North Korea's caste system faces power of wealth

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- For more than a half-century, a mysterious caste system has shadowed the life of every North Korean. It can decide whether they will live in the gated compounds of the minuscule elite, or in mountain villages where farmers hack at rocky soil with handmade tools. It can help determine what hospital will take them if they fall sick, whether they go to college and, very often, whom they will marry.

It is called songbun. And officially, it does not exist at all.

Mississippi River drops, threatening barge traffic

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The Mississippi River level is dropping again and barge industry trade groups warned Thursday that river commerce could essentially come to a halt as early as next week in an area south of St. Louis.

Mike Petersen of the Army Corps of Engineers said ice on the northern Mississippi River is reducing the flow more than expected at the middle part of the river that is already at a low-water point unseen in decades, the result of months of drought.

The river level is now expected to get to 3 feet at the Thebes, Ill., gauge on Jan. 6, a juncture that could force new limitations. Worse still, the long-range forecast from the National Weather Service calls for the river to keep falling, reaching 2 feet on Jan. 23.

Spotify's Top 10 most streamed tracks

The following list represents the top streamed tracks on Spotify from Monday, Dec. 17, to Sunday, Dec. 23:


1. The Lumineers, "Ho Hey" (Dualtone)

2. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Wanz, "Thrift Shop" (Mackelmore)

3. Rihanna, "Diamonds" (The Island Def Jam Music Group)

4. Bruno Mars, "Locked Out of Heaven" (Atlantic Records.)

5. Ke$ha, "Die Young" (Kemosabe Records/RCA Records)

Service dog comforts kids who are victims of abuse

EVERETT, Wash. (AP) -- EVERETT - Harper is a dainty blonde with a heart for service - and chew toys.

Last month, the 2-year-old Labrador retriever started working at Dawson Place, the county's child advocacy center that serves more than 1,000 abused children a year.

Harper is a special pooch whose job is to offer kids comfort at times when they may be scared, confused and uncomfortable.

She snuggles with children who are asked to recount horrific crimes committed against them. Her coat often soaks up their tears. Harper senses when kids need to be nuzzled or when a good dog trick will chase away the hurt.

Brooklyn Nets fire head coach Avery Johnson amid season slump

General manager announces split from Johnson without naming interim coach after team loses 10 of its last 13 games

Avery Johnson was fired Thursday as coach of the Brooklyn Nets, who have struggled recently in their season of new surroundings and elevated expectations.

After a strong start to their first season in Brooklyn, the Nets have lost 10 of 13 games to fall well behind the first-place New York Knicks, the team they so badly want to compete with in their new home.

But after beating the Knicks in their first meeting on 26 November, probably the high point of Johnson's tenure, the Nets went 5-10 and frustrations have been mounting.

Hadrian's hall: archaeologists finish excavation of Roman arts centre

Arts centre discovered under one of Rome's busiest roundabouts was built in AD123 and could seat 900 people

Archaeologists who have completed the excavation of a 900-seat arts centre under one of Rome's busiest roundabouts are calling it the most important Roman discovery in 80 years.

The centre, built by the emperor Hadrian in AD123, offered three massive halls where Roman nobles flocked to hear poetry, speeches and philosophy tracts while reclining on terraced marble seating.

With the dig now completed, the terracing and the hulking brick walls of the complex, as well as stretches of the elegant grey and yellow marble flooring, are newly visible at bottom of a 5.5 metre (18ft) hole in Piazza Venezia, where police officers wearing white gloves direct chaotic traffic like orchestra conductors and where Mussolini harangued thousands of followers from his balcony.

Saving the rhino with surveillance drones

South African farmer plans to put 30 drones in the air to help combat poachers

A rhino farmer in South Africa is planning to use surveillance drones designed for the US military to combat poachers who are driving the animals towards extinction.

Clive Vivier, cofounder of the Zululand rhino reserve in KwaZulu-Natal province, said he has been granted permission by the US state department to buy the state-of-the-art Arcturus T-20 drone.

He is now seeking clearance from local civil aviation authorities to put 30 of the drones in South African skies.

Ranchers split over US border security plan

NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) -- When Dan Bell drives through his 35,000-acre cattle ranch, he speaks of the hurdles that the Border Patrol faces in his rolling green hills of oak and mesquite trees - the hours it takes to drive to some places, the wilderness areas that are generally off-limits to motorized vehicles, the environmental reviews required to extend a dirt road.

John Ladd offers a different take from his 14,000-acre spread: the Border Patrol already has more than enough roads and its beefed-up presence has flooded his land and eroded the soil.

Their differences explain why ranchers are on opposite sides of the fence over a sweeping proposal to waive environmental reviews on federal lands within 100 miles of Mexico and Canada for the sake of border security. The Border Patrol would have a free hand to build roads, camera towers, helicopter pads and living quarters without any of the outside scrutiny that can modify or even derail plans to extend its footprint.

Queen's 3D Christmas speech: monarch dons jewelled glasses to view footage

Elizabeth II to pay tribute to Team GB athletes for 'splendid summer of sport' during new-dimension yuletide staple

The Queen has enjoyed the full effect of her annual Christmas message, which will take on an extra dimension this year. Wearing 3D glasses, she watched part of the footage, to be broadcast on Christmas Day, as the final touches were made to the yuletide staple.

But these were no ordinary glasses: her spectacles have been adorned with Swarovski crystals forming a letter Q on each side, a pair she first wore during a visit to a movie training centre in Toronto, Canada, in 2010.

Somali pirates release ship and hostages after almost three years

Twenty-two sailors on board were freed after a two-week siege by maritime police, according to statement

Twenty-two sailors held hostage by Somali pirates with their ship for almost three years have been freed after a two-week siege by maritime police, the government of the breakaway Somali enclave of Puntland has said.

The crew of the Panama-flagged MV Iceberg 1, who are from the Philippines, India, Yemen, Sudan, Ghana and Pakistan, had been held for longer than any other hostages captured by pirates who prey on shipping in the region, according to the president's office of the northern Somali enclave.

Police laid siege to the vessel on 10 December near the coastal village of Gara'ad, in the region of Mudug.

Struck off MMR doctor handed award for 'lifetime achievement in quackery'

Andrew Wakefield, discredited over autism-MMR vaccine link claims, is named Good Thinking Society's Golden Duck winner

Andrew Wakefield, the doctor struck off the medical register for his discredited research that claimed to find a link between autism and the MMR vaccine, can add another honour to his list this Christmas: the inaugural Golden Duck award for lifetime achievement in quackery, set up by science writer Simon Singh.

Hurting Spaniards celebrate Christmas lottery wins

MADRID (AP) -- Winners of Spain's cherished Christmas lottery - the world's richest - celebrated Saturday in more than a dozen locations where the top lucky tickets were sold, a moment of uplift for a country enduring another brutal year of economic hardship.

The lottery sprinkled a treasure chest of (EURO)2.5 billion ($3.3 billion) in prize money around the country. Champagne corks popped and festive cheer broke out in 15 towns or cities where tickets yielding the maximum prize of (EURO)400,000 ($530,000), known as "El Gordo" ("The Fat One,)" had been bought.

A total of (EURO)520 million ($687 million) was won in the eastern Madrid suburb of Alcala de Henares alone. Among the top-prize winners were 50 former workers at metal parts factory Cametal who had formed a pool to buy tickets. Their company had filed for bankruptcy and ceased paying wages five months ago.

Iain Duncan Smith's advisers warn of consequence of benefits crackdown

Committee says withdrawing benefits for those judged unwilling to seek work risks driving claimants into 'crime or prostitution'

Iain Duncan Smith's own advisers have urged a softening of his benefits crackdown after hearing evidence that it risked pushing the poorest in society into "crime or prostitution".

The work and pensions secretary should relax the punishment he plans to mete out to unemployed people judged unwilling to seek work, they warn.

RIM loses BlackBerry subscribers for first time

TORONTO (AP) -- Research In Motion's stock plunged in after-hours trading Thursday after the BlackBerry maker said it plans to change the way it charges fees.

RIM also announced that it lost subscribers for the first time in the latest quarter, as the global number of BlackBerry users dipped to 79 million.

In a rare positive sign, the Canadian company added to its cash position during the quarter as it prepared to launch new smartphones on Jan. 30. The new devices are deemed critical to the company's survival.

NATO: Syria Fires More Scud Missiles

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces have fired more missiles inside Syria, a move Rasmussen calls an act of a "desperate regime approaching collapse."

Earlier this month, the U.S. and NATO said Assad's forces had fired Scud missiles at rebels near the northern city of Aleppo in what was believed to be the first use of the weapons against insurgents. Syrian officials denied the charge.
Syrian conflict deaths, updated Dec. 20, 2012.

UN: Syrian civil war increasingly sectarian

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Syria's civil war is increasingly turning into a sectarian conflict pitting majority Sunni rebels against government forces supported by the country's religious and ethnic minorities, a new U.N. human rights report said Thursday.

Sergio Pinheiro, who heads an independent commission investigating abuses, said the bulk of the victims of the nearly two-year war were civilians, and blamed both sides for abuses including torture and illegal executions.

Activists say about 40,000 people have died on both sides since the conflict erupted in March 2011.

Amid Newtown tragedy, scam artists creep in

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) -- The family of Noah Pozner was mourning the 6-year-old, killed in the Newtown school massacre, when outrage compounded their sorrow.

Someone they didn't know was soliciting donations in Noah's memory, claiming that they'd send any cards, packages and money collected to his parents and siblings. An official-looking website had been set up, with Noah's name as the address, even including petitions on gun control.

Noah's uncle, Alexis Haller, called on law enforcement authorities to seek out "these despicable people."

"These scammers," he said, "are stealing from the families of victims of this horrible tragedy."

Dancing cop stops holiday traffic in Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Ah, Christmas in Rhode Island. Exquisitely decorated mansions in Newport. A red nose on the giant termite that sits atop a Providence exterminator's building. And a traffic cop, doing disco and salsa moves in the middle of rush-hour traffic.

Officer Tony Lepore is as much a holiday tradition as anything else in the state that issued the first jail sentence for speeding 108 years ago. Since 1984, he has entertained drivers, pedestrians and gawkers with dance moves in downtown Providence - all while directing traffic.

"He is a Rhode Island landmark, more or less. He's an icon, he's like a little mini celebrity," says Michelle Peterson, of Warwick. She's an emergency medical technician and the mother of three boys who was introduced to the "dancing cop" years ago by her partner in their ambulance.

Party in disarray, Berlusconi wants vote delay

ROME (AP) -- Silvio Berlusconi and fellow leaders of his splintering conservative party on Tuesday pressed for a delay in Italy's national elections, now widely expected for mid-February, arguing they need more time to prepare for the campaign.

The scandal-scarred former three-time premier, who is considering running for the post again, said on a state TV talk show that the "rush toward elections" is "useless," and that party leaders need more time to draw up lists of candidates for Parliament.

Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano is expected to dissolve the legislature as soon as it passes the government's proposed austerity budget law. Premier Mario Monti has pledged to resign as soon as the law passes. Then Napolitano will announce an election date, which officials have indicated would likely be Feb. 17.

Ephraim Mirvis has been chosen as the next chief rabbi

South-African born Mirvis, will be the 11th chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the UK and the Commonwealth

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has been confirmed as the next chief rabbi, replacing Lord Sacks, who is stepping down as the leader of Britain's Orthodox Jewish community next September after 22 years.

Mirvis, who was chief rabbi of Ireland from 1984 to 1992, is the senior rabbi at the large Finchley United Synagogue in north London.

His appointment as the 11th chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the UK and the Commonwealth was unanimously approved on Monday night after an eight-month selection process.

Bird Flu Kills 4-Year-Old Boy in Indonesia

Indonesian officials say a four-year-old boy has died from bird flu, the 10th fatal case in the country this year.

The health ministry said Tuesday the boy likely contracted the H5N1 virus after playing with dead birds outside his home west of the capital, Jakarta.

Almost half the estimated 360 people worldwide who have died from avian influenza since 2003 have been in Indonesia.

Farmers worry about dairy prices as deadline nears

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- As the nation inches toward the economic "fiscal cliff," anxiety is growing in farm country about an obscure tangent of the Washington political standoff that reaches into the dairy industry and, indirectly, into the household budgets of consumers who buy milk and cheese.

Little noticed in the struggle over major looming tax increases and spending cuts is that the outcome could also affect the farm bill, on which Congress didn't complete action this year after it expired in September. Agriculture industry leaders hope the farm legislation can be added to any final fiscal package before the end of the year. But if no fiscal agreement is reached, and the farm legislation is left adrift, farmers could face the prospect of returning to an antiquated system for pricing milk that would bring big price increases for consumers.

ICC Acquits Congolese Militia Leader of War Crimes

The International Criminal Court has ruled Congolese militia leader Mathieu Ngudjolo not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with a deadly 2003 attack on a village.

Prosecutors alleged that Ngudjolo used child soldiers, directed attacks against civilians, and that combatants under his command committed murder, rape and acts of pillaging and sexual slavery.

The court in The Hague ruled Tuesday that prosecutors failed to prove Ngudjolo's connection beyond a reasonable doubt.

Preston bus station demolition approved by council

City council decides in principle to bulldoze 1969 building, saying it is cheaper to replace it than refurbish it

Preston city council has approved the demolition of its bus station, ignoring protests by campaigners who view it as a masterpiece of 20th-century design.

The council decided in principle on Tuesday to bulldoze the building, an example of British brutalist architecture, after concluding that it would be cheaper to replace it than refurbish it.

Staffers hailed as heroes after Conn. shooting

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) -- A worker who turned on the intercom, alerting others in the building that something was very wrong. A custodian who risked his life by running through the halls warning of danger. A clerk who led 18 children on their hands and knees to safety, then gave them paper and crayons to keep them calm and quiet.

Out of the ruins of families that lost a precious child, sister or mother, out of a tight-knit town roiling with grief, glows one bright spot: the stories of staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School who may have prevented further carnage through selfless actions and smart snap judgments.

District Superintendent Janet Robinson noted "incredible acts of heroism" that "ultimately saved so many lives."

Could a budget fight rattle the bond market?

NEW YORK (AP) -- On the road and in financial markets, it pays to ask somebody with a good sense of direction.

Two years ago, most of Wall Street's economists believed interest rates had bottomed out. But not Priya Misra, a top investment strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

She was one of few to argue that the sputtering U.S. economy and the European debt crisis would knock long-term interest rates to record lows in 2011.

"I was called quite crazy at that point," she says.

West Brom 0-0 West Ham

In the end this was a result neither to entirely satisfy nor to unduly irritate either side. West Brom brought their losing streak to an end – a relief after a trio of Premier League defeats – but could not get back to winning ways thanks to a determined and occasionally dogged display from West Ham.

While the Baggies could take some solace in stopping the rot, the Hammers had to settle simply for stopping their opponents. Albion dominated, particularly in the second half, yet struggled to find a way through a West Ham rearguard expertly marshalled by the outstanding James Collins. The home side managed to hit the woodwork twice but there was precious little incision.

Springsteen, Gaga join Stones; Newtown noted

NEW YORK (AP) -- Only at a Rolling Stones concert could appearances by Bruce Springsteen and Lady Gaga seem almost like afterthoughts.

Those superstars and other top acts including the Black Keys and John Mayer jammed with the Stones on Saturday night, winding down a series of concerts celebrating the 50th year of rock's most enduring band (the occasion was also marked by a pay-per-view special).

The Boss rocked out with the band on out "Tumbling Dice"; Gaga matched Mick Jagger shimmy-for-shimmy on "Gimme Shelter"; the Black Keys joined on "Who Do You Love," and John Mayer and Gary Clark Jr. showed their considerable guitar chops alongside Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood on "Goin' Down."

Chelsea's preparation for Leeds game hampered by delayed flight

• Chelsea will not now be arriving back until Monday morning
• Return flight from Japan put back due to noise restrictions

Chelsea's hopes of finding time to prepare for Wednesday's Capital One Cup quarter-final at Leeds United have been further hampered after they were forced to put back their return flight from Japan due to noise restrictions over night-time take-offs from Toyko.

The European champions had hoped to return to London immediately after Sunday's final of the Club World Cup against Corinthians, arriving back at Heathrow in the small hours of morning. However, they will now spend an extra night in Yokohama and depart at around 11am on Monday, touching down in the early afternoon, a delay that will effectively deny the squad another 12 hours' recovery time ahead of the cup tie at Elland Road.

Unauthorized anti-Putin rally draws thousands

MOSCOW (AP) -- Thousands of opposition supporters gathered Saturday outside the old KGB headquarters in central Moscow to mark a year of mass protests against Vladimir Putin and his government.

The turnout was far smaller than the tens of thousands who filled Moscow streets in protests that erupted after fraud-plagued parliamentary elections last December. But unlike most of those protests, Saturday's gathering was not authorized and those who came risked arrest and heavy fines.

Soon after Putin returned to the presidency in May, Russia passed a law raising the fine for participating in unauthorized rallies to the equivalent of $9,000, nearly the average annual salary.

Obama Signs Russia Trade and Human Rights Bill

U.S. President Barack Obama signed legislation Friday that normalizes trade relations with Russia, while imposing sanctions on Russian officials accused of violating human rights.

The U.S. Senate passed the bill last week, about three weeks after it cleared the House of Representatives. The bill combines two separate measures into one. The first part lifts trade restrictions on Russia dating back to the Cold War era. It also normalizes trade with Moldova. The second part denies visas and freezes the U.S. bank assets of suspected Russian rights violators.

The bill is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian anti-corruption lawyer who died in jail in 2009 after exposing what he called a criminal ring of officials who stole $250 million in tax money. The legislation is designed to target Russian officials involved in Magnitsky's detention, abuse or death.

Brother of Conn. gunman wrongly cited as shooter

Not long after Friday's shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school, media outlets began reporting the gunman's identity as 24-year-old Ryan Lanza of Hoboken, N.J.

His name and image quickly spread worldwide as the perpetrator of the nation's second-deadliest school shooting. Facebook and Twitter lit up as people vented their fury at the man they believed was responsible.

In reality, Ryan Lanza was at work in New York City when the gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., some 60 miles away, and a law enforcement official later identified his 20-year-old brother, Adam Lanza, as the culprit.

Cheaper gas lowers US consumer prices 0.3 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A steep fall in gas costs pushed down a measure of U.S. consumer prices last month, keeping inflation mild.

The seasonally adjusted consumer price index dropped 0.3 percent in November from October, the Labor Department said Friday. Gas prices fell 7.4 percent, the biggest drop in nearly four years. That offset a 0.2 percent rise in food prices.

In the past year, consumer prices have risen 1.8 percent, down from October's 12-month increase of 2.2 percent.

Pentagon to send missiles, 400 troops to Turkey

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (AP) -- The U.S. will send two batteries of Patriot missiles and 400 troops to Turkey as part of a NATO force meant to protect Turkish territory from potential Syrian missile attack, the Pentagon said Friday.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed a deployment order en route to Turkey from Afghanistan calling for 400 U.S. soldiers to operate two batteries of Patriots at undisclosed locations in Turkey, Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters flying with Panetta.

Official: Family has identified Rivera remains

MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) -- The remains of Mexican-American music star Jenni Rivera were headed back to the United States after being identified by her family, state officials said Thursday.

The Nuevo Leon state government announced that it had released the remains. State security spokesman Jorge Domene said earlier in the day that Rivera's family had made a positive identification but there would a delay of several days while DNA tests were completed. The government did not immediately explain the discrepancy.

Officials also said that two state police officers had been arrested on suspicion of stealing unspecified items from the scene of the plane crash that killed Rivera Sunday.

Karzai says he'll meet with Obama in Washington

KABUL (AP) -- President Hamid Karzai said Thursday he will meet President Barack Obama in Washington next month to discuss a postwar U.S. role in his country, whose fragile security was highlighted hours earlier by a suicide bombing that killed one U.S. troop and two Afghan civilians.

At a news conference with visiting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Karzai said he and Obama will discuss how many U.S. troops will remain after the Western combat mission ends in December 2014. He said he understands that immunity from Afghan laws for those remaining Americans is of "immense importance" to Washington, but he added that he has his own priorities in negotiating a postwar U.S. role.

Election over, administration unleashes new rules

WASHINGTON (AP) -- While the "fiscal cliff" of looming tax increases and spending cuts dominates political conversation in Washington, some Republicans and business groups see signs of a "regulatory cliff" that they say could be just as damaging to the economy.

For months, federal agencies and the White House have sidetracked dozens of major regulations that cover everything from power plant pollution to workplace safety to a crackdown on Wall Street.

The rules had been largely put on hold during the presidential campaign as the White House sought to quiet Republican charges that President Barack Obama was an overzealous regulator who is killing U.S. jobs.

Sawyer interviews women senators, to air Jan. 3

NEW YORK (AP) -- With a record-breaking 20 female senators elected to serve in the next Congress, ABC News' Diane Sawyer gathered 19 of them for an interview that will air early next year.

One of the senators, Republican Susan Collins of Maine, says that if the women's caucus was in charge, Congress would already have a budget deal in place.

After Sandy, NYC eyes moving power gear higher

NEW YORK (AP) -- A major push is on to move New York City's electrical infrastructure to higher ground or upper floors after Superstorm Sandy sent seawater pouring into low-lying substations and skyscraper basements and plunged half of Manhattan into darkness for four days.

The effort, likely to be enormously costly, will center partly on two old weaknesses brought into sharp relief by the surge: power distribution stations built just yards from the water's edge, and electrical components located in vulnerable basements.

Ever since Thomas Edison built the world's first central power station in a Manhattan seaport district in 1882, central elements of the island's electrical infrastructure have been located along the waterfront. Ten of Con Edison's 101 transmission and distribution substations sit in flood zones.

HSBC to pay $1.9B to settle money-laundering case

LONDON (AP) — HSBC avoided a legal battle that could further savage its reputation and undermine confidence in the global banking system by agreeing Tuesday to pay $1.9 billion to settle a U.S. money-laundering probe.

Europe’s largest bank by market value will pay the biggest penalty ever imposed on a bank after facing accusations it transferred funds through the U.S. from Mexican drug cartels and on behalf of nations such as Iran that are under international sanctions.

It’s the latest scandal to hit banks since the financial crisis started in 2008. Hours earlier, Standard Chartered PLC, another British bank, signed an agreement with New York regulators to settle a money-laundering investigation involving Iran with a $340 million payment.

US Treasury announces final AIG stock sale

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. government said Monday that it is selling its remaining shares of American International Group stock, moving to close the books on the government's biggest bailout during the 2008 financial crisis.

Treasury said it had begun a sale of 234.2 million shares of common stock in a public offering. The government's shares represent a 16-percent ownership stake in the insurance company.

Treasury has already recovered more on its AIG investment that the original $182.3 billion bailout. It was the largest government bailout package, including both loans and federal guarantees.

Steelers rattled after Chargers send jolt into Pittsburgh's season in 34-24 romp

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have gotten pretty good at beating the NFL's best.

They've nearly perfected losing to the worst.

And while San Diego is more underachieving than utterly horrific, the Chargers' 34-24 win over the Steelers on Sunday continued a perplexing trend for a team that considers itself among the elite.

Pittsburgh (7-6) has won on the road at Baltimore and the New York Giants this season. It has also fallen to lesser-lights Oakland, Tennessee, Cleveland and now the Chargers (5-8). It makes for one of the weirder resumes of any playoff contender.

Royals acquire pitchers Shields, Davis from Rays for Myers, package of prospects

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The Kansas City Royals gambled their future Sunday night for a chance to win right now.

The Royals acquired former All-Star James Shields and fellow right-hander Wade Davis from Tampa Bay in a six-player deal that sent top prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi along with two other minor leaguers to the Rays. The swap immediately bolsters the Royals' starting rotation and should make them a contender in the relatively weak American League Central.

"We have to start winning games at the major league level, and the way you develop a winning culture is by winning major league games," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "It's time for us to start winning at the major league level."

Cowboys lineman Josh Brent 'trying to deal' with best friend's death after fatal crash

IRVING, Texas (AP) -- Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Josh Brent says he's "just trying to deal" with the death of his teammate and "very best friend" Jerry Brown.

Brent is charged with intoxication manslaughter in the accident that killed Brown.

Brent was released from jail in the Dallas suburb of Irving after posting $500,000 bond Sunday, a day after police say he was drunk and speeding when the vehicle he was driving clipped a curb and flipped.

Comedian Katt Williams arrested near Sacramento

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Comedian Katt Williams has been arrested in northern California on a felony warrant related to a police chase.

The Sacramento Bee reports  that Williams was arrested Friday night in Dunnigan, about 25 miles north of Sacramento, by Yolo County deputies.

The paper says he was released from the county jail Saturday after posting bail.

White House Proposes $60.4 Billion for Hurricane Recovery

U.S. President Barack Obama is asking Congress to approve $60.4 billion in aid to help rebuild East Coast states battered by Super Storm Sandy in late October.

The spending plan was announced in a joint statement Friday by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his New Jersey counterpart, Chris Christie.

'Nutty idea'? Volunteers and scientists work to return chestnut tree, blighted icon, to wild

WEAVERVILLE, N.C. (AP) -- Jim Hurst has doted on his trees, arranged in three "families" on a bluff high above the rushing French Broad River.

He installed a drip irrigation system to help rejuvenate this former hayfield's powdery, depleted soil. To protect against browsing deer, he girded the delicate sprouts in plastic sleeving and wire mesh. In the four years since planting the fuzzy, deep-brown nuts, he nursed the seedlings - through back-to-back droughts, a killing frost, even an infestation of 17-year locust - applying herbicides and mowing between the rows to knock down anything that might compete.

Bollywood wows Morocco, dreams of America

MARRAKECH, Morocco (AP) -- For once, the storytellers, snake charmers and food stalls were gone from Marrakech's main square and in their place pulsed a crowd of thousands of people waiting to see a legend of Indian cinema who has attained superstar status here in Morocco.

"Shahrukh Khan! Shakrukh Khan!" the young men and women chanted in the chill night air, waiting for the 47-year-old Indian screen legend to make a brief appearance as part of the Marrakech International Film Festival's tribute to 100 years of Indian cinema.

Bollywood, the Mumbai-based Hindi film industry, may still be struggling to make its mark on American and European audiences, but its trademark hours-long epics filled with the riotous spectacle and glamorous stars have enchanted audiences in the Middle East and North Africa.

Coffee from an elephant's gut fills a $50 cup

GOLDEN TRIANGLE, Thailand (AP) -- In the lush hills of northern Thailand, a herd of 20 elephants is excreting some of the world's most expensive coffee.

Trumpeted as earthy in flavor and smooth on the palate, the exotic new brew is made from beans eaten by Thai elephants and plucked a day later from their dung. A gut reaction inside the elephant creates what its founder calls the coffee's unique taste.

Stomach turning or oddly alluring, this is not just one of the world's most unusual specialty coffees. At $1,100 per kilogram ($500 per pound), it's also among the world's priciest.

AP Interview: Jackson, cast discuss 'The Hobbit'

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- Many fans are eagerly anticipating a return to the fictional world of Middle-earth with next week's general release of the first movie in "The Hobbit" trilogy. Director Peter Jackson and the film's stars speak to The Associated Press about making "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey":

- Jackson on shooting at 48 frames per second instead of the standard 24: "We've seen the arrival of iPhones and iPads and now there's a generation of kids - the worry that I have is that they seem to think it's OK to wait for the film to come out on DVD or be available for download. And I don't want kids to see `The Hobbit' on their iPads, really. Not for the first time. So as a filmmaker, I feel the responsibility to say, `This is the technology we have now, and it's different ... How can we raise the bar? Why do we have to stick with 24 frames? ...'"

Actor Stephen Baldwin charged in NY tax case

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) -- Actor Stephen Baldwin was charged Thursday with failing to pay New York state taxes for three years, amassing a $350,000 debt.

Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said Baldwin, of Upper Grandview, skipped his taxes in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

The youngest of the four acting Baldwin brothers pleaded not guilty at an arraignment and was freed without bail. His lawyer, Russell Yankwitt, said Baldwin should not have been charged.

"Mr. Baldwin did not commit any crimes, and he's working with the district attorney's office and the New York State Tax Department to resolve any differences," Yankwitt said.

Port strike could be prelude for dockworker talks

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The end of one labor crisis at the nation's busiest port complex could be a prelude to another.

The resolution of an eight-day walk-off by clerical workers at the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors that stalled billions of dollars of cargo and left container ships stranded off the California coast points to the stakes for upcoming contract talks with dockworkers at western U.S. shipping terminals.

The clerical workers represent a sliver of the membership of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, whose 24,000 dockworkers handle everything from car parts to computers at ports in Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii. The strikers numbered only about 450, but thousands of dockworkers refused to cross the picket lines and halted work at the sister ports that handle 44 percent of all container traffic that arrives in the U.S. by sea.

AP-GfK Poll: Support for boosting taxes on rich; fewer now back cutting government services

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Americans prefer letting tax cuts expire for the country's top earners, as President Barack Obama insists, while support has declined for cutting government services to curb budget deficits, an Associated Press-GfK poll shows. Fewer than half the Republicans polled favor continuing the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.

There's also a reluctance to trim Social Security, Medicare or defense programs, three of the biggest drivers of federal spending, the survey released Wednesday found. The results could strengthen Obama's hand in his fiscal cliff duel with Republicans, in which he wants to raise taxes on the rich and cut spending by less than the GOP wants.

Did Costas overstep his bounds with gun comments?

NEW YORK (AP) -- Clearly, Bob Costas stirred up a hornet's nest Sunday with a halftime commentary about Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher, who killed his girlfriend (and the mother of his child) before killing himself.

On Twitter, someone posed this question: "Who put Costas on in the middle of a football game so he could spew his one sided beliefs?" Another tweeter sharply recommended Costas "stick to football ... the more you talk, the dumber you sound." And on and on it went. The message resounded: Bob Costas, just shut up.

All from this: "If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun," Costas told a TV audience of more than 20 million, "he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today."

Stocks gain on "cliff" hope, led by banks

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks closed higher Wednesday, their first gain of the week, as bank shares rose and comments by President Barack Obama made investors optimistic that a quick deal could be made to avoid the "fiscal cliff."

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 82.71 points to end at 13,034.49. It had been up as much as 137. The Standard and Poor's 500 closed up 2.23 points to 1,409.28. The Nasdaq composite was down 22.99 points to 2,973.70, held back by a slump in Apple.

Citigroup jumped $2.17, or 6.3 percent, to $36.46 after the bank said it plans to eliminate more than 11,000 jobs, or about 4 percent of its workforce, to cut expenses and improve efficiency. Travelers surged $3.47, or 4.9 percent, to $74 after it announced plans to resume stock buybacks. Travelers temporarily suspended repurchases following Superstorm Sandy while it assessed its exposure to damage claims.

Jack Brooks, longtime US legislator from Texas who was in Kennedy motorcade, dies at 89

HOUSTON (AP) -- Jack Brooks hounded government bureaucrats, drafted President Richard Nixon's articles of impeachment and supported civil rights bills in a congressional career spanning 42 years. But for most of the country the Southeast Texas politician is frozen in a photograph, standing over the left shoulder of Jacqueline Kennedy as Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as president.

Brooks, who died Tuesday at age 89, was in the Dallas motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Hours later he stood behind the grief-stricken widow in the cabin of Air Force One as Johnson took the oath of office.

David Mamet, Kathie Lee Gifford suffer losses

NEW YORK (AP) -- David Mamet's new play "The Anarchist" and Katie Lee Gifford's "Scandalous" will both end their Broadway runs much earlier than their creators wanted.

Producers said Tuesday night that Mamet's play starring Patti LuPone and Debra Winger portraying an inmate and warden respectively will close Dec. 16 after just 23 previews and 17 performances.

Back on Capitol Hill, failed VP contender Paul Ryan helps GOP set course in budget talks

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Paul Ryan is getting his groove back.

A month after the GOP's presidential ticket lost an election, the party's vice presidential nominee finds himself comfortably back in his political wheelhouse on Capitol Hill and in the thick of a debate over how to avert automatic tax increases and spending cuts that many economists fear could cripple the economy if Congress doesn't head them off by Jan. 1.

The Wisconsin congressman isn't technically a member of the House Republican leadership. But he's viewed by GOP colleagues as an expert on economic and tax policy and entitlement programs. He's a good gauge of how far the party's most conservative lawmakers will bend, if at all, as House Speaker John Boehner negotiates with the White House and Democratic-controlled Senate over the "fiscal cliff."

Data: New (physical) book chronicles the virtual

NEW YORK (AP) -- We question. We research. We catalog. We quantify. We aggregate, calculate, communicate, analyze, extrapolate and conclude. And eventually, if we're fortunate and thoughtful, we understand.

These are the contours of the society that has taken shape in the past generation with the rise of an unstoppable, invisible force that changes human lives in ways from the microscopic to the gargantuan: data, a word that was barely used beyond small circles before World War II but now governs the day for many of us from the moment we awaken to the extinguishing of the final late-evening light bulb.

Obama wants Wasserman Schultz to stay on as chairwoman of Democratic National Committee

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama wants Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to stay on as his party's chairwoman.

Wasserman Schultz has overseen the Democratic National Committee since early 2011. Party officials credit her in part with helping the president carry her home state of Florida, as well as leading the party to an expanded majority in the Senate and more seats in the House.

"I've asked Debbie Wasserman Schultz to continue her excellent work as chair of the DNC," Obama wrote on Twitter Monday. "Thanks for all you do, Debbie."

The tweet was signed "bo", which the White House says is a signal that the president wrote it personally.

Burnett picks off Ponder twice as Packers overcome big day by Peterson for 23-14 victory

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- If any more Green Bay receivers go down, the Packers could always use Morgan Burnett.

With Minnesota rolling behind Adrian Peterson, the Green Bay safety picked off Christian Ponder twice in the red zone in the second half Sunday. Mason Crosby converted the miscues into a pair of field goals, James Starks gave Green Bay its first touchdown on the ground in almost two months and the Packers overcame Peterson's monster day for a 23-14 win.

"I thought Morgan Burnett's interception in the third quarter in the end zone was the key play of game," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "It shifted the momentum."

The victory was Green Bay's 10th straight over an NFC North opponent and gave the Packers (8-4) a share of the division lead after Chicago lost to Seattle in overtime. The Packers and Bears play at Soldier Field on Dec. 16.

Supreme Court lets stand ex-Rep. Jefferson's bribery conviction

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court is leaving in place the corruption conviction of a former Louisiana congressman who hid money from bribes in his freezer.

The justices on Monday rejected without comment an appeal by former Rep. William Jefferson, who is serving a 13-year term in federal prison.

The Louisiana Democrat was convicted in 2009 after FBI agents investigating allegations of corruption found $90,000 in cash hidden in Jefferson's freezer.

A federal appeals court upheld all but one of the 11 counts on which a jury convicted Jefferson.


Giants end slide, snap Packers' five-game winning streak with 38-10 romp

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Adam Merchant had a wish and a command for the New York Giants.

The 15-year-old fan from Barre, Vt., attended practice and then Sunday's game with the Packers thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He wanted the Giants to snap their two-game slide and get out of their offensive funk.

So he ordered the Giants to "play like world champions," and they delivered a 38-10 rout of the Green Bay Packers.

"That was the theme of our meetings," coach Tom Coughlin said.

Eli Manning came back from the bye week with a rested arm, and that offensive slump was tossed aside. The Giants (7-4) said they turned things around for themselves, and for Merchant, who has cancer.

Manning throws 2 TD passes as AFC West-leading Broncos beat Chiefs 17-9 for sixth straight win

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Peyton Manning was wooed by the Chiefs early in the offseason, after the four-time MVP had been cut loose by Indianapolis and before he signed a five-year deal with Denver.

On Sunday, he showed exactly why Kansas City was after him.

Manning threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns, and led the Broncos down the field in the final minutes when the Chiefs were frantically trying to get a stop, setting up a field goal that sealed a 17-9 victory and their sixth consecutive win.

It allowed Manning to break a tie with his boss and Broncos vice president John Elway with his 149th win as a starting quarterback, trailing only Brett Favre (186) for most in NFL history.

Cyber Monday likely to be busiest online sales day

NEW YORK (AP) -- Bye-bye Black Friday. So long Small Business Saturday. Now, it's Cyber Monday's turn.

Cyber Monday, coined in 2005 by a shopping trade group that noticed online sales spiked on the Monday following Thanksgiving, is the next in a series of days that stores are counting on to jumpstart the holiday shopping season.

It's estimated that this year's Cyber Monday will be the biggest online shopping day of the year for the third year in a row: According to research firm comScore, Americans are expected to spend $1.5 billion, up 20 percent from last year on Cyber Monday, as retailers have ramped up their deals to get shoppers to click on their websites.

`Shopping IS the holiday': On Black Friday, many feel powerless to resist tradition, emotion

BEAVER FALLS, Pa. (AP) -- Gravy was still warm. Dallas Cowboys were still in uniform. Thanks were still being given across the country as the pilgrimages to the stores began, heralding a new era of American consumerism.

Lured by earlier-than-ever Black Friday sales, people left Grandma and Grandpa in search of Samsung and Toshiba. They did not go blindly: In dozens of interviews, people acknowledged how spending has become inseparable from the holidays. Older folks pined for the days of Erector Sets and Thumbelinas while in line to pay iPad prices. Even some younger shoppers said it felt wrong to be spending money instead of quality time on Thanksgiving.

Wal-Mart suspends India staff in corruption probe

MUMBAI, India (AP) -- Wal-Mart's Indian joint venture said Friday it has suspended several employees as part of an internal corruption investigation, another blow to the U.S. company's plans for aggressive expansion in a giant market that is largely untapped by foreign retailers.

Bharti Walmart, Wal-Mart's joint venture with India's Bharti Enterprises, said it had suspended "a few associates" and was "committed to conducting a complete and thorough investigation." India's Economic Times newspaper reported that the company's chief financial officer was among the five employees suspended, a claim the company declined to verify.

The news comes at a sensitive time for foreign retailers in India, where corruption scandals in everything from telecommunications to coal mining have badly damaged the ruling Congress Party. Eager to rekindle foreign investment, the Congress Party eased foreign investment rules in September, paving the way for Wal-Mart and others - which had been limited to wholesaling - to run retail shops with a local partner.

Syrian rebels capture helicopter air base near the capital Damascus after fierce fighting

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian rebels captured a helicopter base just outside Damascus Sunday in what an activist called a "blow to the morale of the regime" near President Bashar Assad's seat of power.

The takeover claim showed how rebels are advancing in the area of the capital, though they are badly outgunned, making inroads where Assad's power was once unchallenged. Rebels have also been able to fire mortar rounds into Damascus recently.

The director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said rebels seized control of the Marj al-Sultan base on the outskirts of Damascus on Sunday morning. He said at least 15 rebels and eight soldiers were killed in the fighting that started a day earlier. The rebels later withdrew from the base.

Former champion boxer 'Macho' Camacho dies in Puerto Rico after being taken off life support

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Former championship boxer Hector "Macho" Camacho died Saturday at the hospital in Puerto Rico where he has been unconscious since he was shot in the face in an attack in his hometown.

Camacho went into cardiac arrest in the pre-dawn hours and he was then taken off life support and died shortly thereafter, said Dr. Ernesto Torres, the director of the Centro Medico trauma center in San Juan.

Camacho's mother, Maria Matias, said Friday night that she had supported removing him from life support after his three sons had arrived from the U.S. mainland and had a chance to see their father for the last time. They managed to visit him before he died, said former pro boxer Victor "Luvi" Callejas, a longtime friend.

Superstorm puts federal beach program in spotlight after stripping sand from NJ coast

SPRING LAKE, N.J. (AP) -- The average New Jersey beach is 30 to 40 feet narrower after Superstorm Sandy, according to a survey that is sure to intensify a long-running debate on whether federal dollars should be used to replenish stretches of sand that only a fraction of U.S. taxpayers use.

Some of New Jersey's famous beaches lost half their sand when Sandy slammed ashore in late October.

The shore town of Mantoloking, one of the hardest-hit communities, lost 150 feet of beach, said Stewart Farrell, director of Stockton College's Coastal Research Center and a leading expert on beach erosion.

'Anonymous' targets Israeli websites over Gaza war

JERUSALEM (AP) -- A concerted effort of millions of attempts to cripple Israeli websites during the Gaza conflict has failed, Israel's finance minister said Monday, claiming that the only site that was successfully hacked was back up within minutes.

Cyber security experts said that such hacking attempts have become a new aspect of modern-day warfare and states have to invest in fortifying their virtual defenses on a battleground with vague terrain.

Israel regularly fights off hundreds of hacking attempts every day, but nothing on the scale of the recent torrent of attacks.

Gun shop says no protesters in New Mexico coyote hunting contest

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- No protesters showed up Saturday at a New Mexico gun shop sponsoring a coyote hunting contest this weekend that set off howls of protests from animal activists.

In fact, television and radio reporters milling in the shop's parking lot were the biggest problem the hunt created, said Rick Gross, business manager of Gunhawk Firearms in Los Lunas.

Animal activists and the state's trust land commissioner were incensed when Gunhawk owner Mark Chavez said he'd go ahead with the hunt despite the protests.

The two-day hunt sparked thousands of angry emails, social media postings and a petition signed by activists from as far as Europe who have demanded that the hunt be called off. Last week, a small group of protesters held a rally outside of Gunhawk Firearms and waved signs denouncing the event as cruel and "bloodthirsty."

Hyde scores in OT to lead No. 6 Ohio State to 21-14 victory over Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Ohio State clinched one title, and kept its slim hopes for another alive.

The sixth-ranked Buckeyes won the Leaders Division crown outright Saturday, beating Wisconsin 21-14 on Carlos Hyde's 2-yard scoring run in overtime. Buckeyes safety Christian Bryant batted down Curt Phillips' pass on fourth down to preserve the win.

Ohio State (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) is ineligible for the postseason as part of its punishment for NCAA violations under former coach Jim Tressel. The best the Buckeyes can hope for is to finish the regular-season unbeaten, then have the teams above them all lose at least once to give them a shot at playing spoiler for The Associated Press title.

"We have a saying, `A team that refuses to be beat won't be beat,'" Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "Somehow, someway."

San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has 'minor procedure' for irregular heartbeat

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was sent to the hospital Thursday for a "minor procedure" after doctors discovered he had an irregular heartbeat.

The team said it anticipates Harbaugh will be back at the 49ers facility Friday, though it's unclear in what capacity. No details about the procedure were given.

The NFC West-leading 49ers (6-2-1) host the NFC-North leading Chicago Bears (7-2) on Monday night at Candlestick Park.

Solar cars roll across Earth's driest desert

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- The second annual Solar Challenge has begun in Chile's Atacama desert, where 15 solar-powered cars rolled out of an old salt mine Thursday.

The solar-powered prototypes will travel more than 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) through the world's driest desert in the four-day, multinational race.

There are two categories: cars powered only by solar energy, and three-wheeled models that get a little help from pedals pushed by the drivers themselves.

BBC settles libel suit from UK politician wrongly implicated in child sex abuse report

LONDON (AP) -- The BBC reached a settlement Thursday with the Conservative politician wrongly implicated in a child sex abuse scandal.

The BBC has already apologized for linking 70-year-old Alistair McAlpine, a member of the House of Lords, to child sex abuse that happened decades ago in Wales. The mistaken report, broadcast nearly two weeks ago, has caused turmoil within BBC management ranks and led to the resignation of its chief.

The British broadcaster said late Thursday it had resolved McAlpine's libel claim, calling it a "comprehensive" settlement that "reflects the gravity of the allegations that were wrongly made."

China leader's brings a new affability to the job

BEIJING (AP) -- In his travels abroad, Xi Jinping has often been something unusual for a Chinese communist leader: an ordinary guy.

In Ireland, he stopped at a stadium to kick a soccer ball around. On a key getting-to-know-you visit to the U.S., he took several hours to visit with Midwestern families who had hosted him more than a quarter-century before. While visiting with schoolchildren in Los Angeles, Xi talked of his love of sports and films and about how finding personal family time was "mission impossible."

And even Thursday in the Great Hall of the People, when he was introduced as the Chinese Communist Party's new secretary general, the most powerful man in the world's most populous nation showed some humility. He apologized to the media for running 45 minutes late.

Japan, North Korea reopen stalled bilateral talks

TOKYO (AP) -- Japan and North Korea began talks Thursday in Mongolia that Tokyo hopes will shed light on decades-old abductions.

The meetings in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator are scheduled to last through Friday. In August, lower-level negotiators from Japan and North Korea held the countries' first bilateral talks in four years, but made little progress.

Japan wants information on the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents in the 1970s and '80s. Japan believes at least one abductee may still be alive in the North, though North Korea denies this. Five abductees were returned to Japan in 2002.

Review: `The Twilight Saga' ends with real bite

Finally (AP) -- finally! - the "Twilight" franchise embraces its own innate absurdity with the gleefully over-the-top conclusion, "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2."

This is by far the best film in the series. This does not necessarily mean it's good. But as it reaches its prolonged and wildly violent crescendo, it's at least entertaining in a totally nutso way.

Review: iPad Mini charms, but screen is a letdown

NEW YORK (AP) -- I bet the iPad Mini is going to be on a lot of wish lists this holiday season. I also bet that for a lot of people, it's not going to be the best choice. It's beautiful and light, but Apple made a big compromise in the design, one that means that buyers should look closely at the competition before deciding.

Starting at $329, the iPad Mini is the cheapest iPad. The screen is a third smaller than the regular iPads, and it sits in an exquisitely machined aluminum body. It weighs just 11 ounces - half as much as a full-size iPad - making it easier to hold in one hand. It's just under 8 inches long and less than a third of an inch thick, so it fits easily into a handbag.

Watching risk of bank system impact from Europe: Bank of Japan chief

Watching-risk-of-bank-system-impact-from-Europe Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said on Monday he was continuing to monitor the risk that Europe's debt woes could affect Japan's banking system, just as renewed fears about the euro zone spooked financial markets.

"Japan's financial system has maintained stability as a whole, but close watch is still needed on risk factors such as a spillover from Europe's situation," Shirakawa said at a gathering of trust banks.

The euro slumped broadly on Monday as soaring bond yields in Spain rekindled worries about the fragile state of the euro zone economy, while broad risk-averse sentiment lifted the yen to a seven-week high against the dollar.

Shirakawa maintained the view, however, that the risk of major turmoil in global financial markets has subsided, thanks to massive fund supplies by the European Central Bank and Greece's rescue program.

He also stuck to the central bank's projection of a moderate recovery for Japan's economy and indicated the bank will maintain a ultra-loose policy bias to help pull Japan out of deflation following the BOJ's surprise February easing.

"In February, we clarified our policy bias and boosted monetary easing. As such, the BOJ is making its utmost efforts to escape deflation," Shirakawa said in a speech at an event hosted by the Trust Companies Association of Japan.

The BOJ surprised markets in February by boosting its target for asset purchases by double the usual increment and setting a 1 percent inflation goal, signaling a more aggressive policy to beat deflation, which has plagued the economy for nearly two decades.

The central bank has kept monetary policy steady since then but will consider easing at its next rate review on April 27 by boosting asset purchases, sources say.

(Reporting by Rie Ishiguro; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Richard Borsuk)

2007 Peugeot 908 Le Mans Race Car Heading to RM Auctions

2007-peugeot-908-le-mans-main RM Auctions will have a 2007 Peugeot 908 Le Mans race car up for auction on May 12 with an estimated selling price between $1.9 million and $2.4 million.

Powered by a 5.5-liter twin-turbocharged V12 engine, the legitimate race car has over 700-hp mated to a six-speed sequential manual paddle-shift gearbox. The chassis consists of a closed carbon fiber cockpit and this particular race car was actually the first 908 to win a race at Monza. The team also managed a second place finish at the Nürburgring in Germany.

The race car would go on to win twice more, once at Silverstone and once at Interlagos. It is the first 908 ever to pass into private hands and is sold directly from PSA. The company agreed to provide the buyer with the required technical assistance for a period of three years, with the service provided at the current rate charged for Peugeot Sport technical assistance.

It is indeed a rare opportunity to own any race car, nevermind this number-2 Peugeot 908 Le Mans competitor. Whoever the lucky bidder is not only gets a great machine, but an important part of racing history.

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Simon Cowell Banged Dannii Minogue

SIMON-Cowell The music mogul claims he was “like a schoolboy” for Dannii who he started sleeping with after she joined the panel The X Factor in the UK alongside him in 2007.

“I had a crush on her. It was Dannii’s hair, the sexy clothes, and the tits,” Cowell said in an unauthorized biography, Sweet Revenge: The Intimate Life of Simon Cowell.

“I was like a schoolboy. She was foxy. She was a real man’s girl. Very feminine. It was genuine love.

“After Terri Seymour, I wasn’t ready for another relationship.

“I would have liked an affair with Cheryl Cole [but] I felt like a mouse being played with by a beautiful cat.

“She would come in dressed in her tracksuit and her slippers, drop her eyes and play the soulful victim to get around me. She played me. I adored her.”

Showbiz Spy

Courtney Love Apologizes to Daughter About Dave Grohl Tirade

wenn2869760 Courtney Love likes to make it public when it comes to her private affairs, including an apology to her daughter. The troubled singer said sorry via Twitter to Frances Bean Cobain on Saturday, April 14 morning for accusing Dave Grohl of hitting on the teen.

"Bean, sorry I believed the gossip," Love tweeted. "Mommy loves you." This time Love used her real Twitter account instead of her locked private account @cbabymichelle in which she threatened to kill Grohl. "I hear from frannies roommate that @davegrohl hit on frances, and that she was curious, I'm not mad at her, him I am about to shoot, dead," Love wrote earlier this week.

Bean later released an official statement against her mother's words, saying "While I'm generally silent on the affairs of my biological mother, her recent tirade has taken a gross turn. I have never been approached by Dave Grohl in more than a platonic way. I'm in a monogamous relationship and very happy."

Bean, who is reportedly engaged to The Rambles frontman Isaiah Silva, wanted Love to be banned from Twitter.


Israel moves to thwart pro-Palestinian fly-in

Israel moved to block an influx of pro-Palestinian activists planning to visit the occupied West Bank, drafting a letter from the Prime Minister's Office suggesting they focus instead on "real problems" in the Middle East, officials said on Saturday.

Some 1,200 Palestinian supporters throughout Europe have bought plane tickets for an April 15 visit to the West Bank as part of a campaign called "Welcome to Palestine".

Organizers said the aim was to help open an international school and a museum, but Israel has denounced the activists as provocateurs and said it would deny entry to anyone who threatened public order.

On Saturday, Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israeli police, said that hundreds of police officers had been deployed in and around Ben Gurion airport, Israel's main gateway to the world.

"We are expecting hundreds of activists throughout Sunday. Some will be sent back to their countries. As part of normal procedure, they will be questioned and each case will be decided upon individually," Rosenfeld said.

An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said the Immigration Authority had on Wednesday given airlines the names of some 1,200 activists whose entrance to Israel has been barred.

Leehee Rothschild, a "Welcome to Palestine" member, said that dozens of activists had since been informed by airlines that their tickets to Tel Aviv have been cancelled.

"Israel's willingness to detain people who have not committed any crime and have done nothing but say they came to visit Palestine is a hysterical reaction," Rothschild said.

Palestinians hope to establish a state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, areas which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War.

A similar, though smaller operation last year led to a few hundred activists being blocked at European airports and more than 100 others being deported from Israel after their entry was denied.

"It's very unfortunate that we are once again facing the kind of provocation coming from extremists from different countries," Israel's Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, Yuli Edelstein, told Reuters last Wednesday.

On Saturday, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a letter it hoped to hand the activists upon their arrival.

"You could have chosen to protest the Syrian regime's daily savagery against its own people, which has claimed thousands of lives," the letter read. "You could have chosen to protest the Iranian regime's brutal crackdown on dissent and support of terrorism throughout the world."

"But instead you chose to protest against Israel, the Middle East's sole democracy ... We therefore suggest that you first solve the real problems of the region, and then come back and share with us your experience. Have a nice flight."

(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

Egypt disqualifies top Islamists, Mubarak VP from vote

Egypt-disqualifies-top-Islamists-Mubarak-VP-from-vote The race for the Egyptian presidency took a dramatic turn on Saturday when the authorities disqualified front-runners including Hosni Mubarak's spy chief, a Muslim Brotherhood candidate and a Salafi cleric whose lawyer warned that "a major crisis" was looming.

The presidential election is the climax of a transition to civilian rule being led by the military council that assumed power from Mubarak on February 11, 2011 at the height of the uprising against his three decades in power.

The generals are due to hand power to the elected president on July 1.

The disqualifications add to the drama of a transition punctuated by spasms of violence and which is now mired in bitter political rivalries between once-banned Islamists, secular-minded reformists and remnants of the Mubarak order.

Farouk Sultan, head of the presidential election commission, told Reuters that a total of 10 of the 23 candidates had been disqualified from the race.

Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, the Salafi, was disqualified because his mother held U.S. citizenship, the state news agency reported, confirming previous reports fiercely denied by the Islamist cleric who says he the victim of a plot.

Abu Ismail's lawyer, Nizar Ghorab, told Reuters he expected "a major crisis" in the next few hours.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Khairat al-Shater was among those disqualified on Saturday. His spokesman said he would make use of a 48-hour window to challenge the decision.

Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's intelligence chief and vice president in his last days in power, would also appeal, his spokesman said.

The elimination of three of the top candidates in what is being billed as Egypt's first real presidential vote would redraw the electoral map just a few weeks before the vote gets under way in May. The election is expected to go to a June run-off between the top two candidates.

On Friday, Abu Ismail's supporters besieged the headquarters of the election commission, forcing it to evacuate the premises and suspend its work. The building was guarded by security forces with riot shields.


Abu Ismail is a preacher and lawyer who has galvanized an enthusiastic support base with a message that mixes revolutionary zeal with hardline Islamism.

"The presidential committee has violated all the rules of law," Abu Ismail said in remarks published on his Facebook page. "If the official decision is to violate the constitution, they should be able to deal with the consequences," he said.

His candidacy had been in doubt since the election commission said it had received notification from U.S. authorities that his late mother had an American passport, a status that would disqualify him from the race.

Abu Ismail followers have hit the streets in protests to warn against any move to disqualify him. He denies his mother ever held dual nationality.

As for the Brotherhood's Shater, his candidacy had been in doubt due to past criminal convictions widely seen as trumped up by the authorities due to political activities.

The Brotherhood, founded in 1928, has moved to the heart of public life since Mubarak was toppled. Anticipating Shater's disqualification, the Brotherhood had nominated Mohamed Mursi, head of its political party, as a reserve candidate.

"We will not give up our right to enter the presidential race," said Murad Muhammed Ali, Shater's campaign manager.

"There is an attempt by the old Mubarak regime to hijack the last stage of this transitional period and reproduce the old system of governance."

Shater had described Suleiman's last minute decision to enter the race as an insult to the Egyptians who rose up against Mubarak. Suleiman says he is running to prevent Egypt turning into a religious state.

The state news agency said Suleiman had been disqualified due to a shortfall in the number of registered supporters from whom his campaign had gathered signed petitions.

Candidates were supposed to gather at least 30,000 signatures from at least 15 provinces. Suleiman was a thousand short in one of the provinces, the state agency said.

Hussein Kamal, a top Suleiman aide, told Reuters his campaign would also challenge the commission's decision. "Suleiman's campaign can finish collecting petitions if that is what is missing," he told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Marwa Awad and Ahmed Tolba; Writing by Tom Perry Editing by Maria Golovnina)

Obama: US Wants Deeper Partnerships With Americas

apObamaOASLatinAmericaSummitColombia14April2012-resizedpx480q100shp8 At the sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, U.S. President Barack Obama said the United States wants deeper economic partnerships in the hemisphere, but that barriers remain to greater integration. 

In remarks to a CEO summit, Mr. Obama spoke of impressive economic growth in Latin America, progress moving tens of millions of people out of poverty, and a growing middle class.

He pointed to two U.S. free trade agreements, with host country Colombia and with Panama, and said some 40 percent of U.S. exports go to the region, supporting almost four million U.S. jobs.

But Mr. Obama said barriers remain to greater entrepreneurship and innovation, and that trade across a hemisphere with nearly one billion citizens is only half of what it could be.

Mr. Obama said "stark inequalities" endure in the region, with "far too many" people still living in poverty, adding the challenge will be to ensure broad-based prosperity. "The challenge for this hemisphere is how do we make sure that globalization and that integration is benefiting a broad base of people," he said.

In a first for the Summit of the Americas, Mr. Obama, Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, and the summit host, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, engaged in a panel discussion.

President Rousseff repeated concerns about the impact on developing nations of "expansionary monetary policies" and warned against protectionism.  The Colombian leader said he shared concerns about monetary policy.

President Obama said he is sympathetic to the challenges around monetary policy in developed and less developed countries.  The president, however, said the issue involves not just the United States but "the failure of some other countries to engage in re-balancing."

Mr. Obama also said economic success in the hemisphere depends in the long-term on democratic governance. "When we look at how we are going to integrate further and take advantage of increased opportunity in the future, it is very important for us not to ignore how important it is to have a clean, transparent, open government that is working on behalf of its people," he said.

President Obama called the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia a "win-win" for both countries, saying it contains strong labor and environment provisions.

On the controversial issue for many countries of drug policy reform, Mr. Obama reiterated his opposition to legalization of drugs, though he recognized the "brutal" toll drug violence and said he is open to "legitimate discussions."

In translated remarks, President Santos said Colombia had been "relatively successful" in the war on drugs, but spoke of the need to consider alternatives. "Right now, we are in a moment of analyzing if what we are doing is the best that we can do or if we can maybe find an alternative that is much more effective and less expensive for the societies in general," he said.

After a colorful formal opening ceremony, the 33 hemisphere leaders began a multi-hour main plenary session discussing not only economic integration, but steps to eliminate poverty and inequality, transnational crime and access to technology.

A Venezuelan Foreign Ministry official announced that President Hugo Chavez, a harsh critic of U.S. policies, will not attend the Cartagena summit.

Mr. Chavez was to return to Cuba to receive additional radiation treatment for the cancer he has been battling.

VOA News

Iranians, Syrians share common cause

Two months ago, Emad Ghavidel turned on the television in Tehran and saw graphic footage of an injured Syrian child crying out in pain.

The 24-year-old Iranian rapper was horrified by the violence and the government's brutal crackdown on Homs. The more Ghavidel learned about it, the angrier he became.

He decided to channel his frustration into his music. He wrote a song, "The Battle of Homs," expressing support for the Syrian protesters and lashing out against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

"I swear to the laments of grieving mothers, I swear to the tears of grieving mothers, you will pay for it, Bashar al-Assad," raps Ghavidel. "Even if I am drowned in my own blood, I will not shut up."

Within weeks, the song went viral on YouTube and was an instant sensation in the Middle East.

"I received many encouraging messages from both Syrians and Iranians," said Hamed Fard, an Iranian who helped Ghavidel produce the song.
Assad e-mails show insight into regime

Many Iranians sympathize with the Syrian people, and the two peoples share a common bond, said Ahed al-Hendi, a Syrian who now serves as Arabic Programs coordinator at In 2009, many Iranians were arrested and tortured -- and some were even killed -- as they protested the disputed presidential election.
Iran stands firm behind Assad

"When the Green Revolution was sparked in Iran, we stood with the Iranian people and supported their cause," Al-Hendi said. "Now, lots of Iranians are supporting our cause.

"We are all facing one enemy. The mullah's regime in Iran and the Assad regime (in Syria) support each other openly, and their alliance is very rooted. But we need an alliance between a democratic Iran and Syria, not an alliance of dictatorship."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently praised Syrian officials for how they "are managing" the yearlong uprising in Syria. Also, activists claim to have found a series of e-mails that showed al-Assad took advice from Iran on how to handle the unrest. Throughout the uprising, the Syrian government has described opposition leaders as terrorists looking to destabilize the country.

To date, more than 9,000 people have been killed in the conflict, according to the United Nations.

"As a human and a journalist, it is unbearable to witness this crime," said Sasan Aghai, an Iranian who works for the Sobh-e Azadi newspaper. "Everyone around the world who cares about human rights should be bothered by what it happening in Syria. It's genocide."

This is not Aghai's first foray into political activism. As an active supporter of the Green Movement, he was arrested for "activity against the country's security" and spent time in Evin prison, the notorious prison for Iran's political dissidents.

Artists were also among those arrested. Aria Aramnejad, a young Iranian pop singer, was taken into custody after he posted a song on YouTube in support of the Green Movement.

Ghavidel is keenly aware of the risks he faces as a rapper. Iran's Ministry of Islamic Guidance does not consider rap an art form, so no Iranian rapper can get government permission to record a song.

"All Iranian rappers work underground," he said. "We all have difficulties recording and distributing our songs, but I don't let these problems stop me.

"People ask me if I'm worried about the consequences of my song, but I don't believe I've said anything wrong. I want to hope that there is enough freedom of speech in my country that I can criticize a mass murder."

Such support has not gone unnoticed by the Syrian opposition. The Syrian National Council recently published a letter thanking the citizens of Iran.

"It is important for all of us to know that we share one region and that our struggles and freedoms are connected," the letter said. "The Syrian and Iranian regimes have cooperated very closely throughout the years to oppress their own people and to destabilize the region around them. We believe that the only way that our people can prosper is by cooperation and mutual respect to each other's past, present and future aspirations."

Would a Syrian revolution have an effect on Iran? Aghai thinks it is unlikely.

"I don't think the Syrian revolution will result in an Iranian revolution as well," he said. "But after losing one of its good allies in the region, we can say that the power of the Iranian regime will start to fade."


Sudan armed forces in Heglig offensive

Sudan's armed forces are on the outskirts of Heglig town and are advancing toward the settlement, which was occupied by South Sudan this week, a Sudanese military spokesman said.

"We are now on the outskirts of Heglig town," Al-Sawarmi Khalid Saad told reporters in Khartoum. "The armed forces are advancing toward Heglig town ... the situation in Heglig will be resolved within hours."

He added that South Sudan had tried but failed to control "all of South Kordofan state".

Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, said that the army from Khartoum is advancing on Heglig town. "The South Sudanese military spokesperson told us that the Sudanese are around 30 km from Heglig, and if they do try and take it the South Sudanese have said they will defend themselves."

"This could end up becoming a full-blown conflict."

World powers have urged restraint after the latest round of heavy fighting that broke out on Tuesday with waves of aerial bombardment hitting the South, whose troops seized the Heglig oil region from Khartoum's army.

South Sudan seized the Heglig oilfield near the border on Tuesday. The African Union denounced the occupation as illegal and urged the two sides to avert a "disastrous" war.

Heglig, which the south claims as its own, is vital to Sudan's economy because it has a field accounting for about half of its 115,000 barrel-a-day oil output. The fighting has stopped crude production there, officials say.

South Sudanese armed forces spokesman Philip Aguer said he had not received reports of fighting in Heglig on Friday, but that the situation there should become clearer on Saturday.

"If they are advancing, the SPLA is ready to defend itself and its territories," he said by phone. "When they (Sudan's army) were pushed out of the area, they were occupying it by force, so if they want to come back by force, they can try it."

Speaking in Nairobi, Pagan Amum, South Sudan's lead negotiator at talks to resolve the dispute with Sudan, said his country was ready to withdraw under a UN-mediated plan.

"On the ground, we are ready to withdraw from Heglig as a contested area ... provided that the United Nations deploy a UN force in these contested areas and the UN also establish a monitoring mechanism to monitor the implementation of the cessation of hostilities agreement," he told reporters.

Amum said there were seven disputed areas and called for international arbitration to end the dispute over these regions.

Blow to the economy

The loss of Heglig's oil output is another blow to Sudan's economy, which was already struggling with rising food prices and a currency depreciating on the black market.

Amum said the Heglig facilities were "largely" damaged by fighting, but did not give details.

"Resumption of oil in that area will only come when the UN deploy their forces between the two countries and in the disputed areas and when the two countries reach agreement to resume oil production," he said.

Landlocked South Sudan shut down its own 350,000 barrel-per-day oil output in January in a row over how much it should pay to export crude via pipelines and facilities in Sudan.

Oil accounted for about 98 per cent of the new nation's state revenues and officials have been scrambling for ways to make up for the loss.

In Juba, about 200 people demonstrated at a government-organised protest against Sudan and in support of the occupation of Heglig, holding banners which read: "The people want the army to be in Heglig" and "They bomb children and women".

The UN Security Council on Thursday added its voice to the chorus of demands that Sudan and South Sudan stop the clashes.

Sudan's UN ambassador said South Sudan must heed the call or Khartoum would "hit deep inside the south".

The African Union, which had been helping mediate talks between the two countries over oil payments and other disputed
issues before Khartoum pulled out on Wednesday, also condemned the south's occupation of Heglig.

"The Council is dismayed by the illegal and unacceptable occupation by the South Sudanese armed forces of Heglig, which lies north of the agreed border line of 1st January, 1956," African Union Peace and Security Council Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told reporters after a meeting late on Thursday.

The south seceded from Khartoum's rule last year but the two sides have not agreed on issues including the position of the border, the division of the national debt and the status of citizens in each other's territory.

Some two million people died in Sudan's civil war, fought for decades over ideology, religion, ethnicity and oil.


North Korea's failed rocket launch triggers indifference in Seoul

South-Koreans-in-Seoul-no-008 North Korea's doomed rocket may have flown within 100km (62 miles) of their country's coast, but residents of Seoul reacted with a collective shrug of the shoulders to news their neighbour had again defied international opinion and triggered talk of more instability on the Korean peninsula.

The air of nonchalance on the streets of the South Korean capital could be put down to warm spring weather, or political fatigue after Wednesday's parliamentary elections.

Kim Min Ji, a 27-year-old teacher, said she had barely thought about the rocket launch, let alone a malfunction that could have sent the rocket veering from its flight path.

"North Korea did demonstrate its power in a way," she said. "So I think the world should follow the US lead in cancelling food aid and take strong measures.

"If North Korea continues to isolate itself from the rest of the world, it will eventually realise it has made a mistake."

If it was a mistake, it was an expensive one. According to intelligence estimates in Seoul, the launch cost $850m (£535m). That's enough, they say, to feed 19 million people for a year in a country suffering chronic food shortages and malnutrition.

It failed, however, to cause any damage to its neighbour's economy: South Korea's benchmark stock index returned to the 2,000-point level on Friday, finishing more than 1% up on the day.

The much-heralded test of North Korea's rocket technology ended in failure and embarrassment for the Pyongyang regime less than two minutes after liftoff. The Unha-3 rocket, which Washington claimed was cover for a ballistic missile test, exploded into about 20 pieces and fell into the Yellow Sea.

Pyongynag ignored eleventh-hour pleas from the US, South Korea and Japan to halt the launch, saying that its sole purpose was to put an earth observation satellite into orbit.

With rare candour, North Korean state TV acknowledged that the rocket failed to reach orbit. "Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure," the Korean central news agency said.

Soon after the launch, the White House said Pyongyang had violated UN security council resolutions banning it from developing long-range missile technology.

"Despite the failure of its attempted missile launch, North Korea's provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments," said the White House press secretary, Jay Carney.

Washington said it was suspending plans to deliver food aid. But Carney did not say if the launch would mean a permanent end to a deal, agreed in February, in which North Korea agreed to stop enriching uranium and developing ballistic missiles in exchange for 240,000 tonnes of US food aid.

Barack Obama has come under fire from a Republican presidential hopeful for his willingness to engage with ithe North's new leader, Kim Jong-un.

"Instead of approaching Pyongyang from a position of strength, President Obama sought to appease the regime with a food aid deal that proved to be as naive as it was shortlived," Mitt Romney said. He claimed the Obama administration had "emboldened the North Korean regime and undermined the security of the United States and our allies".

Carney said the president had insisted that Pyongyang cease provocations, including missile launches and nuclear tests, as a condition for talks. He added: "North Korea is only further isolating itself by engaging in provocative acts, and is wasting its money on weapons and propaganda displays while the North Korean people go hungry."

The foreign secretary, William Hague, voiced "deep concern" at the launch attempt and called for a robust response from the international community.

North Korea's technological shortcomings are the worst possible prelude to celebrations on Sunday to mark the centenary of the birth of the country's founder, Kim Il-sung. In the main square named after him in Pyongyang, residents were waiting to begin rehearsals for the Great Leader's anniversary celebrations.

The regime may have ruled out any early return to negotiations over its nuclear programme, said John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul. "The big question is, does this completely derail the diplomacy and negotiation that were finally getting a little bit of steam as of early March? It looks likely this will kill it all.

"The other question is what happens between the two Koreas. If diplomacy all falls apart and nothing's happening, then not only is the likelihood of another nuclear test high but the possibility of intra-Korean tension is high and of the South hitting back harder. After the shelling of Yeonpyeong in 2010 the hardliners here wanted to really send a battery to knock out military installations along the maritime border."

The sight of the South Korean navy ploughing the waters near the maritime border with the North will only strengthen the view that the launch was a propaganda exercise gone embarrassingly wrong.

The satellite was supposed to have demonstrated North Korea's emergence as a developed state.

A successful mission would have also strengthened the position of Kim, as doubts persist over his experience and ability four months after he succeeded his father, Kim Jong-il, who died from a heart attack last December.

"This launch was in part a propaganda effort. That effort clearly failed and will have ramifications internally," a US administration official told Reuters.

In an editorial this week, the Korea Herald speculated that internecine strife among party and military elites in Pyongyang was behind the determination to go through with the launch.

"The North's bizarre behaviour is difficult to explain without imagining a power struggle between two groups, with one prioritising dialogue with Washington and feeding the country's starving people and the other putting military strength before anything else," it said.

But it added that cancellation of the US aid deal "carries deep implications. For one thing, we will have to brace for a third nuclear weapons test. At the same time, we need to prepare ourselves for contingencies resulting from a free-for-all scramble for power."

The North American aerospace defence command (Norad) said it had tracked the rocket after its launch at 7:39am local time. The first stage fell into the sea about 100 miles west of Seoul, and the remainder was believed to have broken up and landed in the sea.

Major General Shin Won-sik, a South Korean defence ministry official, said the rocket exploded between one and two minutes after it was launched from a site in Tongchang-ri.

David Wright, of the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said that would not have given North Korea enough time to learn anything of use for its ballistic missile programme..

Foreign journalists who were invited to view the rocket on its launch pad earlier this week were not permitted to watch the launch, even remotely.

The failed launch raises the possibility of a new round of international sanctions. The last round wasw imposed three years ago after a long-range missile launch and a second nuclear weapons test.

The security council is to hold an emergency meeting later on Friday to discuss its response. The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said members had agreed to co-ordinate any action against the North.

"Pyongyang has a clear choice," she said on Thursday. "It can pursue peace and reap the benefits of closer ties with the international community, including the United States; or it can continue to face pressure and isolation."

Recent images show that North Korea may be preparing to conduct a third nuclear test at a site where similar tests were carried out in 2006 and 2009.

The South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, convened an emergency security meeting after Friday's launch; his office said the government in Seoul would continue to closely monitor its neighbour's actions.

The Guardian

Argentine 'miracle' baby in 'very serious' condition By the CNN Wire Staff

120411115527-argentine-miracle-baby-story-top A premature baby who survived hours in a morgue refrigerator in Argentina was in "very serious" condition after doctors detected an infection, state media reported.

The infection could compromise Luz Milagros Veron's neurological system and kidney function, the Telam news agency reported Thursday.

The 9-day-old baby was being treated with antibiotics, said Diana Vesco, chief of neonatology at the Perrando Hospital in northeast Argentina, according to the state news agency.

The baby's survival grabbed global headlines and prompted her parents to give her a new name: Luz Milagros, the Spanish words for light and miracles.

Pronounced dead after her premature birth on April 3, she withstood more than 10 hours in a coffin inside a morgue refrigerator before being found alive.

"Today is the eighth day of my daughter's resurrection," the girl's father, Fabian Veron, told CNN Wednesday.

Every, doctor, nurse and morgue worker who dealt with the baby at the hospital has been suspended as an investigation gets underway, officials said.

"There was an error of medical protocol. This is about human error," said Francisco Baquero, Chaco province's health minister, according to Telam.

Provincial officials provided compensation to the family Thursday, Telam reported, including cell phones, an economic subsidy, a motorcycle and transportation assistance.

Earlier this week, the hospital's director told CNN proper protocol had been followed.

The baby had no vital signs when she was born, hospital director Dr. Jose Luis Meirino told CNN.

The gynecologist on hand didn't find any signs of life, so he passed the baby to a neonatal doctor who also didn't find vital signs, Meirino said.

The doctors observed the baby for a while, and only then, pronounced her dead.

Two morgue workers then put her body inside a little wooden coffin and placed it in the morgue.

"Up to that point, there were still no vital signs," the hospital director said.

That night, mother Analia Boutet insisted on seeing her dead daughter's body, Veron said.

"They put the coffin on top of a stretcher and we looked for a little crowbar to open it because it was nailed shut," Veron told a local television station. "It was nailed shut. I put the crowbar in there and started prying. I took a breath and took the lid off."

Boutet approached the baby's body, touched her hand, and heard a cry, Veron told CNN.

Veron's brother-in-law rushed the baby back to the neonatal ward. He clutched her close to his chest for warmth. She felt like an ice-cold bottle against his body, the relative told Veron.

"I can't explain what happened. Only that God has performed a miracle," Veron said.

Meirino said it was the first time he had witnessed an incident like this, but that a nearly identical thing happened in Israel in 2008.

In that case, a baby was found alive in a morgue refrigerator after having been declared dead.

Some doctors at the time said that it was possible that the low temperatures inside the refrigerator had slowed down the baby's metabolism and helped her survive. However, that baby later died.


Lamborghini Portfolio Will Grow With New Sportscars, SUV

Lamborghini-SUV-rendering Despite spending the better part of its history hawking just two different model lines, Lamborghini under Volkswagen Group’s care is looking to grow – and big time. Not only will the storied brand add a third, SUV range, but possibly with a flock of new sports cars that draw on the company’s heritage.

Thankfully, the long-rumored Lamborghini crossover to be unveiled at the Beijing show in a few weeks is much prettier and more credible than Bentley’s gaudy EXP 9 F. When the crossover hits the streets in 2016, Lamborghini will firmly establish the much ballyhooed third model range. Lamborghini has figured out that most of their buyers also own a SUV on top of their supercar, so why not give them a Lamborghini SUV to drive every day?

The powerplant for the 21st-century Rambo Lambo has long been rumored to be 550-580 hp 5.2-liter V-10, but more recent reports are pointing toward a high-power quad-turbocharged V-8, unlike its big brother from England with its thirsty 12-cylinder. No matter the engine, the Italian SUV will share its platform with the Bentley crossover, as well as the next-generation Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne, and Volkswagen Touareg.

Does the SUV deliver the kiss of death to the gorgeous Estoque sedan concept from the 2008 Paris Motor Show? Yes and no. Yes, because Lamborghini cannot simultaneously fund two all-new projects. No, because many design cues of the Estoque have been transferred to all-terrain model. So far, the SUV lacks a proper name, but in the past, MLC, Urus, and Deimos have all popped up as potential monikers for the four-wheel-drive Lambo.

At the Paris show this October, Lamobrghini will take unwrap the facelifted Gallardo, marking something close to the fifth or sixth update of the gracefully ageing sports car. A new model is to arrive in late 2013 or early 2014, assuming it gets board approval – a second-generation Gallardo and Audi R8 have yet to be confirmed by VW Group top brass. Like past Lamborghinis, the new Gallardo will eventually be offered as a coupe and spyder, and in at least one high-performance edition name Performante and Super Veloce, respectively. While the Aventador remains loyal to the V-12, its smaller stablemate will again boast a V-10.

Speaking of big, bad, butch bulls, the crazy Aventador J Concept from this year’s Geneva show is only a one-off, and the carbon-fiber intensive Sesto Elemento due next year is limited to just 20 units. Still a possibility, but far from being a live project, is a front-engined two-door sports car that would be a modern-age Espada, Jarama, or 400 GT.

Mid-term, Lamborghini – which is effectively an Audi subsidiary – will conceive all its sports cars in close cooperation with Porsche, employing VW Group’s new MSB-M architecture that is being developed by the boys from Stuttgart. The only remaining product-related link to Ingolstadt  will likely be the SUV.

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