Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Published:

North Korea agrees to suspend key nuclear activities and missile test, will get US food aid

WASHINGTON (AP) -- North Korea raised hopes Wednesday for a major easing in nuclear tensions under its youthful new leader, agreeing to suspend uranium enrichment at a key facility and refrain from missile and nuclear tests in exchange for a mountain of critically needed U.S. food aid.

It was only a preliminary step but a necessary one to restart broader six-nation negotiations that would lay down terms for what the North could get in return for abandoning its nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang pulled out of those talks in 2009 and seemingly has viewed the nuclear program as key to the survival of its dynastic, communist regime, now entering its third generation.

But the announcement, just over two months after the death of longtime ruler Kim Jong Il, also opened a door for the secretive government under his untested youngest son, Kim Jong Un, to improve ties with the United States and win critically needed aid and international acceptance.

It also opened the way for international nuclear inspections after years when the North's program went unmonitored.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the agreement, which was announced at separate but simultaneous statements by the long-time adversaries, was a modest step but also "a reminder that the world is transforming around us."

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Santorum boasts of scooping up as many Mich. delegates as Romney heading into Super Tuesday

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -- Rick Santorum seized about as many of Michigan's GOP delegates as primary winner Mitt Romney, and could end up with more, in a close contest that does little to clarify the muddled presidential race heading into Super Tuesday.

After Romney's strong win in Arizona and close finish in his native state of Michigan, the GOP field fanned across Ohio, Tennessee and Georgia for the weeklong sprint to Tuesday's 10 contests. Washington state's caucuses fall in the middle, on Saturday.

Romney tried to build momentum from his wins, Santorum crowed about his near-miss and Newt Gingrich looked to revive his campaign in the South -- where he will battle Santorum for the party's most conservative voters.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul could also be a factor in the Super Tuesday delegate count, especially in caucus states such as North Dakota.

Tuesday night's Michigan race was so close -- Romney won the contest with 41 percent of the vote to Santorum's 38 percent -- that the delegates will be closely divided between the top two candidates, with Gingrich and Paul getting none. With 26 of the state's 30 delegates decided, Romney and Santorum each won 13.

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Powerful storms sweep Midwest, damaging Branson theater district and killing at least 9

HARRISBURG, Ill. (AP) -- Twisters roared through the nation's heartland in the early morning darkness Wednesday, flattening entire blocks of homes in small-town Illinois and Kansas and killing at least nine people.

Winds also ripped through the country music mecca of Branson, Mo., damaging some of the city's famous theaters just days before the start of the busy tourist season.

In Harrisburg, a town of 9,000 in southern Illinois, residents sorted through piles of debris and remembered their dead while the winds still howled around them.

Not long after the storm, Darrell Osman raced to his mother's home, arriving just in time to speak to her before she was taken to a hospital with a head injury, a severe cut to her neck and a broken arm and leg.

"She was conscious. I wouldn't say she was coherent. There were more mumbles than anything," he said. "She knew we were there."

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Syria threatens to 'cleanse' rebel district in city of Homs, raising fears of ground invasion

BEIRUT (AP) -- The Syrian regime showed a new determination Wednesday to crush its opponents, vowing to "cleanse" a rebel-held district in the besieged central city of Homs after nearly four weeks of shelling.

Government troops massed outside the embattled neighborhood of Baba Amr, raising fears among activists of an imminent ground invasion that could endanger thousands of residents, as well as two trapped Western journalists, who have been under heavy bombardment.

A Spanish journalist who had been stuck in the area escaped Wednesday to Lebanon, the second foreign reporter to do so since a government rocket attack last week killed two of his colleagues and wounded two others.

The fate of the foreign journalists has drawn attention to Homs, which has emerged as a key battleground between government forces and those seeking to end the regime of authoritarian President Bashar Assad.

The government's increasingly bloody attempts to put down the 11-month uprising have fueled mounting international criticism.

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Teenage suspect in fatal Ohio school shooting may have used gun belonging to relative

CHARDON, Ohio (AP) -- The teenager suspected in an Ohio school shooting struggled with a broken family and did poorly in school, then appeared to turn himself around once he was taken in by grandparents and began to attend an alternative school, longtime neighbors and friends said Wednesday.

To a person, they expressed disbelief at how the quiet but friendly boy could now be a suspect in a shooting that left three people dead and appears to have involved a gun that disappeared from his grandfather's barn.

"T.J. was a very fine person," Carl Henderson, a longtime neighbor of the suspect's grandparents, Thomas and Michelle Lane, said Wednesday. "Nice-looking man, very friendly, spoke to you, carried a conversation with you."

The gun, a .22 caliber revolver, was noticed as missing after Monday's shootings and fits the description of the pistol that reportedly was used to kill three students and wound two others at Chardon High School, said Henderson, a retired police officer and former Geauga County sheriff. He said he has spoken to the grandfather, Thomas Lane, about the gun.

The suspect's grandfather believes the gun is the same, "because the gun was there the day before, in the barn," said Henderson, 74, who says he's been friends with the boy's family for nearly 50 years.

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Ex-Sen. Bob Kerrey reverses course, says he'll seek Democratic nomination for Nebraska seat

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Former Sen. Bob Kerrey said Wednesday he will seek the Democratic nomination for the Nebraska seat he once held, reversing course just weeks after publicly rejecting a run he had called a longshot.

Kerrey earlier this month opted out of the race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, saying that not running was in his and his family's best interest.

"It just felt wrong," Kerrey, 68, said during a telephone call to declare his candidacy. "I wasn't happy with the decision.

The latest move by the 1992 presidential candidate and former Nebraska governor comes just one day before Nebraska's candidate filing deadline. Kerrey's decision, coupled with the announcement Tuesday by Republican Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe that she would not seek re-election this year, has given new hope to national Democrats who are desperate to stop Republicans from netting four Senate seats this fall and regaining control of the chamber.

Kerrey explained Wednesday that his first real hope of getting into the race after announcing three weeks ago that he would stay out came Sunday night as he and his wife, former SNL writer Sarah Paley, were watching the Academy Awards telecast.

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Judge blocks FDA rule requiring graphic images on cigarette packs of the dangers of smoking

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- A judge on Wednesday blocked a federal requirement that would have begun forcing U.S. tobacco companies to put large graphic images on their cigarette packages later this year to show the dangers of smoking and encouraging smokers to quit lighting up.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington ruled that the federal mandate to put the images, which include a sewn-up corpse of a smoker and a picture of diseased lungs, on cigarette packs violates the free speech amendment to the Constitution.

He had temporarily blocked the requirement in November, saying it was likely cigarette makers will succeed in a lawsuit, which could take years to resolve. That decision already is being appealed by the government.

Some of the largest U.S. tobacco companies, including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Tobacco Co., had questioned the constitutionality of the labels, saying the warnings don't simply convey facts to inform people's decision whether to smoke but instead force the cigarette makers to display government anti-smoking advocacy more prominently than their own branding. They also say that changing cigarette packaging will cost millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration has said that the public interest in conveying the dangers of smoking outweighs the companies' free speech rights.

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Starbucks deals mixed with baby photos, status updates? Facebook unveils new ways to advertise

NEW YORK (AP) -- Messages from brands such as Walmart and Starbucks may soon be mixed in with your Facebook status updates and baby photos from friends and family.

Facebook unveiled new advertising opportunities Wednesday to help the world's biggest brands spread their messages on the world's largest online social network.

Brands you've endorsed by hitting the "like" button will now be able to push deals and other updates right into the news feeds that show your friends' updates, photos and links. These posts could also show up if one of your friends has interacted with a brand, such as by liking it or commenting on a photo.

The changes come ahead of Facebook's initial public offering of stock, expected this spring. The IPO could value the company at as much as $100 billion. That means Facebook has to prove it can bring in real advertising revenue from the likes of Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble and other massive brands.

"Facebook is making serious money from ads right now, but they are not making serious money from major brand advertisers. That's where the ad money is," said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst with the Altimeter Group. "They currently have rather low-rent, shoddy ads on Facebook."

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Davy Jones, heartthrob former lead singer of The Monkees, dies in Fla. of a heart attack at 66

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Davy Jones, the heartthrob singer who helped propel the made-for-TV rock band The Monkees to the top of the pop charts as an American version of the Beatles, died Wednesday. He was 66.

His publicist, Helen Kensick, confirmed Jones died of a heart attack in Indiantown, where he had lived. Jones complained of breathing troubles early in the morning and was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead, said Rhonda Irons of the Martin County Sheriff's Office. The sheriff's spokeswoman said there were no suspicious circumstances.

Born in Manchester, England, Jones had stylishly long hair, boyish good looks and a British accent that endeared him to legions of screaming young fans after "The Monkees" premiered on CBS in 1966.

Aspirations of Beatles-like fame were never fully achieved, however, as the TV show lasted just two years. But The Monkees made rock 'n roll history as the band galvanized a wide American following with love-struck hits such as "Daydream Believer" and "I'm a Believer" that endure even today.

Jones was born on Dec. 30, 1945, and became a child star in his native England who appeared on television and stage, including a heralded role as "The Artful Dodger" in the play "Oliver."

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Clint Dempsey scores as US beats Italy for first time in 11 games over 78 years

GENOA, Italy (AP) -- The United States beat Italy for the first time in 11 games over 78 years, a 1-0 victory in an exhibition Wednesday night on Clint Dempsey's goal in the 55th minute.

Dempsey took a short pass from Jozy Altidore following Michael Bradley's cross and put a right-footed shot from just inside the penalty area just past an outstretched hand of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Although just an exhibition, it was a rare U.S. victory over a world power.

"I'd like to think that we're closing the gap and hopefully one day we can do something special," Dempsey said.

It was the 25th goal in 83 international appearances for Dempsey, a veteran of two World Cups and one of the players counted on to lead the Americans in qualifying for the 2014 tournament.