AP News in Brief

AP News
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Posted: Nov 20, 2009 6:11 PM

Three Democratic moderates to decide fate of health bill _ for now _ in crucial Saturday vote

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Suitably opaque, Section 2006 takes up only a few dozen lines in a sweeping health care bill that runs to 2,074 pages and mentions neither Sen. Mary Landrieu nor her state of Louisiana.

But the section's purpose is indisputable: to deliver $100 million or more in federal funds to the state. And in the process clear the way for one of three moderate Democratic fence-sitters _ Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas are the others _ to help propel the legislation past its initial hurdle in a crucial Saturday vote.

Nelson, Landrieu and Lincoln emerged several days ago as the last public holdouts among 58 Democrats and two independents whose votes Majority Leader Harry Reid and the White House must have to overcome the Republicans' attempt to strangle the bill before serious debate can begin.

Each has moved carefully with an eye on home-state voters. And inside the Senate, each has taken advantage of the political leverage newly available.

Alone among the three, Nelson issued a statement Friday ending any lingering public suspense about his intentions. "The Senate should start trying to fix a health care system that costs too much and delivers too little for Nebraskans," he said, adding his decision should not be seen as an indication of how he will vote on the legislation itself.

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Police say NC man raped and killed 5-year-old girl the same day he kidnapped her

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) _ A 5-year-old North Carolina girl was raped and killed the same day she was taken from her home, according to an arrest warrant released Friday.

Shaniya Davis was sexually assaulted and asphyxiated Nov. 10, the day her mother reported her missing from the trailer park where she was staying, according to the warrant. Authorities embarked on a nearly weeklong search that ended when the girl's body was found dumped off a rural road.

Mario McNeill is charged with first-degree murder and first-degree rape of a child in the warrant, which was issued after police said they collected hair and fibers, clothes, and a straw from his 1997 Mitsubishi Galant. He was initially charged only with kidnapping.

McNeill seemed nervous as he appeared in court Friday for a brief hearing on the latest charges. He nodded his head slightly to the judge's questions but did not enter a plea. His lawyer, Allen Rogers, left the courtroom with his client and didn't speak to reporters. He also didn't return messages left at his office from The Associated Press.

The girl's mother, Antoinette Davis, is charged with filing a false police report, trafficking her daughter and child abuse involving prostitution. Her mother said she doesn't believe the charges.

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Floods batter UK's Lake District, policeman dies, hundreds rescued; Ireland also hard hit

COCKERMOUTH, England (AP) _ Raging floods engulfed northern England's picturesque Lake District on Friday following the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in Britain, killing a police officer and trapping dozens in their swamped homes.

Military helicopters winched dozens of people to safety and emergency workers in bright orange inflatable boats rescued scores more after an unprecedented deluge.

British soldiers conducted house-to-house searches for those trapped by floods as deep as 8 feet (2.5 meters). Troops also dropped down on lines from Royal Air Force helicopters, breaking through rooftops to pluck people to safety.

Constable Bill Barker, 44, died as he joined rescue attempts, swept into the surging waters when a major bridge collapsed. Emergency services said more than 200 people were rescued in the hardest-hit town, Cockermouth and about 1,000 homes were flooded.

In a message to local officials, Queen Elizabeth II said she was "deeply concerned and saddened by the dreadful flooding across Britain." British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Barker "was a very heroic, very brave man."

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US prosecutors to drop manslaughter case against Blackwater guard in deadly '07 Iraq shooting

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Justice Department intends to drop manslaughter and weapons charges against one of the Blackwater Worldwide security guards involved in a deadly 2007 Baghdad shooting, prosecutors said in court documents Friday.

The shooting in busy Nisoor Square left 17 Iraqis dead and inflamed anti-American sentiment abroad. It touched off a string of investigations that ultimately led the State Department to cancel the company's lucrative contract to guard diplomats in Iraq.

Iraqis have said they're watching closely to see how the U.S. judicial system handles the five men accused of unleashing an unprovoked attack on civilians with machine guns and grenades.

A one-paragraph notice filed Friday says only that prosecutors have asked that the case against Nicholas Slatten of Sparta, Tenn., be dropped. The government's detailed request asking the judge to dismiss the case was filed with the court and with the defendant, but was not made public.

Prosecutors filed the request in a way that allows them to file new charges against Slatten later. There is no indication in the documents whether they intend to. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said Friday he could not say whether new charges would be filed.

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CDC: 4 people in NC test positive for Tamiflu-resistant swine flu, first such US cluster

ATLANTA (AP) _ Four North Carolina patients at a single hospital tested positive for a type of swine flu that is resistant to Tamiflu, health officials said Friday.

The cases reported at Duke University Medical Center over six weeks make up the biggest cluster seen so far in the U.S.

Tamiflu _ made by Switzerland's Roche Group _ is one of two flu medicines that help against swine flu, and health officials have been closely watching for signs that the virus is mutating, making the drugs ineffective.

More than 50 resistant cases have been reported in the world since April, including 21 in the U.S. Almost all in the U.S. were isolated, said officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The BBC reported another cluster of five Tamiflu-resistant cases this week in Wales, in the United Kingdom.

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Florence museum: lost Galileo relics, a tooth and 2 of astronomer's fingers, found again

ROME (AP) _ Two fingers and a tooth removed from Galileo Galilei's corpse in a Florentine basilica in the 18th century and given up for lost have been found again and will soon be put on display, an Italian museum director said Friday.

Three fingers, a vertebra and a tooth were removed from the astronomer's body by admirers in 1737, 95 years after his death, as his corpse was being moved from a storage place to a monumental tomb _ opposite that of Michelangelo, in Santa Croce Basilica in Florence.

One of the fingers was recovered soon afterward and is now part of the collection of the Museum of the History of Science, in Florence. The vertebra has been kept at the University of Padua, where Galileo taught for years.

But the tooth and two fingers from the scientist's right hand _ the thumb and middle finger _ were kept by one of the admirers, an Italian marquis, and later enclosed in a container that was passed on from generation to generation in the same family, Paolo Galluzzi, the museum's director, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

"But with time, the generations lost knowledge of what was actually inside the container," and the family sold it, Galluzzi said. By 1905, all traces of the relics had disappeared, "leading scholars to hypothesize that these singular specimens had been definitely lost," the museum said in a statement.

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Vatican researcher says faint writing on Shroud of Turin proves its authenticity

ROME (AP) _ A Vatican researcher has rekindled the age-old debate over the Shroud of Turin, saying that faint writing on the linen proves it was the burial cloth of Jesus.

Experts say the historian may be reading too much into the markings, and they stand by carbon-dating that points to the shroud being a medieval forgery.

Barbara Frale, a researcher at the Vatican archives, says in a new book that she used computer-enhanced images of the shroud to decipher faintly written words in Greek, Latin and Aramaic scattered across the cloth.

She asserts that the words include the name "(J)esu(s) Nazarene" _ or Jesus of Nazareth _ in Greek. That, she said, proves the text could not be of medieval origin because no Christian at the time, even a forger, would have mentioned Jesus without referring to his divinity. Failing to do so would risk being branded a heretic.

"Even someone intent on forging a relic would have had all the reasons to place the signs of divinity on this object," Frale said Friday. "Had we found 'Christ' or the 'Son of God' we could have considered it a hoax, or a devotional inscription."

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Oprah Winfrey says prayer, careful thought influenced decision to end her show after 25 years

CHICAGO (AP) _ Holding back tears, Oprah Winfrey told her studio audience Friday that she would end her show in 2011 after a quarter-century on the air, saying prayer and careful thought led her to her decision.

Winfrey told the audience that she loved "The Oprah Winfrey Show," that it had been her life and that she knew when it was time to say goodbye. "Twenty-five years feels right in my bones and feels right in my spirit," she said.

Winfrey talked about being nervous when the program began in 1986 and thanked audiences who had invited her into their homes and lives over the past two decades.

"I certainly never could have imagined the yellow brick road of blessings that have led me to this moment," she said.

The powerhouse show became the foundation for her multibillion-dollar media empire but saw its ratings slip 7 percent last season before rebounding in the last couple months. Winfrey, 55, is widely expected to start up a new talk show on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, a much-delayed 50-50 joint venture with Discovery Communications Inc. that is projected to debut in January 2011. OWN is to replace the Discovery Health Channel and will debut in some 80 million homes.

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Stocks slip as investors push into safe-haven investments; Dell weighs on technology stocks

NEW YORK (AP) _ Investors can't shake their fears that the economy isn't keeping up with the stock market.

Stocks fell for a third straight day Friday as a disappointing outlook from computer maker Dell Inc. suggested that an economic recovery could be uneven. The major indexes all had moderate losses, leaving the Dow Jones industrials with a slim 0.5 percent weekly gain while broader indexes slid.

The market, which has been shuttling between concerns about the economy and traders' need to find high-yielding investments, is back to worrying about the economy. Demand for safe haven investments like Treasurys and the dollar rose for a second day in response to Dell's outlook and comments from European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet, who said the ECB plans to start reining in some of its stimulus programs. A rising dollar also hit commodities producers and exporters.

The week's trading saw investors, who have been pumping money into stocks because record-low interest rates mean paltry returns for the dollar and Treasurys, change that strategy. Many are now questioning whether the massive stock rally this year really has been justified given the soft spots in the economy, and so they've been quick to retreat to safe harbors like government debt and the greenback.

The yield on the three-month T-bill, which moves opposite its price, was flat at 0.02 percent, compared with late Thursday. Yields briefly turned negative Thursday as investors seeking to pad their portfolios with safe investments before the end of the year were willing to accept negative returns.

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Ex-NBA star Williams won't enter plea Friday in shooting; hearing delayed over travel issues

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ Retired NBA star Jayson Williams will not be in a New Jersey courtroom Friday to enter a plea in the 2002 shooting death of a hired driver.

State Superior Court Judge Edward M. Coleman indefinitely delayed a hearing in Somerville in which Williams was expected to plead guilty. A person with direct knowledge of the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a gag order imposed by Coleman, told The Associated Press that the delay was partly because of travel problems Williams experienced getting to New Jersey from his home in South Carolina.

Another person with knowledge of the case told the AP on Thursday that Williams would plead guilty to aggravated assault. The person wasn't authorized to talk about the case and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A guilty plea to the assault charge would carry a minimum 18-month sentence because a gun was involved.

Williams was acquitted of aggravated manslaughter in 2004 but convicted of covering up the shooting at his central New Jersey mansion. The jury deadlocked on a reckless manslaughter count. He has been awaiting a second trial for reckless manslaughter, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.