Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The White House says President Barack Obama awarded six Purple Hearts to service members on Wednesday.

The commander in chief met with 22 service members during a midday visit to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., just outside Washington. Twenty-one of the military personnel served in Afghanistan; the other served in Iraq.

Obama also visited with medical center staff and families of the wounded.

Such visits by the president are closed to media coverage.
Plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the FBI say they have become paranoid that the agency is following them and monitoring their phone calls after an informant was ordered to target Muslims for surveillance when he infiltrated California mosques.

Ali Malik said Wednesday that his wife has recurring dreams that he will be snatched by the FBI, and the couple fears their phones are bugged.

Malik is one of three plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Southern California and the Los Angeles office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The lawsuit alleges that ex-FBI informant Craig Monteilh (mon-TAY') violated Muslims' constitutional rights by conducting "indiscriminate surveillance" because of their religion.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller says the agency does not target religious groups or individuals based on their religion.
Dozens of political activists and union members rounded up in Zimbabwe last week faced a possible death sentence as prosecutors Wednesday accused them of plotting an Egyptian-style uprising against longtime President Robert Mugabe.

The 46 defendants have been charged with treason, prosecutor Edmore Nyazamba told a packed courtroom. They were arrested Saturday after authorities said they were caught watching footage of the protests that led to the ouster of Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia in January and of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak two weeks ago.

"On 16 February they held a meeting and the purpose of the meeting was to org anise, strategize and implement the removal of a constitutional government of Zimbabwe by unconstitutional means, the Tunisian-Egyptian way," Nyazamba said.

"In their speeches, the accused highlighted that there was a long serving dictator/authoritarian leader, general hunger, poverty, unemployment and capitalist tendencies where wealth is enjoyed by a few individuals while the general populace is suffering."

On Wednesday, the activists' lawyer said he would oppose the charge against his clients, who were ordered to remain in custody overnight.

"There is no basis for placing them on remand," the attorney, Alec Muchadehama, argued.

Mugabe, who turned 87 on Monday, has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. Like Mubarak and Ben Ali, he has been accused of rigging elections and instituting repressive laws to tighten his grip on power.

The arrests may be an indication authorities are worried that the winds of change sweeping across north Africa may inspire Zimbabweans to rise up. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, which is in a troubled unity government with Mugabe's ZANU-PF, has called the arrests "an abuse of state machinery by ZANU-PF to suppress the people's views."

Mugabe's policies over the past 10 years have been blamed for plunging the once-prosperous country into an unprecedented economic crisis. Mugabe has called for an election this year, but his political rival and leader of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, has threatened to boycott the poll if a referendum on a new constitution is not held.
Even as Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi called on the military to crack down on anti-government protesters, reports came in Wednesday that a military aircraft had crashed because the crew refused to carry out bombing orders.

An opposition figure told CNN the pilot had been ordered to bomb oil fields southwest of Benghazi but refused and instead ejected from the plane.

The Libyan newspaper Quryna reported that two people were on board, and that both -- the pilot and co-pilot -- parachuted out, allowing the plane to crash into an uninhabited area west of Ajdabiya, 160 kilometers (100 miles) southwest of Benghazi. The newspaper cited military sources.

Quryna itself is a sign of the changes sweeping through Libya. When protests began last week, it carried regime propaganda. But it later reported on the protests and casualty figures.

CNN could not confirm reports for many areas in Libya. The Libyan government maintains tight control on communications and has not responded to repeated requests from CNN for access to the country. CNN has interviewed numerous witnesses by phone.

A Libyan Arab Airlines plane was denied permission to land in Malta on Wednesday, Maltese government sources said. Permission was denied for "clearance reasons," because officials did not know who was on board, the sources said.

Meanwhile, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Wednesday that the death toll in Libya may be as high as 1,000, a representative for the Italian Foreign Ministry said.

The head of the largest trauma hospital in Benghazi told CNN on Wednesday that 202 people have been confirmed dead in the city since protests began last week. The opposition now controls Benghazi, as it does much of eastern Libya.

On Wednesday, the ninth day of protests, Gadhafi faced more defections from within his regime and new international pressure to halt military actions against demonstrators.

Mystery surrounded the whereabouts of one prominent defector. Abdul Fattah Younis al Abidi, the country's interior minister, told CNN Wednesday that he had resigned two days earlier after hearing that 300 unarmed civilians had been killed in Benghazi. He accused Gadhafi of planning to attack civilians on a wide scale and predicted that protesters will achieve victory in "days or hours."

Hours after al Abidi said he resigned, the Libyan government announced Wednesday that he was kidnapped. State media reported that "gangs" had abducted him in Benghazi. Witnesses told CNN they saw al Abidi on Sunday and Monday in Benghazi, where he was siding with the protesters.

The United States is considering a range of tools to pressure Libya to end the violence and respect the rights of its people, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday. "That certainly includes sanctions that could be imposed either bilaterally or multilaterally," Crowley said.

Peru and Botswana both announced they were breaking diplomatic ties with Libya. Peruvian President Alan Garcia said his country suspended diplomatic relations after condemning "the repression unleashed by Gadhafi."

Botswana's foreign affairs ministry said in a statement, "In light of the massive and disproportionate force visited upon peaceful protesters by the Libyan security forces, the government of Botswana summoned the Libyan Representative in Gaborone and expressed its revulsion at the Libyan government's response to peaceful protesters and called for restraint in dealing with the situation."

The Supreme Court will let Mazda be sued in California courts in case involving a woman who died while wearing a seat belt across her lap in her family's minivan.

The high court in a unanimous judgment Wednesday agreed to let the lawsuit go forward, despite complaints from the car company that federal regulators gave it an option on whether to install lap belts or lap-and-shoulder belts in the middle seats in the back of the van.

Thanh Williamson's family wants to sue Mazda Motor of America Inc. because it made its 1993 Mazda MPV minivan with only lap seat belts in the middle seat of the van's second row. Williamson, who was from Utah, died in a 2002 accident; her family says her body jackknifed around the lap belt causing fatal internal injuries.

Federal regulations require lap-and-shoulder belts for the front seats and the rear outer seats but give companies an option on the rear middle or aisle seats. The Williamsons want a court to say that Mazda was negligent for not putting the lap-and-shoulder belts on the inner seats on its own.

But Mazda said it is immune from lawsuits because the federal government in 1989 gave it a choice of installing either lap or lap-and-shoulder seat belts in the middle rear seat. A lawsuit forcing them to use lap-and-shoulder belts, the company said, would invalidate the choice being offered by the regulation.

Moammar Gadhafi never trusted his own army.

So Libya's leader of 41 years kept his military weak to prevent any serious challenges to his rule.

With money and patronage, he seeded supporters in key posts. He built up militias and armed "revolutionary committees" that are the final line of support for him and his powerful sons.

They are expected to fight for him if the regular military forces turn against him.

This is what is allowing him to hold onto the capital of Tripoli, while large parts of the vast, desert country outside the capital fall quickly to anti-government protesters.

It's also why the uprising in Libya will not go the way of Egypt and Tunisia, where a disciplined, organized, military stepped in, pushed authoritarian leaders out and spared their nations serious turmoil.

The uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia - Libya's neighbors to the east and west, respectively - led relatively cleanly to the ouster of their leaders. Libya, on the other hand, already is deadlier, more complicated.

With Gadhafi lashing out with full force and half his country broken away, the North African nation could fragment or fall into bloody civil war.

A sparsely populated desert nation with most of its 6 million population strung along a porous Mediterranean coast, Libya has many fissures.

Tribal loyalties are strong and could eventually decide the fate of the regime. Gadhafi spent many of his years cementing his hold on power. So, besides weakening the army and strengthening loyal militias, he used the country's vast oil and gas wealth to co-opt tribes. He gave them cash, perks and jobs, and fostered blood ties with intertribal marriages.

Thousands of Libyans celebrated the liberation of the eastern city of Benghazi from the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, who was reported to have sent a plane to bomb them on Wednesday as he clung to power.

The crew bailed out of the aircraft after it took off from the capital Tripoli. It then came down south-west of Benghazi, Libya's Quryna newspaper cited a military source as saying, averting a fresh bloodshed in almost a week of violence.

Tripoli, along with western Libya, is still under Gaddafi's control and people there said they were too afraid of pro-government militia to go out after Gaddafi threatened violence against protesters in a speech on Tuesday night.

As many as 1,000 people have been killed in since the revolt began around a week ago, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said as world leaders scrambled to evacuate their citizens and disagreed on how to end the turmoil.

Also abandoning Gaddafi's realm have been officials and diplomats previously loyal to the veteran leader. A small Libyan airliner turned away from Malta on Wednesday was carrying a daughter of Gaddafi, Al Jazeera said from the European island.


Oil prices climbed above $110 a barrel amid fears chaos could spread to other oil-producing nations and choke supplies, which could dash hopes of any quick global economic recovery.

Trade sources said at least oil cargoes did make it out of Libyan ports over the 24 hours to mid-Wednesday, however.

An air force officer, Major Rajib Faytouni, said in Benghazi, the cradle of the revolt, that he had witnessed up to 4,000 mercenaries arrive on Libyan transport planes over three days starting from February 14, London's Guardian newspaper said.

"That's why we turned against the government. That and the fact there was an order to use planes to attack the people," he told the newspaper in Benghazi.

A judge told Lindsay Lohan on Wednesday he would sentence her to jail if she accepted a plea deal from prosecutors to avoid trial for allegedly stealing a $2,500 necklace from an upscale jewelry store.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Keith Schwartz tersely told the troubled starlet what she could expect if she pleaded guilty or no contest in the felony case.

"If you plead in front of me, if this case is resolved in front of me, you are going to jail," Schwartz said. "Period."

But if she rejects the deal, and a judge determines there's enough evidence to order her to stand trial, she could be punished because she was still on probation for a 2007 drunken driving case when the necklace was stolen.

That could mean Lohan - who has pleaded not guilty - is sentenced to jail before the theft case is even tried.

Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts has left the team's spring training camp to receive x-rays for a sore neck.

Roberts says he woke up with a neck problem Wednesday morning. He was not able to participate in the full-squad workout following a team meeting.

This is the latest health issue for Roberts, who appeared in only 59 games in 2010 because of a variety of ailments. He reported to camp last year with a herniated disk in his back, and went on the disabled list after four games with a strained abdominal muscle. The Orioles transferred him to the 60-day DL on May 12.

The club's leadoff hitter missed the final six games of the season because of headaches likely caused by a minor concussion.
Osama bin Laden must be sitting in his comfortably appointed hideaway somewhere in northwest Pakistan watching the events in the Middle East unfold with a mixture of glee and despair.

Glee, because overthrowing the dictatorships and monarchies of the Middle East has long been his central goal.

Despair, because none of the Arab revolutions has anything to do with him.

There were no revolutionaries in the streets of Cairo carrying placards with pictures of bin Laden's face, nor are the protesters in Bahrain spouting al Qaeda's venomous critiques of the West. Those calling for the overthrow of Gadhafi are not graduates of bin Laden's training camps.

The Google executives and Facebook revolutionaries who launched the revolt in Egypt represent everything that bin Laden and al Qaeda hate: Secular, liberal and anti-authoritarian, they also include -- gasp -- women.

Even the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist mass movement in Egypt, which joined the revolution as it was already in motion, is opposed by al Qaeda.

The Brotherhood participates in conventional politics and elections, which bin Laden and his followers believe are against Islam.

Al Qaeda's No. 2, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, has even written an entire book condemning the Muslim Brotherhood.

Predictably, last week Zawahiri released an audiotape opportunistically seeking to position al Qaeda as having some sort of role in the momentous events unfolding in the Arab world.

In the tape Zawahiri called for his native Egypt to be governed as an Islamic state. Of course, Egypt is already a country where Islam plays a key role as about nine out of 10 Egyptians are Muslim, and Al-Azhar University in central Cairo is the nearest that Sunni Islam comes to having a Vatican.

What Zawahiri means by his call for an Islamic state is that Egypt should be run as a Taliban-style theocracy with no rights for women or minorities.

A few hundred yards from the Pearl Roundabout, the epicenter of Bahrain's protest movement, you can be blissfully unaware of the turmoil that has suddenly engulfed this island kingdom.

Caressed by the muzak of Richard Clayderman, you can wander the polished floors of a mall that would dwarf many in suburban America. There's a Radio Shack, a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop and, it seems, every apparel store known to the United States. You can escape the political drama playing out here by taking in a movie at the 16-screen megaplex cinema.

Bahrain's malls -- and there are dozens of them -- are emblematic of an aggressive drive to make this kingdom a Gulf powerhouse. The slogan is "Business Friendly Bahrain." Big international banks are coaxed into setting up here; Bahrain is the banking center of the Gulf. There is a surfeit of luxury property for rent.

High-profile international events are staged here -- including round one of the 2011 Formula 1 Grand Prix, but that was canceled last week due to the unrest.

A large pool of migrant workers provides cheap labor -- sometimes it seems there are almost as many Pakistanis and Filipinos here as Bahrainis.

Through the hazy glare, the Manama skyline boasts shining high-rise complexes, with more to come, despite a sharp decline in rental values over the past two years, according to international real estate agency Knight Frank.

Chris Sale spent the offseason training in Florida at his alma mater, Florida Gulf Coast University. Close to family and friends, he was in his comfort zone.

Sale received a regular regimen from Chicago White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper.

"I was on and off the phone with Coop once a week," the 21-year-old Sale said. "He was telling me what to do each week and I'd call him at the end of each week, tell him how it went, and get another week's worth of specifics."

Unsure whether he'd be in the rotation or bullpen this season, Sale was told to prepare as a starter. That allowed him to work on all of his pitches and stay in his normal routine.

But when spring training opened, general manager Kenny Williams said Sale wasn't in contention to be the No. 5 starter should Jake Peavy not be ready when the season starts. Now Sale hopes to be Chicago's closer.

"It's a relief to know what exact specific role I'm pursuing this year," Sale said. "They know me better than I do. They've done this before."

Sale went 11-0 with a 2.01 ERA in 103 innings in college ball last year. He was drafted 13th overall by the White Sox in June, signed for a $1,656,000 bonus and made his major league debut in August.

Sale had a 1.93 ERA for the White Sox with four saves and 32 strikeouts in 23 1-3 innings.

"This has been a whirlwind year for me. I couldn't have asked to be in a better situation," he said. "It's easy for me to go out there and do my job when I know everyone behind me believes in me and supports me."

Matt Thornton also is competing for the closer's role.

"It's going to be tough to get that job, but I'm looking forward to working for it," Sale said. "The adrenaline rush closing out ballgames is unbelievable. You go out there and get the job done, we shake hands and go home. Or you're walking off the mound, disappointed. I'm looking forward to shaking some hands this year."
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Flight attendant Betty Ong couldn't tell exactly what was happening in the cockpit of American Airlines Flight 11, but it was clear to her that there was trouble.

"I don't know, but I think we're getting hijacked," she said in a phone call to an American Airlines reservation desk at 8:19 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001.

The audio recording of that call - her relaying that two other employees had been stabbed, that they couldn't get into the cockpit and didn't know who was in there, that someone had sprayed something into the air, the long stretches of silence on the other end of the phone as her listeners seemingly struggled to fully absorb what they were being told - is part of an online timeline that attempts to give a sense of order to that most chaotic of days.

The timeline, put together by the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and launched Wednesday, incorporates audio recordings from phone calls on that day, oral histories from survivors and eyewitnesses and graphic photographs and video snippets arranged in chronological order. Viewers can use social media including Facebook and Twitter as well as e-mail to share links to the site and to particular photos and videos.

The timeline starts at 5:45 a.m., with photographs of hijackers Mohammed Atta and Abdulaziz al-Omari passing through airport security in Maine for a flight to Boston, where they would board Flight 11. It ends at 8:30 p.m., with President George W. Bush addressing the nation.

Along the way, it outlines the departures of all four fatal flights and shows images of their passenger manifests, video and photos of the World Trade Center's north and south towers after they were hit and heart-breaking moments such as when United Airlines Flight 175 passenger Brian Sweeney left a voicemail for his wife, Julie Sweeney.

Officials at a military base in central California have delayed the launch of a rocket carrying an Earth-observation satellite.

Tech Sgt. Ben Rojek of the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base confirmed that the launch was scrubbed five minutes before its planned takeoff early Wednesday.

Rojek cited a "technical engineering problem" as the reason for the delay, which pushed back the launch by 24 hours. He said a status console "was trying to tell (NASA officials) something they already knew," indicating a problem with the system.

The Taurus XL rocket was carrying NASA's Glory satellite, which is slated for a three-year mission to analyze how airborne particles affect Earth's climate. Besides monitoring particles in the atmosphere, Glory will also track solar activity to determine the sun's effect on climate.

The $434 million mission is managed by the NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
In televised speech, Libyan leader blames youths inspired by regional events for uprising and vows to die a 'martyr'.

Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has vowed to fight on and die a "martyr", calling on his supporters to take back the streets from protesters demanding his ouster, shouting and pounding his fist in a furious speech on state TV.

Gaddafi, clad in brown robes and a turban, spoke on Tuesday evening from a podium set up in the entrance of a bombed-out building that appeared to be his Tripoli residence hit by US air raids in the 1980s and left unrepaired as a monument of defiance.

"I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents ... I will die as a martyr at the end," he said.

"Muammar Gaddafi is the leader of the revolution, I am not a president to step down ... This is my country. Muammar is not a president to leave his post."

"I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired ... when I do, everything will burn."

He called on supporters to take to the streets to attack protesters. "You men and women who love Gaddafi ...get out of your homes and fill the streets," he said. "Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs ... Starting tomorrow [Wednesday] the cordons will be lifted, go out and fight them."

Gaddafi said "peaceful protests is one thing, but armed rebellion is another".

He urged all young men to immediately "form local committees for popular security", telling them to wear a green armband to identify themselves. "The Libyan people and the popular revolution will control Libya."

The speech, which appeared to have been taped earlier, was aired on a screen to hundreds of supporters massed in Tripoli's central Green Square.

At times the camera panned out to show a towering gold-coloured monument in front of the building, showing a fist crushing a fighter jet with an American flag on it - a view that also gave the strange image of Gaddafi speaking alone from behind a podium in the building's dilapidated lobby, with no audience in front of him.

Speech highlights

Shouting in the rambling speech, Gaddafi declared himself "a warrior" and proclaimed: "Libya wants glory, Libya wants to be at the pinnacle, at the pinnacle of the world".

The Libyan leader alleged that all of those who were protesting against his rule were "drugged", and called on people to capture them and bring them "to justice", and not to back down from "cleans[ing] Libya house by house" unless of the protesters surrendered.

Gaddafi warned that instability in his country would create an opportunity for extremist elements, saying that it would "give al-Qaeda a base".

He also warned that he could resort to using extreme force against opposition in the cities of Derna and Bayda, citing examples of the use of state force in Russia and China as times when the international community did not interfere.

Gaddafi offered a new constitution to citizens, starting from Wednesday, but asserted that the constitution would only come into effect through dialogue.

He blamed the uprising on Islamists who wanted to "create another Afghanistan", and warned that those in Bayda and Derna had already set up an Islamic Emirate that would reach Benghazi, the country's second largest city where hundreds have been reported dead in recent violence.

He said that the country's youth was drugged and did not know anything; they were following the Islamists' leader and their leaders would be punished with death in accordance with the Libyan law.

Just hours after Gaddafi's speech, Libya's interior minister, General Abdul-Fatah Younis, announced his resignation and support for what he called the "February 17 revolution".

In a video obtained by Al Jazeera, he was seen sitting on a desk reading a statement that also urged the Libyan army to join the people and their "legitimate demands".
Rescue teams in New Zealand continued to search for survivors Wednesday after a powerful earthquake rocked downtown Christchurch, killing scores of people, toppling buildings and leaving others trapped beneath piles of concrete.

At least 75 people have died, 55 of whom have been identified, according to Prime Minister John Key. Hundreds are still missing, Key told reporters at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Among the missing are 10 Japanese students believed to be trapped under the rubble at King's Education College.

Key also told reporters that he will urge the nation's parliament to declare a state of emergency for all of New Zealand.

The 6.3-magnitude quake struck Christchurch during the lunchtime rush Tuesday. Frantic rescuers scrambled to reach those trapped beneath the rubble hours. Dazed, bleeding residents wandered through streets strewn with debris and piles of concrete.

The quake toppled buildings onto buses, buckled streets, forced the collapse of a cathedral spire and cut power for most of the city.

Quake hits fragile economy

Rescuers worked overnight under floodlights pulling "a large number of people" from collapsed buildings, according to a police department statement posted online Wednesday.

"Significant numbers of people" were trapped inside two downtown buildings that "suffered major collapse," the statement read. "Police are also aware of there being a number of deceased people in both buildings."

Rescuers abandon bid to save trapped students

Twenty-two people, two of them seriously hurt, were pulled from the PPG building on Cambridge Terrace. Another 22 are still believed to be trapped in the rubble there. Meanwhile, eight people have been rescued from the CTV building, at Madras and Cashel streets, but "a large number are still unaccounted for," police said.

"This is just heartbreaking," Key said during a trip to survey the damage. "This may be New Zealand's darkest day."

U.S. President Barack Obama released a statement expressing his condolences for the victims of the New Zealand earthquake and offering to help.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with all those whose lives have been touched by this tragedy. The United States is a close friend and partner of New Zealand," the president stated. "To assist in the rescue and recovery efforts, we have agreed to deploy a U.S. Agency for International Development Disaster Assistance Response Team, including an Urban Search and Rescue Team, and we stand ready to provide more assistance as needed."

A U.S. congressional delegation was in the city for a joint U.S.-New Zealand conference hours before the quake struck.

"Having experienced the warm reception of the people of Christchurch at the Partnership Forum only hours before the earthquake struck makes this disaster all the more personal and poignant," said Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Illinois, chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.

The U.S. delegation left Christchurch on Tuesday morning, less than three hours before the quake struck.

The initial quake, which struck Christchurch shortly before 1 p.m. Tuesday, was followed by a series of 33 aftershocks with magnitudes of 4 to 6, according to the New Zealand Ministry of Defense.

A Japanese school said its students and teachers visiting the city were trapped under the rubble. Eleven students have been rescued so far, eight of whom remained hospitalized Wednesday and were receiving treatment, the school said. The trapped are communicating by mobile phone.

The 21 students and two teachers were eating lunch when the earthquake struck, said Sayaka Kawai, an employee at the Toyama Foreign Language School.

The school said it learned of the earthquake after one of the teachers sent a text message to her parents in Japan.

The teacher, who was trapped, said she could see seven students around her but she could not account for the rest.

A Japanese travel agency said it has been unable to contact some of its tourists who were in the city. Japan plans to send a rescue team to help with the efforts, according to authorities.

Police, military and rescue crews have been dispatched from all over the country to help with rescue efforts, Key said.

The quake ripped the facade of the iconic Christchurch Cathedral. At the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, piles of stone sat atop crushed chairs on the floor as a light shone through a collapsed tower above the sanctuary.

Southern New Zealand has been hit by a series of quakes since September 4, when a 7.1-magnitude temblor struck the area. The earthquake hit in the predawn hours, with the deserted streets helping keep injuries to a minimum. There were no deaths from that quake.

The September quake struck deeper below ground and further away from Christchurch than Tuesday's temblor, and thus caused less damage despite the higher magnitude, officials said. Key said Wednesday that the September quake caused between $5 and $6 billion in damage in New Zealand dollars ($3.75 billion to $4.5 billion U.S.).

According to an estimate released by J.P. Morgan Chase and Co., the Tuesday earthquake could cost insurers more than twice that amount. That would make the latest New Zealand temblor the world's most expensive natural disaster since Hurricane Ike struck the United States in 2008, causing nearly $20 billion (U.S.) in damage.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Tuesday's earthquake was part of the "aftershock sequence" of the September earthquake.

"It's a nightmare. A lot of people were just getting back on their feet after the original quake," said Kevin Fenaughty, data center manager for GNS Science, an earth-science research institute.

Queen Elizabeth II said she was "utterly shocked" by news of another earthquake.

"Please convey my deep sympathy to the families and friends of those who have been killed; my thoughts are with all those who have been affected by this dreadful event," she said in a message to Key.

Key vowed that Christchurch will be rebuilt.

"Christchurch, today is the day your comeback begins," Key said. "While nature has taken much from you, it cannot take your survivor spirit."
Iran's president is warning that the wave of protests sweeping the Middle East will spread to Europe and North America.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says popular demands for change will put an end to the oppression of what he called "arrogant powers." Without signaling out nations by name, he says similar uprisings will strike Europe and North America.

Speaking on state TV Wednesday, the president also condemned Libya's use of force against demonstrators and urged Libyan leaders to give in to the demands of their people.

In their first press conference since a revolt began on February 14, the Libyan government's secretary general and deputy commander of the air force said that reports of air strikes against civilians were false.

They singled out Qatar, Al Jazeera's host country, for spreading "lies" and hiring Egyptian and Libyan "sheikhs with high salaries" to foment the unrest.

Al Jazeera's Omar Al Saleh reports.
Pirates shot dead four U.S. hostages on a private yacht on Tuesday, the deadliest incident involving Americans kidnapped for ransom in the increasingly dangerous waters off Somalia.

The U.S. military said the pirates shot the hostages before American special forces boarded the vessel.

U.S. troops killed two pirates as they took control of the boat, and took 15 pirates into custody. Another two pirates were found dead when the U.S. special forces arrived but they were not killed by U.S. forces, the military said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. government was "deeply saddened and very upset by the murder of four American citizens" -- a "deplorable act" that underscored the need for more international cooperation against the pirates.

"We've got to have a more effective approach to maintaining security on the seas, in the ocean lanes, that are so essential to commerce and travel," she told reporters.

Pirate gangs preying on shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean typically target large merchant ships, with oil tankers the prize catch, but the snatching of foreigners can also yield high ransoms. There were around 750 pirate hostages at the end of January.

The Americans killed on Tuesday were Jean and Scott Adam, from California, as well as Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle from Seattle.

The U.S. military said negotiations with the pirates had been under way when on Tuesday morning, without warning, a pirate fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett.

Then gunfire broke out inside the pirated vessel.

Hours after Libya's former interior minister said he resigned to support anti-government protesters, the Libyan government said he had been kidnapped.

Abdul Fattah Younis al Abidi told CNN Wednesday that he resigned Monday after hearing that 300 unarmed civilians had been killed in Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city. He accused Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi of planning to attack civilians on a wide scale.

But the same day, Libyan state media reported that "gangs" in Benghazi had kidnapped him. Witnesses have reported that Benghazi has essentially been taken over by the opposition. Witnesses also told CNN they saw Younis on Sunday and Monday in Benghazi, where he was siding with the protesters.

CNN could not immediately confirm reports for areas beyond Benghazi. The Libyan government maintains tight control on communications and has not responded to repeated requests from CNN for access to the country. CNN has interviewed numerous witnesses by phone.

Libyan state television added that Libyan forces have warned those responsible for the kidnapping that they "will be chased in their hiding places."

Earlier Wednesday, al Abidi said he had quit the government and is supporting the protesters, who he predicted will achieve victory in "days or hours."

"Gadhafi told me he was planning on using airplanes against the people in Benghazi, and I told him that he will have thousands of people killed if he does that," al Abidi said in an Arabic-language telephone interview Wednesday.

He called Gadhafi "a stubborn man" who will not give up. "He will either commit suicide or he will get killed," said al Abidi, who said he has known him since 1964.

Two Turkish ships evacuated 3,000 Turks from the chaos of Libya's popular uprising on Wednesday, but thousands of foreigners remained stranded at the country's main airport awaiting flights home.

"The airport was mobbed, you wouldn't believe the number of people," Kathleen Burnett, of Baltimore, Ohio, said Tuesday as she stepped off an Austrian Airlines flight from Tripoli to Vienna. "It was total chaos."

On Tuesday, British Airways and Emirates, the Middle East's largest airline, said they were canceling flights to Tripoli because of the violence there.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has urged his supporters to strike back against the Libyan protesters in an escalation of a crackdown that has led to widespread shooting in the streets. Nearly 300 people have been killed in the nationwide wave of anti-government protests.

The two Turkish commercial ships, which left from the Libyan port of Benghazi on Wednesday, are being escorted by a Turkish navy frigate, and the first one was expected to reach the Mediterranean port of Marmaris around midnight Wednesday, Turkey's Foreign Ministry said. Turkey dispatched another commercial ship to Libya early Wednesday.

Farmers have long struggled with getting ripe strawberries to market in good shape, but scientists say the recent mapping of the wild strawberry's genome may help them produce berries that are cheaper and easier to grow and arrive in stores in peak condition.

The woodland strawberry has become one of only a handful of food plants to have its genetic sequence charted, and scientists said the map could help them cut years off the time that it would take to produce similar results with traditional plant breeding techniques. But farmers and researchers also say the strawberry's genome isn't likely to be used to its full potential because of consumers' concerns about genetically modified foods.

Nate Nourse, who grows strawberries and other berries in Whately, Mass., said he saw a lot of potential in the strawberry genome map. Many of the strawberries he sells are what he calls June strawberries - sweet, sugary and something special for the few summer weeks they're available.

"But you can't hardly ship them because of the sugar content in them. The more sugar, the less shelf life," he said. He added, "This genetic stuff is going to help people understand what it is to make the sugars better."

He hoped the sequencing of the woodland strawberry genome would speed up the breeding process and make more reliable work that he describes now as a crap shoot. But, he said, that work can't include any sort of genetic modification - his customers wouldn't buy it.

Kevin Folta, an associate professor of horticulture at the University of Florida and one of the scientists who helped map the strawberry's genome, said that was one reason the strawberry industry contributed very little of the $200,000 needed to pay for the project. Growers didn't want to create a public relations problem for themselves.

Greg Louganis won four Olympic gold and five world championships during his illustrious career diving. During the 1988 Olympic springboard competition, he hit his head on the board and walked a concussion, but still back to win gold, capping one of the most memorable comebacks in the history of the Games. In 1995, Louganis revealed he was HIV positive. The New York Times caught up with the big dive, who recently returned to the sport as a junior coach. Some interesting tidbits from the piece:

1. Louganis accepted a job at SoCal divers four months ago after he was assured that his "brick" mentality that keeps a focus on mechanics perform. It is the first coaching he has done since 1976, when he helped his high school team after returning from the Montreal Games.

2. The diver threw herself a "spectacular event" when he turned 33 because he expects his last birthday. Eighteen years later he says his health is so good "you kind of forget."

3. He appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" last month at the 1995 show, which he revealed he was gay to discuss. Also appearing on that show was a man who said Louganis' appearance on Oprah, which he saw when he was 12 years old, helped him the courage to live his life as an openly gay man.

4. Before returning to coaching, Louganis was spending his time training dogs for agility competitions. A former Olympic teammate said Louganis' work with the dogs helps them give clear assignments are diverse.

5. To return to coach, Louganis said he did not dive. His Malibu home did not even have a diving board at the pool. That has apparently changed. The Times article ends with a description of the major diving gets on the board during a break in practice and performing pike that "caused barely a splash."