gave it back.” “That,” she added, “would never have happened if American troops had been with them.” Like many people in Iraq, Umm Sheyma and her sisters are caught in the middle of conflicting emotions. They dislike what they see as the American occupation, but have first-hand experience of the more unpredictable behaviour of the new Iraqi security forces. The Americans hope that these elections will prove to be a turning point for Iraq, an event that will heal sectarian rifts and put the country on the road to greater stability, allowing them to withdraw. But Umm Sheyma and her family are apprehensive – what will happen when the Americans leave? This is the question that everyone is asking.

Source:BBC

Sport – Football – Ferguson Blames Rooneys Enthusiasm For Knee Injury

Sport - Football - Ferguson Blames Rooneys Enthusiasm For Knee Injury

Ferguson blames Rooney’s enthusiasm for knee injury
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson says Wayne Rooney is to blame for the knee injury that could rule him out of the league match at Wolves.Rooney, 24, had been struggling with the problem before the Carling Cup final but still played in England’s win over Egypt on Wednesday at Wembley. “I don’t think he should have played [on Wednesday],” said Ferguson. “It is his own enthusiasm that has caused it. His problem is that he can’t say no,” the Scot added. “He told us on Sunday he was feeling his knee. Then all of a sudden people put an arm around his shoulder with England and he wants to play. “[England boss] Fabio Capello has to pick his best team. A win was important so I don’t blame him at all. “I was more disappointed with Wayne. Why didn’t he come off? I can’t believe it.”
Rooney is a doubt for what would be his third match in six days as Manchester United travel to Wolves looking to leapfrog Chelsea at the top of the Premier League table. The champions are currently one point behind their title rivals but Arsenal, who play Burnley, could be top of the table when Manchester United kick-off at 1730 GMT as the Gunners play the Clarets earlier in the day. Rooney was a substitute in Manchester United’s 2-1 Carling Cup win over Aston Villa last Sunday, but came on after a first-half injury to Michael Owen and scored the winning goal. He admitted to a knee problem after the match but still played 86 minutes in England’s 3-1 victory over Egypt on a Wembley pitch which has drawn widespread criticism over the last week. The turf was seen to cut up last Sunday leading to Ferguson partly blaming it for Owen’s hamstring injury which has ruled him out for the rest of the season. Aston Villa’s James Milner also described it as “one of the worst pitches you play on all year”. Rooney has been vital to his club this season and leads the Premier League scoring charts with 23 goals. “It is hard to quell the enthusiasm of people like Wayne,” Ferguson added. “He is restless. He can’t sit down. He is always on the move. Even in hotels he is moving from one table to another. If we are away in Europe he is walking about all the time. “You don’t want to take away from him but age does some good things for you. “Eventually you see you can’t be doing this running about all the time. You have to take a rest sometimes.”

Source:BBC

Sport – Football – Live – Saturday Football

Sport - Football - Live - Saturday Football

Live – Saturday football
GOALFLASHES AND MAJOR INCIDENTS (all times GMT)
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By Caroline Cheese
1324: The good news is that these two teams meet again in the Premier League on Tuesday. Hurray!1321: HALF-TIME Portsmouth 0-0 Birmingham1320: John Utaka blazes over. Ho hum.1319: This game is on the slow train to Dullsville. Thankfully, it’ll be making its first stop at Half Time in one minute.Football League Macca: “As well as the Cup and Premier League action today, you won’t be surprised to hear we have your regular full programme of Football League stuff. The first game has only gone and kicked off as well. It’s a West Country affair between Swindon and Bristol Rovers. Likely to be a lively one, oye reckon.”1311: Roger Johnson must be one of the signings of the season. The 5m buy from Cardiff is briefly the wrong side of Frederic Piquionne, but recovers comfortably to rob the Pompey striker with the minimum of fuss.
“The only thing interesting so far is Bennett’s hideous shirt. It’s like a parakeet, after a night out, got sick on it!”1308: I’m no good with numbers, but thankfully I know a Football League Macca who is. He tells me this: “With Pompey needing every penny they can get, a win today could prove very lucrative. The winners of FA Cup sixth round matches get 360,000, plus the guarantee of 450,000 even if they lose in the semis. However, the situation is lightly muddied by rules that say the FA can opt to pay the money directly to creditors if a club is in administration.”1306: Steve Finnan’s wayward header leaves James McFadden with a shooting opportunity but the former Liverpool defender throws his body in the way in a bid to make up for his error. He’s taken one for the team there, shall we say. 1302: Jamie O’Hara plays in Frederic Piquionne on the right and the Frenchman leathers a low ball in – but it twangs off a defender and away to safety. It’s been that sort of… and you know where I’m going with that.1301: Promising move by Birmingham – but Lee Bowyer’s pass asks far too much of Barry Ferguson. Bowyer might have been better off having a shot himself. It’s been that sort of game so far. Wait, have I said that already?1258: John Utaka gets away from two in midfield and lays the ball off to Danny Webber, who promptly slips as he tries to jink past a defender. It’s been that sort of game so far.From anon via text: “On the way to the Emirates. Never seen so many Ramsey shirts, banners, hats in my life!! Could we really turn this into our season after last week?”1255: Poor defending from Pompey as Keith Fahey breaks free down the left and plays a dangerous ball across the box – but there aren’t enough Birmingham players in the box to take advantage.
1252: To absolutely no-one’s surprise, Michael Brown is the first man to go into the referee’s book for tangling with Lee Bowyer. That’s his fifth booking of the season. He’s also picked up a red as well. Good work.1250: David James 1-0 Joe Hart. The Portsmouth keeper dives low to his right to keep out Cameron Jerome’s well-struck shot after he was set up by Lee Bowyer.1247: Lovely work by Jamie O’Hara on the right, beating the defender with a stepover and crossing well – but Birmingham head clear.BBC 5 live summariser Kit Symons: “It’s been a bit scrappy so far. I’m just watching John Utaka, who is drifting across the pitch from left to right. The Portsmouth front four is quite fluid which will make it difficult for Birmingham to mark them.”1245: Birmingham striker James McFadden bursts into the box but his effort is blocked by Herman Hreidarsson. Half-chance, no more.1238: The aforementioned Steve Bennett – wearing a lurid orangey-pink shirt – gives a free-kick but no card for Michael Brown’s late challenge on Lee Bowyer, who has already been fouled by Jamie O’Hara. Poor mite. No-one anticipates Sebastian Larsson’s free-kick though.
“Wow, Steve Bennett’s top is a DISGUSTING colour!”1236: Frederic Piquionne twists and turns on the left, eventually winning the corner off Roger Johnson. Birmingham clear though. Today sees England keepers Joe Hart and David James up against each other. Should be an interesting battle.1234: Steve Bennett gets the first of the FA Cup quarter-finals under way. It’s a predictably electric atmosphere at Fratton Park. 1232: At Fratton Park, a minute’s applause for
Keith Alexander.
1228: Birmingham owner Carson Yeung has taken his seat at Fratton Park, wearing some sensational aviator sunglasses. Remember his fur coat? That guy’s got style – of some sort.Birmingham boss Alex McLeish: “We have had a good season in the league but when I look at the Portsmouth team, it’s full of quality individuals, and Avram has got them playing well recently, with a bit of that siege mentality.”Portsmouth boss Avram Grant: “Now we are concentrating on the pitch, not off it. There is a lot of pressure because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. We’re playing against a very good team, but it’s one game and we can get to Wembley.”1218: Football Focus is up and running by the way. If you’re in the UK, you can watch on the website. The internet’s good innit?From Sean in Ireland, via text: “Re 1204: When was the last time three teams topped the table on the same day in March? I’ve jinxed it now anyway. I blame Kevin Doyle.”1207: TEAM NEWS Portsmouth v BirminghamPortsmouth defender Ricardo Rocha begins a suspension after his dismissal against Burnley last week so Tal Ben Haim deputises after groin surgery. Kevin-Prince Boateng (ankle) and Aaron Mokoena (knee) are out but Jamie O’Hara does play despite back trouble. Birmingham boss Alex McLeish names the same side that beat Wigan last week. James McFadden starts for the Blues after passing a late test on a groin injury, meaning Kevin Phillips is again on the bench.1204: Two FA Cup quarter-finals today: one early (Pompey-Birmingham at 1230 GMT), one late (Fulham-Spurs at 1720 GMT). In the Prem, Arsenal could go top of the shop if they wallop Burnley by four goals or more at the Emirates (1500 GMT). Manchester United could then topple them if they beat Wolves (1730 GMT), and West Ham meet Bolton (1500 GMT). What I’m trying to say is: today is potentially going to be fairly exciting.1200: Hopefully that’s enough newspaper reviewing to get me a slot on the Andrew Marr Show tomorrow. Let’s get down to the real business. Text me on 81111 (UK) or +44 7786200666 (world), join the wonderful world of
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1155: The presence of crisis-club-Portsmouth (as they must now be known) in the FA Cup quarter-finals is surely the reason the Sun* have taken the theme of the ‘magic of the Cup’ and run with it… a very, very long way. They’ve
mocked up seven managers of the FA Cup quarter-finalists as characters in Alice In Wonderland.
Alex McLeish obviously takes the role of Alice, while Martin O’Neill makes an excellent Mad Hatter. Less successful is Roy Hodgson as the Cheshire Cat, and Carlo Ancelotti as Tweedledee. Unfortunately, the Sun’s graphics people appear to have run out of time when it came to Avram Grant. They’ve just put a picture of the Blue Caterpillar in. Cruel.* Well spotted everyone. In a break from tradition, I actually managed to look at more than one newspaper today before I got bored and started chatting about boys and stuff.1153: TEAMS Portsmouth v BirminghamPortsmouth: James, Finnan, Ben-Haim, Hreidarsson, Belhadj, Brown, Wilson, O’Hara, Webber, Piquionne, Utaka. Subs: Ashdown, Mullins, Diop, Owusu-Abeyie, Dindane, Kanu, Basinas.Birmingham: Hart, Carr, Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell, Larsson, Bowyer, Ferguson, Fahey, McFadden, Jerome. Subs: Taylor, Murphy, Phillips, Benitez, Michel, Parnaby, Gardner.1150: No, no, not my words, dear readers, those of Tzofit Grant, the wife of Portsmouth boss Avram Grant, in a
quite remarkable interview in today’s Telegraph.
I can’t possibly summarise it here. I can only advise that if you do one thing today, you read it. I’m hoping to get her to guest text-commentate soon.1145: “The problem with footballers is that they don’t have nice feet. They have so many blisters and a bad shape.”

Source:BBC