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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday February 7 2008 - (813)

Thursday February 7 2008 edition
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Travelers' Question Seizure Of Electronic Devices At U.S. Border
2008-02-07 03:46:25

Nabila Mango, a therapist and a U.S. citizen who has lived in the country since 1965, had just flown in from Jordan last December when, she said, she was detained at customs and her cellphone was taken from her purse. Her daughter, waiting outside San Francisco International Airport, tried repeatedly to call her during the hour and a half she was questioned. But after her phone was returned, Mango saw that records of her daughter's calls had been erased.

A few months earlier in the same airport, a tech engineer returning from a business trip to London objected when a federal agent asked him to type his password into his laptop computer. "This laptop doesn't belong to me," he remembers protesting. "It belongs to my company." Eventually, he agreed to log on and stood by as the officer copied the Web sites he had visited, said the engineer, a U.S. citizen who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of calling attention to himself.

Maria Udy, a marketing executive with a global travel management firm in Bethesda, Maryland, said her company laptop was seized by a federal agent as she was flying from Dulles International Airport to London in December 2006. Udy, a British citizen, said the agent told her he had "a security concern" with her. "I was basically given the option of handing over my laptop or not getting on that flight," she said.

The seizure of electronics at U.S. borders has prompted protests from travelers who say they now weigh the risk of traveling with sensitive or personal information on their laptops, cameras or cellphones. In some cases, companies have altered their policies to require employees to safeguard corporate secrets by clearing laptop hard drives before international travel.

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Alaska Oil, Gas Drilling Under Attack
2008-02-07 03:45:55

The U.S. Interior Department Wednesday announced $2.6 billion in winning bids from companies seeking to drill for oil and gas in Alaska's Chukchi Sea despite protests from environmental groups and members of Congress that oil and gas exploration would endanger polar bears.

Companies made 667 bids for 448 tracts in the 29 million-acre area north of Point Barrow. The winning bids included a record-breaking $105.3 million offer by Shell Oil for one three-by-three-mile leasehold, almost twice as much as the previous high bid for a single offshore U.S. tract.

"This is a tremendous opportunity, and with that comes a tremendous responsibility to Alaska and the offshore area," said Annell Bay, vice president of exploration for Shell in the Americas.

Environmental groups said, however, that they doubted the area, home to about one-tenth of the world's polar bears, could be explored without high risks of a spill and damage to the habitat of the bears and other wildlife, such as walruses and bowhead whales.

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Death Toll Of Tornadoes In South Exceeds 50
2008-02-07 03:45:16
Residents in five Southern states rose Wednesday to widespread clusters of destruction caused by an unusually ferocious winter tornado system. At least 55 people were killed, and scores more were injured.

Many had spent a harrowing Tuesday night punctuated by breaking glass and warning sirens as the tornadoes tossed trailer homes into the air, collapsed the roof of a Sears store in Memphis, Tennessee, whittled away half a Caterpillar plant near Oxford, Mississippi, and shredded dorms at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, where crews rescued nine students trapped in the rubble.

Arkansas and Tennessee were the hardest hit, with Arkansas reporting 13 dead and Tennessee 31.

Here in Atkins, Arkansas, 50 miles northwest of Little Rock, a middle-age couple and their 11-year-old daughter were killed when their house was wiped out by a direct hit, and in northwestern Alabama the bodies of another family of three were found 50 yards from the foundation of their ruined home.

In Macon County, Tennessee, a 74-year-old man whose trailer was destroyed was killed as his family waited for an ambulance to navigate debris-strewn roads.

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Ecuador's Tungurahua Volcano Erupts
2008-02-06 21:21:06
Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano shot columns of ash miles into the air on Wednesday, as officials ordered the evacuation of 3,000 villagers living near its slopes.

Some 1,000 villagers from the western flanks of the 16,575-foot volcano fled their homes for shelters at dawn, said Mauro Rodriguez, director of Civil Defense. He said 11 families who refused to leave, fearing looters, were removed by force.

"We've taken all of the precautions possible," President Rafael Correa told reporters on Wednesday, adding that a state of emergency already in place in the area will be extended for 60 days.

Juan Salazar, the mayor of the nearby village of Penipe, said 3,000 people needed to be evacuated - a figure that included the 1,000 villagers who had already fled.

Experts at Ecuador's Geophysics Institute warn that the intense activity shows no sign of slowing down, and compared it to the massive 2006 Tungurahua eruptions that buried entire villages, leaving at least four dead and thousands homeless.

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U.S. Energy Dept. Funding Two Russian Nuclear Institutes With Iranian Ties
2008-02-06 21:20:30
The U.S. Energy Department is subsidizing two Russian nuclear institutes that are building key parts of Iran’s Bushehr reactor even though the United States has spent years trying to shut it down, according to a U.S. House committee.

In a letter sent to Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman on Wednesday, Representative John Dingell, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Bart Stupak, chairman of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, say that the Energy Department has approved projects with the two institutes worth $4 million.

Dingell, in a telephone interview, pointed out that the State Department has accused Iran of using the Bushehr reactor as a cover for obtaining nuclear technologies useful in a weapons program. “We’ve got a bunch of Federal laws that impose sanctions on U.S. companies that develop Iran’s oil,” he said, adding, “Here we’ve got U.S. money providing assistance to help develop a reactor that we’re busy denouncing.”

He said the committee would also pursue whether the Energy Department was subsidizing any institutes that worked with North Korea, Syria or other countries that are developing nuclear weapons or want to.

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Confusion Clouds Guantanamo Tribunals
2008-02-06 21:19:31
The confusion of combat during an intense firefight in Afghanistan five years ago has led to conflicting testimony that is complicating the first U.S. war-crime tribunals since the World War II era.

A Canadian terror suspect, Omar Khadr, was 15 when he was captured after the 2002 firefight, in which he is accused of throwing a grenade that killed an American soldier at an al-Qaeda compound.

Khadr is accused of the murder of Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, a Special Forces commando; but the emergence this week of an unidentified witness, who said Khadr was not the only enemy fighter alive inside the compound, shows a real challenge for the new military tribunal system as it weighs evidence clouded by wartime memories.

Both the prosecution and defense blame the "fog of war" for the conflicting testimony, some of which became public only this week. While the defense says it should exonerate Khadr, the prosecution says it's only natural that soldiers would have incomplete memories of a firefight - and that the government remains confident of a conviction.

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Mining Giant Rio Tinto Rejects BHP Billinton's $150 Billion Offer
2008-02-06 21:17:01

Rio Tinto has wasted no time in rejecting the advances of BHP Billiton a second time, despite its improved £75 billion ($150 billion) offer.

After an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon, the board of Rio said the offer, at 3.4 BHP shares for every Rio share, still "significantly" undervalued the company.

Marius Kloppers, chief executive of BHP, made the firm offer on Tuesday night before a Takeover Panel deadline Wednesday afternoon. His initial 3-for-1 proposal was rejected in November.

Paul Skinner, chairman of Rio, said: "Our plans are unchanged and will remain so unless a proposal is made that fully reflects the value of Rio Tinto."

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At Least 48 Are Dead As Tornadoes Ravage Southern States
2008-02-06 14:44:23
A wide swath of thunderstorms packing tornadoes, high winds and hail swept through the South Tuesday night and Wednesday morning killing at least 48 people, injuring at least 100 more and leaving authorities searching for others who may be trapped in rubble.

The severe storms continued to move eastward on Wednesday morning, with tornado warnings posted for parts of Georgia, Alabama and northern Florida. Even if no tornadoes develop there, the storms are expected to bring pelting rains and gusting winds, said forecasters.

President Bush said Wednesday that he had called the governors of the states affected by the storms and pledged assistance from the Federal government. “Loss of life, loss of property - prayers can help and so can the government,” Mr. Bush said in brief remarks before a ceremony at the Department of Agriculture. “I do want the people in those states to know the American people are standing with them.”

Warnings had been in effect early Wednesday for Chattanooga, Tennessee, but the area appeared to have been bypassed by the worst weather. Nevertheless, Tennessee was one of the hardest hit states in the region, with 24 deaths reported.

Other states reporting fatal injuries were Arkansas, Kentucky and Alabama.

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Patients' Deaths Cut Short Part Of Diabetes Study
2008-02-06 14:43:52
An unexpected number of deaths among patients receiving intense therapy to lower their blood sugar forced the National Institutes of Health to abruptly cut short part of a major study on diabetes and heart disease.

The therapy was aimed at reducing to normal levels the blood sugar of type 2 diabetics at especially high risk of heart attack and stroke. There were 257 deaths among people receiving intense diabetes treatment, compared with 203 in the standard treatment group, said NIH's National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

More than 18 million Americans have diabetes, with type 2 the most common form.

Last fall the Food and Drug Administration added new warnings to the label of the popular diabetes drug Avandia, listing concerns about heart ailments. However, in Wednesday's announcement NHLBI officials stressed that they have been unable to link the increased deaths in the study to any drug, including Avandia.

Some 10,251 people were enrolled in the Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes study, with an average participation time of four years.

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Bush Threatens To Veto Farm Bill
2008-02-06 14:43:20
President Bush, before the swearing in of the nation's agriculture secretary, warned Wednesday that he would veto any farm bill that would raise taxes or did not include reforms of some farm programs.

Bush spoke at the Agriculture Department with former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer, who is taking charge at the agency in the midst of contentious negotiations on a $286 billion bill passed by both the House and Senate. In veto threats issued last year, administration officials argued the bill lacks reform, spends too much money and raises taxes.

''Ed is going to work with members of both parties on a bill that spends the people's money wisely, doesn't raise taxes, reforms and tightens subsidy payments - a farm bill that will benefit the entire economy,'' said Bush, restating those concerns.

''I'm confident we can come together to get a good farm bill, but if Congress sends me legislation that raises taxes or does not make needed reforms, I'm going to veto it.''

Bush nominated Schafer in October to replace former Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns, who left the agriculture post to run for the Senate. Former deputy secretary Charles Conner has served as acting secretary and has been negotiating with Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, the Democratic chairman of the committee, and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minnesota, on the bill.

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Clinton Wins 8 States, Leads In Delegates - Obama Wins 13 States
2008-02-06 03:22:45

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton won victories over Sen. Barack Obama in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York Tuesday night, giving her presidential campaign a crucial boost. Obama countered by winning of a string of states, including the general election battleground of Missouri, in the seesaw race for the Democratic nomination.

The results ensured that the fierce contest for delegates will continue into critical primaries in Texas and Ohio on March 4, and possibly beyond, in what has become the party's most competitive race in at least a quarter of a century.

Clinton claimed four of the five biggest prizes in Super Tuesday's 22-state Democratic competition. She also captured Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.Those victories helped stem what appeared to be gathering momentum around Obama's candidacy since he won in South Carolina on Jan. 26.

Yet Obama won in more places than his New York rival, racking up victories in his home state of Illinois, as well as in Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and Utah.  His narrow victory in Missouri came after Clinton appeared on the brink of winning there. Only the outcome in New Mexico remained unresolved early Wednesday morning.

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Storms Overseas Carry Contaminants To U.S.
2008-02-06 03:22:17

Seventy-five years ago, aviator Charles Lindbergh turned the controls of his pontoon plane over to his co-pilot, wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh, while flying above Iceland. He thrust a makeshift metal arm holding a sticky glass plate from the cockpit. He wanted to see if the winds high aloft the Earth were as clean as they seemed.

They were not.

Now, with NASA satellites and sampling by researchers around the world, scientists know that great billowing clouds of dust waft over the oceans in the upper atmosphere, arriving in North America from deserts in Africa and Asia. 

Researchers have also found that the dust clouds contain not only harmful minerals and industrial pollutants, but also living organisms: bacteria, fungus and viruses that may transmit diseases to humans. Some say an alarming increase in asthma in children in the Caribbean is the consequence of dust blown from Africa, and predict they will find similar connections in the Southeast and Northwest United States.

Scientists are beginning to look at these dust clouds as possible suspects in transcontinental movement of diseases such as influenza and SARS in humans, or foot-and-mouth disease in livestock. Until recently, epidemiologists had looked at people, animals and products as carriers of the diseases.

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White House Defends CIA's Use Of Waterboarding
2008-02-07 03:46:12
The White House Wedensday directly joined a debate over the use of simulated drownings to force disclosures by CIA detainees, saying the interrogation technique known as waterboarding was legal and that President Bushcould authorize the tactic in the future.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the CIA could use waterboarding with Bush's approval, which would "depend on the circumstances," including whether "an attack might be imminent." Independent legal experts have called the technique torture and said its use is barred by U.S. laws and treaties under all circumstances.

In the past, said Fratto, "every enhanced technique that has been used by the CIA for this program was brought to the Department of Justice,and they made a determination that its use under specific circumstances and with safeguards was lawful."

Fratto was pressed to comment after CIA Director Michael V. Hayden confirmed on Tuesday that the agency had used waterboarding on three al-Qaeda detainees after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Although waterboarding has been the subject of fierce congressional debate for several years, the CIA had not previously publicly confirmed its use.

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U.S. Defense Secretary Gates Hits NATO Allies' Role In Afghanistan
2008-02-07 03:45:40
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and the top U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan Wednesday  issued a blunt assessment of the alliance's shortcomings in that country, arguing that the unwillingness of some member states to risk combat casualties is threatening NATO's future and undermining the prosecution of the Afghan war.

"I worry a great deal about the alliance evolving into a two-tiered alliance, in which you have some allies willing to fight and die to protect people's security, and others who are not," Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "It puts a cloud over the future of the alliance if this is to endure and perhaps get even worse."

American and other NATO officials are sparring over force levels, missions and strategy as violence in Afghanistan has reached its highest levels since the U.S.-led invasion and overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Although coalition forces have defeated the Taliban in many tactical engagements, analysts say NATO remains in a "strategic stalemate" because of lagging reconstruction and governance efforts. The disputes have pitted Washington against its European partners in a manner rarely seen since the end of the Cold War, casting doubts on the credibility and purpose of the alliance.

Gates, who departs Thursday for a two-day meeting with NATO defense ministers in Lithuania, said he will urge European countries to loosen the "caveats" they place on their troops - rules limiting where they can be deployed or whether they can engage in battle - and to send reinforcements to Afghanistan.

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Republican Senators Block Democrats' Economic Stimulus Plan
2008-02-06 21:21:21
Republicans managed Wednesday evening to block a relatively expansive and expensive economic stimulus package  championed by Senate Democrats, who could not muster the 60 votes needed to advance their plan to a final vote.

The Senate vote was 58 to 41 on a motion to curtail debate on the package of tax rebates and business incentives, which would cost $204 billion over two years.

The program that stalled Wednesday evening was some $40 billion more than a program approved overwhelmingly by the House a week ago after President Bush, House Republicans and Speaker Nancy Pelosi reached quick agreement.

What happens next is not immediately clear. Legislation can get bottled up in the Senate, with its sometimes complicated procedural rules. On the other hand, there is intense pressure for some kind of stimulus package.

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Commentary: The Legacy Of Bush II
2008-02-06 21:20:48
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by journalist, author and columnist Robert Scheer and appeared on the edition for Tuesday, February 5, 2008. His commentary follows:

Curb your enthusiasm. Even if your favored candidate did well on Super Tuesday, ask yourself if he or she will seriously challenge the bloated military budget that President Bush has proposed for 2009. If not, military spending will rise to a level exceeding any other year since the end of World War II, and there will be precious little left over to improve education and medical research, fight poverty, protect the environment or do anything else a decent person might care about. You cannot spend well over $700 billion on “national security,” running what the White House predicts will be more than $400 billion in annual deficits for the next two years, and yet find the money to improve the quality of life on the home front.

The conventional wisdom espoused by the mass media is that Bush’s budget is a lame-duck DOA contrivance, but that assumption is wrong. The 9/11 attacks have been shamefully exploited by the military-industrial complex with bipartisan support to ramp up military expenditures beyond Cold War levels. This irrational spending spree, which accounts for more than half of all federal discretionary spending, is not likely to end with Bush’s departure. Which one of the likely winners from either party would lead the battle to cut the military budget, and where would the winner find support in Congress? Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have treated the military budget as sacrosanct with their Senate votes and their campaign rhetoric. Clinton is particularly clear on the record as favoring spending more, not less, on the military. 

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Commentary: Financing The Common Good
2008-02-06 21:20:07
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Robert B. Reich and appeared on The American Prospect's website edition for Friday, February 1, 2008. Mr. Reich is a Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at  the University of California, Berkeley, and a co-founder of The American Prospect. His commentary follows:

After three decades of government starvation of necessary resources, the next president needs to champion progressive taxation with the proceeds invested in social outlays that make for a more productive economy.

Those of us who want to reverse America's most troubling trends - widening inequality, increasing poverty, global warming, and a world grown increasingly unfriendly, to name a few - cannot simply rely on election victories. A Democrat moving into the White House in January of 2008, coupled with a Democratic majority in Congress (let's even fantasize 60 votes in the Senate) is a necessary precondition. But electoral triumphs will not be sufficient. Recall that we had both at the start of 1993, yet too little was accomplished to reverse these trends. All are worse now than they were then.

Cleaning Up the Bush Mess

A new Democratic president will face many of the same challenges Bill Clinton faced at the start of his administration - but all made worse by George W. Bush. Clinton, recall, inherited a fiscal straightjacket. At the start of 1993, the federal budget deficit was running $300 billion a year as far as the eye could see. Prior Republican administrations had sought to "starve the beast," going deep into the red by spending heavily on defense while at the same time cutting taxes.

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3 Companies Indicted Over Tainted Pet Food
2008-02-06 21:19:11
Two Chinese businesses and an American company were indicted Wednesday in the tainted pet food incidents that killed dozens of animals last year and raised worries about products made in China.

The Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Company; the Suzhou Textiles, Silk, Light Industrial Products, Arts and Crafts I/E Company, and Chemnutra Inc., of Las Vegas, Nevada, were charged in two separate but related indictments.

The United States attorney’s office in Kansas City said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had received consumer reports suggesting 1,950 cats and 2,200 dogs died after eating food contaminated with the toxic chemical melamine.

The United States attorney, John F. Wood said authorities haven’t been able to substantiate all those reports, but “as for pet deaths, we think it’s in the thousands.”

One of the indictments charges Xuzhou Anying Biologic, located in the Chinese province of Jiangsu, and Suzhou Textiles, in Suzhou, China, with 13 counts of introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce and 13 counts of introduction of misbranded food into interstate commerce.

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5th Undersea Telcom Cable Cut
2008-02-06 16:35:06
An estimated 1.7 million Internet users in the UAE have been affected by the recent undersea cable damage, an expert said yesterday, quoting recent figures published by TeleGeography, an international research Web site.

Internet data was majorly affected as it is the biggest capacity carried by the undersea cables. However, all voice calls, corporate data and video traffic were also affected.

Two du experts yesterday briefed the media on the current methods being undertaken by the telecom provider to re-route the Internet traffic to provide normalcy to the users.

Quoting TeleGeography and describing the effect the cuts had on the Internet world, Mahesh Jaishanker, executive director, Business Development and Marketing, du, said, “The submarine cable cuts in FLAG Europe-Asia cable 8.3km away from Alexandria, Egypt and SeaMeWe-4 affected at least 60 million users in India, 12 million in Pakistan, six million in Egypt and 4.7 million in Saudi Arabia.”

A total of five cables being operated by two submarine cable operators have been damaged with a fault in each.

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Intelligence Officials See 3-D Online Worlds As Spy Hubs
2008-02-06 14:44:04

U.S. intelligence officials are cautioning that popular Internet services that enable computer users to adopt cartoon-like personas in three-dimensional online spaces also are creating security vulnerabilities by opening novel ways for terrorists and criminals to move money, organize and conduct corporate espionage.

Over the last few years, "virtual worlds" such as Second Life and other role-playing games have become home to millions of computer-generated personas known as avatars. By directing their avatars, people can take on alternate personalities, socialize, explore and earn and spend money across uncharted online landscapes.

Nascent economies have sprung to life in these 3-D worlds, complete with currency, banks and shopping malls. Corporations and government agencies have opened animated virtual offices, and a growing number of organizations hold meetings where avatars gather and converse in newly minted conference centers.

Intelligence officials who have examined these systems say they're convinced that the qualities that many computer users find so attractive about virtual worlds - including anonymity, global access and the expanded ability to make financial transfers outside normal channels - have turned them into seedbeds for transnational threats.

"The virtual world is the next great frontier and in some respects is still very much a Wild West environment," said a recent paper by the government's new Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity.

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Georgia Loses Federal Case In Water Dispute
2008-02-06 14:43:34
The state of Georgia lost a major court fight in the Southern battle over water rights on Tuesday when a federal appellate-court panel said the state could not withdraw as much water as it had planned from an Atlanta-area reservoir.

The victory went to Alabama and Florida, which had contended that Georgia’s plan would siphon off water that should flow downstream to their consumers. The two states had brought the appellate suit to undo an agreement between Georgia and the Army Corps of Engineers that would have given Georgia rights to use nearly a quarter of the water in Lake Sidney Lanier, which supplies drinking water to much of northern Georgia.

In the ruling, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the agreement was void because the two parties had not first obtained Congressional approval. Under federal law, the corps must obtain such approval before making “major structural or operational” changes to the management of its federal reservoirs.

“I simply do not see how we can conclude this is not a major change,” Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote for the panel.

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At Least 22 Killed As Tornadoes Rip Through Southern U.S.
2008-02-06 03:22:57
Tornadoes across four Southern states tore through homes, ripped the roof off a shopping mall and blew apart warehouses in a rare spasm of violent winter weather that killed at least 22 people and injured dozens more.

The twisters that slammed Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky were part of a line of storms that raged across the nation's midsection at the end of a day of Super Tuesday primaries in several states. Candidates including Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee even paused their victory speeches to remember the victims.

A spectacular fire erupted at a natural gas pumping station northeast of Nashville, Tennessee, that authorities said could have been damaged by the storms, and an undetermined number of people were reported dead.

A couple and their 11-year-old daughter were killed in their home after a tornado touched down near the center of Atkins, Arkansas, a community of 3,000 along the Arkansas River in the central part of the state where authorities searched in the dark for survivors - or more victims.

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McCain Dominates Big States, But South Keeps Huckabee, West Keeps Romney In Race
2008-02-06 03:22:34
Sen. John McCain move much closer toward the Republican nomination Tuesday by capturing the biggest Super Tuesday states, including California, but failed to knock out his rivals, who deprived him of victories across Republican strongholds in the South and West.

As millions of Republicans went to the polls in 21 states, the senator from Arizona racked up hundreds of delegates on the strength of winner-take-all primaries in the Northeast and elsewhere, but his inability to win in more than half of the states voting Tuesday complicated his hopes of rallying the party behind his candidacy.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee scored a surprising sweep of his native South, while former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney picked up a number of states in the West but fell short in critical battlegrounds that would have established him as McCain's primary challenger. Huckabee and Romney vowed last night to stay in the race as it moves to Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia on Tuesday.

The multiple-front clash represented a virtual national primary as Republicans voted to choose a standard-bearer, with more states voting at once than in any other GOP nomination battle. McCain appeared poised to emerge with roughly half of the 1,191 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination, a huge one-day take after an epic, year-long fight to define the Republican Party after the George W. Bush administration is gone.

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Britain Sends Fresh Forces To Afghanistan
2008-02-06 03:21:55
A fresh British force with extra firepower is to be sent to Afghanistan as the U.S. intensifies pressure on other European allies in an increasingly urgent attempt to prevent the country from collapsing into civil war.

In what is being described as a "critical week" for NATO's role in Afghanistan, the British move, due to be announced Wednesday, shows that the British government is prepared to maintain a significant military presence there despite severe pressure on its already overstretched army.

All three regular battalions of the Parachute Regiment will provide the backbone of 16 Air Assault Brigade when it takes over in April from the existing U.K. infantry brigade based in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, said  British defense officials. It is believed to be the first time so many paras have been sent on a joint combat mission since the second world war, though the total number of U.K. troops in Afghanistan will remain at about 7,700.

They will be supplied with extra armored vehicles and new Merlin helicopters. However, pressure on the army has meant the brigade has had to scavenge troops from other regiments to fill manpower gaps. The Ministry of Defense is also expected to announce that Britain's 3 Commando Brigade will take over from 16 Air Assault Brigade in six months' time.

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