AP News in Brief

AP News
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Posted: Feb 25, 2011 6:14 AM
AP News in Brief

Wis. Assembly passes bill taking away union rights, sends measure to Senate

MADISON, Wis. (AP) _ Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly took the first significant action on their plan to strip collective bargaining rights from most public workers, abruptly passing the measure early Friday morning before sleep-deprived Democrats realized what was happening.

The vote ended three straight days of punishing debate in the Assembly. But the political standoff over the bill _ and the monumental protests at the state Capitol against it _ appear far from over.

The Assembly's vote sent the bill on to the Senate, but minority Democrats in that house have fled to Illinois to prevent a vote. No one knows when they will return from hiding. Republicans who control the chamber sent state troopers out looking for them at their homes on Thursday, but they turned up nothing.

"I applaud the Democrats in the Assembly for earnestly debating this bill and urge their counterparts in the state Senate to return to work and do the same," Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, said in a statement issued moments after the vote.

The plan from Republican Gov. Scott Walker contains a number of provisions he says are designed to fill the state's $137 million deficit and lay the groundwork for fixing a projected $3.6 billion shortfall in the upcoming 2011-13 budget.

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Anti-Gadhafi forces call for new push to oust leader in Libya amid international condemnation

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) _ Libyans braced for mass protests Friday as the rebel movement called for a new push to oust Moammar Gadhafi after a day of fierce fighting in which rebels made new gains and advanced closer to his stronghold in Tripoli while pro-government forces attacked two nearby cities in battles that killed at least 17 people.

International momentum also has been building for action to punish Gadhafi's regime for the bloodshed.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said Friday that the bloc needs to consider sanctions such as travel restrictions and an asset freeze against Libya to achieve a halt to the violence there and move toward democracy.

NATO's main decision-making body also planned to meet in emergency session Friday to consider the deteriorating situation, although Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said the alliance has no intention of intervening in the North African nation.

The U.N.'s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, meanwhile, said there are reports of mass killings of thousands in Libya that should spur the international community to "step in vigorously" to end the crackdown against anti-government protesters.

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5 killed as Iraqis protest in 'Day of Rage' anti-government rallies across country

BAGHDAD (AP) _ Iraqi security forces trying to disperse crowds of demonstrators in northern Iraq killed 5 people Friday as thousands rallied in cities across the country during what has been billed as the "Day of Rage."

The Iraqi capital was virtually locked down, with soldiers deployed en masse across central Baghdad, searching protesters trying to enter Liberation Square and closing off the plaza and side streets with razor wire. The heavy security presence reflected the concern of Iraqi officials that demonstrations here could gain traction as they did in Egypt and Tunisia, then spiral out of control.

Iraqi army helicopters buzzed overhead, while Humvees and trucks took up posts throughout the square, where a group of about 2,000 flag-waving demonstrators shouted "No to unemployment," and "No to the liar al-Maliki," referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The protests stretched from the northern city of Mosul to the southern city of Basra, reflecting the widespread anger many Iraqis feel at the government's seeming inability to improve their lives.

A crowd of angry marchers in the northern city of Hawija, 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Baghdad, tried to break into the city's municipal building, said the head of the local city council, Ali Hussein Salih. That prompted security forces to fire into the air.

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American working for CIA appears in Pakistani court, insists he's immune from murder charges

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) _ An American CIA employee accused of murdering two Pakistanis appeared handcuffed in a Pakistani court on Friday, where he refused to sign a charge sheet after claiming diplomatic immunity, officials said.

The detention of Raymond Allen Davis has severely frayed ties between the U.S. and Pakistan, whose counterterrorism alliance is considered a crucial part of ending the war in Afghanistan.

Washington insists Davis is immune from prosecution because he is listed as a U.S. Embassy staff member. It says Davis shot two Pakistanis in self-defense when they tried to rob him in late January in the eastern city of Lahore.

Pakistani officials, wary of a backlash in a population rife with anti-American sentiment, have declined to confirm whether Davis has diplomatic immunity, saying the matter is up to the courts.

During Friday's hearing, which was held in a Lahore jail and closed to the public, prosecutors tried to present the handcuffed Davis with a charge sheet.

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CBS, Warner pull plug on 'Two and a Half Men' season after startling Sheen remarks

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ "Two and a Half Men" star Charlie Sheen has skirted disaster as a wayward, middle-aged party boy who regularly tested the patience of the TV network and studio trying to protect their valuable sitcom property.

It was a violence-tinged and anti-Semitic radio rant that helped push him over the edge and, finally, forced CBS and Warner Bros. Television to take action.

In a one-sentence joint statement Thursday, the companies said they were ending production on television's No. 1 sitcom for the season, a decision based on the "totality of Charlie Sheen's statements, conduct and condition."

Whether he's gone far enough to sink the series and, possibly, his career as one of TV's highest-paid actors remained unclear. Sheen's rambling interview Thursday with host Alex Jones was reminiscent of Mel Gibson's tirade during a 2006 traffic stop _ but Sheen knew his remarks were public.

The production halt leaves CBS eight episodes shy of the 24 half-hours it had expected to air as the cornerstone of its Monday night comedy lineup. And it makes the network and Warner, which reaps hundreds of millions from the show in syndication, the potential go-betweens between Sheen and "Two and a Half Men" executive producer Chuck Lorre.

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As more consumers become concerned by genetically modified foods, they find they're everywhere

WASHINGTON (AP) _ You may not want to eat genetically engineered foods. Chances are, you are eating them anyway.

Genetically modified plants grown from seeds engineered in labs now provide much of the food we eat. Most corn, soybean and cotton crops grown in the United States have been genetically modified to resist pesticides or insects, and corn and soy are common food ingredients.

The Agriculture Department has approved three more genetically engineered crops in the past month, and the Food and Drug Administration could approve fast-growing genetically modified salmon for human consumption this year.

Agribusiness and the seed companies say their products help boost crop production, lower prices at the grocery store and feed the world, particularly in developing countries. The FDA and USDA say the engineered foods they've approved are safe _ so safe, they don't even need to be labeled as such _ and can't be significantly distinguished from conventional varieties.

Organic food companies, chefs and consumer groups have stepped up their efforts _ so far, unsuccessfully _ to get the government to exercise more oversight of engineered foods, arguing the seeds are floating from field to field and contaminating pure crops. The groups have been bolstered by a growing network of consumers who are wary of processed and modified foods.

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Discovery chasing space station, survey up next to check for any damage from final launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ Space shuttle Discovery is chasing the International Space Station after lifting off for its final mission.

The six astronauts will spend Friday surveying their ship for signs of launch damage. Several pieces of foam insulation broke off Discovery's fuel tank. But NASA says it happened late enough in Thursday's launch to pose no safety concern. All the same, commander Steven Lindsey and his crew will use a 100-foot boom to inspect the vulnerable wings and nose.

Discovery _ NASA's most traveled spaceship _ will reach the orbiting lab Saturday. The shuttle is carrying a load of supplies and the first humanoid robot to fly in space.

Following its 11-day mission, Discovery will be retired and sent to a museum.

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Sheriff: Bodies of 3 missing Ky. Amish children who were swept away found; 4th sought

MAYFIELD, Ky. (AP) _ Authorities found the bodies of three Amish children early Friday who were swept away in a creek swollen by heavy rains in southwestern Kentucky and continued searching for another child.

A married couple along with seven children were trying to cross the creek Thursday on a roadway in their horse-drawn buggy when it overturned knocking them into the water, Graves County Sheriff Dewayne Redmon said. The couple and three of the children escaped but four other children under age 12 were swept away.

The bodies of three of the children _ including a 6-month-old _ were found Friday around 12:30 a.m., Redmon said. Authorities continued searching for the fourth child, an 11-year-old girl, he said.

About 75 to 100 law enforcers, firefighters and volunteers were taking part in the search Friday, Redmon said. Some were walking along the creek and others took to the water in boats.

Torrential rains drenched parts of Kentucky and other states Thursday night. The rural area is about 25 miles south of Paducah.

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New Zealand woman marries just days after being rescued from quake-damaged office

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) _ In a bright moment amid the misery of New Zealand's earthquake, a woman rescued from the quake zone has gone forward days later with her planned wedding.

Emma Howard was rescued Tuesday after her office block collapsed in the 6.3-magnitude earthquake in Christchurch.

On Friday, she went ahead with her marriage to Chris Greenslade. When she was trapped, Howard managed to contact Greenslade on her cell phone and get him to direct rescuers to where she was.

The couple didn't speak to reporters at the ceremony Friday, but Howard told Radio New Zealand on Tuesday that going ahead with the wedding was a sign the disaster could not break people's spirit.

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The health of Shaq may hold key to success of the trio of deals by Boston

DENVER (AP) _ The Boston Celtics unloaded lots of big men at the NBA trading deadline and the key to making sure the moves pay off rests with the biggest guy who's still left _ Shaquille O'Neal.

"If Shaq plays great, then this deal was obviously really, really good for us," coach Doc Rivers said of O'Neal, who's dealing with a sore Achilles' tendon. "That's on Shaq. Getting Shaq in great shape, getting him ready, getting him healthy is really going to be important for us."

Already atop the Eastern Conference, the Celtics made three deals Thursday.

In addition to sending Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and a future first-round pick, Boston also traded Luke Harangody and Semih Erden to Cleveland, and dealt Marquis Daniels to Sacramento, for draft picks.

"The bottom line is we'll see," Rivers said before a game Thursday night with Denver, another team that reshuffled its roster by sending Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the New York Knicks earlier in the week.