Sunday, March 4, 2012

Published:

A tearful Vladimir Putin claims victory in Russia's presidential vote; opponents allege fraud

MOSCOW (AP) -- Vladimir Putin scored a decisive victory in Russia's presidential election Sunday to return to the Kremlin and extend his hold on power for six more years. His eyes brimming with tears, he defiantly proclaimed to a sea of supporters that they had triumphed over opponents intent on "destroying Russia's statehood and usurping power."

Putin's win was never in doubt as many across the vast country still see him as a guarantor of stability and the defender of a strong Russia against a hostile world, an image he has carefully cultivated during 12 years in power.

Accounts by independent observers of extensive vote-rigging, however, looked set to strengthen the resolve of opposition forces whose unprecedented protests in recent months have posed the first serious challenge to Putin's heavy-handed rule. Another huge demonstration was set for Monday evening in central Moscow.

Putin claimed victory Sunday night when fewer than a quarter of the votes had been counted. He spoke to a rally just outside the Kremlin walls of tens of thousands of supporters, many of them government workers or employees of state-owned companies who had been ordered to attend.

"I promised that we would win and we have won!" Putin shouted to the flag-waving crowd. "We have won in an open and honest struggle."

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In message to Israel, Obama says force an option against Iran, but bemoans 'loose' talk of war

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama said Sunday he would not hesitate to attack Iran to keep it from getting a nuclear bomb, hoping a forceful assurance will discourage Israel from launching a unilateral strike that could ignite the Middle East and drag the U.S. into war.

Pleading for time for diplomacy to work, Obama warned that "loose talk of war" was only undermining world security.

Addressing a powerful pro-Israel lobby, Obama delivered messages to multiple political audiences: Israel, Iran, Jewish voters, a restless Congress, a wary international community and three Republican presidential contenders who will speak to the same group Tuesday.

At the core was his bullish assertion that the United States will never settle for containing a nuclear-armed Iran or fail to defend Israel.

"I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests," Obama said.

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206 killed in Republic of Congo arms depot blasts, including dozens attending Mass

BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo (AP) -- Homes and buildings collapsed in the Congolese capital after an arms depot exploded Sunday, killing at least 206 people and entombing countless others in crushed structures including inside two churches that buckled while parishioners were celebrating Mass, officials and witnesses said.

The shock waves shattered windows in a three-mile (five-kilometer) radius surrounding the barracks storing the munitions, including across the river that separates Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, from Kinshasa, the capital of the larger Central African nation of Congo. Government spokesman Bienvenu Okyemi blamed a short-circuit for the fire that set off the successive blasts.

"It's like a tsunami passed through here," said Christine Ibata, a student. "The roofs of houses were blown off."

Some 1,500 people were injured, Okyemi said on national radio.

The register of a morgue in Brazzaville already had 136 bodies Sunday afternoon, as more continued to arrive. A doctor at the capital's military hospital who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press reported 70 more deaths.

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Indiana baby found in field after tornado dies in hospital; survivors pick through wreckage

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- An Indiana toddler found in a field after violent tornadoes died Sunday after being taken off life support, ending a hopeful tale for survivors in the Midwest and South picking through the storms' devastation.

Fifteen-month-old Angel Babcock of New Pekin, Ind., was found after her family's mobile home was destroyed in Friday's storms. Her father, mother and two siblings were killed.

When Angel arrived at Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville Friday night, she was opening her eyes -- a hopeful sign, chief nursing officer Cis Gruebbel said.

Things turned on Saturday, when the swelling in her brain didn't decrease, he said. As the day went on, her eyes ceased to move and she continued to deteriorate. There was no sign of brain activity.

Medical staff told the family there wasn't anything more they could do. With extended family gathered to say goodbye, the family made the decision to end life support on Sunday.

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Rush Limbaugh comments overshadow GOP as Super Tuesday looms

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- Intensifying debate over conservative social values -- and Republican icon Rush Limbaugh -- overshadowed the nation's economic concerns Sunday as the Republican presidential campaign hurtled toward Super Tuesday contests that could re-shape the nomination battle and shift the direction of the Grand Old Party.

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum distanced themselves from Limbaugh, who boasts a huge conservative following and recently apologized for calling a Georgetown University law student a "slut" and a "prostitute" on his nationally syndicated radio program. The woman testified at a congressional hearing in favor of an Obama administration mandate that employee health plans include free contraceptive coverage. While religious institutions are exempt, their affiliates, such as hospitals and universities, were at first included in the requirement. Under harsh criticism from conservatives, President Barack Obama later said the affiliates could opt out, but insurers must pay for the coverage.

The GOP framed the issue as one of religious liberty. But Obama's chief political strategist suggested the Limbaugh's reaction -- and Republicans slow repudiation of his comments -- would benefit Democrats in the general election this fall.

"I think what Rush Limbaugh said about that young woman was not only vile and degrading to her, but to women across the country," David Axelrod said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday morning.

While the contraception debate raged on national television, Newt Gingrich predicted a strong performance Tuesday would resurrect his fading candidacy. Romney and Santorum spent Sunday racing across Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Ohio, four of the ten states to host elections on Super Tuesday, the biggest single voting day of the 2012 cycle.

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Small, paid-off medical debt can mar credit, upend financing for unknowing Americans

CHICAGO (AP) -- Mike and Laura Park thought their credit record was spotless. The Texas couple wanted to take advantage of low interest rates, so they put their house on the market and talked to a lender about a mortgage on a bigger home in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs.

Their credit report contained a shocker: A $200 medical bill had been sent to a collection agency. Although since paid, it still lowered their credit scores by about 100 points, and it means they'll have to pay a discount point to get the best interest rate. Cost to them: $2,500.

A growing number of Americans could encounter similar landmines when they refinance or take out a loan. The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that sponsors health care research, estimates that 22 million Americans were contacted by collection agencies for unpaid medical bills in 2005. That increased to 30 million Americans in 2010.

Surprisingly, even after the bills have been paid off, the record of the collection action can stay on a credit report for up to seven years, dragging down credit scores and driving up the cost of financing a home. An estimated 3.4 million Americans have paid-off medical debt lingering on their credit reports, according to the Access Project, a research group funded by health care foundations and advocates of tougher laws on medical debt collectors.

Among them are Nathen and Melissa Cobb of Riverton, Ill., who tried to refinance their home last year. They didn't qualify for the loan because of $740 in medical bills that had been sent to a collection agency. The Cobbs were surprised because the bills -- nearly a dozen small copayments ranging from $6 to $280 -- had been paid before they tried to refinance. The collection action took their credit score from good to mediocre and is likely to mar their credit report for years.

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6 decades after the liberation of Dachau concentration camp, a survivor and a liberator meet

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The way Ernie Gross and Don Greenbaum laugh and tell jokes with the ease of old friends, it's easy to assume the dapper octogenarians have known each other forever.

In reality, they only met a few months ago. Their familiarity doesn't come from shared memories of a childhood playground or a high school dance but a far darker place: Both men spent a single day at the Dachau concentration camp on the day its 30,000 prisoners were liberated by American GIs in 1945.

Greenbaum, 87, and Gross, 83, don't think they met that day in Dachau but nevertheless share a bond. They met after Gross, who lives in Philadelphia, saw a mention in a local newspaper last November about Greenbaum, a Philadelphia native now living in suburban Bala Cynwyd.

"Ernie wanted to thank me for saving his life, quote unquote, even though there were 50,000 other men there with me," Greenbaum said, with a hint of unease, during an interview at Gross' home. "And we sat and had lunch together and discussed what happened 66 years ago."

Gross, then all of 85 pounds after nearly a year of sickness, abuse and constant hunger, had no doubt April 29, 1945, was his last day on earth. Greenbaum, a soldier with Gen. George Patton's Third Army 283rd Field Artillery Battalion, arrived that day at Dachau expecting to seize ammunition, clothing and food that was kept for the Nazis notorious SS forces.

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Spanish bullfighter who lost sight in one eye makes comeback 5 months after goring

OLIVENZA, Spain (AP) -- A Spanish bullfighter who lost sight in one eye and has partial facial paralysis after a terrifying goring returned to the bullring Sunday, five months after his injury.

On Oct. 8, a bull's horn ripped into Juan Jose Padilla's lower jaw and caused his left eyeball to protrude as spectators screamed in horror. Padilla was seen getting up shouting, "I can't see, I can't see anything," his face gushing blood as assistants distracted the bull.

Now, wearing an eye patch and speaking with a lisp, Padilla fulfilled what he describes as an unquenchable desire to once again face massive 1,100-pound (500-kilogram) fighting bulls with the aid of only a cape and sword.

The 38-year-old Padilla, the star attraction at the southwestern town of Olivenza's annual taurine festival, said he was returning to the ring because of a need "to win, to triumph, to be a better man."

A capacity crowd of about 5,400 people, including die-hard connoisseurs, fashion models and well-known personalities, had packed into this town's historic bullring, which was built in 1854.

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Dog survives 53 days in Nevada desert, bolts from crash that kills 1 owner, injures other

RENO, Nev. (AP) -- Barbara Bagley says she never gave up hope that her dog would be found alive in the Nevada desert after the animal bolted from the scene of a crash that critically injured her and killed her husband.

But the Salt Lake City woman endured plenty of frustration until her beloved 4-year-old Shetland sheepdog, Dooley, was tracked down Feb. 18 after surviving 53 days in the wild on roadkill and scattered ranch water sources.

"I would think about Dooley constantly," she said. "There were TV commercials with dogs that made me think about him and cry. He's just the sweetest dog."

The Dec. 27 single-vehicle accident on Interstate 80 near Battle Mountain, about 225 miles east of Reno, sent Bagley and her 55-year-old husband, Brad Vom Baur, to the hospital in critical condition. Their other sheltie, Delaney, was killed in the wreck. Dooley ran away and vanished.

Bagley, 48, suffered a concussion, broken ribs, a shattered wrist and two punctured lungs. As soon as she mustered up enough strength, she turned her attention to a search for her dog in the sprawling sage-covered plains and hills of northeastern Nevada.

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Column: Tiger Woods may be back, but Rory McIlroy is the new face of golf

For more months than we care to think about, the only real question in golf has been this: What's wrong with Tiger?

Maybe now we should be asking what's going so well with golf.

Plenty, if you judge from a Sunday afternoon in Florida, where a new star helped cement his claim to greatness even as he heard roars coming down the stretch that could only mean Tiger Woods was on the move.

No. 1 in the world was on the line for Rory McIlroy, but that wasn't even the biggest subplot of the day. That was owned by a player in bright red whose game finally matched the brilliance of his shirt.

Woods' 62 may not have put a scare into McIlroy, but it did put everyone on notice that he can still play golf. Doing it on Sunday after it's been so long since he's won a real tournament screamed out Woods was, indeed, back.