Showing posts with label u.s.. Show all posts
Showing posts with label u.s.. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

US officials: 3 US troops killed in Afghan attack

3 US troops killed in Afghan attack
A burqa-clad Afghan woman walks past a police station which was attacked by militants in Kandahar, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, June 19, 2012.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- American officials say three U.S. service members and an Afghan interpreter have been killed in a blast that also left 17 Afghans dead in eastern Afghanistan.

The U.S. Embassy said Wednesday that three NATO service members and an Afghan interpreter died in the explosion. A U.S. official speaking anonymously to discuss casualties ahead of the official release says that the foreign troops killed were Americans.

Afghan officials said the strike in Khost province was a suicide bomber who rammed a vehicle packed with explosives into a military convoy.

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Thursday, June 07, 2012

U.S. News: Suicides are surging among US troops

suicides graphs of US army
UPDATES CHART WITH JUNE 3 NUMBERS: Chart shows suicides across the military since 2008;
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Suicides are surging among America's troops, averaging nearly one a day this year - the fastest pace in the nation's decade of war.

The 154 suicides for active-duty troops in the first 155 days of the year far outdistance the U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan - about 50 percent more - according to Pentagon statistics obtained by The Associated Press.

The numbers reflect a military burdened with wartime demands from Iraq and Afghanistan that have taken a greater toll than foreseen a decade ago. The military also is struggling with increased sexual assaults, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and other misbehavior.

Because suicides had leveled off in 2010 and 2011, this year's upswing has caught some officials by surprise.

The reasons for the increase are not fully understood. Among explanations, studies have pointed to combat exposure, post-traumatic stress, misuse of prescription medications and personal financial problems. Army data suggest soldiers with multiple combat tours are at greater risk of committing suicide, although a substantial proportion of Army suicides are committed by soldiers who never deployed.

The unpopular war in Afghanistan is winding down with the last combat troops scheduled to leave at the end of 2014. But this year has seen record numbers of soldiers being killed by Afghan troops, and there also have been several scandals involving U.S. troop misconduct.

The 2012 active-duty suicide total of 154 through June 3 compares to 130 in the same period last year, an 18 percent increase. And it's more than the 136.2 suicides that the Pentagon had projected for this period based on the trend from 2001-2011. This year's January-May total is up 25 percent from two years ago, and it is 16 percent ahead of the pace for 2009, which ended with the highest yearly total thus far.

Suicide totals have exceeded U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan in earlier periods, including for the full years 2008 and 2009.

The suicide pattern varies over the course of a year, but in each of the past five years the trend through May was a reliable predictor for the full year, according to a chart based on figures provided by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner.

The numbers are rising among the 1.4 million active-duty military personnel despite years of effort to encourage troops to seek help with mental health problems. Many in the military believe that going for help is seen as a sign of weakness and thus a potential threat to advancement.

Kim Ruocco, widow of Marine Maj. John Ruocco, a helicopter pilot who hanged himself in 2005 between Iraq deployments, said he was unable to bring himself to go for help.

"He was so afraid of how people would view him once he went for help," she said in an interview at her home in suburban Boston. "He thought that people would think he was weak, that people would think he was just trying to get out of redeploying or trying to get out of service, or that he just couldn't hack it - when, in reality, he was sick. He had suffered injury in combat and he had also suffered from depression and let it go untreated for years. And because of that, he's dead today."

Ruocco is currently director of suicide prevention programs for the military support organization Tragedy Assistance Programs, or TAPS. She joined the group after her husband's suicide, and she organized its first program focused on support for families of suicide victims.

Jackie Garrick, head of a newly established Defense Suicide Prevention Office at the Pentagon, said in an interview Thursday that the suicide numbers this year are troubling.

"We are very concerned at this point that we are seeing a high number of suicides at a point in time where we were expecting to see a lower number of suicides," she said, adding that the weak U.S. economy may be confounding preventive efforts even as the pace of military deployments eases.

Garrick said experts are still struggling to understand suicidal behavior.

"What makes one person become suicidal and another not is truly an unknown," she said.

Dr. Stephen N. Xenakis, a retired Army brigadier general and a practicing psychiatrist, said the suicides reflect the level of tension as the U.S. eases out of Afghanistan though violence continues.

"It's a sign in general of the stress the Army has been under over the 10 years of war," he said in an interview. "We've seen before that these signs show up even more dramatically when the fighting seems to go down and the Army is returning to garrison."

But Xenakis said he worries that many senior military officers do not grasp the nature of the suicide problem.

A glaring example of that became public when a senior Army general recently told soldiers considering suicide to "act like an adult."

Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, commander of the 1st Armored Division, last month retracted - but did not apologize for - a statement in his Army blog in January. He had written, "I have now come to the conclusion that suicide is an absolutely selfish act." He also wrote, ""I am personally fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess. Be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us." He did also counsel soldiers to seek help.

His remarks drew a public rebuke from the Army, which has the highest number of suicides and called his assertions "clearly wrong." Last week the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, said he disagrees with Pittard "in the strongest possible terms."

The military services have set up confidential telephone hotlines, placed more mental health specialists on the battlefield, added training in stress management, invested more in research on mental health risk and taken other measures.

The Marines established a counseling service dubbed "DStress line," a toll-free number that troubled Marines can call anonymously. They also can use a Marine website to chat online anonymously with a counselor.

The Marines arguably have had the most success recently in lowering their suicide numbers, which are up slightly this year but are roughly in line with levels of the past four years. The Army's numbers also are up slightly. The Air Force has seen a spike, to 32 through June 3 compared to 23 at the same point last year. The Navy is slightly above its 10-year trend line but down a bit from 2011.

As part of its prevention strategy, the Navy has published a list of "truths" about suicide.

"Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane," it says. "They might be upset, grief-stricken, depressed or despairing."

In a report published in January the Army said the true impact of its prevention programs is unknown.

"What is known is that all Army populations ... are under increased stress after a decade of war," it said, adding that if not for prevention efforts the Army's suicide totals might have been as much as four times as high.

Marine Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently issued a video message to all military members in which he noted that suicides "are sadly on the rise."

"From private to general, we shoulder an obligation to look and listen for signs and we stand ready to intervene and assist our follow service member or battle buddy in time of need," Battaglia said.

The suicide numbers began surging in 2006. They soared in 2009 and then leveled off before climbing again this year. The statistics include only active-duty troops, not veterans who returned to civilian life after fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Nor does the Pentagon's tally include non-mobilized National Guard or Reserve members.

The renewed surge in suicides has caught the attention of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Last month he sent an internal memo to the Pentagon's top civilian and military leaders in which he called suicide "one of the most complex and urgent problems" facing the Defense Department, according to a copy provided to the AP.

Panetta touched on one of the most sensitive aspects of the problem: the stigma associated seeking help for mental distress. This is particularly acute in the military.

"We must continue to fight to eliminate the stigma from those with post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues," Panetta wrote, adding that commanders "cannot tolerate any actions that belittle, haze, humiliate or ostracize any individual, especially those who require or are responsibly seeking professional services."

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Thursday, May 31, 2012

U.S. stocks fell Thursday morning, the worst losses of the year

U.S. stocks fell Thursday morning
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday, May 30, 2012.
NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. stocks fell Thursday morning, promising another nerve-wracking day for investors who just endured one of the worst losses of the year.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell steadily throughout the morning and was down 89 points at 12,331 as of 11:15 a.m. It plunged 161 points the day before on concerns about Europe, marking its third-worst daily loss of the year. May will be the Dow's first monthly loss since September - another unwelcome milestone.

Stock index futures had climbed before the market opened after several big retailers including Target and Limited Brands reported healthy sales for May. Those gains evaporated after the government released discouraging news about jobs and economic growth.

The dismal month has been an unpleasant jolt after the gains in the first quarter, when investors wagered that Europe's financial troubles were, if not exactly solved, at least becoming more manageable. In the 21 trading days so far this month, the Dow has lost value on all but five. Its declines have wiped out nearly four-fifths of the gains made in the first three months of the year.

The Standard & Poor's 500 edged down eight to 1,305. The Nasdaq composite fell 22 points to 2,815.

News about U.S. stocks and bonds crimped the market, emphasizing the tenuous nature of any economic recovery here.

The government reported that claims for unemployment benefits rose to a five-week high, and that the economy grew more slowly than expected in the first three months of the year.

In bonds, the yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell to record low as investors flee the stock market and opt for low-risk bonds instead. The yield hit 1.54 percent in the morning, down from 1.62 percent the day before.

Caterpillar was the weakest stock in the Dow, down more than 3 percent in early trading. The machinery company is heavily dependent on China, and economists are concerned that the country, which has powered global economic growth as others have fallen into recession, is slowing down.

There was at least one encouraging sign in world markets. The yield on 10-year bonds for Spain fell to 6.4 percent after shooting as high as 6.7 percent on Wednesday.

That means investors are more confident in Spain's ability to pay its debt and aren't demanding as high an interest rate in return for investing in bonds issued by that country's government. Other countries like Greece and Portugal had to seek bailout loans after their borrowing costs rose above 7 percent, a level that many economists see as too high for a country to continue funding itself.

Debt-laden Greece has dominated the headlines out of Europe for much of the year, and investors are closely watching its elections on June 17 for signs of whether the country will keep using the euro or break away from the 16 other countries that do.

This week Spain has been the force that's rattling the market. The country announced Friday that it would have to spend nearly $24 billion to bail out a troubled bank, Bankia. On Thursday the European Union demanded that Spain provide more details about how it plans to finance an overhaul of its banking sector. Europe, which has already bailed out Greece, Ireland and Portugal, doesn't want to have to do the same for Spain as well.

Spain's size could make it an even bigger headache. Greece makes up 2 percent of the euro zone's economy; Spain 11 percent.

"Greece is a failed chemistry experiment," said Michael Strauss, chief investment strategist at the Commonfund investment firm in Connecticut. "But we are more worried about Spain because of its size and the scope."

Europe's debt crisis is sharpened by disagreement on whether spending more money or less is the best way to solve it. Stronger countries like Germany say governments need to cut spending. Weaker countries, already wracked by street protests whenever they try to cut any government services, say that will only make the problem worse.

In Ireland, residents voted on whether to accept a budget plan from the European Union. The plan would impose heavy budget cuts on the struggling country, a move that's sure to be unpopular among citizens who are used to generous government spending. But if Ireland rejects the EU's plan, its access to new bailout funds will be severely curbed. Results come Friday.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Vatican in chaos after butler arrested for leaks

Vatican in chaos after butler arrested
May 26, 2012, that the pope's butler Paolo Gabriele, at right, was arrested in an embarrassing leaks scandal. Spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said Paolo Gabriele, a layman, was arrested in his home inside Vatican City with secret documents in his possession.

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The Vatican's inquisition into the source of leaked documents has yielded its first target with the arrest of the pope's butler, but the investigation is continuing into a scandal that has embarrassed the Holy See by revealing evidence of internal power struggles, intrigue and corruption in the highest levels of the Catholic Church governance.

The detention of butler Paolo Gabriele, one of the few members of the papal household, capped one of the most convulsive weeks in recent Vatican history and threw the Holy See into chaos as it enters a critical phase in its efforts to show the world it's serious about complying with international norms on financial transparency.

The tumult began with the publication last weekend of a book of leaked Vatican documents including correspondence, notes and memos to the pope and his private secretary. It peaked with the inglorious ouster on Thursday of the president of the Vatican bank. And it concluded with confirmation Saturday that Pope Benedict XVI's own butler was the alleged mole feeding documents to Italian journalists in an apparent bid to discredit the pontiff's No. 2.

"If you wrote this in fiction you wouldn't believe it," said Carl Anderson, a member of the board of the Vatican bank which contributed to the whirlwind with its no-confidence vote in its president, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi. "No editor would let you put it in a novel."

The bank, known as the Institute for Religious Works, issued a scathing denunciation of Gotti Tedeschi in a memorandum obtained Saturday by The Associated Press. In it the bank, or IOR by its Italian initials, explained its reasons for ousting Gotti Tedeschi: he routinely missed board meetings, failed to do his job, failed to defend the bank, polarized its personnel and displayed "progressively erratic personal behavior."

Gotti Tedeschi was also accused by the board of leaking documents himself: The IOR memorandum said he "failed to provide any formal explanation for the dissemination of documents last known" to be in his possession.

In an interview with the AP, Anderson said the latter accusation was independent of the broader "Vatileaks" scandal that has rocked the Vatican for months. But he stressed: "It is not an insignificant issue."

Gotti Tedeschi hasn't commented publicly about his ouster or the reasons behind it, saying he has too much admiration for the pope to do so. He also hasn't been arrested, avoiding the fate that befell Gabriele.

The 46-year-old father of three has been in Vatican detention since Wednesday after Vatican investigators discovered Holy See documents in his apartment. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Gabriele had met with his lawyers and that the investigation was taking its course through the Vatican's judicial system.

Gabriele, the pope's personal butler since 2006, has often been seen by Benedict's side in public, riding in the front seat of the pope's open-air jeep during Wednesday general audiences or shielding the pontiff from the rain. In private, he is a member of the small papal household that also includes the pontiff's private secretaries and four consecrated women who care for the papal apartment.

Lombardi said Gabriele's detention marked a sad development for all Vatican staff. "Everyone knows him in the Vatican, and there's certainly surprise and pain, and great affection for his beloved family," the spokesman said.

The "Vatileaks" scandal has seriously embarrassed the Vatican at a time when it is trying to show the world financial community that it has turned a page and shed its reputation as a scandal plagued tax haven.

Vatican documents leaked to the media in recent months have undermined that effort, alleging corruption in Vatican finance as well as internal bickering over the Holy See's efforts to comply with international norms to fight money laundering and terror financing.

The Vatican in July will learn if it has complied with the financial transparency criteria of a Council of Europe committee, Moneyval - a key step in its efforts to get on the so-called "white list" of countries that share financial information to fight tax evasion.

Anderson acknowleged that the events of the last week certainly haven't cast the Holy See in the best light. And he said the bank's board appreciated that the ouster of its president just weeks before the expected Moneyval decision could give the committee pause.

"The board considered that concern and decided that all things considered it was best to take the action at this time," Anderson said. "These steps were taken to increase the IOR's position vis-a-vis Moneyval."

The Vatileaks scandal began in January when Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi broadcast letters from the former No. 2 Vatican administrator to the pope in which he begged not to be transferred for having exposed alleged corruption that cost the Holy See millions of euros in higher contract prices. The prelate, Monsignor Carlo Maria Vigano, is now the Vatican's U.S. ambassador.

Nuzzi, author of "Vatican SpA," a 2009 volume laying out shady dealings of the Vatican bank based on leaked documents, last weekend published "His Holiness," which presented a trove of other documents including personal correspondence to the pope and his secretary - many of them painting Benedict’s No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, in a negative light.

Nuzzi has said he was offered the documents by multiple Vatican sources and insisted he didn't pay a cent (EURO) to any of them.

Gabriele was in Vatican custody and unavailable for comment. No known motive has come to light as to why Gabriele, if he is found to be the key mole, might have passed on the documents. Nuzzi declined to comment Saturday on whether Gabriele was among his sources.

Bertone, 77, has been blamed for a series of gaffes and management problems that have plagued Benedict's papacy and, according to the leaked documents, generated a not inconsiderable amount of ill will directed at him from other Vatican officials.

"For some time and in various parts of the church, criticism even by the faithful has been growing about the lack of coordination and confusion that reign at its center," Cardinal Paolo Sardi, the former No. 2 official in the Vatican secretariat of state, wrote to the pope in 2009, according to the letter cited in "His Holiness."

Anderson, who heads the Knights of Columbus, a major U.S. lay Catholic organization, said he was certain the Holy See would weather the storm and that the Vatican bank, at least, could move forward under a new leader with solid banking credentials as well as a desire to show off the bank's transparency.

"I hope this will be the beginning of a new chapter for the IOR and part of that chapter will be restoring the public image of the IOR," he told AP. "I think we have a good story to tell."

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Syria attack: Dozens of innocent children killed

Syria attack: Dozens of innocent children killed
Covered body of killed children
BEIRUT (AP) -- Gruesome video Saturday showed rows of dead Syrian children lying in a mosque in bloody shorts and T-shirts with gaping head wounds, haunting images of what activists called one of the deadliest regime attacks yet in Syria's 14-month-old uprising.

The shelling attack on Houla, a group of villages northwest of the central city of Homs, killed more than 90 people, including at least 32 children under the age of 10, the head of the U.N. observer team in Syria said.

The attacks sparked outrage from U.S. and other international leaders, and large protests in the suburbs of Syria's capital of Damascus and its largest city, Aleppo. It also renewed fears of the relevance of a month-old international peace plan that has not stopped almost daily violence.

The U.N. denounced the attacks in a statement that appeared to hold President Bashar Assad's regime responsible, and the White House called the violence acts of "unspeakable and inhuman brutality."

"This appalling and brutal crime involving indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force is a flagrant violation of international law and of the commitments of the Syrian government to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centers and violence in all its forms," said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and international envoy Kofi Annan. "Those responsible for perpetrating this crime must be held to account."

More than a dozen amateur videos posted online Saturday gave glimpses of the carnage, showing lines of bodies laid out in simple rooms, many with bloody faces, torsos and limbs. In some places, residents put chunks of ice on the bodies to preserve them until burial.

One two-minute video shows at least a dozen children lined up shoulder to shoulder on a checkered blanket on what appears to be the floor of a mosque. Blood trickled from one girl's mouth. One boy, appearing to be no more than 8, had his jaw blown off. The video shows flowered blankets and rugs covering several rows of other bodies.

Another video posted Saturday showed a mass grave, four bodies wide and dozens of meters (yards) long.

Activists from Houla said Saturday that regime forces peppered the area with mortars after large demonstrations against the regime on Friday. That evening, they said, pro-regime fighters known as shabiha stormed the villages, gunning down men in the streets and stabbing women and children in their homes.

A local activist reached via Skype said regime forces fired shells at Houla, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Homs. The shabiha entered the villages, raiding homes and shooting at civilians, Abu Yazan said. More than 100 people were killed, more than 40 of them children and most of them in the village of Taldaw, he said. Many had stab wounds, another activist said.

"They killed entire families, from parents on down to children, but they focused on the children," Yazan said.

The Syrian government blamed the killings on "armed terrorist groups" - a term it often uses for the opposition - but provided no details or death toll.

But like U.N. officials, the White House issued a statement directed at the regime.

The U.S. is "horrified" by the Houla attacks, National Security Council spokeswoman Erin Pelton said in a statement. "These acts serve as a vile testament to an illegitimate regime that responds to peaceful political protest with unspeakable and inhuman brutality."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the attack "in the strongest possible terms," demanding that "those who perpetrated this atrocity must be identified and held to account."

"The United States will work with the international community to intensify our pressure on Assad and his cronies, whose rule by murder and fear must come to an end," Clinton said in statement.

U.N. observers, among more than 250 who were dispatched in recent weeks to salvage the cease-fire plan, found spent artillery tank shells at the site Saturday, and U.N. officials confirmed the shells were fired at residential neighborhoods. The head of the team, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, called the attack a "brutal tragedy."

The bloodshed is yet another blow to the international peace plan brokered by Annan and cast a pall over his coming visit to check on the plan's progress. The cease-fire between forces loyal to the regime of Assad and rebels seeking to topple it was supposed to start on April 12 but has never really taken hold, with new killings every day.

The U.N. put the death toll weeks ago at more than 9,000. Hundreds have been killed since.

The grisly images were condemned by anti-regime groups and political leaders around the world.

"With these new crimes, this murderous regime pushes Syria further into horror and threatens regional stability," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement Saturday.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released an unusually harsh statement, saying Arab nations and the international community were "partners" in the killing "because of their silence about the massacres that the Syrian regime has committed."

The Houla villages are Sunni Muslim. The forces came from an arc of nearby villages populated by Alawites, members of the offshoot of Shiite Islam to which Assad belongs, the activists said.

The activists said the Houla killings appeared to be sectarian between the two groups, raising fears that Syria's uprising, which started in March 2011 with protests calling for political reform, is edging closer to the type of war that tore apart Syria's eastern neighbor, Iraq.

"I don't like to talk about sectarianism, but it was clear that this was sectarian hatred," said activist Abu Walid.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 96 people were killed, 26 of them children and four of them army defectors.

The group's head, Rami Abdul-Rahman, who relies on activists inside Syria, said all were killed in shelling, but that no forces entered Houla.

Syrian state TV condemned the opposition groups for the "massacre" in a statement Saturday.

"The armed groups are escalating their massacres against the Syrian people only days before international envoy Kofi Annan's visit in a bid to defeat his plan and a political solution to the crisis and with the aim of exploiting the blood of Syrians in the media bazar," it said.

The videos could not be independently verified. The Syrian government bars most media from operating inside the country.

The harsh condemnation from anti-regime groups reflects their growing frustration with international reluctance to intervene in Syria's conflict.

World powers have fallen in behind the U.N. plan. The U.S. and European nations say they will not intervene militarily, and while Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya have said they will arm Syria's rebels, no country is known to be doing so.

A spokeswoman for the opposition Syrian National Council called on the U.N. Security Council "to examine the situation in Houla and to determine the responsibility of the United Nations in the face of such mass killings, expulsions and forced migration from entire neighborhoods."

Also Saturday, the story of 11 Lebanese Shiites who were reported kidnapped in Syria this week took another strange turn.

Lebanese officials first said their expected arrival on a plane from Turkey to Lebanon late Friday was delayed for "logistical reasons."

On Saturday, Turkey's Foreign Ministry denied the men were in Turkey - raising new questions about their fate.

Lebanese and Syrian officials blamed Syrian rebels for Tuesday's kidnapping. No group has claimed responsibility.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

North Korea upgrading rocket launch site

North Korea upgrading rocket launch site
This April 29, 2012 satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe shows what appears to be the initial stages of construction of a rocket assembly building at Musudan-ri in northeastern North Korea.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Satellite imagery shows North Korea is upgrading its old launch site in the secretive country's northeast to handle larger rockets, like space launch vehicles and intercontinental missiles, a U.S. institute claimed Tuesday.

The U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies said the upgrade of the Musudan-ri site began last summer and reflects North Korean determination to expand its rocket program.

The U.S. and other nations are worried such rockets could be developed to deliver nuclear weapons.

North Korea on Tuesday vowed to push ahead with its nuclear program because of what it called U.S. hostility. The international community is pressuring North Korea to refrain from conducting what would be its third nuclear test, following a failed attempt in mid-April to launch a satellite into space.

That launch, using its biggest rocket to date, the Unha-3, was from a more sophisticated site at Sohae on the country's northwestern coast.

An April 29 aerial image of Musudan-ri on the opposite coast shows the initial stages of construction of a launch pad and rocket assembly building that could support rockets at least as big as the Unha-3, the institute told The Associated Press. A crane is visible where the launch pad is being built 1.1 miles from the old one. At the current pace of construction, the facilities should be operational by 2016-2017, the institute said.

"This major upgrade program, designed to enable Musudan-ri to launch bigger and better rockets far into the future, represents both a significant resource commitment and an important sign of North Korea's determination," said Joel Wit, editor of the institute's website, 38 North.

The institute says the assembly building shows similarities to one at the Semnan launch complex in Iran, which has a long history of missile cooperation with North Korea. But, officials there say it's premature to conclude the two nations cooperated in designing the new facility.

South Korea's National Intelligence Service said Tuesday it cannot comment on whether it has detected any new activity at the Musudan-ri launch site.

The upgrade could be of particular concern to Japan, as rockets launched from the site in the past have flown east over that country. The flight path from Sohae heads south over the Pacific Ocean in the direction of Southeast Asia, avoiding Japan and South Korea.

The April rocket launch drew U.N. Security Council condemnation, as the launch violated an existing ban. Similar technology is used for ballistic missiles. The North, however, is not believed to have mastered how to wed a nuclear device to a missile.

The top U.S. envoy on North Korea, Glyn Davies, who is meeting this week with counterparts from Japan, South Korea and China, warned Monday that the North conducting an atomic test would unify the world in seeking swift, tough punishment. Both of its previous nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009, followed rocket launches.

A separate analysis of satellite images of a site that North Korea has used for its nuclear tests suggests it has ramped up work there over the past month. James Hardy, IHS Jane's Asia-Pacific specialist, said in a statement that there has been heightened activity at the northeastern Punggye-ri site, including mining carts, excavation equipment and a large amount of debris taken from inside a tunnel and piled around its entrance. The most recent image was from May 9.

In its statement Tuesday, in which North Korea vowed to push ahead with its nuclear program, it made no direct threat of a nuclear test and said it was open to dialogue. An analyst, Koh Yu-hwan at Seoul's Dongguk University, said the statement, from the North's Foreign Ministry, was a message that "the U.S. should come to the dialogue table (with North Korea) if it wants to stop its nuclear test."

The 2006 and 2009 long-range rocket launches that preceded the North's previous nuclear tests were from Musudan-ri. Citing earlier satellite imagery of the site, the U.S.-Korea Institute said land-clearing for the new facilities there began in the fall, and work has proceeded at a fast pace for eight months.

The latest image, from a commercially operated satellite, shows four concrete footings on one side of the launch pad that appear to be for a gantry that would prop up a rocket at launch. It has bigger dimensions than the gantry at the more sophisticated launch site at Sohae.

On another side of the launch pad there is a deep "flame trench" to capture the blast from a launched rocket. Slightly further away, on either side of the launch pad, are two separate buildings designed to enclose the fuel and oxidizer tanks that would funnel propellant into the rocket.

Satellite imagery also shows that about 70 homes, five larger buildings and many sheds in the nearby village of Taepodong have been razed and foundations laid for a large T-shaped structure that appears intended for assembling rockets. A road is under construction that would lead from this building to the launch site, 1.2 miles away.

The building's dimensions are larger than at the comparable structure at Sohae, and the existing one at Musudan-ri, the institute said.

A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the institute's findings Tuesday, describing it as an intelligence matter.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Obama on Afghan: Leave on time, no 'perfect' end

us president barack obama
US President Barack Obama
CHICAGO (AP) -- President Barack Obama and leaders around the globe locked in place an Afghanistan exit path Monday that will still keep their troops fighting and dying there for two more years, acknowledging there never will be point at which they can say, "This is all done. This is perfect."

Obama, presiding over a 50-nation war coalition summit in his hometown, summed up the mood by saying the Afghanistan that will be left behind will be stable enough for them to depart - essentially good enough after a decade of war- but still loaded with troubles.

The war that began in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks will finish at the end of 2014.

"I don't think there's ever going to be an optimal point where we say, `This is all done. This is perfect. This is just the way we wanted it,'" Obama said as the NATO summit closed. "This is a process, and it's sometimes a messy process."

Obama never spoke of victory.

Afghan forces for the first time will take over the lead of the combat mission by the middle of 2013, a milestone moment in a long, costly transition of control. Even in a backup role, U.S. forces and all the rest will face surprise attacks and bombings until the war's end.

Wary of creating a vacuum in a volatile region, the nations also promised a lasting partnership with Afghanistan, meaning many years of contributing tax dollars, personnel and political capital after the end of their soldiers' combat.

The United States has already cut its own deal with Afghanistan along those lines, including a provision that allows U.S. military trainers and special forces to remain in Afghanistan after the war closes.

In an escalating election-year environment, Obama was as at the center of the action in Chicago, beaming and boasting about the city's performance in hosting the event. Noisy protesters loaded the city's streets at times, which Obama called just the kind of free expression NATO defends.

Tensions with Pakistan undermined some of the choreographed unity. Pakistan has not yet agreed to end the closure of key transit routes into Afghanistan - retaliation for American airstrikes that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers months ago - and the issue hung over the summit.

Obama had no official talks with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, although the two chatted briefly. Obama spoke of progress on the standoff but he added: "I don't want to paper over real challenges there. There's no doubt that there have been tensions."

On Afghanistan, led by Obama, the partners are in essence staying the course. They stuck with a timeline long established and underscored that there will be no second-guessing the decision about when to leave.

Since 2010, they have been planning to finish the war at the end of 2014, even as moves by nations such as France to pull combat troops out early have tested the strength of the coalition. The shift to have Afghan forces take the lead of the combat mission next year has also been expected. Leaders presented it as a significant turning point in the war.

It will be "the moment when throughout Afghanistan people can look out and see their own troops and police stepping up to the challenge," said the NATO chief, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

What the world is poised to leave behind is an Afghanistan still riddled with poverty, corruption and political instability.

Yet, out of money and patience, the U.S.-led partnership said it is confident Afghanistan will be stable and prepared enough to at least be able to protect itself - and, in turn, prevent its territory from becoming a launching pad for international terrorism.

Questioned about what will happen if Afghanistan eventually falls apart, Obama signaled there is no turning back. "I think that the timetable that we've established is a sound one, it is a responsible one. Are there risks involved in it? Absolutely."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the leaders were "making a decisive and enduring commitment to the long-term future of Afghanistan. The message to the Afghan people is that we will not desert them. And the message to the insurgency is equally clear: You cannot win on the battlefield. You should stop fighting and start talking."

The political stakes are high for the U.S. president, who will go before voters in November with tens of thousands more troops in Afghanistan than when we took office. His emphasis will remain that he is methodically winding down the war after closing out the one in Iraq; U.S. voters desperate for better economic times have long stopped approving of the war mission.

NATO said it will keep providing "long-term political and practical support" to Afghanistan after 2014 but added: "This will not be a combat mission."

Despite the size of the coalition, the war remains a United States-dominated effort.

The U.S. has 90,000 of the 130,000 foreign forces in the war. Obama has pledged to shrink that to 68,000 by the end of September but has offered no details on the withdrawal pace after that, other than to say it will be gradual.

The fighting alliance called negotiation the key to ending the insurgency in Afghanistan, but avoided mentioning the Taliban by name. The insurgents walked away from U.S.-led talks in March, and urged the NATO nations to follow the lead of France in pledging to remove combat forces ahead of schedule.

The alliance agreed on a fundraising goal to underwrite the Afghan armed forces after the international fighting forces depart.

The force of about 230,000 would cost about $4.1 billion annually - the bulk of it paid by the United States and countries that have not been part of the fighting force.

U.S. and British officials said during the summit that pledges total about $1 billion a year so far and that fundraising is on track to make up the rest. French President Francois Hollande said the U.S. had requested a little less than $200 million but was non-committal, saying France was "not bound by what Germany or other countries might do."

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Friday, May 04, 2012

Breast cancer is rare in men, but they fare worse

breast cancer
A surgery scar is seen on breast cancer survivor Robert Kaitz's left breast
CHICAGO (AP) -- Men rarely get breast cancer, but those who do often don't survive as long as women, largely because they don't even realize they can get it and are slow to recognize the warning signs, researchers say.

On average, women with breast cancer lived two years longer than men in the biggest study yet of the disease in males.

The study found that men's breast tumors were larger at diagnosis, more advanced and more likely to have spread to other parts of the body. Men were also diagnosed later in life; in the study, they were 63 on average, versus 59 for women.

Many men have no idea that they can get breast cancer, and some doctors are in the dark, too, dismissing symptoms that would be an automatic red flag in women, said study leader Dr. Jon Greif, a breast cancer surgeon in Oakland, Calif.

The American Cancer Society estimates 1 in 1,000 men will get breast cancer, versus 1 in 8 women. By comparison, 1 in 6 men will get prostate cancer, the most common cancer in men.

"It's not really been on the radar screen to think about breast cancer in men," said Dr. David Winchester, a breast cancer surgeon in NorthShore University HealthSystem in suburban Chicago who was not involved in the study. Winchester treats only a few men with breast cancer each year, compared with at least 100 women.

The researchers analyzed 10 years of national data on breast cancer cases, from 1998 to 2007. A total of 13,457 male patients diagnosed during those years were included, versus 1.4 million women. The database contains about 75 percent of all U.S. breast cancer cases.

The men who were studied lived an average of about eight years after being diagnosed, compared with more than 10 years for women. The study doesn't indicate whether patients died of breast cancer or something else.

Greif prepared a summary of his study for presentation Friday at a meeting of American Society of Breast Surgeons in Phoenix.

Dr. Akkamma Ravi, a breast cancer specialist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, said the research bolsters results in smaller studies and may help raise awareness. Because the disease is so rare in men, research is pretty scant, and doctors are left to treat it the same way they manage the disease in women, she said.

Some doctors said one finding in the study suggests men's breast tumors might be biologically different from women's: Men with early-stage disease had worse survival rates than women with early-stage cancer. But men's older age at diagnosis also might explain that result, Greif said.

The causes of breast cancer in men are not well-studied, but some of the same things that increase women's chances for developing it also affect men, including older age, cancer-linked gene mutations, a family history of the disease, and heavy drinking.

There are no formal guidelines for detecting breast cancer in men. The American Cancer Society says routine, across-the-board screening of men is unlikely to be beneficial because the disease is so rare.

For men at high risk because of a strong family history or genetic mutations, mammograms and breast exams may be helpful, but men should discuss this with their doctors, the group says.

Men's breast cancer usually shows up as a lump under or near a nipple. Nipple discharge and breasts that are misshapen or don't match are also possible signs that should be checked out.

Tom More, 67, of Custer, Wash., was showering when he felt a pea-size lump last year near his right nipple. Because a golfing buddy had breast cancer, More didn't put off seeing his doctor. The doctor told More that he was his first male breast cancer patient.

Robert Kaitz, a computer business owner in Severna Park, Md., thought the small growth under his left nipple was just a harmless cyst, like ones that had been removed from his back. By the time he had it checked out in 2006, almost two years later, the lump had started to hurt.

The diagnosis was a shock.

"I had no idea in the world that men could even get breast cancer," Kaitz said. He had a mastectomy, and 25 nearby lymph nodes were removed, some with cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation followed.

Tests showed Kaitz, 52, had a BRCA genetic mutation that has been linked to breast and ovarian cancer in women. He may have gotten the mutation from his mother, who is also a breast cancer survivor. It has also been linked to prostate cancer, which Kaitz was treated for in 2009.

A powerboater and motorcycle buff, Kaitz jokes about being a man with a woman's disease but said he is not embarrassed and doesn't mind showing his breast surgery scar.

The one thing he couldn't tolerate was tamoxifen, a hormone treatment commonly used to help prevent breast cancer from returning in women. It can cause menopausal symptoms, so he stopped taking it.

"It killed me. I tell you what - night sweats, hot flashes, mood swings, depression. I'd be sitting in front of the TV watching a drama and the tears wouldn't stop pouring," he said.

Doctors sometimes prescribe antidepressants or other medication to control those symptoms.

Now Kaitz gets mammograms every year. Men need to know that "we're not immune," he said. "We have the same plumbing."

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Thursday, May 03, 2012

15 million of world's babies are born prematurely

beautiful babies photos
A mother carrying her unnamed twin baby, 11 days old, in a Care center
WASHINGTON (AP) -- About 15 million premature babies are born every year - more than 1 in 10 of the world's births and a bigger problem than previously believed, according to the first country-by-country estimates of this obstetric epidemic.

The startling toll: 1.1 million of these fragile newborns die as a result, and even those who survive can suffer lifelong disabilities.

Most of the world's preemies are born in Africa and Asia, says the report released Wednesday.

It's a problem for the U.S., too, where half a million babies are born too soon. That's about 1 in 8 U.S. births, a higher rate than in Europe, Canada, Australia or Japan - and even worse than rates in a number of less developed countries, too, the report found.

But the starkest difference between rich and poorer countries: Survival.

"Being born too soon is an unrecognized killer," said Dr. Joy Lawn of Save the Children, who co-authored the report with the March of Dimes, World Health Organization and a coalition of international health experts. "And it's unrecognized in the countries where you could have a massive effect in reducing these deaths."

Sophisticated and expensive intensive care saves the majority of preterm babies in the U.S. and other developed nations, even the tiniest, most premature ones. The risk of death from prematurity is at least 12 times higher for an African newborn than for a European baby, the report found.

Globally, prematurity is not only the leading killer of newborns but the second-leading cause of death in children under 5.

"These facts should be a call to action," United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote in an introduction to the report.

Three-quarters of the deaths could be prevented by spreading some simple, inexpensive treatments to the neediest countries, the report concludes. For example, providing $1 steroid shots during preterm labor hastens development of immature fetal lungs. They're standard in developed countries; wider use in low-income countries could save nearly 400,000 babies a year.

Even more lives could be saved by teaching "kangaroo care," in which moms carry their tiny babies nestled skin-to-skin on their bare chests for warmth when there are no incubators.

"To see babies who are 900 grams (about 2 pounds) survive without any technology, it's fantastic," says Lawn, who has watched kangaroo care save lives in countries like Malawi, with the highest preterm birth rate - 18.1 percent.

Also needed: Antibiotics to fight the infections that often kill newborns, and antiseptic cream to prevent umbilical cord infection.

Survival isn't the only hurdle. No one knows how many preemies suffer disabilities including cerebral palsy, blindness or learning disorders.

That's why preventing preterm births in the first place is the ultimate goal, one reason for comparing countries - to learn why some do better and some worse. Previously, the groups had estimated that 13 million babies were born prematurely each year, based on regional data.

About 12 percent of U.S. births are preterm, about the same as Wednesday's report estimates in Thailand, Turkey and Somalia. In contrast, just 5.9 percent of births in Japan and Sweden are premature.

Experts can't fully explain why the U.S. preemie rate is so much worse than similar high-income countries. But part of the reason must be poorer access to prenatal care for uninsured U.S. women, especially minority mothers-to-be, said March of Dimes epidemiologist Christopher Howson. African-American women are nearly twice as likely as white women to receive late or no prenatal care, and they have higher rates of preterm birth as well, he said.

More disturbing, the report ranks the U.S. with a worse preterm birth rate than 58 of the 65 countries that best track the problem, including much of Latin America. Add dozens of poor countries where the counts are less certain, and the report estimates that 127 other nations may have lower rates.

Whatever the precise numbers, "we have a shared problem among all countries and we need a shared solution," Howson said.

One key: Not just early prenatal care but more preconception care, he said. Given that in the U.S. alone, nearly half of pregnancies are unplanned, health providers should use any encounter with a woman of childbearing age to check for factors that could imperil a pregnancy.

"Ensure that mom goes into her pregnancy as healthy as possible," Howson said.

Scientists don't know what causes all preterm birth, and having one preemie greatly increases the risk for another. But among the risk factors:

-Diabetes, high blood pressure, infections and smoking.

-Being underweight or overweight, and spacing pregnancies less than two years apart.

-Pregnancy before age 17 or over 40.

-Carrying twins or more.

-In wealthier countries, early elective inductions and C-sections.

"A healthy baby is worth the wait," Howson said, noting that being even a few weeks early can increase the risk of respiratory problems, jaundice, even death.

The WHO defines a preterm birth as before completion of the 37th week of pregnancy. Most preemies fall in the "late preterm" category, born between 32 and 37 weeks. Extreme preemies are born before 28 weeks. So-called "very preterm" babies fall in between.

Lawn's biggest frustration is how often later preemies die in low-income countries because even the health providers may not know simple steps that might save them - and the fatalism around those deaths.

"If you're in the States and have a preterm baby now, even at 25 weeks you've got a 50 percent chance of survival and people expect that. Whereas in Ghana, if a baby's born 2 months early, people kind of expect the baby to die," she said.

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U.S.: West Point putting bin Laden's last words online

Osama bin Laden
Undated file photo shows al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The world will soon be able to read the last words of Osama bin Laden as he struggled to command the attention of his far-flung terror network.

A selection of documents seized in last year's raid on bin Laden's house in Pakistan will be posted online Thursday by the Army's Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy.

The correspondence shows a leader revered but sometimes ignored by field commanders, who dismissed him as out of touch even as he urged them to keep attacking U.S. targets.

White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan said this week that bin Laden's own words confirm that America is safer with him gone.

Brennan says bin Laden wrote of his worries that his leaders were being killed so quickly the group would not survive.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Junior Seau found dead at California home, U.S.

Junior Seau found dead at California
Luisa Seau, mother of Junior Seau (inset), grieves in the driveway of the home
OCEANSIDE, Calif. (AP) -- Junior Seau, a homegrown superstar who was the fist-pumping, emotional leader of the San Diego Chargers for 13 years, was found shot to death at his home Wednesday morning in what police said appeared to be a suicide. He was 43.

Police Chief Frank McCoy said Seau's girlfriend reported finding him unconscious with a gunshot wound to the chest and lifesaving efforts were unsuccessful. A gun was found near him, McCoy said. Police said no suicide note was found and they didn't immediately know who the gun was registered to.

Seau's death in Oceanside, in northern San Diego County, stunned the region he represented with almost reckless abandon. The same intensity that got the star linebacker ejected for fighting in his first exhibition game helped carry the Chargers to their only Super Bowl, following the 1994 season. A ferocious tackler, he'd leap up, pump a fist and kick out a leg after dropping a ball carrier or quarterback.

"It's a sad thing. It's hard to understand," said Bobby Beathard, who as Chargers general manager took Seau out of Southern California with the fifth pick overall in the 1990 draft. "He was really just a great guy. If you drew up a player you'd love to have the opportunity to draft and have on the team and as a teammate, Junior and Rodney (Harrison), they'd be the kind of guys you'd like to have."

Quarterback Stan Humphries recalled that Seau did everything at the same speed, whether it was practicing, lifting weights or harassing John Elway.

"The intensity, the smile, the infectious attitude, it carried over to all the other guys," said Humphries, who was shocked that Seau is now the eighth player from the '94 Super Bowl team to die.

Seau's mother appeared before reporters outside the former player's house, weeping uncontrollably.

"I don't understand ... I'm shocked," Luisa Seau cried out.

Her son gave no indication of a problem when she spoke to him by phone earlier this week, she said.

"He's joking to me, he called me a `homegirl,'" she said.

Seau's death follows the suicide last year of former Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson, who also shot himself in the chest.

In October 2010, Seau survived a 100-foot plunge down a seaside cliff in his SUV, hours after he was arrested for investigation of domestic violence at the Oceanside home he shared with his girlfriend. The woman had told authorities that Seau assaulted her during an argument.

There was no evidence of drugs or alcohol involved in the crash and Seau told authorities he fell asleep while driving. He sustained minor injuries.

"I just can't imagine this, because I've never seen Junior in a down frame of mind," Beathard said. "He was always so upbeat and he would keep people up. He practiced the way he played. He made practice fun. He was a coach's dream. He was an amazing guy as well as a player and a person. This is hard to believe."

Seau's ex-wife, Gina, told the Union-Tribune San Diego that he texted her and each of their three children separate messages: "I love you."

Seau, who played in the NFL for parts of 20 seasons, is the eighth member of San Diego's lone Super Bowl team who has died, all before the age of 45. Lew Bush, Shawn Lee, David Griggs, Rodney Culver, Doug Miller, Curtis Whitley and Chris Mims are the others. Causes of death ranged from heart attacks to a plane crash to a lightning strike.

Seau's also is among a few recent, unexpected deaths of NFL veterans.

Duerson's family has filed a wrongful death suit against the NFL, claiming the league didn't do enough to prevent or treat concussions that severely damaged Duerson's brain before he died in in February 2011.

Former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who had joined in a concussion-related lawsuit against the league - one of dozens filed in the last year - died last month at age 62. His wife has said he suffered from depression and dementia after taking years of hits.

Seau is not known to have been a plaintiff in the concussion litigation.

However, his ex-wife told The Associated Press that Seau sustained concussions during his career.

"Of course he had. He always bounced back and kept on playing," she said. "He's a warrior. That didn't stop him. I don't know what football player hasn't. It's not ballet. It's part of the game."

Gina Seau said she didn't know if the effects of concussions contributed to Seau's death.

"We have no clues whatsoever. We're as stunned and shocked as anyone else. We're horribly saddened. We miss him and we'll always love him."

When Humphries joined the Chargers in a 1992 trade, he said it was obvious Seau was "the person who had the most energy, the most excited, the guy who tried to rally everybody." Humphries said Seau "brought out a lot of youngness" in older players.

He also helped younger players.

"So sad to hear about Jr Seau," tweeted New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who was with San Diego from 2001-05. "Junebug. Buddy. The greatest teammate a young guy could ask for. This is a sad day. He will be missed greatly."

Seau called many of those around him "Buddy." He often referred to teammates as "my players."

Seau was voted to a Chargers-record 12 straight Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro six times.

"We all lost a friend today," Chargers President Dean Spanos said in a statement. "This is just such a tragic loss. One of the worst things I could ever imagine."

Seau's greatest game may have been in the 17-13 victory at Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game in January 1995 that sent the Chargers to the Super Bowl. Playing through the pain of a pinched nerve in his neck, he spread out his 16 tackles from the first play to the second-to-last. San Diego was routed 49-26 in the Super Bowl by San Francisco.

Humphries also recalled Seau recovering Elway's fumble to seal a come-from-behind victory in the 1994 opener at Denver.

Seau left the Chargers after the 2002 season when the team unceremoniously told him he was free to pursue a trade. He held a farewell news conference at the restaurant he owned in Mission Valley, and later was traded to Miami.

Seau retired a few times, the first in August 2006, when he said, "I'm not retiring. I am graduating."

Four days later, he signed with the New England Patriots. He was with the Patriots when they lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl following the 2007 season, which ended New England's quest for a perfect season.

Last fall, finally retired for good, Seau was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame.

His last season was 2009.

"Twenty years, to be part of this kind of fraternity, to be able to go out and play the game that you love, and all the lessons and the friends and acquaintances which you meet along the way, you can't be in a better arena," Seau said in August.

The Patriots issued a statement expressing grief over Seau's death. "This is a sad day for the entire Patriots organization, our coaches and his many Patriots teammates," the statement said.

More than 100 people gathered outside of Seau's home, only hours after he was found dead. Families showed up with flowers and fans wearing Chargers jerseys waited to get news.

Several hours after Seau was found, his body was loaded onto a medical examiner's van and taken away as fans snapped pictures and raised their hands in the air as if in prayer.

Family friend Priscilla Sanga said about 50 friends and family members gathered in the garage where Seau's body lay on a gurney and they had the opportunity to say goodbye.

"Everybody got to see Junior before they took him away," Sanga said. "He looked so peaceful and cold. It was disbelief. We all touched him and kissed him."

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U.S. and Europe: Bad news about jobs spooks markets

U.S. and Europe: Bad news about jobs
Trader Christopher Morie works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange
NEW YORK (AP) -- Investors are homing in on bad news about jobs in the U.S. and Europe.

Stocks are down at midday, erasing the hope generated the day before about a brisk May for the market.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 48 points to 13,230 in midday trading Wednesday. The day before it closed at the highest point in four years.

The Standard & Poor's 500 fell seven points to 1,398. The Nasdaq composite index was down four at 3,045.

An unemployment report underscored worries about Europe's debt crisis. The 17 countries that use the euro reported that unemployment rose to 10.9 percent in March, the highest since 1999.

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Taliban kill 7 in Afghan capital after Obama visit

Taliban kill 7 in Afghan
A French soldier part of the NATO forces walks on debris
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The Taliban struck back less than two hours after President Barack Obama left Afghanistan on Wednesday, targeting a foreigners' housing compound with a suicide car bomb and militants disguised as women in an assault that killed at least seven people.

It was the second major assault in Kabul in less than three weeks and highlighted the Taliban's continued ability to strike in the heavily guarded capital even when security had been tightened for Obama's visit and Wednesday's anniversary of the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in neighboring Pakistan.

Obama arrived at Bagram Air Field late Tuesday, then traveled to Kabul by helicopter for a meeting with President Hamid Karzai in which they signed an agreement governing the U.S. presence after combat troops withdraw in 2014. Later, back at the base, he was surrounded by U.S. troops, shaking every hand. He then gave a speech broadcast to Americans back home, before ending his lightning visit just before 4:30 a.m.

The U.S. president, who is in the midst of a re-election campaign, touted the Navy SEAL raid that killed bin Laden a year ago Wednesday, noting that the operation was launched from a base in Afghanistan.

He also said that "the tide has turned" over the last three years.

"We broke the Taliban's momentum. We've built strong Afghan security forces. We devastated al-Qaida's leadership, taking out over 20 of their top 30 leaders," he said.

But the violence that erupted about 90 minutes after his departure was a stark reminder of the difficult task still ahead for Afghan troops as they work to secure their country after U.S. and other foreign troops end their combat mission following nearly a decade at war.

The deal signed with Karzai does not commit the United States to any specific troop presence or spending. But it does allow the U.S. to potentially keep troops in Afghanistan through 2024 for two specific purposes: continued training of Afghan forces and targeted operations against al-Qaida.

The United States also promises to seek money from Congress every year to support Afghanistan.

The attack began with a suicide car bomb near the gate of the privately guarded compound, which sits off Jalalabad road - one of the main thoroughfares out of the city, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said.

Kabul Deputy Police Chief Daoud Amin said those killed in the blast included four people in a station wagon that was driving past the area, a passer-by and a Nepalese security guard. He didn't have the identity of the seventh person killed. The Interior Ministry said 17 other people were wounded, most Afghan children on their way to school.

A local witness said a separate group of attackers disguised in burqas - the head-to-toe robes worn by conservative Afghan women - then tried to storm the compound.

"A vehicle stopped here and six people wearing burqas entered the alley carrying black bags in their hands. When they entered the alley, there was an explosion," said Abdul Manan.

Explosions and gunfire shook the city for hours as Afghan soldiers rushed to the scene and battled the attackers.

A Western official who had been briefed on the assault said the attackers had breached the perimeter defense, around the compound's parking areas, but had not gotten past a secondary security gate that protects the actual living areas. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

The area appeared to have calmed down by about 10 a.m. NATO said all the attackers had been killed. It did not give a number, but the Taliban said it had deployed four fighters as it claimed responsibility for the attack.

The compound, which is known as Green Village, houses hundreds of international contractors, diplomats and aid workers in eastern Kabul. It also was the target of anti-foreigner protests following the burning of Qurans at a U.S. base in February. At that time, violent protests raged outside, but the angry crowds did not breach the compound's defenses.

The compound's main gate was destroyed, with the wreckage of the suicide bomber's car sitting in front, and the road running past it was littered with shoes, books, school supplies and the bloody ID card of a student from a nearby school.

A young man who saw the explosion said the dead pedestrian was one of his fellow classmates.

"I was walking to school when I saw a very big explosion. A car exploded and flames went very high into the air," said 21-year-old Mohammad Wali. "Then I saw a body of one of my classmates lying on the street. I knew it was a suicide attack and ran away. I was so afraid."

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.

"This was a message to Obama that those are not real Afghans that are signing documents about this country," Mujahid said. "The real Afghan nation are those people that are not letting foreign invaders stay in this country or disrespect the dignity of our country."

He said the target of Wednesday's attack was a "foreign military base." A spokesman for the alliance, Capt. Justin Brockhoff, said no NATO bases came under attack.

The Green Village complex, with its towering blast walls and heavily armed security force, is very similar in appearance to NATO bases in the city. An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw a group of Afghan soldiers enter the compound, after which heavy shooting could be heard coming from inside.

Elsewhere, NATO said that two coalition service members were killed Wednesday in a bomb blast in the country's east. The alliance did not give the nationality of the troops or provide other details.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

US President Barack Obama sees 'new day' 1 year after bin Laden raid

U.S. President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama delivers a speech from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- On a swift, secretive trip to the war zone, President Barack Obama declared Tuesday night that after years of sacrifice the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan is winding down just as it has already ended in Iraq. "We can see the light of a new day," he said on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death and in the midst of his own re-election campaign.

"Our goal is to destroy al-Qaida, and we are on a path to do exactly that," Obama said in an unusual speech to America broadcast from an air base halfway around the world.

He spoke after signing an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to cover the decade after the planned final withdrawal of U.S. combat troops in 2014. Obama said American forces will be involved in counter-terrorism and training of the Afghan military, "but we will not build permanent bases in this country, nor will we be patrolling its cities and mountains."

In a blunt reminder of Afghanistan's fragile security situation, a series of explosions and gunfire erupted in Kabul just hours after Obama left, killing at least six people. The attacks occurred near a private armed compound that houses hundreds of international workers. One of the blasts was a suicide car bomb, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

The president landed in Bagram in darkness, and his helicopter roared to Kabul for the meeting with Karzai, under close guard with only the outlines of the nearby mountains visible. Later, back at the base, he was surrounded by U.S. troops, shaking every hand. He ended his lightning visit with the speech delivered straight to the television camera - and the voters he was trying to reach back home.

Two armored troop carriers served as a backdrop, rather than the customary Oval Office tableau.

His Republican re-election foe, Mitt Romney, was in New York, where the destruction of the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, set in motion the decisions that led to the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Romney accused Obama of politicizing the fleeting national unity that came with the death of bin Laden, the 9/11 terror mastermind.

In a statement released by his campaign later, Romney said he was pleased that Obama had returned to Afghanistan, that the troops and the American people deserved to hear from the president what is at stake in the war. "Success in Afghanistan is vital to our nation's security," he said.

At the air base, Obama said, "This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end. ... With faith in each other, and our eyes fixed on the future, let us finish the work at hand and forge a just and lasting peace."

Earlier, he delivered a similarly upbeat message to the troops. Noting their sacrifice, he said, "There's a light on the horizon."

It was Obama's fourth trip to Afghanistan, his third as commander in chief. He was less than seven hours on the ground in all. He also visited troops at a hospital at the Bagram base, awarding 10 Purple Hearts.

According to the Pentagon, more than 1,800 American troops have been killed across more than a decade of war in Afghanistan.

Some 88,000 remain stationed there.

The wars here and in Iraq combined have cost almost $1.3 trillion. And recent polls show that up to 60 percent of Americans oppose the continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

In his speech to the nation, Obama said, "I recognize many Americans are tired of war."

He said that last year, "we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue at a steady pace, with more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country."

Without mentioning the political campaign back home, Obama claimed that on his watch the fortunes of the terrorists have suffered mightily.

Over the past three years "the tide has turned. We broke the Taliban's momentum. We've built strong Afghan security forces. We devastated al-Qaida's leadership, taking out over 20 of their top 30 leaders," he said.

"And one year ago, from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin laden."

In a reference to the destruction of New York's World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, he added, "As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it is time to renew America ... a united America of grit and resilience, where sunlight glistens off soaring new towers in downtown Manhattan, and we build our future as one people, as one nation."

He spoke for less than 15 minutes, beginning at 4 a.m. in Afghanistan, 7:30 p.m. on the East Coast of the United States. Minutes later, Air Force One was on its way back to Washington.

Obama flew to the site of America's longest war not only as commander in chief but also as an incumbent president in the early stages of a tough re-election campaign. Nor were the two roles completely distinct.

His presence was a reminder that since taking office in 2009, Obama has ended the war in Iraq and moved to create an orderly end for the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan.

In the political realm, he and Vice President Joe Biden have marked the one-year anniversary of bin Laden's death by questioning whether Republican challenge Romney would have ordered the daring raid that penetrated the terrorist leader's Pakistan hide-out. Republicans are accusing the president of trying for political gain from the event, and Romney is insisting that he would indeed have ordered U.S. forces into action.

The deal signed with Karzai does not commit the United States to any specific troop presence or spending. But it does allow the U.S. to potentially keep troops in Afghanistan after the war ends for two specific purposes: continued training of Afghan forces and targeted operations against al-Qaida. The terror group is present in neighboring Pakistan but has only a nominal presence inside Afghanistan.

Obama said the agreement was meant in part to pay tribute to the U.S. troops who have died in Afghanistan since the war began. He also underlined his message to Afghans.

"With this agreement I am confident that the Afghan people will understand that the United States will stand by them," he said.

Karzai said his countrymen "will never forget" the help of U.S. forces over the past decade. He said the partnership agreement shows the United States and Afghanistan will continue to fight terrorism together. The United States promises to seek money from Congress every year to support Afghanistan.

To the troops, he readily conceded continued hardship.

"I know the battle's not yet over," he said. "Some of your buddies are going to get injured. And some of your buddies may get killed. And there's going to be heartbreak and pain and difficulty ahead." He added that his administration is committed to ensuring that once the war is over, veterans will be given their due.

Officials have previously said as many as 20,000 U.S. troops may remain after the combat mission ends, but that still must still be negotiated.

The president's Tuesday night address was coming exactly one year after special forces, on his order, began the raid that led to the killing of bin Laden in Pakistan.

Since then, ties between the United States and Afghanistan have been tested anew by the burning of Muslim holy books at a U.S. base and the massacre of 17 civilians, including children, allegedly by an American soldier.

Obama had gone twice before to Afghanistan as president, most recently in December 2010, and once to Iraq in 2009. All such trips, no matter how carefully planned, carry the weight and the risks of considerable security challenges. Just last month, the Taliban began near-simultaneous assaults on embassies, government buildings and NATO bases in Kabul.

Besides the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, there are 40,000 in coalition forces from other nations.

News by AP

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chrysler, Hyundai, VW pull into auto sales fast lane

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(Reuters) - Automakers Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE), Chrysler and Hyundai (005380.KS) pulled away from rivals on Thursday, unveiling strong sales and profits driven by growth in the Americas and Asia.

Carmakers that rely heavily on European sales, by contrast, are struggling with cut-throat price competition in a dwindling market as government budget cuts, weak wages growth and rising unemployment depress consumers' spending power.

Robust sales in North America helped U.S. maker Chrysler Group LLC, managed by majority owner Fiat Spa (FIA.MI), to post its best quarterly profit since its 2009 bankruptcy.

Chrysler's auto sales rose 33 percent in the quarter, led by its home U.S. market, where it gained market share on a first-quarter sales jump of 36 percent. Quarterly profit jumped to $473 million from $116 million a year ago.

"Another positive quarter - built on sales gains that have surpassed the industry average - is affirmation that the Chrysler team is maintaining its focus," said Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of both Chrysler and Italy's Fiat.

Fiat's European business is expected to post a loss, as the region's debt crisis takes its toll. It releases consolidated Fiat-Chrysler results later in the day.

Korean automaker Hyundai Motor's (005380.KS) quarterly net profit rose almost a third, driven by growth in the United States and China.


Even in sickly Europe, Hyundai bucked the trend, as modestly priced compact cars including its revamped i30 model and long warranties fared better with cost-conscious drivers.

The automaker, which with its affiliate Kia Motors (000270.KS) is the world's fifth-largest, managed a double-digit percentage sales increase in Europe in the first quarter, even as the wider market shrank 8 percent. It has also benefited from free trade deals with Europe and the United States.

"There are few risks for Hyundai's strong growth momentum," said Kang Sun-sik, a fund manager at Woori Asset Management, which holds Hyundai stock. "Its overall sales remain strong globally thanks to improving brand and quality; the won is trading relatively cheap, and its key rivals, especially Japanese, continue to struggle.

Germany's Volkswagen posted a surprise 10 percent gain in operating profit for the first quarter.

Europe's biggest carmaker stood by its goal to increase vehicle deliveries beyond last year's record 8.3 million vehicles, relying on expanding markets in the United States, Russia and Latin America.

A day earlier, French maker PSA Peugeot Citroen (PEUP.PA) forecast a tough second quarter on sagging demand in its core domestic and southern European markets, while Renault said (RENA.PA) its first quarter sales dipped 8.6 percent.

Car sales in Europe fell for a sixth straight month in March, with a 6.6 percent decline, data from industry association ACEA showed earlier this month.

Increases in the German and British markets were not enough to offset declines in France and Italy.

News by Reuters

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