Saturday, January 12, 2013

Published:

A battle to retake north Mali: Hundreds of French troops drive back al-Qaida-linked rebels

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) -- The battle to retake Mali's north from the al-Qaida-linked groups controlling it began in earnest Saturday, after hundreds of French forces deployed to the country and began aerial bombardments to drive back the Islamic extremists.

At the same time, nations in West Africa authorized the immediate deployment of troops to Mali, fast-forwarding a military intervention that was not due to start until September.

The decision to begin the military operation was taken after the fighters, who seized the northern half of Mali nine months ago, decided earlier this week to push even further south to the town of Konna, coming within 50 kilometers (30 miles) of Mopti, the first town held by the government and a major base for the Malian military.

Many believe that if Mopti were to fall, the Islamists could potentially seize the rest of the country, dramatically raising the stakes. The potential outcome was "a terrorist state at the doorstep of France and Europe," French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Saturday.

France scrambled Mirage fighter jets from a base in neighboring Chad, as well as combat helicopters beginning the aerial assault on Friday. They have also sent in hundreds of troops to the front line, as well as to secure the capital. In just 24 hours, French forces succeeded in dispersing the Islamists from Konna, the town the fighters had seized in a bold advance earlier in the week, Le Drian said.

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Judges cut down Miss America field to 10 beauty queens from group of 53

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Judges at the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas have reduced the field of contestants to a final 10 following swimsuit and eveningwear competitions.

Beauty contest winners from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands took the stage to vie for the title Saturday night at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

The remaining contenders include Miss Iowa Mariah Cary, who has Tourette's syndrome.

Also, still in the hunt are:

-- Miss Texas DaNae Couch

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Online activist Swartz dies in NY; faced trial on charges of stealing online articles from MIT

NEW YORK (AP) -- Computer prodigy Aaron Swartz, who helped develop RSS and co-founded Reddit, has been found dead weeks before he was to go on trial on federal charges that he stole millions of scholarly articles in an attempt to make them freely available to the public.

Swartz, 26, hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment, his family in Chicago confirmed in a statement Saturday. He was pronounced dead Friday evening at home in the Crown Heights neighborhood, Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for New York's chief medical examiner, said.

As a young teenager, Swartz helped create RSS, a family of Web feed formats used to gather updates from blogs, news headlines, audio and video for users. He co-founded the social news website Reddit, which was later sold to Conde Nast, as well as the political action group Demand Progress, which campaigns against Internet censorship.

A zealous advocate of public online access, Swartz was extolled Saturday by those who believed as he did. He was "an extraordinary hacker and activist," the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international nonprofit digital rights group based in California wrote in a tribute on its home page.

"Playing Mozart's Requiem in honor of a brave and brilliant man," tweeted Carl Malamud, an Internet public domain advocate who believes in free access to legally obtained files.

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AP Source: Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong to admit to doping during Oprah Winfrey interview

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Lance Armstrong said he will answer questions "directly, honestly and candidly" during an interview with Oprah Winfrey next week. He will also apologize and make a limited confession to using performance-enhancing drugs, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Armstrong has spent more than a decade denying that he doped to win the Tour de France seven times. Without saying whether he would confess or apologize during the taping, Armstrong told The Associated Press in a text message early Saturday, "I told her (Winfrey) to go wherever she wants and I'll answer the questions directly, honestly and candidly. That's all I can say."

A confession would be a stunning reversal for Armstrong after years of public statements, interviews and court battles from Austin to Europe in which he denied doping and zealously protected his reputation.

Armstrong was stripped of his titles and banned from the sport for life last year after the U.S. Anti-Doping agency issued a detailed report accusing him of leading a sophisticated and brazen drug program on his U.S. Postal Service teams that included steroids, blood boosters and a range of performance-enhancing drugs.

Armstrong's interview with Winfrey is not expected to go into great detail about specific allegations levied in the more than 1,000-page USADA report. But Armstrong will make a general confession and apologize, according to the person, who requested anonymity because there was no authorization to speak publicly. Several outlets had also reported that Armstrong was considering a confession.

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Family quarrels add layer of intrigue to lottery winner's death by cyanide poisoning

CHICAGO (AP) -- In the week since news surfaced that a Chicago man was poisoned to death with cyanide just before he was to collect a lottery payout, surprising details about his convoluted family saga have trickled out daily.

Urooj Khan's widow and siblings fought for months over the businessman's estate, including the lottery check. His father-in-law owed tens of thousands of dollars in taxes. His 17-year-old daughter from a previous marriage had moved out of her stepmom's home and into his sister's after his death. Then his ex-wife came forward, announcing in anguish that she hadn't seen her daughter in more than a decade and hadn't even known she was still in the U.S.

The slowly emerging family backstory and ever-expanding cast of characters have added layers of intrigue to a baffling case in which authorities have revealed little and everyone is wondering: Who did it?

The victim's relatives hint at family squabbles. And Khan's wife, Shabana Ansari, has endured clutches of reporters outside the family home and business, asking even whether it was a lamb or beef curry dinner she made for Khan on the night he died.

"She's just as curious as anyone else to get to the bottom of what caused her husband's death," said Al-Haroon Husain, who is representing Ansari in the case that will divide up Khan's estate, including the $425,000 in lottery winnings.

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Treasury concludes law shouldn't be used to mint $1 trillion coin to avoid debt limit fight

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Forget about the government minting a $1 trillion coin to solve its debt-limit crisis.

Treasury Department spokesman Anthony Coley said Saturday that neither his department nor the Federal Reserve believes the law can or should be used to produce such a coin to avoid a coming battle with Congress over government borrowing.

Some of President Barack Obama's liberal allies have been promoting the coin strategy.

The government has reached its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit. By late February or early March, Treasury will run out of ways to cover debts and could begin defaulting on government loans.

White House spokesman Jay Carney says Congress has two options at its disposal: either pay the tab for its spending or send the nation into default, which would have serious economic consequences.

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Critics of Superstorm Sandy aid package say billions are bound for non-Sandy projects

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Conservatives and watchdog groups are mounting a "not-so-fast" campaign against a $50.7 billion Superstorm Sandy aid package that Northeastern governors and lawmakers hope to push through the House this coming week.

Their complaint is that lots of the money that lawmakers are considering will actually go toward recovery efforts for past disasters and other projects unrelated to the late-October storm.

A Senate-passed version from the end of the last Congress included $150 million for what the Commerce Department described as fisheries disasters in Alaska, Mississippi and the Northeast, and $50 million in subsidies for replanting trees on private land damaged by wildfires.

The objections have led senior House Republicans to assemble their own $17 billion proposal, that when combined with already approved money for flood insurance claims, is less than half what President Barack Obama sought and the Senate passed in December

That $17 billion package will be brought to the floor by the House Appropriations Committee, and Northeast lawmakers will have a chance to add $33.7 billion more.

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Should doctors and nurses be able to refuse flu shots? Hospitals are increasingly saying no

CHICAGO (AP) -- Patients can refuse a flu shot. Should doctors and nurses have that right, too? That is the thorny question surfacing as U.S. hospitals increasingly crack down on employees who won't get flu shots, with some workers losing their jobs over their refusal.

"Where does it say that I am no longer a patient if I'm a nurse," wondered Carrie Calhoun, a longtime critical care nurse in suburban Chicago who was fired last month after she refused a flu shot.

Hospitals' get-tougher measures coincide with an earlier-than-usual flu season hitting harder than in recent mild seasons. Flu is widespread in most states, and at least 20 children have died.

Most doctors and nurses do get flu shots. But in the past two months, at least 15 nurses and other hospital staffers in four states have been fired for refusing, and several others have resigned, according to affected workers, hospital authorities and published reports.

In Rhode Island, one of three states with tough penalties behind a mandatory vaccine policy for health care workers, more than 1,000 workers recently signed a petition opposing the policy, according to a labor union that has filed suit to end the regulation.

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Colin Kaepernick paces 49ers to 24-21 halftime lead over Packers in playoff debut

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Colin Kaepernick overcame a shaky start in his playoff debut by throwing two touchdown passes to Michael Crabtree and scrambling for another score to help the San Francisco 49ers carry a 24-21 lead over the Green Bay Packers into halftime of the NFC divisional playoff game Saturday night.

Showing off his strong arm and fleet footwork, Kaepernick threw for 148 yards and ran for 107 yards. The second-year pro out of Nevada shook off an interception that Sam Shields ran back 52 yards for a touchdown on San Francisco's first possession.

Kaepernick later tossed TD passes of 20 and 12 yards to Crabtree and scampered untouched for a 20-yard score. He led another drive that David Akers finished with a 36-yard field goal as the half expired to put the 49ers ahead.

Michael Vick's 119 yards rushing against St. Louis in 2005 are the most by a quarterback in a playoff game.

Aaron Rodgers rallied the Packers after tossing his own interception. The former Berkeley star and Northern California native threw a 20-yard scoring strike to James Jones, and DaJuan Harris ran for an 18-yard touchdown.

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Playoff upset: Ravens beat Manning and Broncos 38-35 in double overtime

DENVER (AP) -- Welcome to NFL immortality, Joe Flacco.

Somewhere up there in the all-time playoff archives near the "Hail Mary" by Staubach and the "Immaculate Reception" by Franco now lives the "Flacco Fling" by the Baltimore Ravens quarterback.

One big throw down the sideline, 70 make-or-break yards on a wing and a prayer -- a high, arcing touchdown pass that soared through the icy air, flew over two defenders, landed in the hands of Jacoby Jones, saved the game for Baltimore and kept Ray Lewis' 17-year career going at least one more week.

The record will show Justin Tucker kicked a 47-yard field goal 1:42 into the second overtime Saturday to give the Ravens a 38-35 victory over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. The highlight? That would be Flacco's game-tying touchdown to Jones on third-and-3 from the 30 with 31 seconds left in regulation and no timeouts.

"At that point," Flacco said, "you have to start taking shots. You have to get a little lucky."