AP News in Brief

AP News
Posted: Apr 29, 2011 6:14 PM
AP News in Brief

Survivors pick up pieces from devastating southern twisters; at least 318 dead across 7 states

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) _ Survivors of the deadliest tornado outbreak since the Great Depression struggled to begin rebuilding their lives in the wind-wrecked landscape Friday, enduring blackouts and waiting in long lines for gas as their remaining possessions lay hidden in the rubble. President Barack Obama came to devastated Alabama to console victims whose emergency services are so badly strained that at least one town was begging for body bags.

As Obama stepped off a plane at the airport in hard-hit Tuscaloosa, rescuers and survivors combed the remains of neighborhoods pulverized by Wednesday's outbreak that killed at least 318 across seven states. In one of its first official assessments of the tornadoes' strength, the National Weather Service gave the worst possible rating to one that raked Mississippi and said it was the strongest to hit the state since 1966.

With the confirmation of more deaths by state officials, Wednesday's outbreak surpassed a deadly series of tornadoes in 1974 to become the deadliest day for twisters since 332 people died in March 1932. The storm eight decades ago was also in Alabama.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley says 1,700 people have been injured by the tornadoes that leveled communities across the state

The president's arrival drew a muted response from Tuscaloosa resident Derek Harris, who was pushing a grocery buggy down a street where virtually every home was heavily damaged. The 47-year-old and his wife hoped to use the cart to salvage a few belongings from his home.

"Hopefully he'll give us some money to start over," Harris said of Obama. "Is FEMA here? The only place I'm hearing anything is at the Red Cross center."


Syrian rights group says 42 killed nationwide Friday as thousands protest

BEIRUT (AP) _ Security forces opened fire Friday on demonstrators trying to break an army blockade on the southern city of Daraa, while thousands of others across Syria defied a protest ban and denounced President Bashar Assad's harsh crackdown on a six-week uprising. At least 42 people were killed, including 15 in the march on Daraa, according to witnesses and a human rights group.

The protesters in cities across Syria _ including the capital of Damascus _ called for Assad's ouster, with some chanting "We are not afraid!"

Human rights activist Mustafa Osso said 42 people were killed, but the death toll could rise. His human rights group, based in Syria, compiles casualty tolls from the crackdown.

A witness in Daraa _ the heart of the uprising _ said residents stayed indoors because the city has been under siege by the military since Monday, when thousands of soldiers backed by tanks and snipers stormed in. People were too afraid even to venture out to mosques for prayers, the witness said.

"We are in our houses but our hearts are in the mosques," the witness said, speaking by satellite telephone and asking that his name not be published for fear of reprisals.


Final launch of space shuttle Endeavour delayed, disappointing throngs and first family

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ The historic next-to-last space shuttle launch was scratched Friday because of mechanical problems, spoiling a visit from the president and dashing the hopes of the biggest crowd of spectators in years, including the mission commander's wounded wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

NASA hopes to try again Monday to launch space shuttle Endeavour on its final voyage.

President Barack Obama and his family visited Kennedy Space Center anyway but it was unclear whether he would still meet with the Arizona congresswoman. Giffords, who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head, has been in Cape Canaveral since Wednesday to attend her husband's launch.

Giffords hasn't been seen publicly since the Jan. 8 assassination attempt, and left her Houston rehabilitation hospital for the first time to travel to Florida. It was not immediately known whether she would stay for another try or return to Houston.

She had been expected to watch the liftoff in private _ as were the other astronaut families.


Royal history unfolds: Prince William, Kate Middleton wed as crowds pack streets of London

LONDON (AP) _ With a smile that lit up TV screens around the world, Kate Middleton married Prince William in a union that promised to revitalize the British monarchy. A million people roared their approval as the royal couple then paraded through London in an open carriage.

Even knowing that an immense television audience was tuning in to watch, the couple managed, at times, to appear in their own private world Friday, both at Westminster Abbey and on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

William whispered to Kate, who radiated contentment and joy, as they pledged their lives to one another at the church with the simple words "I will."

After a ceremonial tour around London, they then delivered two _ not one _ sweet, slightly self-conscious kisses on the balcony, with William blushing deeply at the highly anticipated event. Within moments, a flyby of vintage and modern Royal Air Force planes roared overhead.

For much of the world, the wedding was a dramatic introduction to Middleton's beguiling star power. Despite the pressure, the 29-year-old carried the day with an easy smile, youthful exuberance and a sense of decorum that matched the event.


US royal watchers wake before dawn to watch spectacle, pageantry of British royal wedding

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ With dining chairs forming makeshift pews and tacky "Royal Wedding" t-shirts in lieu of formalwear, Jen Barnette and five bleary-eyed friends settled in her living room before dawn on Friday to watch Britain's Prince William marry his longtime sweetheart, Kate Middleton.

The festivities at Barnette's Indianapolis home kicked off Thursday night, with a round of trivia _ "How much older is Cougar Catherine than William?" Answer: Five months _ and "Kate-tails," a sapphire-blue vodka concoction served in a glass with a sugared rim, to match the colors of Middleton's engagement ring.

The friends were among an estimated 2 billion people worldwide who tuned in for the spectacle and pageantry of a royal wedding, including many in the U.S. who pulled all-nighters or dragged themselves out of bed to watch.

"This is our Super Bowl," said the 24-year-old Barnette.

Some of the East Coast parties kicked off at 4 a.m., two hours before the start of the ceremony in London's Westminster Abbey.


Libyan regime forces breach border with Tunisia, outrage neighboring government

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) _ Libyan forces in more than a dozen military vehicles and armed with anti-aircraft guns and rocket launchers crossed into Tunisia on Friday as fighting with rebels raged along the western frontier, witnesses said. Tunisia's government was furious after clashes broke out on its territory and demanded Libya halt all incursions.

In another sign that Moammar Gadhafi's regime was redoubling efforts to beat back resistance in its stronghold of western Libya, NATO warships intercepted several boats laying anti-shipping mines outside the harbor of the rebel-held city of Misrata. The port is the only lifeline for the city of 300,000, which has been under siege by Gadhafi's forces for two months.

Libyan forces also fired rockets and shells at Misrata from the outskirts of town, killing at least eight people.

The fighting on the Libyan-Tunisian border, the attempted mining of the waters near Misrata and the renewed shelling signaled a new push by Gadhafi's forces to retake the two areas of fiercest rebel resistance in the west. It's unlikely Gadhafi would be able to cling to power without consolidating control over western Libya.

The rebels have largely controlled the eastern part of the country since an uprising against Gadhafi, Libya's ruler of 42 years, erupted in mid-February. They have said they will not contemplate a cease-fire before he is pushed out. ___

Consumer spending and incomes both rise in March but higher energy costs eat up gains

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Americans earned and spent more in March, but much of the extra money went to pay for gas.

Personal incomes rose 0.5 percent last month and consumer spending increased 0.6 percent, the Commerce Department reported Friday. But after adjusting for inflation, spending rose only 0.2 percent and after-tax incomes were essentially flat.

Consumer spending had been expected to post solid gains this year, helped by stronger employment growth and a 2 percentage-point cut in Social Security payroll taxes. But Americans are paying more for gas, prompting economists to scale back their growth forecasts.

The national average at the pump on Friday was $3.90 a gallon_ 31 cents higher than a month ago and more than $1 than what consumers paid a year ago.

Less growth in consumer spending was a big reason the overall economy slowed sharply in the first three months of the year. The 1.8 percent growth rate was weaker than the 3.1 percent growth in the previous quarter. Consumer spending is important because it accounts for roughly 70 percent of economic activity.


Army says evaluation board has found WikiLeaks suspect competent to stand trial

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The intelligence analyst suspected of illegally passing government secrets to the WikiLeaks website has been found competent to stand trial, the Army said Friday.

Army spokesman Gary Tallman says a panel of experts completed its medical and mental evaluation of Pfc. Bradley Manning on April 22, and informed Army officials Friday of the conclusion.

Tallman says no date has been set yet for the initial court hearing, and added that the evaluation board's findings "have no bearing on the guilt, innocence, or any potential defenses of the accused."

Manning's case is under the jurisdiction of the Army's Military District of Washington.

The Army private is suspected of obtaining hundreds of thousands of classified and sensitive documents while serving in Iraq and providing them to the website. He faces about two dozen charges, including aiding the enemy. That charge can bring the death penalty or life in prison.


Riots erupt in Uganda capital after brutal arrest of opposition leader; 2 dead, 120 wounded

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) _ Army troops and police fired live bullets at rioting demonstrators Friday, and at least two people were killed and 120 wounded in the largest anti-government protest in sub-Saharan Africa this year.

Rioters burned tires in downtown streets as security forces fired tear gas and guns, and a Red Cross spokeswoman said 15 of the wounded and been hit by live bullets. Battles between protesters and police were also reported elsewhere around the country.

The protests are the first serious demonstrations in sub-Saharan Africa since a wave of anti-government protests swept leaders in Tunisia and Egypt out of power. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for a quarter-century, has vowed repeatedly that his government will not be taken down by protests.

The breakout of violence came one day after a brutal takedown of the country's top opposition politician, Kizza Besigye. Police smashed through the window of Besigye's vehicle with the butt of a gun and doused him with tear gas at close range before bundling him into the back of a pickup truck and speeding off.

"They arrested him like a chicken thief. We cannot allow such things to continue. Museveni must go," said Brown Ndese, one of the protesters.


Appeals court overturns judge's ban, allows stem cell research to go on for now

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Opponents of taxpayer-funded embryonic stem cell research lost a key round in a federal appeals court Friday.

In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the U.S. court of appeals in Washington overturned a judge's order that would have blocked federal financing of stem cell research. The judges ruled that opponents are not likely to succeed in their lawsuit to stop the government funding.

The panel reversed an opinion issued last August by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, who said the research likely violates the law against federal funding of embryo destruction.

The White House praised the ruling. "Responsible stem cell research has the potential to treat some of our most devastating diseases and conditions and offers hope to families across the country and around the world," said spokesman Nick Papas. He said the ruling was a victory for scientists and patients.

Researchers hope one day to use stem cells in ways that cure spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease and other ailments. Opponents say the research is a form of abortion because human embryos must be destroyed to obtain the stem cells.