Wednesday May 1, 2013

Hezbollah chief warns militant group could intervene in Syria on Assad side if need arises

BEIRUT (AP) -- The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group said Tuesday that Syrian rebels will not be able to defeat President Bashar Assad’s regime militarily, warning that Syria’s "real friends," including his Iranian-backed militant group, were ready to intervene on the government’s side.

In Damascus, a powerful bomb ripped through a bustling commercial district, killing at least 14 people and bringing Syria’s civil war to the heart of the capital for the second consecutive day.

Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite Muslim group, is known to back Syrian regime fighters in Shiite villages near the Lebanon border against the mostly Sunni rebels fighting to topple Assad. The comments by Sheik Hassan Nasrallah were the strongest indication yet that his group was ready to get far more involved to rescue Assad’s embattled regime.

"You will not be able to take Damascus by force and you will not be able to topple the regime militarily. This is a long battle," Nasrallah said, addressing the Syrian opposition.

"Syria has real friends in the region and in the world who will not allow Syria to fall into the hands of America or Israel."

Russian agents watched Boston bombing suspect during trip
to Dagestan

MAKHACHKALA, Russia (AP) -- Russian agents placed the elder Boston bombing suspect under surveillance during a six-month visit to southern Russia last year, then scrambled to find him when he suddenly disappeared after police killed a Canadian jihadist, a security official told The Associated Press.

U.S. law enforcement officials have been trying to determine whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev was indoctrinated or trained by militants during his visit to Dagestan, a Caspian Sea province that has become the center of a simmering Islamic insurgency.

The security official with the Anti-Extremism Center, a federal agency under Russia’s Interior Ministry, confirmed the Russians shared their concerns. He told the AP that Russian agents were watching Tsarnaev, and that they searched for him when he disappeared two days after the July 2012 death of the Canadian man, who had joined the Islamic insurgency in the region. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.

Security officials suspected ties between Tsarnaev and the Canadian -- an ethnic Russian named William Plotnikov -- according to the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, which is known for its independence and investigative reporting and cited an unnamed official with the Anti-Extremism Center, which tracks militants. The newspaper said the men had social networking ties that brought Tsarnaev to the attention of Russian security services for the first time in late 2010.

It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if the men had met. Both were amateur boxers of roughly the same age whose families had moved from Russia to North America when they were teenagers. In recent years, both had turned to Islam and expressed radical beliefs. And both had traveled to Dagestan, a republic of some 3 million people.

FDA: Over-the-counter sale of morning-after pill OK for ages 15 and up

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Plan B morning-after pill is moving over-the-counter, a decision announced by the Food and Drug Administration just days before a court-imposed deadline.

Tuesday, the FDA lowered to 15 the age at which girls and women can buy the emergency contraceptive without a prescription -- and said it no longer has to be kept behind pharmacy counters.

Instead, the pill can sit on drugstore shelves just like condoms, but that buyers would have to prove their age at the cash register.

Earlier this month, a federal judge had ruled there should be no age restrictions and gave the FDA 30 days to act. The FDA said its latest decision was independent of the court case.

Ricin found on items dumped by suspect in case of poison letters to Obama, others

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) -- Ricin was found in the former martial arts studio of the man suspected of sending poison letters to President Barack Obama and other public officials, and was also discovered on a dust mask and other items he threw in the trash, federal prosecutors said in a court document made public Tuesday.

The affidavit says an FBI surveillance team saw James Everett Dutschke remove several items from the studio in Tupelo, Miss., on April 22 and dump them in a trash bin about 100 yards down the street. The items included a dust mask that later tested positive for ricin, the affidavit said.

Traces of ricin also were found in the studio and Dutschke used the Internet to buy castor beans, from which ricin is derived, the affidavit said.

Annette Dobbs, who owns the small shopping center where the studio was located, said authorities padlocked the door to it sometime the search. She said Tuesday that FBI agents haven’t told her anything, including whether the building poses a health threat. Inside the studio is one large room with a smaller reception area and a concrete floor. Police tape covered the front and the small back door.

Dutschke, 41, was arrested Saturday by FBI agents at his home in Tupelo, and is being held without bond pending a preliminary and detention hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court in Oxford.

In Bangladesh, common people turn into rescuers after building collapse

SAVAR, Bangladesh (AP) -- The heat in the rubble was sweltering. It closed in on his body like the darkness around him, making it hard to breathe. Working by the faint glow of a flashlight, he slithered through the broken concrete and spotted a beautiful young woman, her crushed arm pinned beneath a pillar. She was dying, and the only way to get her out was to amputate.

But Saiful Islam Nasar had no training, and almost no equipment. He’s a mechanical engineer who just days earlier rushed hundreds of miles from his hometown in southern Bangladesh when he heard the Rana Plaza factory building had collapsed and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of garment workers were trapped.

He also understood that maimed women can be cast from their homes.

"I asked her, ‘Sister, are you married?’ She said ‘Yes.’ I asked her, ‘If I cut off your arm, will your husband take you again?’ She said, ‘My husband loves me very much.’ And then I started to cut," he said.

He had brought a syringe loaded with pain-killer -- his father was a village medic, and had taught him how to give injections -- and he cut through her arm with a small surgical blade. It was easier than he expected because the arm had already been so badly damaged.

Arab League sweetens Mideast peace plan, exposing rift in Israeli government

JERUSALEM (AP) -- The Arab League’s decision to sweeten its decade-old proposal offering comprehensive peace with Israel has placed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a bind and swiftly exposed fissures in his new government.

Netanyahu’s chief peace negotiator on Tuesday welcomed the modified Arab proposal, while the prime minister remained silent, reflecting the internal divisions that lie ahead as the U.S. tries to restart long-frozen peace talks with the Palestinians.

"This is a positive announcement," negotiator Tzipi Livni told Channel 10 TV, adding it gave "tail wind" to peace efforts. "At the end you need a direct negotiation between the Israelis and the Palestinians."

The original 2002 Arab peace initiative offered Israel peace with the entire Arab and Muslim world in exchange for a "complete withdrawal" from territories captured in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians claim the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, all seized by Israel in 1967, for their future state.

The initiative was revolutionary when it was introduced by Saudi Arabia’s then crown prince, King Abdullah, and endorsed by the 22-member Arab League. The 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation later endorsed the plan as well. However, it was overshadowed by fierce Israeli-Palestinian fighting at the time and greeted with skepticism by Israel.

Brighter outlook on jobs, incomes boosts consumer confidence; home prices also rise

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Americans are more optimistic the job market is healing and will deliver higher pay later this year. That brighter outlook, along with rising home prices, cheaper gasoline and a surging stock market, could offset some of the drag from the recent tax increases and government spending cuts.

A gauge of consumer confidence rose in April, reversing a decline in March, the Conference Board, a private research group, said Tuesday. The board attributed the gain to optimism about hiring and pay increases. Economists also cited higher home values and record stock prices.

Despite the rise in the index, to 68.1 from 61.9 in March, confidence remains well below its historic average of 92. Still, the increase signaled that consumers, whose spending drives about 70 percent of the economy, see better times ahead.

A separate report Tuesday showed that home prices nationwide rose in February by the most in nearly seven years. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index jumped 9.3 percent in February from a year earlier. Prices in all 20 cities rose on an annual basis for a second straight month.

Phoenix led all cities with a year-over-year price gain of 23 percent. Floyd Scott, owner-broker at Century 21 Arizona Foothills in Phoenix, said demand is particularly strong for homes priced below $300,000.

George Zimmerman agrees with attorneys, won’t use ‘Stand Your Ground’ law before murder trial

SANFORD, Florida (AP) -- The former neighborhood watch leader charged with fatally shooting a Florida teenager told a judge Tuesday that he agrees with his defense attorneys’ decision not to seek an immunity hearing under the state’s "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law.

Under questioning from Circuit Judge Debra Nelson, George Zimmerman repeatedly said "yes" to a series of questions asking if he was aware he was giving up the right to a hearing before his second-degree murder trial in June. A judge would have sole discretion in an immunity hearing to decide if Zimmerman is exempt from culpability in the shooting. A jury would make the determination in the murder trial.

"After consultation with my counsel, yes, your honor," Zimmerman said.

The judge had set aside two weeks at the end of April for an immunity hearing should Zimmerman want one. Zimmerman’s defense attorney, Mark O’Mara, told Nelson during a hearing in March that he wouldn’t need those days. Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda filed a motion last week asking that Zimmerman make clear his intentions on whether he wanted the hearing.

O’Mara, told the judge Tuesday there was nothing in the law that required the immunity hearing to take place before Zimmerman’s trial and could be requested after prosecutors have presented their case.

Jury gets first glimpses into Michael Jackson’s private life as testimony begins in civil case

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Jurors in the civil case between Michael Jackson’s mother and concert giant AEG Live got another glimpse of the singer’s private life on Tuesday through the eyes of a paramedic who described the singer’s bedroom and the frantic efforts to revive the King of Pop on the day he died.

Many other private moments from the singer’s life will be exposed as the case progresses over the next several months, with witnesses expected to testify about secret medical treatments, lavish spending and tender moments spent with his mother and children.

In the nearly four years since his death, nearly every aspect of Jackson’s life has been explored in court proceedings, documentaries, books and news stories.

Still, the negligence case filed by his mother against AEG promises to deliver the most detailed account of the singer’s addiction struggles, including testimony from his ex-wife Debbie Rowe about treatments involving the anesthetic propofol dating back to the 1990s.

Jackson died from a propofol overdose in 2009 while preparing for a series of comeback concerts at AEG’s O2 Arena in London.