Insurgent attack forces closure of Iraq's largest oil refinery; 1 guard killed
BAGHDAD (AP) _ Gunmen attacked Iraq's largest oil refinery Saturday, killing a guard and detonating bombs that sparked a fire and forced the facility to shut down, officials said.
The assailants, carrying pistols fitted with silencers, broke into the Beiji refinery around 3:30 a.m., attacked the guards and planted bombs near some production units for benzene and kerosene, said the spokesman for Salahuddin province, Mohammed al-Asi.
One guard was killed and another wounded, al-Asi said.
By midmorning, firefighters were still trying to extinguish the blaze, said Iraqi Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad, adding that an investigation will be launched. "We hope that work will be resumed in a short period of time," Jihad told The Associated Press, but did not give a date.
The Beiji refinery has two sections. The attackers targeted the installation's North Refinery that handles 150,000 barrels a day. The second section, the Salahuddin Refinery, is under renovation. It used to process 70,000 barrels per day.
Residents of Libyan capital say Gadhafi is arming civilians to control city, quash dissent
SANAA, Yemen (AP) _ Powerful tribal chiefs in Yemen have joined opposition forces demanding the ouster of the country's longtime president in a new sign the embattled leader might be losing his grip on the impoverished, conflict-ridden country.
The defection is a blow to President Ali Abdullah Saleh especially because two of the chiefs abandoning him are from his own tribe, the Hashid, the second largest tribal federation in Yemen.
The two Hashid leaders said in a statement Saturday that they and other tribal leaders support the protests that began two weeks ago and condemn the government's crackdown. The leaders, Hussein al-Ahmar and Mohammad Abdel Illah al-Qadi, also said they have quit the president's ruling party.
Saleh has ruled for 32 years.
Strong US shift against Libya: Sanctions, condemnations after US citizens evacuated
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Dramatically sharpening its stance against Moammar Gadhafi's brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters, the Obama administration is freezing all assets in the United States held by the Libyan government, Gadhafi and four of his children and abandoning the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.
The shift in tactics after a week of caution came immediately after the U.S. ensured that Americans were safely on their way out of the blood-soaked North African country by air and by sea.
"By any measure, Moammar Gadhafi's government has violated international norms and common decency and must be held accountable," President Barack Obama said in a statement Friday night announcing the sanctions, which he said were designed to target Gadhafi's government and protect the assets of Libya's people from being looted by the regime. They struck directly at Gadhafi's family, which is believed to have amassed great wealth during his 42 years in control of the oil-rich North African nation.
The president condemned "the Libyan government's continued violation of human rights, brutalization of its people and outrageous threats."
The administration faced increasing pressure to join more forcefully in an international chorus of condemnation against Gadhafi, who has unleashed a frenzy of killing against a determined rebellion intent on ending his rule. Militiamen loyal to the strongman have been roaming the streets of Tripoli shooting at will, killing hundreds or thousands, even as an increasingly desperate Gadhafi has lost hold of major portions of the country to rebel control.
Discovery arriving Saturday at space station: 12 humans and 1 humanoid robot will be united
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ Space shuttle Discovery is closing in on the International Space Station for the final time.
Discovery and its crew of six will pull up to the orbiting lab Saturday afternoon. They will spend at least a week there, unloading a compartment full of supplies and the first humanoid robot to fly in space.
Altogether, there will be 12 people aboard the linked spacecraft, representing the United States, Russia and Italy.
This is Discovery's final voyage. The shuttle is the first in the fleet to be retired this year. Endeavour and then Atlantis will close out the 30-year shuttle program by midsummer.
Before docking, Discovery will perform a backflip so space station cameras can capture any signs of launch damage.
With deadline approaching, Congress moves toward compromise to fend off government shutdown
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Lawmakers appear to be moving closer to a compromise that would prevent a government shutdown, at least for now.
Democrats say they're encouraged by efforts to narrow the gap on possible spending cuts, but warn against Republican efforts to force their position on Congress.
House Republicans on Friday detailed a proposal to slash $4 billion in federal spending as part of legislation to keep the government operating for two weeks past a March 4 deadline. They urged Senate Democrats to accept their approach and avoid a government shutdown.
The GOP plan, to be debated on the House floor next Tuesday, includes some $1.24 billion in savings, mainly from programs that President Barack Obama had proposed cutting in the fiscal 2012 budget, and the termination of some $2.7 billion in earmarks, or special projects, that are part of this year's budget.
With only a week remaining before federal spending authority runs out, both parties have sought to preemptively blame the other if a shutdown does occur. Democrats who control the Senate have rejected as draconian a bill passed by the House last week that would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 while carrying out $61 billion in spending cuts.
Irish exit poll shows opposition Fine Gael leading but short of a majority
DUBLIN (AP) _ The opposition Fine Gael party was poised to lead Ireland's next government, according to an exit poll released Saturday, a historic political upheaval after a real estate collapse brought the country to the edge of bankruptcy.
The exit poll from national broadcaster RTE showed Fine Gael with 36.1 percent of the first-preference votes, a figure that would put them in power but not capture a majority of seats in the Dail, the lower house of parliament. The poll was released an hour before the actual counting of ballots from Friday's national election began.
Irish voters punished the governing Fianna Fail party, angry over 13 percent unemployment, tax hikes, wage cuts and a humiliating bailout that Ireland had to accept from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
The exit poll showed Fianna Fail sinking to a shocking 15.1 percent support. In elections going back to 1932, it had never won less than 39 percent.
No rest for the grief-stricken, Giffords' congressional staff busier than ever since shootings
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) _ With Rep. Gabrielle Giffords recuperating in a Houston hospital, not voting in Congress or making appearances, you might think that her Tucson office would be quieter these days. You would be wrong.
The office has been bustling with all sorts of activity in the weeks since she was shot as staffers proudly carry out the type of constituent work that has been a hallmark of Giffords' time in Congress, whether it's explaining Social Security benefits to senior citizens or helping out voters facing foreclosure. Her staff is also responding to the thousands of notes of condolences that have poured in from all over the country since the shooting.
Immediately after the Jan. 8 shootings, communications director C.J. Karamargin wondered whether they should open the office the following Monday. He polled the staff, and the vote was unanimous.
"We're here to do a job," he says. "We're here to serve people, and no act of violence would deter us. People look at this office as not just as sort of a small little outpost of the federal government, but as an outpost of our representative form of government. ... It's like, we HAVE to do this."
Despite being shot twice, Pam Simon couldn't stay away from the office any longer. She returned to work this week to find her desk festooned with balloons and streamers. A box containing a new computer awaited her.
Grim prognosis for Christchurch downtown as New Zealand quake toll rises to 145 dead
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) _ New Zealand's premier said the Christchurch quake may be the country's worst disaster ever, as officials raised the toll Saturday to 145 dead and more than 200 missing while giving a grim prognosis for the city's downtown.
Engineers and planners said the city's decimated central area may be completely unusable for months to come and that at least a third of the buildings must be razed and rebuilt after last Tuesday's 6.3-magnitude quake.
On the outer edge of the central district, Brent Smith watched in tears as workers demolished the 1850s-era building where he lived and ran a bed and breakfast and where antique jugs and a $6,000 Victorian bed were reduced to shards and firewood.
His three daughters hugged him, also weeping.
"You don't know whether to laugh or cry, but I've been doing more of the latter," Smith said.
Gwyneth Paltrow, Celine Dion, Mandy Moore, 64 kids rock the Kodak at Oscar's music rehearsals
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The Kodak Theatre was rocking as Gwyneth Paltrow, Mandy Moore, Celine Dion and other musicians ran through the numbers they'll perform on Sunday's Academy Awards.
Moore dueted with Zachary Levi on "I See the Light," the nominated song from Disney's "Tangled," as composer and eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken backed them on piano. Paltrow continued to show her musical side, singing "Coming Home" from her recent film "Country Strong." Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman and indie rocker Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine performed a haunting rendition of "If I Rise" from "127 Hours." Dion sang "Smile" as the In Memoriam packaged played on a big screen above her.
But an energetic group of 10-year-olds stole the show from all those stars.
The 64 fifth graders who make up the chorus at New York's Public School 22 in Staten Island arrived at the Kodak Theatre Friday to rehearse their performance of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." They'd flown in earlier that morning, many of them on their first-ever airplane trip. Wearing green or blue T-shirts that declared them to be an alto or soprano, they filled the theater with elementary-school enthusiasm.
"Justin Timberlake, oh my God!" one girl said when she saw the star's seat-saving placard. "When I'm up there, my eyes will be right here."
Down to 8, big hitters face each other as Kaymer keeps climbing to the top
MARANA, Ariz. (AP) _ The Match Play Championship enters its longest day and Martin Kaymer welcomes it.
One day after he was forced to go 20 holes to get out of the second round, Kaymer had to rally on the back nine Friday against Hunter Mahan before closing him out on the 17th hole. That put Kaymer in the quarterfinals, and more than a World Golf Championship at stake.
Because of cold weather expected on the final day, the schedule has been altered to play the quarterfinals on Saturday morning, followed immediately by the semifinals.
"Hopefully, it's going to be a long day, that I can play two matches," Kaymer said.
Next up for Kaymer is Miguel Angel Jimenez, the 47-year-old Spaniard and oldest player in the field. If the German can win, he would face the winner of the slugfest between big hitters J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson.