Monday, March 21, 2011

A federal prosecutor says a man accused of setting fire to a predominantly black church in western Massachusetts hours after the election of President Barack Obama was motivated by racism and has admitted to the crime.

Paul Smyth said Monday in his opening statement that Michael Jacques (JAKES) and two others who have pleaded guilty in the case complained black people would have more rights than whites.

Jacques' lawyer says he is innocent. He could face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of conspiracy against civil rights, damage to religious property and other charges.

Smyth showed a video of Jacques' confession that the men broke into the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield and poured gasoline before setting it ablaze.

The Treasury Department announced Monday that it will begin selling its remaining $142 billion in holdings of mortgage-backed securities purchased during the financial crisis.

Treasury officials said the first sales of up to $10 billion in the securities, primarily issued by troubled mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, would start this month.

Assistant Treasury Secretary Mary Miller said that the sales represented a continuation of efforts by the government to wind down the emergency programs put in place in 2008 and 2009 to help restore market stability.

Treasury estimated it could make a profit of $15 billion to $20 billion on its holdings, depending on market conditions.

"We will exit this investment at a gradual and orderly pace to maximize the recovery of taxpayer dollars and help protect the process of repair of the housing finance market," Miller said in a statement.

Treasury acquired its holdings of mortgage-backed securities after the government took over Fannie and Freddie in September 2008 at the height of the financial crisis. The program was designed to stabilize the market for mortgage-backed securities, which investors had started to flee as defaults in the mortgage market began to escalate. Treasury announced in December 2009 that it was halting the purchase of new securities under the program. At the time it had purchased a total of $220 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities.

Treasury said in its announcement Monday that the market for mortgage-backed securities had "notably improved" since 2008 and 2009.

The euro has risen to a four-and-a-half month high against the U.S. dollar, which is mixed against other major currencies.

Analysts say last week's coordinated currency intervention by the Group of Seven nations to reign in the rising yen, a sense that the worst of Japan's nuclear crisis may be over and hopes for a long-term agreement to support Europe's most indebted countries were bolstering investors' appetite for the euro which rose as high as $1.4203, its strongest level since Nov. 5.

The British pound also rose against the dollar, which slipped against several other major currencies.

But the dollar gained ground against the yen and Swiss franc.

Daniel Radcliffe looks forward to a tolerant world where young people grow up unaffected by differences in sexual orientation.

For the past couple of years, the "Harry Potter" star has been doing his part to make that a reality with his work with the Trevor Project, the leading organization for suicide prevention efforts among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youths.

For his contribution, Radcliffe is being honored with the organization's Hero Award at a ceremony in New York in June.

"It's fantastic," Radcliffe told The Associated Press. "The fact that they think of what I've done by promoting awareness of the Trevor Project itself and the issues that it works to promote and help is a great honor."

The Trevor Hero Award, announced Monday, recognizes a person who serves as an inspiration to sexual minority youths and increases visibility and understanding of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning, or LGBTQ, community. Past Hero Award recipients include screen and stage actor Nathan Lane, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and former Miss America and "Ugly Betty" actress Vanessa Williams.

While privileged to be a part of this group carrying forward the organization's life-saving work, Radcliffe said he feels a little bashful about it, too.

"The people that are doing the heroic things are the people answering phones 24 hours a day in the Trevor call centers," he said. "I think that out of everything that I've done so far in my career, I think this is absolutely one of the most important, if not the most important, thing that I'm associated with."

The international military intervention in Libya is likely to last "a while," a top French official said Monday, echoing Moammar Gadhafi's warning of a long war ahead as rebels, energized by the strikes on their opponents, said they were fighting to reclaim a city under siege from the Libyan leader's forces.

Burned-out tanks and personnel carriers littered the main desert road leading southwest from Benghazi, the rebel's capital in the east of the country - the remains of a pro-Gadhafi force that had been besieging the city until it was pounded by international strikes the past two nights.

Rebel fighters in Benghazi had now pushed down that highway to the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, which pro-Gadhafi forces have surrounded and been pounding with artillery and strikes since last week. The rebels swept into the nearby oil port of Zwitina, just northeast of the city, which was also the scene of heavy fighting last week - though now had been abandoned by regime forces. There, a power station hit by shelling on Thursday was still burning, its blackened fuel tank crumpled, with flames and black smoke pouring out.

Oil prices held above $102 a barrel after the second night of allied strikes in the OPEC nation raised fears of prolonged fighting that has already slowed Libyan oil production to a trickle.

Henri Guaino, a top adviser to the French president, said two nights of bombing runs and missile attacks had hobbled Libya's air defenses, stalled Gadhafi's troops and all but ended attacks on civilians. A cruise missile late Sunday blasted Gadhafi's residential compound near his iconic tent, and fighter jets destroyed a line of tanks moving on the rebel capital.

It was not known where Gadhafi was when the missile hit Sunday, but it seemed to show that he is not safe.

France's privacy watchdog has handed down its largest fine ever against Google for improperly gathering and storing potentially sensitive data from Wi-Fi networks for its Street View application.

Monday's euro100,000 ($141,300) fine sanctions Google for collecting personal data - including e-mails, web browsing histories and online banking details - from 2007 to 2010 through its roaming camera-mounted cars and bicycles.

AT&T says that if its deal to buy T-Mobile USA goes through, T-Mobile subscribers with "3G" phones will need to replace those to keep their wireless broadband service working.

AT&T Inc. on Sunday said it had agreed to buy T-Mobile USA for $39 billion. If approved by regulators, the deal would close about a year from now.

AT&T said Monday that it in the year after the closing, it plans to rearrange how T-Mobile's cell towers work. The spectrum they use for third-generation services, or 3G, will be repurposed for 4G, which is faster.

That would leave current T-Mobile phones without 3G. They would need to be replaced with phones that use AT&T's 3G frequencies. AT&T said it had factored the cost of replacement phones into the total cost of the acquisition.
Israel is handing back ownership of a czarist-era landmark in the heart of Jerusalem to Russia, defusing a long-simmering dispute between the two countries right before Israel's leader visits Moscow.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office has not disclosed the agenda for Thursday's visit but he is expected to urge Moscow not to sell sophisticated missiles to Syria and to support efforts to keep Iran's nuclear ambitions in check.

The return of ownership of the property known as Sergei's Courtyard, approved in 2008, appeared to be a goodwill gesture ahead of the visit.

The hewn stone building, built in 1890 to accommodate Russian pilgrims to the Holy Land, is a prominent edifice on the Jerusalem landscape with its soaring turret and lush garden. About a dozen workers were moving crates out of the building Monday and loading them into trucks.

"Israel is vacating Sergei's Courtyard in accordance with the understandings reached between Israel and the Russian Federation," an Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

The site was named for Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, a son of Czar Alexander III, and is part of a complex known as the Russian Compound. Israel bought most of it from the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, paying with oranges because it didn't have hard currency.

Israel seized control of it after the Soviet Union severed ties with the Jewish state following the 1967 Mideast war. The two countries restored ties in 1991 and negotiations to return the courtyard ownership to Russia began in the 1990s.

Police in Chile say a small bomb exploded and broke some windows at a U.S. cultural institute hours ahead of President Barack Obama's arrival.

No one was injured in the attack, which happened in Vina del Mar, a seaside city far from the Obamas' activities in the capital of Santiago.

Police captain Nibaldo Lillo said the bomb caused only minor damage. Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the attack at the Chilean-North American Institute, where people can read books in English and receive language lessons.

The Obama family's visit comes under tight security, with sharpshooters and more than 2,000 police deployed in the capital.
Graphic photos showing U.S. troops and dead Afghans that the Army was keeping under wraps for a war crimes probe were carried by a German news organization Monday, with one showing a soldier smiling as he posed with a bloodied and partially clothed corpse.

The photos published by Der Spiegel were among several seized by Army investigators looking into the deaths of three unarmed Afghans last year. Five soldiers based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle, have been charged with murder and conspiracy in the case.

Der Spiegel did not return calls seeking comment Monday, and it wasn't known how the organization obtained copies.

Editions with the photos were on newsstands Monday, a day after Der Spiegel published them digitally.

Officials involved in the courts-martial had issued a strict protective order, seeking to severely limit access to the photographs due to their sensitive nature. Some defense teams had been granted copies but were not allowed to disseminate them.

"Today Der Spiegel published photographs depicting actions repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States Army," the Army said in a statement released by Col. Thomas Collins. "We apologize for the distress these photos cause."

One of the published photographs shows a key figure in the investigation, Cpl. Jeremy Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska, grinning as he lifts the head of a corpse by the hair. Der Spiegel identified the body as that of Gul Mudin, whom Morlock was charged with killing on Jan. 15, 2010, in Kandahar Province.

Another photo shows Pvt. 1st Class Andrew Holmes, of Boise, Idaho, holding the head of the same corpse. His lawyer, Daniel Conway, said Sunday that Holmes was ordered "to be in the photo, so he got in the photo. That doesn't make him a murderer."

The photo was taken while the platoon leader, Lt. Roman Ligsay, was present, Conway said. Ligsay has asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to testify in the legal proceedings against his troops.

The U.S. military says an American soldier has died in southern Iraq.

In a statement issued Monday, the military said the soldier died from wounds sustained from a roadside bomb attack during operations in southern Iraq.

The statement gave no further details.

The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

The death raises to at least 4,441 the number of U.S. military personnel who have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003. That's according to an Associated Press count.

The U.S. ended combat operations in 2010, but almost 50,000 American troops remain, assisting and training Iraqi security forces. The U.S. plans to withdraw all its troops by the end of this year.
An employee at a yoga clothing shop in an affluent Washington suburb will make her first court appearance since being charged in the death of a co-worker.

Twenty-seven-year-old Brittany Norwood was arrested Friday and charged with first-degree murder in the death of 30-year-old Jayna Murray, her co-worker at the Lululemon Athletica shop in Bethesda. She's due in court Monday in Montgomery County.

Norwood initially told police two masked men entered the store on the night of March 11 and sexually assaulted her and Murray during a robbery attempt. But police say they've concluded that story was a lie and that Norwood killed Murray during a dispute.

Police haven't yet disclosed a motive, but they say workers at the next-door Apple store reported hearing two women arguing.

The last time the prominent Chinese lawyer Jiang Tianyong was seen or heard from, he was visiting his brother in a Beijing suburb when police grabbed him and threw him into a waiting van, pushing aside his elderly mother who had clung on to the vehicle.

Jiang is among dozens of well-known lawyers and activists across China who have vanished, been interrogated or criminally detained for subversion in recent weeks, a crackdown that human rights groups say is on a scale and intensity not seen in many years.

Activists say China's massive security apparatus is using the government's anxiety over possible Middle East-inspired protests as a pretext for the crackdown.

"None of them will tell me anything about why he was taken away or where he has been taken to," Jiang's wife Jin Bianling said Monday. She said that after her husband's disappearance last month, a Beijing police officer told her verbally that "the case was being handled," meaning he was under investigation, but her repeated efforts to get more details from police have been fruitless.

More than 100 people have been questioned or followed by police or placed under house arrest, the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders, or CHRD, said in a recent statement. It said Jiang and others who have disappeared for weeks were at risk of being tortured to extract confessions.

Human Rights Watch senior Asia researcher Nicholas Bequelin said the crackdown is even more serious than the one in December when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a jailed Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo. He said it is also more extensive than when police questioned and detained activists involved in signing Charter 08, a manifesto for peaceful democratic reform that Liu co-authored, in 2008.

"There is a sense that the authorities want to put an end to the kind of open defiance of the government by rights activists, people who have been fairly active on Twitter and other social networks who were allowed for a couple of years to do that," Bequelin said.

Beijing police did not immediately respond to a fax asking whether they had any of the activists in custody.

Benin's constitutional court says the incumbent president has won another term in the West African nation.

The court on Monday confirmed provisional results that gave President Thomas Boni Yayi an absolute majority with more than 53 percent of the vote.

Yayi, who was first elected in 2006, faced 12 opposition candidates in his bid for a second term.

Benin is viewed as a rare example of democracy in a region of West Africa better known for coups.

His popularity has been hurt, however, by a Ponzi scheme scandal that touched numerous members of his administration and in which more than 100,000 people lost their savings.
The United States Geological Survey says a strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 has struck northeastern Afghanistan. Police in the region say there are no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The USGS said Monday that the quake struck in the Hindu Kush region about 69 kilometers (42 miles) southeast of Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan province. It hit at 2:19 p.m. (0949 GMT) and had its epicenter in a sparsely populated region 227 kilometers (172 miles) northeast of the capital. It was felt in Kabul and as far east as the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

Badakhshan deputy provincial police chief Sayed Hussain Safawi said there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (AP) - In a speech marking the Afghan new year, Vice president Abdul Karim Khalili on Monday called on militants to lay down their weapons because the nation will never return to the days of hardline Taliban rule.

"We are going toward the light. We are never going back to the dark," Khalili said at a historic blue-tiled mosque in the center of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.

Efforts to reconcile with Taliban insurgents have not yet gained traction and violence continues across the nation.

On Sunday night, a gunman killed an Afghan policeman outside the headquarters of Yosuf Khel district of Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan, said Mokhlis Afghan, a spokesman for the province. The officer was trying to prevent the man from getting inside when he was shot.

Also, NATO reported that a coalition service member died Sunday in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan. No details or the service member's nationality were released. The death raised to 88 the number of international troops killed so far this year.

Last year was the deadliest of the nearly decade-old war for coalition forces, with 701 killed, including 492 Americans.

The European Union's top foreign policy official brushed aside concerns Monday that the coalition supporting military action against Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi is already starting to fracture, saying the head of the Arab League was misquoted as criticizing the operation.

NATO, meanwhile, was struggling with its own internal divisions, having been blocked so far by member Turkey from participating in enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya.

Support from the Arab League had been critical to international action against Gadhafi's regime. But on Sunday, hours after the international operation began, the league's chief was quoted as telling reporters in Cairo that it should not have included attacks on targets on the ground.

"What happened differs from the no-fly zone objectives," Amr Moussa was said. "What we want is civilians' protection not shelling more civilians."

But EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Monday there had been a misunderstanding. She spoke on her way into a meeting of EU foreign ministers at which Libya will be discussed.

"Moussa was misquoted, as I understand it," she said. She did not specify her understanding of what Moussa actually said.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, however, offered Moussa's comments as evidence that Germany's decision not to participate in the operation had been justified.

"This does not mean that we are neutral," Westerwelle said on his way into the same meeting. "This does not mean that we have any sympathy with the dictator Gadhafi. It means that we see the risks, and when we listen closely to what the Arab League yesterday said, unfortunately we see that we had reasons for our concerns."

Westerwelle said Germany would focus on broadening economic and financial sanctions against the Gadhafi regime.

Late Sunday, NATO's top decision-making body approved a military plan to implement the U.N. arms embargo on Libya. But so far it has failed to agree on a separate plan for the alliance to enforce the no-fly zone because of opposition from Turkey, which has vast business interests in the north African country.

Bahrain's king blamed a foreign plot for his nation's weeks-long unrest, using veiled language Monday to accuse Iran of fomenting an uprising by the Shiite majority in the Sunni-ruled island kingdom.

The Bahrain opposition's main demand is for a constitutional monarchy that would keep the royal family in power but would let people elect a government. Inspired by mass protests in Tunisia and Egypt that toppled the two countries' presidents, it rejects accusations of influence by the Shiite powerhouse across the Persian Gulf.

"We don't want Iranians to come. We don't want a big problem in this small country," senior opposition leader Ali Salman said Sunday, adding that the solution to the country's crisis has to come from its people.

The king declared a three-month emergency rule and invited armies from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Sunni-ruled Gulf states to help quell unrest in Bahrain, the home of U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa praised the Saudi-led force and said "Bahrain is bigger and stronger today than ever."

"I here announce the failure of the fomented subversive plot against security and stability," the king was quoted as saying by state-run Bahrain News Agency. The king spoke to the commander of the Saudi-led force and said its troops give Bahrain strength and confidence.

Iran has condemned the presence of the Gulf force in Bahrain and Shiites across the Middle East have been outraged by the deadly crackdown of protest, that has killed at least 13 people.

A year after President Barack Obama signed his health care overhaul, the law remains so divisive that Americans can't even agree on what to call it. Even so, it is taking root in the land.

Whether it grows is another matter.

Polls show that about 1 in 8 Americans believe they have been personally helped already, well before the main push to cover the uninsured scheduled for 2014.

Still, issues of affordability and complexity guarantee ongoing problems, even if the Supreme Court upholds the landmark legislation that made health insurance both a right and a responsibility.

Supporters call it the Affordable Care Act, a shortened version of the official title Democrats gave their massive bill. It may be better known as "Obamacare," the epithet used by Republicans seeking its demise.

While Obama returns from Latin America on the signing anniversary Wednesday, administration officials will fan out across the country. Community commemorations that start Monday come as the health care battle moves to the states. Even states suing to nullify the law's requirement that most Americans carry health insurance are proceeding with building blocks of the new system.

Families, small businesses and seniors are starting to feel the impact of dozens of insurance changes already in place. Interviews with people affected reveal it's not always clear-cut.

In small-town Circleville, N.Y., Patti Schley says the law has made a dramatic difference.

Her daughter Megan, 23, was out of college, going without insurance as she tried to launch a wedding photography business. Last summer Megan started getting sick and rapidly lost weight. Doctors diagnosed a serious digestive system disorder that would make her uninsurable.

But her parents were able to get her into a high-risk insurance pool created under the law, and this year Megan signed up for her father's workplace plan, under a provision extending coverage for adult children up to age 26.

"As a mother of a sick child, you are concerned whether your kid is 4 or 24," said Schley, an office administrator. "We couldn't wait for this to kick in."

Kate Middleton and Prince William are a match made in heaven. Just check their horoscopes.

The couple will be delighted to know their star signs, Capricorn and Cancer, indicate they are highly compatible and have a good chance of having a successful marriage, according to leading British astrologers.

"They probably feel like soulmates," said Wendy Stacey, chair of the Astrological Association of Great Britain.

Take it as a bunch of hooey or a celestial peek into the future. Just keep in mind that The Associated Press reported in 1981 that an astrologer warned that Prince Charles, who was born under the complex sign of Scorpio, would have a "stormy marriage" in his union with Princess Diana, born under the sensitive, intuitive Cancer star sign.

Everyone knows how that ended up.

Jay Lucan, who works with the British Astrological and Psychic Society said the new royal couple have "75 percent relationship compatibility" based on their star charts - giving them "definitely a good chance" of outlasting William's parents in matrimony.

Both Stacey and Lucan acknowledge they cannot confirm the accuracy of their predictions for many reasons. The biggest drawback is not knowing Middleton's exact time of birth; Prince William's was publicly announced as a matter of national interest.

So what do the couple's birth dates tell us?

For starters, Middleton, born on Jan. 9, 1982, is a Capricorn (an earth sign) while William, born June 21, 1982, is a Cancer (a water sign). Each star sign is designated an element: air, water, fire and earth.

The leader of al-Qaida's North Africa branch has urged Libyan rebels not to trust America and the U.S. role in the international coalition bombing Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

Abdelmalek Droukdel of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claims the same America now attacking Gadhafi turned a "blind eye" in the past on his crimes against Libyans.

Droukdel, also known as Abu Musab Abdul-Wadud, says America got Gadhafi to give up weapons of mass destruction and Libyan oil so he could stay in power. The statement was posted Monday on a militant website.

It says "winds of liberation have started blowing in Libya" and urges Tunisians, Egyptians and Algerians to help their Libyan brethren fight Gadhafi.

Al-Qaida has lobbied for Gadhafi's overthrow and the establishment of Islamic rule in Libya.
Japan's devastating earthquake will further slow growth in Asia, where rising oil prices and higher interest rates are already cooling an engine of the global economy, economists say.

No one is predicting a massive slowdown, but as the grim human toll of Japan's March 11 quake mounted Monday and fears of spreading radiation and prolonged power outages grew, forecasts about the economic effect of the quake also darkened.

Few economists are ready to specify just how big Asia's slump will be because of the uncertainties over Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant and when power shortages - which are hitting industrial production - will be resolved.

"You are clearly not talking about reducing growth estimates by 50 percent for the region," said UBS economist Duncan Wooldridge. "It's likely to be measured in increments of maybe 25 basis points."

Growth in East Asia was already slowing after a post-financial crisis rebound and is likely to cool further as central banks raise rates to tame inflation, the World Bank said Monday.

Its pre-quake forecast pegged regional economic growth at 8 percent in 2011 and 2012, down from 9.6 percent in 2010.

The quake's impact on Asian output stems not so much from a slowdown in Japan itself - which has contributed next to nothing to regional growth for the last five years - but from Asia's tightly linked supply chains.

A group of protesters angry about international intervention in Libya blocked the path of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as he left a meeting at the Arab League.

Ban had finished a meeting with the Arab League chief and was leaving the organization's headquarters in Cairo when dozens of protesters converged on him and his security detail.

The protesters, carrying pictures of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and banners critical of the U.S. and U.N., blocked his path as he tried to walk away from the building. Ban returned inside and apparently drove out of the league from another exit.

On Sunday, Arab League chief Amr Moussa questioned Arab participation in the coalition after saying the international attacks went beyond the mandate to impose a no-fly zone.

Google said Monday the Chinese government is interfering with its email services in China, making it difficult for users to gain access to its Gmail program, amid an intensified Internet crackdown following widespread unrest in the Middle East.

Google Inc. said its engineers have determined there are no technical problems with the email service or its main website.

"There is no technical issue on our side; we have checked extensively. This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail," the company said in a brief statement.

China has some of the world's strictest Internet controls and blocks many popular social media sites, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The government has intensified those efforts after pro-democracy protest erupted across the Middle East in January.

Around that time, anonymous calls for protesters to gather for a "Jasmine Revolution" in China triggered a crackdown by Chinese authorities, who stepped up Web censorship and deployed huge numbers of police to planned protest sites. No protests happened.

A Google spokesperson said users in China, the world's most populous Internet market, have reported having intermittent problems with the service since the end of January.

Problems include difficulty accessing the home page for Gmail and problems sending emails when logged into the service. The instant messaging function is often not working as well.

Google officials said the blocking appears to be more sophisticated than other problems experienced by users in the past because the disruption is not a complete block.

Militants killed four men for allegedly providing the United States with information used in a recent drone attack that Pakistan claims killed many innocent civilians, Pakistani intelligence officials said Monday.

Authorities found the bullet-riddled bodies of three Pakistanis and one Afghan in the North Waziristan tribal area with notes outlining their alleged role in the March 17 drone strike, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The Pakistanis were found in the Datta Khel area where the attack occurred, while the Afghan was discovered near Mir Ali, one of the main towns in North Waziristan, said the officials.

The notes found with the bodies warned that anyone who helps the U.S. will face a similar fate, they said. Militants often kill alleged spies after drone attacks.

Pakistani intelligence officials initially said the roughly three dozen people killed in last Thursday's drone attack were militants meeting in a compound to discuss sending additional insurgents to Afghanistan to fight foreign forces.

But they changed their story the next day, saying the meeting consisted of two tribes who had asked the Taliban to help mediate a dispute over a nearby chromite mine. The attack killed 12 Taliban and 24 innocent tribesmen, they said.

The allegations sparked a rare condemnation by Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who has close ties with U.S. military figures. Other senior Pakistani officials also criticized the attack, and the government said it would not participate in a trilateral meeting with the U.S. and Afghanistan that Washington had proposed at the end of March in Brussels.

The U.S. does not publicly acknowledge covert CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. But unnamed officials in Washington abruptly dismissed Pakistan's claims, saying innocent civilians were not targeted in the strike.

World markets were higher Monday, buoyed by news over the weekend that Japan was making progress in its battle to control radiation leaks at a nuclear complex that was severely damaged in the country's worst-ever earthquake.

Oil prices, meanwhile, jumped to near $103 a barrel after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi vowed a "long war" amid allied military strikes over the weekend in the OPEC nation.

European shares were higher in early trading. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 1.2 percent to 5,787.34. Germany's DAX was up 2.3 percent to 6,814.44 and France's CAC-40 rose by 1.8 percent to 6,814.87.

Wall Street was poised to open higher, with Dow Jones industrial futures up 1.1 percent to 11,923 and S&P 500 futures up 1.3 percent to 1,291. In currencies, the dollar was up against the yen and down against the euro.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose 1.7 percent to 22,685.22, unaffected by an announcement Friday that the People's Bank of China would raise the bank reserve requirement ratio by half a percentage point on March 25. The hike, the third this year and intended to cool lending and inflation, did not rattle markets.

Chinese property stocks listed in Hong Kong rose strongly, including China Overseas Land & Investment Ltd., up 3.8 percent, and China Vanke Co. Ltd. up 3.9 percent. On the mainland, the Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.1 percent to 2,909.14.

South Korea's Kospi index was up 1.1 percent to 2,003.42 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.4 percent to 4,642.80.

Beware, if you're among the hordes who wonder where the time went after becoming absorbed in online games such as "FarmVille" and "CityVille." Zynga, the hot Internet startup that created those ever-engrossing pastimes, is introducing another reason to goof off.

The lure this time is "RewardVille," a show of appreciation aimed at getting players even more absorbed in their online farms, cities, crime rings and poker games. The program unveiled a week ago doles out game points and credits that can be used to buy more virtual goodies on Zynga's existing games.

It's the latest attempt to deepen people's attachment to Zynga's strangely addictive world at a time attention spans are becoming more fickle. Several entertainment options now bombard people on an array of digital devices.

Zynga's success in capturing people's free time so far has been remarkable - and profitable, according to the privately held company's executives.

Its games are simple, but getting ahead requires time and dedication. In "CityVille," for example, players start with a simple plot of land, roads and buildings. They can add businesses, farms and landmarks through lots of faithful dragging and clicking of the mouse. They can invite friends to play and send them virtual gifts.
A former New York Times reporter who interviewed an anti-communist militant about planning 1997 Cuban bombings is set to begin her fourth day testifying at his perjury trial.

Ann Louise Bardach now works for the Daily Beast and is an unwilling witness in the case of Luis Posada Carriles. Bardach says her testimony will make sources wary of speaking to journalists.

She retakes the stand Monday for cross-examination. The defense claims Bardach exaggerated what Posada told her about masterminding the explosions at Cuban tourist sites that killed one man.

The 83-year-old Posada is an ex-CIA agent from Cuba and former President Fidel Castro's nemesis.

He faces perjury and other charges. He's accused of lying about planning the bombings during immigration hearings, after sneaking into the U.S. in 2005.
A storm brought strong rains to the Los Angeles area and heavy snow in the mountains on the first day of spring Sunday, shutting down major highways, cutting power to thousands and forcing dozens of evacuations over threats of mudslides or rising rivers.

Rain caused rock slides in Malibu and closed parts of the Pacific Coast Highway, while snow and ice force the shutdown of parts of Interstate 5 connecting Los Angeles with northern areas.

In the San Fernando Valley, mud and debris threatened a retaining wall and forced the evacuation of 30 people in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles Fire Department spokeswoman Diana Igawa said.

The National Weather Service said Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley received at least 3 inches of rain - its average rainfall for the month of March - which led to closure of several streets. More than 1.5 inches pelted coastal cities and more than 2 inches fell on Hollywood, the service said.

Strong wind downed trees that damaged homes and broke windows in the valley, downtown Los Angeles and throughout the region. The storm cut power to about 90,000 customers, utility officials with the utilities said.

The mountains were expected to get as much as 3 feet of snow at the higher elevations, making this an unusually strong storm for this time of year, said Stuart Seto of the weather service.

"Usually later in the year they kind of taper off," he said. "Old Man Winter, I guess, wanted to take one more bite out of us before leaving."

Thousands of runners in the Los Angeles Marathon faced pouring rain and lightning strikes, one of which illuminated the downtown skyline just as the race started. It didn't seem to bother them, as Markos Geneti finished first among men with a record time of 2 hours, 6 minutes, 35 seconds.

"When it first started raining, it was freezing cold and I got a little sick," Amy Hastings, who finished second among the women, told KTLA-TV. As the weather warmed, she said, the rainfall made for a pleasant experience.

Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics had treated about 100 runners - most for hypothermia - by mid-afternoon, Igawa said.

In Ventura County and Santa Barbara County, torrential rain brought flash-flood warnings. Rain on a flooded street in Oxnard stranded several cars and swept away another, the weather service said. No injuries were reported.

More than 10 inches of rain fell in the Lake Cachuma area, forcing the release of water from Bradbury Dam, Santa Barbara County spokesman David Flamm said. The release was helping the lake level off, but heavy river flow forced the evacuation of 24 people in Guadalupe as a precaution, Flamm said.

The Tibetan parliament-in-exile decided Monday to form a committee to ensure a smooth transition after the Dalai Lama's resignation from politics.

The committee will decide a timeframe for a new premier to take over political responsibilities from the Tibetan holy man, said Karma Yeshi, a Tibetan lawmaker.

The parliament-in-exile, meeting in the northern Indian town of Dharmsala, decided the committee will examine constitutional changes to grant more powers to the prime minister and decide on the future role of the Dalai Lama.

The 76-year-old Nobel Peace laureate has said he will continue to be the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader.

"The committee will prepare its report by April 23 and the parliament will discuss it. If further debate is necessary, parliament will meet again in May," Yeshi said.

The Dalai Lama - who is vilified by China as scheming for Tibetan independence - announced his decision to resign on the March 10 anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in his Himalayan homeland that sent him into exile.

Despite pleas from the Tibetan community that he reconsider, the Dalai Lama has been adamant that the elected prime minister should take over as head of government.

On Sunday, some 85,000 registered Tibetans in exile - 11,000 of them in Dharmsala - began a previously scheduled, monthlong election for a new prime minister that increased in importance when the Dalai Lama resigned.

Chelsea boosted its slim chances of retaining the Premier League title by beating Manchester City 2-0, while Liverpool closed in on fifth-place Tottenham with a 2-0 victory at Sunderland on Sunday.

Brazil internationals David Luiz and Ramires scored in the final 12 minutes to settle a hard-fought match at Stamford Bridge, lifting Chelsea a point above City into third place and nine points adrift of league leader Manchester United with a game in hand.

"The longer the game went on, the better we got going forward," Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti said. "It was a big win for us. "We have nine games to play and we have to do our best. Our form is good."

City, which was without injured Argentina striker Carlos Tevez, is four points above Tottenham having played one more match. With the team's title hopes all but over, its focus could now be on staying in the top four.

"We played three days ago against Dynamo Kiev (in the Europa League), and in the last 20 minutes we were so tired," City manager Roberto Mancini said. "Until 70 minutes, it was normal that Chelsea had more possession but we conceded nothing before then."

A controversial penalty, scored by Netherlands forward Dirk Kuyt in the 34th minute, set Liverpool on its way to victory at the Stadium of Light. Video replays showed Jay Spearing was fouled outside the box by John Mensah but the assistant referee awarded a penalty.

A wonderful solo effort from Uruguay striker Luis Suarez in the 77th minute clinched the three points for Liverpool before Mensah was given a straight red card for hauling down Suarez as he chased a long punt upfield by goalkeeper Jose Reina.

The Reds are four points behind Tottenham but have played a game more.

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Osasuna scored twice in each half to thrash Hercules 4-0 for its third straight win in the Spanish league.

Javier Camunas scored Osasuna's 10th-minute opener after Enrique Sola set the Spanish winger up inside the area.

Right back Nelson Tomar doubled the lead in the 35th before goals by Krisztian Vadozc and Sola in the second half.

Osasuna moved six points clear of the relegation zone, while Hercules is last after its fourth straight loss.

Jose Rondon scored twice as Malaga defeated Espanyol 2-0 after a dominant first half.

The Venezuelan striker rifled in a long pass that Espanyol defender Jordi Amat failed to clear in the eighth minute, and he stabbed in a cross from Francisco Portillo in the 26th for his 12th goal of the season.

Malaga is only one point from safety after its second straight win.

Levante stayed undefeated in five matches after beating Deportivo La Coruna 1-0 from Ruben Suarez's 90th-minute free kick.

Miguel de las Cuevas scored to give Sporting Gijon a 1-0 win over Almeria, and Racing Santander beat Real Sociedad 2-1.

President Barack Obama has correctly picked 10 of the 16 teams that advanced to the regional semifinals in the NCAA tournament.

Obama went 5-3 on Sunday, losing when Purdue, Syracuse and Notre Dame were upset by lower seeds. He accurately predicted all four teams remaining in the West regional and got three of four right in the East.

But in the Southwest, where a string of upsets have left three double-digit seeds still standing, he has only No. 1 Kansas remaining.

Obama has three of his Final Four teams left: No. 1 seeds Ohio State, Kansas and Duke. He lost his other one Saturday when Butler upset top-seeded Pittsburgh in the Southeast regional.

Obama filled out a bracket for ESPN for the third straight year and selected Kansas to win the championship. Through the third round, he ranked 7,549th out of 5.9 million brackets filled out on ESPN.com.