worldnationbriefs_2-24-11

By Gus Bode

Uprising spreads in cities closer to Libyan capital where Gadhafi militiamen clamp down

BENGHAZI, Libya — The scope of Moammar Gadhafi’s control was whittled away Wednesday as major Libyan cities and towns closer to the capital fell to the rebellion against his rule. In the east, now all but broken away, the opposition vowed to “liberate” Tripoli, where the Libyan leader is holed up with a force of militiamen roaming the streets and tanks guarding the outskirts.

In a further sign of Gadhafi’s faltering hold, two air force pilots — one from the leader’s own tribe — parachuted out of their warplane and let it crash into the eastern Libyan desert rather than follow orders to bomb an opposition-held city.

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International momentum was building for action to punish Gadhafi’s regime for the bloody crackdown it has unleashed against the uprising that began Feb. 15.

President Barack Obama said the suffering and bloodshed in Libya “is outrageous and it is unacceptable,” and he directed his administration to prepare the full range of options to respond.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy raised the possibility of the European Union cutting off economic ties.

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Gov’t will no longer defend constitutionality of law banning recognition of same-sex marriage

WASHINGTON — In a major policy reversal, the Obama administration said Wednesday it will no longer defend the constitutionality of a federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriage.

Attorney General Eric Holder said President Barack Obama has concluded that the administration cannot defend the federal law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. He noted that the congressional debate during passage of the Defense of Marriage Act “contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships — precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus” the Constitution is designed to guard against.

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The Justice Department had defended the act in court until now.

The move quickly drew praise from some Democrats in Congress but a sharp response from the spokesman for Republican John Boehner, the House Speaker.

“While Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending, the president will have to explain why he thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation,” said Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel.

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Obama condemns violence in Libya, dispatches Hillary Rodham Clinton for international talks

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Wednesday condemned the violence in Libya as “outrageous … and unacceptable” and said he was dispatching Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Geneva for international talks aimed at stopping the violence.

Obama said he was studying a “full range of options” to pressure Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s regime to halt attacks against Libyans as violent clashes spread throughout the North African country. He said the options included possible sanctions that the U.S. could take with its allies as well as steps it might take by itself.

“We are doing everything we can to protect American citizens,” Obama said in brief remarks at the White House, his first public comments after days of violence in Libya. He appeared with Clinton after the two conferred on the situation at the White House. Clinton is traveling to Geneva on Monday for talks on Libya.

“We strongly condemn the use of violence in Libya,” Obama said. “The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous, and it is unacceptable. So are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters and further punish the people of Libya.”

He spoke in the wake of uprisings in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia. The week-old protests in Libya have been met by a far more brutal response from militiamen loyal to Gadhafi.

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Case of jailed American causes deep rift in Pakistani spy agency’s relationship with CIA

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s ISI spy agency is ready to split with the CIA because of frustration over what it calls heavy-handed pressure and its anger over what it believes is a covert U.S. operation involving hundreds of contract spies, according to an internal document obtained by The Associated Press and interviews with U.S. and Pakistani officials.

Such a move could seriously damage the U.S war effort in Afghanistan, limit a program targeting al-Qaida insurgents along the Pakistan frontier, and restrict Washington’s access to information in the nuclear-armed country.

According to a statement drafted by the ISI, supported by interviews with officials, an already-fragile relationship between the two agencies collapsed following the shooting death of two Pakistanis by Raymond Davis, a U.S. contracted spy who is in jail in Pakistan facing possible multiple murder charges.

“Post-incident conduct of the CIA has virtually put the partnership into question,” said a media statement prepared by the ISI but never released. A copy was obtained this week by the AP.

The statement accused the CIA of using pressure tactics to free Davis.

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On prank call, Wis. governor discusses strategy to cripple public employee unions, pass bill

MADISON, Wis. — On a prank call that quickly spread across the Internet, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was duped into discussing his strategy to cripple public employee unions, promising never to give in and joking that he would use a baseball bat in his office to go after political opponents.

Walker believed the caller was a conservative billionaire named David Koch, but it was actually the editor of a liberal online newspaper. The two talked for at least 20 minutes — a conversation in which the governor described several potential ways to pressure Democrats to return to the Statehouse and revealed that his supporters had considered secretly planting people in pro-union protest crowds to stir up trouble.

The call, which surfaced Wednesday, also showed Walker’s cozy relationship with two billionaire brothers who have poured millions of dollars into conservative political causes, including Walker’s campaign last year.

Walker compared his stand to that taken by President Ronald Reagan when he fired the nation’s air-traffic controllers during a labor dispute in 1981.

“That was the first crack in the Berlin Wall and led to the fall of the Soviets,” Walker said on the recording.

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Libya revolt pushes oil past $100 per barrel for the first time since Oct. 2008

NEW YORK — Oil prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange hit $100 per barrel for the first time since 2008, driven by growing concerns about global supplies, as Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi continued to lose his grip on the oil-rich country.

Similar uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this month already had markets on edge before protests escalated in Libya, which has the biggest oil reserves in Africa. The rebellion widened Wednesday as protesters overwhelmed government buildings and advanced around Tripoli, the capital.

West Texas Intermediate crude for April delivery jumped $2.68, or 2.8 percent, to settle at $98.10 per barrel in New York. Earlier in the day, prices hit triple digits for the first time since Oct. 2, 2008. WTI has soared 18 percent since Valentine’s Day.

In London, Brent crude added $5.47, or 5 percent, to settle at $111.25 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange. Brent, which is used to price oil in Asia, Europe and other global markets, passed the $100 mark on Jan. 31.

French oil giant Total said it started to wind down its oil production in Libya, which produced an average of 55,000 barrels per day last year. That follows similar moves by other oil companies working in the country.

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Space shuttle Discovery’s launch Thursday, final journey for world’s most traveled rocketship

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — After 143 million miles and nearly a year all told in orbit, space shuttle Discovery is poised to blast off Thursday one last time.

It promises to be a sentimental journey for the six astronauts assigned to the mission as well as the supporting cast of thousands who have painstakingly prepped the world’s most traveled rocketship.

Once more, NASA’s fleet leader is paving a new road, one that leads to shuttle retirement and an uncertain future for America’s space program.

When Discovery returns from the International Space Station, it will be the first of the three surviving shuttles to be decommissioned this year and shipped off to a museum. The Smithsonian Institution has first dibs on this one.

But the end of the 30-year shuttle program is still months down the road. For now, NASA prefers to focus on Discovery’s last hurrah, an 11-day mission to deliver a bundle of space station supplies and an experimental humanoid robot that will become the first of its kind in space.

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Gadhafi’s survival means a weakened military, tribes co-opted by perks and cash

CAIRO — 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.

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Pirates add ammo, men to hijacked ships after US deaths; detained pirates could face US trial

NAIROBI, Kenya — Pirates in Somalia said Wednesday they are ferrying ammunition and men to the 30 hijacked vessels still under their control, and they threatened to kill more captives following the violent end to a hostage standoff that left four Americans dead.

The U.S. military said that 15 pirates detained after the Americans were slain Tuesday could face trial in the United States.

The military, FBI and Justice Department are working on the next steps for those pirates, said Bob Prucha, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Florida. The Somalis are currently being held on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, which is in the waters off East Africa.

A pirate aboard the hijacked yacht Quest on Tuesday fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a U.S. warship that had responded to last Friday’s hijacking. Then gunfire broke out aboard the yacht. When Navy special forces reached the Quest, they found the four American hostages had been shot and killed.

The FBI is investigating the killings of Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle of Seattle, Wash., and Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, near Los Angeles, who had made their home aboard their 58-foot yacht Quest since December 2004.

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Apple expected to launch second generation of iPad tablet computers at March 2 event

NEW YORK — March Madness could take on a whole new meaning if Apple gives the world another iPad next week.

Apple Inc. is expected to unveil the second generation of its wildly successful media tablet, widening its head start against competitors just starting to sell their first tablet computers.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company e-mailed invitations to a media event in San Francisco Wednesday that show a calendar page with the corner peeling away to reveal an iPad underneath. The large “2” on the calendar page denotes the event’s March 2 date, but is also a hint that Apple is about to announce the follow-up to the original iPad.

The iPad, about the size of a large book, has been likened to an overgrown iPhone or iPod Touch, as it is powered by similar software and can run the same applications, or “apps.”

But it has a bigger screen that makes reading e-mails, surfing the Web and watching movies easier on the eyes. With a starting price of $499, it’s less expensive than many computers and, at 1.5 pounds, it also weighs less. Unlike small, inexpensive laptops such as netbooks, the iPad turns on instantly, so people don’t have to wait through a sluggish boot-up. And the iPad also lasts about 10 hours unplugged, making it ideal for travelers and other people on the go.

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