AP News in Brief

AP News
Posted: Jun 18, 2011 6:01 AM
AP News in Brief

Syrian troops backed by tanks take over village near Turkish border

BEIRUT (AP) _ An activist group says Syrian troops backed by tanks and firing heavy machine guns have entered a village near the Turkish border.

The Local Coordination Committees, a group that documents anti-government protests, says troops backed by six tanks entered Bdama early Saturday. The village is about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the Turkish border.

On Friday, Syrian forces swept into Maaret al-Numan, a town on the highway linking Damascus, the capital, with Syria's largest city, Aleppo.

Bdama is adjacent to Jisr al-Shughour, a town that was spinning out of government control before the military recaptured it last Sunday.

Human rights activists say more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed in the three-month uprising against President Bashar Assad.


United Airlines says `network connectivity issue' caused problems that grounded flights

CHICAGO (AP) _ United Airlines says a `network connectivity issue' is to blame for the problem that grounded flights nationwide.

The airline says in a statement that it's in the process of resuming normal operations on Saturday following the outage Friday night.

United said flight operations will be affected throughout the weekend.

The problem lasted for about five hours on Friday night, and left some people scrambling to make new arrangements. Some slept in airports or found hotel rooms in cities where they were stranded.

Long lines of passengers formed at airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago.


Wildfires scorch Southwest, driven by strong winds and high temps

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) _ Firefighters are confronting strong winds and steamy weekend temperatures in their battle to keep more homes, dry forests and stretches of high desert from the flames of several wildfires throughout the Southwest.

With summer rains still weeks away, forecasters said crews would likely have little relief from the hot, windy weather that dogging them this past week. More high-wind warnings and fire weather watches were on tap for many areas through the weekend.

Along the New Mexico-Colorado border, the wind got stronger as Friday progressed, testing fire lines that had been cleared through the rugged wooded area by bulldozers. Flags at the incident command post were whipping.

In southern Arizona, the wind also helped fan the flames of two wildfires that had charred nearly 226,000 acres. One of the fires near Sierra Vista continued to push down a canyon, forcing more residents from their homes and putting others on notice that they might have to leave.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer flew over the area in Cochise County that was blackened by the Monument and Horseshoe II fires. She declared an emergency Friday, freeing up state funds to help with the firefighting efforts.


Karzai says Afghanistan, US holding peace talks with Taliban; first acknowledgment of talks

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that Afghanistan and the United States are in peace talks with Taliban fighters, in the first official acknowledgment of such negotiations to end the decade-long war.

Karzai, who is a strong proponent of such negotiations, is known to have been making peace overtures to members of the Taliban, the movement that ruled Afghanistan for five years and sheltered al-Qaida before being driven out of power in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

"In the course of this year, there have been peace talks with the Taliban and our own countrymen," Karzai said. "Peace talks have started with them already and it is going well. Foreign militaries, especially the United States of America, are going ahead with these negotiations."

Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul could not be immediately reached for comment Saturday.

Karzai said some of the Taliban emissaries that have met with members of the peace council he set up were only representing themselves, while others were speaking for the broader movement.


Giffords visits hometown of Tucson this weekend for 1st time since she was shot at event

PHOENIX (AP) _ Rep. Gabrielle Giffords lost little time after her release from the hospital in returning to her hometown, visiting Tucson for Father's Day for the first time since shortly after she was gravely wounded in a shooting rampage in January.

"We've been dreaming of this trip for some time," Giffords' astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, said in a news release Friday. "Gabby misses Tucson very much and her doctors have said that returning to her hometown could play an important role in her recovery."

Kelly said the trip "is sure to be very emotional" and hopes the news media respects their privacy.

Giffords spokesman C.J. Karamargin said the Democratic congresswoman traveled by private plane from Houston to Tucson with Kelly and one of his daughters and she'll spend Father's Day weekend with her family.

According to a Twitter posting from her staff, Giffords' plane landed in Tucson on Friday evening.


System to treat radioactive water at Japan nuke plant halted hours after full operations start

TOKYO (AP) _ A system to clean massive amounts of radioactive water at the site of Japan's nuclear disaster has been shut down hours after beginning full operations.

A spokesman for the operator of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant said Saturday that a cartridge in the system was supposed to last a few weeks, but reached its radioactivity limit within five hours.

The spokesman says Tokyo Electric Power Co. is investigating and isn't sure when it will restart the system.

Japan's earthquake and tsunami knocked out the plant's crucial cooling systems. Water is getting contaminated as it is pumped in to cool damaged reactor cores. Now some 105,000 tons of highly radioactive water have pooled across the plant, and could overflow within weeks if action is not taken.


'Barefoot Bandit' faces prison after pleading guilty in Seattle following 2-year run from law

SEATTLE (AP) _ Colton Harris-Moore gained authority-mocking, cult status as he ran from the law for two years in stolen boats, cars and planes. Now, he faces years in prison.

The young Washington state man dubbed the "Barefoot Bandit" for a cross-country his crime spree pleaded guilty Friday to seven felony charges, ranging from stealing an aircraft to possessing a firearm.

"We're here today to say that Mr. Harris-Moore's flight from justice has ended," U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said after the hearing. He will "spend a significant time in prison and will not make one dime from his crimes."

Under a plea agreement, Harris-Moore would forfeit any future earnings from movie, book, or other deals from selling his story. Earnings would be used to pay off the $1.4 million in restitution he owes to his many victims.

Harris-Moore could receive between 5 1/4 and 6 1/2 years in prison when he's sentenced in October, defense attorney John Henry Browne said.


South Korean marines fire at civilian jetliner near tense border with North Korea, no damage

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ South Korean marines fired rifles at a civilian jetliner as it was descending to land after mistaking it for a North Korean military aircraft, the airline said Saturday.

The Asiana Airlines flight carrying 119 people from the Chinese city of Chengdu was undamaged in the incident around dawn Friday, the airline said. No one on board was hurt or aware of the shooting, and the South Korean Marine Corps informed the airline of it later in the day, it said.

The incident highlights how persistent tensions between the two Koreas create the chance of dangerous miscalculation. The Korean peninsula has remained in a technical state of conflict since the Korean War ended in a truce in 1953, and a peace treaty has never been signed.

"The Marine Corps did fire, but they misidentified the plane," Asiana spokesman Jason Kim said. "The plane did not suffer any damage and it landed safely."

Two marine guards stationed on Gyodong island near the border fired rifle rounds at the flight as it approached Incheon International Airport west of Seoul, mistaking it for a North Korean military plane, Yonhap news agency reported, citing a military source it did not identify. The jet was flying out of range of the rifle fire, the report said.


Workers at NY Target store reject unionization, but union says it will press on nationwide

NEW YORK (AP) _ Workers at a Target store in New York voted against joining the country's largest retail union Friday night, but the union said it would press on and broaden its push to represent the company's workers nationwide.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500 also said it would contest the results and ask the federal government to order a new election, alleging that Target illegally intimidated workers. Target denied the union's allegations.

Both sides said the workers at Target's Valley Stream store voted 137-85 against unionization. A "yes" vote would have made the store the first of the company's 1,700 locations to bring in organized labor.

"Target did everything they could to deny these workers a chance at the American Dream," said Bruce W. Both, president of United and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500, in a statement. "However, the workers' pursuit of a better life and the ability to house and feed their families is proving more powerful. These workers are not backing down from this fight. They are demanding another election."

Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said the company acted legally.


Obama, Boehner golf outing more about relationship building than budget negotiating

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Six months in the making, a much anticipated golf game between two of the world's most powerful people will unfold on a military base whose location was a closely guarded secret as tee time approached Saturday.

The big question was not who would win or lose. Instead it was whether 18 holes of golf could possibly give President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner enough time to hash out their substantial policy differences on everything from the debt to U.S. military involvement in Libya.

Probably not. But aides to both men say the time Obama and Boehner will spend together on their first-ever golf outing could help improve a relationship that is respectful, but hardly close.

"Spending a number of hours together in that kind of environment I think can only help improve the chances of bipartisan cooperation," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

"It certainly can't hurt it _ unless someone wins really big," he added.