Saturday May 4, 2013

Sectarian shadow hangs over latest reported mass killing in Syria’s civil war

BEIRUT (AP) -- The bodies of the Syrian boys and young men in jeans and casual shirts were strewn along a blood-stained pavement, dying apparently where they fell. Weeping women moved among the dead, and one of them screamed, "Where are you, people of the village?"

In the Syrian civil war’s latest alleged mass killing, activists said Friday that regime troops and gunmen from nearby Alawite areas beat, stabbed and shot at least 50 people in the Sunni Muslim village of Bayda.

The slayings highlighted in the starkest terms the sectarian overtones of a conflict that has already killed more than 70,000 people. Details of the killings came to light as the Obama administration said it was again weighing whether to arm the rebels.

Syria’s 2-year-old crisis has largely broken along sectarian lines: the Sunni majority forms the backbone of the rebellion, while President Bashar Assad’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, anchors the regime’s security services and military officer corps. Other minorities, such as Christians, largely support Assad or stand on the sidelines, worried that the regime’s fall would bring about a more Islamist rule.

The killings in Bayda fall against this backdrop. Tucked in the mountains outside the Mediterranean coastal city of Banias, the village is predominantly Sunni but is located in the Alawite ancestral heartland centered in the rugged region along the sea.


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Obama prodding Central American leaders to act vigorously against drug violence

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) -- President Barack Obama on Friday cast Mexico as a nation ready to take "its rightful place in the world" and move past the drug battles and violence that have defined its relationship with the United States. He then headed to Costa Rica to prod Central American leaders to tackle those same issues more aggressively.

Obama’s three-day visit to Mexico and Costa Rica is his first to Latin America since winning a second presidential term in an election in which he gained the support of Hispanic Americans by a large margin. His trip is being followed with great interest by Hispanics in the U.S. as well as in Mexico, Central America and farther to the south.

In Mexico in particular, he tried to set a new course for ties between the U.S. and its southern neighbor, eagerly promoting Mexico’s improving economy and its democracy.

"A new Mexico is emerging," Obama told a crowd of young people during a speech at Mexico City’s grand National Museum of Anthropology. "Mexico is also taking its rightful place in the world, on the world stage. Mexico is standing up for democracy not just here in Mexico but throughout the hemisphere. Mexico’s sharing expertise with neighbors across the Americas. When they face earthquakes or threats to their citizens or go to the polls to cast their votes, Mexico is there helping its neighbors."

Despite Obama’s rosy portrayal, Mexico’s high poverty rates have barely budged in recent years. Its economy grew by only about a 1 percent rate in the first three months of 2013 and is not creating anywhere near the 1 million jobs annually it needs to employ young Mexicans entering the workforce. Without jobs or opportunities to study, many young people have become easier prey for recruitment by drug cartels.

Incoming NRA pre.: Members fighting ‘culture war’ that goes deeper than gun rights

HOUSTON (AP) -- The National Rifle Association kicked off its annual convention Friday with a warning to its member they are engaged in a "culture war" that stretches beyond gun rights, further ramping up emotions surrounding the gun control debate.

NRA First Vice President James Porter, who will assume the organization’s presidency Monday, issued a full-throated challenge to President Barack Obama in the wake of a major victory regarding gun control and called on members to dig in for a long fight that will stretch into the 2014 elections.

More than 70,000 NRA members are expected to attend the three-day convention amid the backdrop of the national debate over gun control and the defeat of a U.S. Senate bill introduced after December’s mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. A small gathering of gun control supporters were outside of the convention in Houston.

Porter’s remarks came in a short speech to about 300 people at a grass-roots organizing meeting and set the tone for a "Stand and Fight"-themed convention that is part gun trade show, political rally and strategy meeting.

"This is not a battle about gun rights," Porter said, calling it "a culture war."

Solar-powered plane leaves California on first leg of trip to several U.S. cities

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) -- A solar-powered airplane left Northern California on Friday for the first leg of a planned cross-country trip that its co-pilot described as a "milestone" in aviation history.

The Solar Impulse -- considered the world’s most-advanced sun-powered plane -- left Moffett Field in Mountain View just after dawn. Its creators said the trip is the first attempt by a solar airplane capable of flying day and night without fuel to fly across America.

It plans to land at Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth airport in Texas, Lambert-St. Louis airport, Dulles airport in the Washington area and New York’s John F. Kennedy airport. Each flight leg will take about 19 to 25 hours, with 10-day stops in each city.

"All the big pioneers of the 20th century have tried to fly coast to coast across America," said co-pilot and one of the plane’s founders, Bertrand Piccard. "So now today we’re trying to do this, but on solar power with no fuel with the first airplane that is able to fly day and night just on solar power."

The plane is powered by about 12,000 photovoltaic cells that cover massive wings and charge its batteries.

Study: Mild to moderate exercise
can cut women’s risk for kidney stones

Women have another reason to exercise: It may help prevent kidney stones. You don’t have to break a sweat or be a super athlete, either. Even walking for a couple hours a week can cut the risk of developing this painful and common problem by about one-third, a large study found.

"Every little bit makes a difference" and the intensity doesn’t matter -- just getting a minimum amount of exercise does, said Dr. Mathew Sorensen of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

He led the study, which was to be discussed Friday at an American Urological Association conference in San Diego.

About 9 percent of people will get a kidney stone sometime in their life. The problem is a little more common in men, but incidence has risen 70 percent over the last 15 years, most rapidly among women.

Obesity raises the risk as do calcium supplements, which many women take after menopause. A government task force recently advised against supplements for healthy older women, saying that relatively low-dose calcium pills don’t do much to keep bones strong but make kidney stones more likely.

No sequester furloughs at State Department

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Despite budget cuts requiring most federal agencies to furlough workers, the State Department says it will not have to force any of its employees to take unpaid leave.

State’s top management official said Friday that the budget sequester cut for the department would be only $400 million, less than half of $850 million that was originally estimated.

Because of that and other cost-saving measures already implemented, Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management, said department employees both in the United States and abroad would be spared furloughs at least until the end of the current budget year.

The department has cut back on spending by reducing travel and conference expenses, filling only one of every two new job vacancies and adjusting building temperatures, he said.