Sunday, February 26, 2012

Published:

Afghan president renews appeal for calm after deadly anti-foreigner riots over Quran burning

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghanistan's president renewed his calls for calm Sunday in a televised address to the nation after the burning of Qurans at a U.S. base sparked five days of deadly protests.

About 30 people have been killed, including four U.S. soldiers, since the incident came to light Tuesday. NATO and the British government recalled their international advisers from Afghan ministries late Saturday after two U.S. military advisers -- a lieutenant colonel and a major -- were found dead in their office with shots to the back of their heads.

"Now is the time to return to calm and not let our enemies use this situation," Karzai said. Asked about the unprecedented recall of NATO staff, Karzai said it was an understandable step.

"It is a temporary step at a time when the people of Afghanistan are angry over the burning of the holy Quran," Karzai said. "We are not against this," he added.

It is still unclear who shot the men inside a heavily secured wing of the Interior Ministry, or if the attacker had been apprehended. The Afghan media reported that it was a police intelligence officer, without citing a source. Karzai said much was still unknown.

___

AP IMPACT: Study suggests drones kill far fewer civilians than many Pakistanis believe

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- American drone strikes inside Pakistan are killing far fewer civilians than many in the country are led to believe, according to a rare on-the-ground investigation by The Associated Press of 10 of the deadliest attacks in the past 18 months.

The widespread perception in Pakistan that civilians, not militants, are the principal victims -- a view that is fostered by leading right-wing politicians, clerics and the fighters themselves -- fuels pervasive anti-American sentiment and, some argue, has swelled the ranks of al-Qaida and the Taliban.

But an AP reporter who spoke to about 80 villagers at the sites of the 10 attacks in North Waziristan, the main sanctuary for militants in Pakistan's northwest tribal region along the Afghan border, was told that a significant majority of the dead were combatants.

Indeed, the AP was told by the villagers that of at least 194 people killed in the attacks, about 70 percent -- at least 138 -- were militants. The remaining 56 were either civilians or tribal police, and 38 of them were killed in a single attack on March 17, 2011.

Excluding that strike, which inflicted one of the worst civilian death tolls since the drone program started in Pakistan, nearly 90 percent of the people killed were militants, villagers said.

___

Principles and party loyalty debated in Michigan as Romney, Santorum seek Tuesday victory

FLINT, Mich. (AP) -- Republican Mitt Romney fought Saturday to prove he is the strongest challenger to President Barack Obama, an increasingly difficult task given the tight race in his native state of Michigan against surging conservative Rick Santorum.

In the final weekend of campaigning before Tuesday's Michigan and Arizona primaries, Romney focused on central and southeast Michigan's urban and industrial centers in hopes of pulling ahead of Santorum.

With a Michigan victory, Santorum could solidify his place as a real threat to Romney heading into Super Tuesday, the 10-state sweepstakes on March 6. Santorum's victories so far have come in lower-turnout party caucuses.

While Romney kept most of his attention on the Democratic incumbent, he also worked to lay doubt about the core principles of his lightly funded main GOP rival.

Romney is the one facing stubborn doubts from some conservatives for his changed positions on social issues, but he tried to portray Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, as a Washington insider with cracks in his own conservative credentials. Santorum called such criticism "laughable" and said Michigan, where Romney was born and raised and his father was governor, was winnable.

___

Activists report violence across Syria as vote on new draft constitution begins

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Syrians began voting Sunday on a new draft constitution aimed at quelling the country's uprising by ending the ruling Baath Party's five-decade domination of power, but the opposition announced a boycott and clashes were reported across the country.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) and the vote is scheduled to last 12 hours. The country has 14.6 million eligible voters who were asked to cast ballots on whether they approve or reject the recently drafted constitution in more than 14,000 polling stations around the country.

The ballot reads, "Do you agree on the new draft constitution?" Marking a green circle indicates yes, while black is no.

In regions like the restive central city of Homs, where shelling by government forces has left hundreds dead, or the northwestern province of Idlib and the southern region of Daraa where rebels clash frequently with the security forces, turnout is likely to be minimal.

Foreign journalists were taken by the Information Ministry to the Damascus neighborhood of Rukneddine and the Damascus suburb of Barzeh that witnessed anti-government protests in the past months. Few voters were at the polling stations in either area.

___

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issues threat to retaliate ahead of South Korea-US drills

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened to launch a powerful retaliatory strike against South Korea if provoked, state media said Sunday, a day before the start of annual South Korean-U.S. military drills that Pyongyang calls an invasion rehearsal.

South Korean and U.S. officials have said the 12-day, largely computer-simulated war games are defensive in nature.

The reported threat came a day after a senior U.S. envoy said ties between the rival Koreas must improve before the United States and North Korea can achieve real progress in their relationship.

Kim, supreme commander of the North's 1.2 million-member military, made the comment during a visit to front-line military units, including one that shelled a South Korean island in 2010, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

"He ordered them to make a powerful retaliatory strike at the enemy, should the enemy intrude even 0.001 millimeter into the waters of the country where its sovereignty is exercised," KCNA said. It did not say when Kim visited the units.

___

Pakistan halfway done razing the compound where US commandos killed Osama bin Laden

ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- Pakistan was more than halfway done Sunday demolishing the three-story compound where Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. commandos last May, erasing a concrete reminder of a painful and embarrassing chapter in the country's history.

Rings of police kept spectators and journalists away from the compound, which the government began tearing down Saturday night under powerful floodlights without providing prior notice. Three mechanized backhoes ripped into the building, according to an Associated Press reporter who was able to get close enough to see the work.

Pakistan was outraged by the covert American raid in the northwestern town of Abbottabad because it was not told about it beforehand -- a decision the U.S. explained was driven by concerns that someone in the government might tip off bin Laden.

The terror leader's death was cheered across the globe, but many Pakistanis were angry that the U.S. violated its territory and that its troops were powerless to stop American soldiers from attacking a compound located next to the country's elite military academy.

The backhoes -- heavy machines with strong crane-like digging arms -- have torn down the tall boundary walls around bin Laden's compound and have destroyed more than half of the main building, where the al-Qaida chief lived for years with his wives and children.

___

5 blunders of a billionaire: Sometimes even Warren Buffett gets it wrong

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- The Oracle of Omaha earned his nickname -- and more than a few billion dollars -- by spotting investments that others overlooked, but Warren Buffett makes mistakes.

No, really, he does.

Just pick through Buffett's annual letters to shareholders of his conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway. His pronouncements are eagerly anticipated by investors around the world. But sometimes even the Oracle gets it wrong.

By the second page of this year's letter, released Saturday, Buffett was borrowing a tennis term to take credit for "a major unforced error" he'd made on some Texas utility bonds.

Of course, Buffett's shareholder letters are filled with a lot more good decisions than bad ones. His $44 billion fortune attests to that. But the blunders are instructive. Or at least remind us that he's human.

___

Mandela spends night in hospital after test, said to be doing well, could be home by Monday

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- South Africans prayed for the health of former President Nelson Mandela on Sunday, as the government offered reassurance that the 93-year-old was doing well after spending the night in a hospital following tests for an undisclosed stomach complaint.

Doctors have found "his health is satisfactory, given his age," Mac Maharaj, spokesman for the country's current leader, said Sunday.

President Jacob Zuma later had issued a statement on Saturday saying that Mandela was in no danger, and was expected to go home on Sunday or Monday.

Mandela, a Nobel peace laureate who spent 27 years in prison for fighting racist white rule, became South Africa's first black president in 1994 and served one five-year term. He has officially retired and last appeared in public in July 2010.

On Sunday, well-wishers prayed for Mandela at Regina Mundi church in Soweto, a former center of anti-apartheid protests and funerals.

___

Reagan shooter John Hinckley wishes he could change 'would-be assassin' image

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The man who tried to kill President Ronald Reagan more than 30 years ago said he would like to be known as something other than a would-be assassin.

John Hinckley made the statement to a doctor who interviewed him in the past year at a Washington mental hospital. The statement and other pieces of information about Hinckley's life are part of hundreds of pages of documents prepared for court hearings in Hinckley's case.

Hinckley, who shot and wounded Reagan in 1981, is seeking more freedom from the hospital. He has been allowed to visit his mother's home in Williamsburg, Va., for up to 10 days at a time. Attorneys for the government believe he his trips should remain at 10 days.

A jury found Hinckley to be insane when he shot Reagan in an effort to impress actress Jodie Foster. He has spent most of the past three decades at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington. In recent years, doctors have said his mental illness has been in remission.

Hinckley said he still thinks about the actress, but only to ask himself "what was it about her that made me do this."

___

Hanks, Streep, Kermit, other stars dress down for final Oscar rehearsal before the big show

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Academy Awards are a big deal -- even to A-listers. That's why a parade of stars came through the theater at the Hollywood & Highland Center Saturday to run through their lines and prepare to address their peers in front of a worldwide audience of millions.

MUPPET REHEARSAL: Even celebrities of the felt variety took time to practice their lines. Though Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy have been famous for decades, they still rehearsed like the dedicated pros they are.

The two Muppets and their invisible operators delighted the crew of show workers with their playful banter and puppet antics. Film academy president Tom Sherak was so taken with the two that he sat nearby throughout their rehearsal.

"Hey Don, it's been too long," Kermit said to the show's producer-director, Don Mischer.