Pakistani Prime Minister Target of Sniper Fire

September 3, 2008

Snipers fired on the motorcade for Pakistan’s prime minister on Wednesday as it drove to the airport to pick him up, striking his car window at least twice, officials said. Neither the prime minister nor his staff were in the vehicles.

The assassination attempt comes as Pakistan’s new civilian government – under pressure from American officials – is cracking down on Islamist militants after ousting U.S. ally Pervez Musharraf from the presidency.

At least two bullets hit the front window on the driver’s side of Yousuf Raza Gilani’s limousine on the main highway linking Islamabad with the nearby city of Rawalpindi, officials said.

Zahid Bashir, the premier’s press secretary, said unknown assailants fired “multiple sniper shots” in what he described as a “murder attempt.”

Interior Secretary Kamal Shah said later Wednesday, however, that the vehicles were attacked on their way to the airport to pick up the prime minister, who had been in Lahore, and that Gilani’s plane had not even landed yet.

“The driver reached Islamabad airport, but the prime minister or his staff was not traveling in the vehicles,” Shah said.

Television footage showed Gilani’s black Mercedes parked at his office in the capital with two impact points clearly visible on the driver’s window. The glass was cracked but intact.

Information Minister Sherry Rehman also confirmed that Gilani was not in the motorcade at the time and was safely back in Islamabad.

The attack was the second apparent assassination attempt in Pakistan in quick succession.

Shots were fired last week at a car carrying Lynne Tracy, the top U.S. diplomat in Pakistan’s troubled northwest, as she was headed to her office in the city of Peshawar. No one was hurt in that shooting.

On Wednesday afternoon, plainclothes police with a dog searched for clues on a small hill from which they believed the shots were fired at the premier’s car. They gathered snack wrappers and juice cartons and took them away from beneath a huge portrait of Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, which greets travelers arriving in the capital.

The road was temporarily blocked, with traffic jammed in both directions.

Four workers for a company that is involved in a construction project on the road said they heard no shots and were not aware anything had happened until police arrived.

“We were working here, and the police came and questioned us,” said Mohammad Zada.

Another worker, Shah Zeb, said he had been making his afternoon prayers when the incident occurred, and when he returned, “Police grabbed me. They searched me.”

Pakistani political leaders have repeatedly faced the threat of assassination.

Musharraf, who was despised by militants for allying with Washington after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, escaped at least four attempts on his life. In December, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto died in a gun-and-bomb attack during an election rally two months after returning from exile.

Article by Nahal Toosi with contributions from Munir Ahmad and Zarar Khan

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Defending a VP Candidate Who is Under Investigation

September 2, 2008

Republican John McCain said Tuesday he’s satisfied that Sarah Palin’s background was properly checked out before the Alaska governor joined the Republican ticket. He predicted that public excitement about her candidacy will increase after her address to the GOP convention on Wednesday.

McCain visited fire houses in Ohio and Pennsylvania on Tuesday, and was due to arrive at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., on Wednesday.

Asked about whether Palin’s background was thoroughly checked out before he selected her, McCain told reporters in Philadelphia: “The vetting process was completely thorough and I’m grateful for the results.”

Later, after visiting a firehouse outside Cleveland in Brecksville, Ohio, McCain added: “I just want to repeat again how excited I am to have Sarah Palin, the great governor of Alaska, as my running mate.”

“America is excited and they’re going to be even more excited once they see her tomorrow night,” he said. “I’m very, very proud of the impression she’s made on all of America and I look forward to serving with her.”

Questions about the review of Palin came up after news surfaced that her unmarried teenage daughter, Bristol, is pregnant, and that the Alaska governor has retained a private attorney to represent her in an investigation into the firing of the state public safety commissioner.

The lawyer who conducted the background review said Palin voluntarily told McCain’s campaign about Bristol’s’ pregnancy, and about her husband’s 2-decade-old DUI arrest during questioning as part of the vice presidential search process.

The Alaska governor also greatly detailed the dismissal of the state’s public safety commissioner that has touched off a legislative investigation, Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr. told The Associated Press in an interview Monday.

Palin underwent a “full and complete” background examination before McCain chose her as his running mate, Culvahouse said. Asked whether everything that came up as a possible red flag during the review already has been made public, he said: “I think so. Yeah, I think so. Correct.”

McCain’s campaign has been trying to tamp down questions about whether the Arizona senator’s team adequately researched his surprise vice presidential selection.

Since McCain publicly disclosed his running mate on Friday, the notion of a shoddy, rushed review has been stoked repeatedly.

First, a campaign-issued timeline said McCain initially met Palin in February, then held one phone conversation with her last week before inviting her to Arizona, where he met with her a second time and offered her the job Thursday.

Then came the campaign’s disclosure that 17-year-old Bristol Palin is pregnant. The father is Levi Johnston, who has been a hockey player at Bristol’s high school, The New York Post and The New York Daily News reported in their Tuesday editions.

In addition, the campaign also disclosed that Palin’s husband, Todd, then age 22, was arrested in 1986 in Alaska for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Shortly after Palin was named to the ticket, McCain’s campaign dispatched a team of a dozen communications operatives and lawyers to Alaska. That fueled speculation that a comprehensive examination of Palin’s record and past was incomplete and being done only after she was placed on the ticket.

Steve Schmidt, a senior adviser, said no matter who the nominee was, the campaign was ready to send a “jump team” to the No. 2’s home state to work with the nominee’s staff, work with the local media and help handle requests from the national media for information, and answer questions about documents that were part of the review.

At several points throughout the process, McCain’s team warned Palin that the scrutiny into her private life would be intense and that there was nothing she could do to prepare for it.

Culvahouse disclosed details of his examination in a half-hour interview with the AP.

First, a team of some 25 people working under Culvahouse culled information from public sources for Palin and other prospective candidates without their knowledge. For all, news reports, speeches, financial and tax return disclosures, litigation, investigations, ethical charges, marriages and divorces were reviewed.

For Palin specifically, the team studied online archives of the state’s largest newspapers, including the Anchorage Daily News, but didn’t request paper archives for Palin’s hometown newspaper. “I made the decision that we could not get it done and maintain secrecy,” Culvahouse said.

Article by Beth Fouhy and Liz Sidoti

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Japanese Police Fooled By Lifesized Doll in Dead Body Hoax

September 2, 2008


Police were trying to determine Tuesday whether they were the victim of a hoax after the body they thought they found at a seaside resort was actually a life-sized doll.

Investigators found what seemed like a body wrapped in a sleeping bag in a forest in Izu City, a seaside resort in central Japan, after an anonymous caller reported seeing it, a Shizuoka prefecture spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

Investigators never actually looked inside the sleeping bag and brought it back to the city police station for a post-mortem examination, the spokeswoman said. Apparently no one doubted a human body was inside until a medical examiner unwrapped it and found the doll, she said.

The Asahi newspaper said the doll was sophisticated and life-sized and wore a brown wig, a blouse and a skirt.

*** Above photo not directly related to article

Article by Mari Yamaguchi

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Google Releasing Its Own Browser

September 2, 2008

Google Inc. is releasing its own Web browser in a long-anticipated move aimed at countering the dominance of Microsoft Corp.’s Internet Explorer and ensuring easy access to its market-leading search engine.

The Mountain View-based company took the unusual step of announcing its latest product on the Labor Day holiday after it prematurely sent out a comic book drawn up to herald the new browser’s arrival.

The free browser, called “Chrome,” is supposed to be available for downloading Tuesday in more than 100 countries for computers running on Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Google said it’s still working on versions compatible with Apple Inc.’s Mac computer and the Linux operating system.

Google’s browser is expected to hit the market a week after Microsoft’s unveiling of a test version of its latest browser update, Internet Explorer 8. The tweaks include more tools for Web surfers to cloak their online preferences, creating a shield that could make it more difficult for Google and other marketing networks to figure out which ads are most likely to appeal to which individuals.

Although Google is using a cartoonish approach to promote Chrome, the new browser underscores the gravity of Google’s rivalry with Microsoft, whose Internet Explorer is used by about 75 percent of Web surfers.

Google’s lead in the lucrative Internet search market is nearly as commanding, with its engine processing nearly two-thirds of the Web’s queries.

For the past few years, Google has been trying to take advantage of its search engine’s popularity to loosen Microsoft’s grip on how most people interact with personal computers.

The assault so far has been focused on a bundle of computer programs, including word processing and spreadsheet applications, that Google offers as an alternative to one of Microsoft’s biggest money makers, its Office suite of products.

Google has tried to make its alternatives more appealing and accessible by hosting them for free over Internet connections instead of requiring users to pay a licensing fee to install them on individual computers, as Microsoft typically does.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has tried to thwart Google by investing billions in the development of its own search engine and making an unsuccessful attempt to buy Yahoo Inc. for $47.5 billion.

The tensions between Microsoft and Google now seem likely to escalate with Google’s foray into Web browsing.

Until now, Google had been trying to undermine Internet Explorer by supporting Firefox, a Web browser developed by the open-source Mozilla Foundation. Bolstered by an advertising partnership with Google’s search engine, Firefox ranks as the second most popular browser, with a market share of more than 10 percent. Google recently extended its advertising alliance with Firefox through 2011.

Bearing the stamp of Google’s renowned brand, Chrome could be an even more formidable rival to Explorer.

Still, Google’s name is no guarantee of success. For instance, Google’s instant messaging service hasn’t made come close to catching up to the market-leading products made by Yahoo, Microsoft and Time Warner Inc.’s AOL.

In a blog post Monday, Google touted Chrome as a more sophisticated Web browser better suited for displaying the dynamic and interactive content blossoming on the Web as people migrate from television, radio and newspapers.

“The Web gets better with more options and innovation,” Sundar Pichai, Google’s vice president of product management, and Linus Upson, Google’s engineering director, wrote in the posting. “Google Chrome is another option, and we hope it contributes to making the Web even better.”

Microsoft brushed aside the threat in a statement Monday from Dean Hachamovitch, Internet Explorer’s general manager.

“The browser landscape is highly competitive, but people will choose Internet Explorer 8 for the way it puts the services they want right at their fingertips … and, more than any other browsing technology, puts them in control of their personal data online,” Hachamovitch said.

Even as it has backed Firefox, Google has openly fretted about the possible ramifications of Microsoft’s huge lead in Web browsing.

Google is worried that Microsoft could abuse its power by manipulating Internet Explorer’s default settings in a way that might diminish traffic to Google’s search engine, which serves as the hub of the largest online ad network.

In 2006, Google contacted the Justice Department to raise alarms about changes to Internet Explorer that Google believed made it more difficult to install search toolbars made by Microsoft’s rivals. Although regulators decided not to intervene, Microsoft subsequently modified the way Explorer handled the selection of search toolbars.

Article by Michael Liedtke

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Study Suggests Smoking is Worse for Women

September 2, 2008

Women typically get heart disease much later than men, but not if they smoke, researchers said Tuesday.

In fact, women who smoke have heart attacks nearly 14 years earlier than women who don’t smoke, Norwegian doctors reported in a study presented to the European Society of Cardiology. For men, the gap is not so dramatic; male smokers have heart attacks about six years earlier than men who don’t smoke.

“This is not a minor difference,” said Dr. Silvia Priori, a cardiologist at the Scientific Institute in Pavia, Italy. “Women need to realize they are losing much more than men when they smoke,” she said. Priori was not connected to the research.

Dr. Morten Grundtvig and colleagues from the Innlandet Hospital Trust in Lillehammer, Norway, based their study on data from 1,784 patients admitted for a first heart attack at a hospital in Lillehammer.

Their study found that the men on average had their first heart attack at age 72 if they didn’t smoke, and at 64 if they did.

Women in the study had their first heart attack at age 81 if they didn’t smoke, and at age 66 if they did.

After adjusting for other heart risk factors like blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes, researchers found that the difference for women was about 14 years and for men, about six years.

Previous studies looking at a possible gender difference have been inconclusive.

Doctors have long suspected that female hormones protect women against heart disease. Estrogen is thought to raise the levels of good cholesterol as well as enabling blood vessel walls to relax more easily, thus lowering the chances of a blockage.

Grundtvig said that smoking might make women go through menopause earlier, leaving them less protected against a heart attack. With rising rates of smoking in women – compared with falling rates in men – Grundtvig said that doctors expect to see increased heart disease in women.

“Smoking might erase the natural advantage that women have,” said Dr. Robert Harrington, a professor of medicine at Duke University and spokesman for the American College of Cardiology.

Doctors aren’t yet sure if other cardiac risk factors like cholesterol and obesity also affect women differently.

“The difference in how smoking affects women and men is profound,” Harrington said. “Unless women don’t smoke or quit, they risk ending up with the same terrible diseases as men, only at a much earlier age.”

Article by Maria Cheng

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Blackwater Subject of Justice Department Probe

August 17, 2008

Half a dozen Blackwater Worldwide security guards have gotten target letters from the Justice Department in a probe of shootings in Baghdad that killed 17 Iraqis, The Washington Post reported.

The Blackwater guards are caught up in the investigation of shootings that took place last September when a Blackwater team arrived in several vehicles at an intersection in Baghdad where shooting erupted, leaving numerous Iraqis dead and wounded.

The Post described the six guards as former U.S. military personnel, but did not identify them by name.

Attributing its information to three sources close to the case, the Post said that any charges would be brought against the guards under a federal law used to prosecute cases referred to the Justice Department by the Pentagon for crimes committed by military personnel and contractors overseas.

Target letters often are a prelude to indictment.

The Post story appeared on the newspaper’s Website Saturday night.

The shootings began when a Blackwater convoy, which was responding to a Baghdad car bombing, entered the Nisoor Square traffic circle.

Blackwater says the convoy was ambushed by insurgents, touching off a firefight. Iraqi witnesses, however, described an unprovoked attack in which security guards fired indiscriminately, killing motorists, bystanders and children in the square.

Article by Associated Press

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Teachers Can Carry Guns in Texas

August 15, 2008


A tiny Texas school district will allow teachers and staff members to carry concealed firearms to protect against school shootings, provided the gun-toting employees follow certain requirements.

The small community of Harrold in north Texas is a 30-minute drive from the Wilbarger County Sheriff’s Office, leaving students and teachers without protection, said David Thweatt, superintendent of the Harrold Independent School District. The lone campus of the 110-student district sits near a heavily traveled highway, which could make it a target, he argued.

“When the federal government started making schools gun-free zones, that’s when all of these shootings started. Why would you put it out there that a group of people can’t defend themselves? That’s like saying ‘sic ’em’ to a dog,” Thweatt said in a story published Friday on the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Web site.

Barbara Williams, a spokeswoman for the Texas Association of School Boards, said her organization did not know of another district with such a policy. Ken Trump, a Cleveland, Ohio-based school security expert who advises districts nationwide, said Harrold is the first district with such a policy.

Trustees approved the policy change last year, and it takes effect when classes begin this month. For employees to carry a pistol, they must have a Texas license to carry a concealed handgun, must be authorized to carry by the district, must receive training in crisis management and hostile situations and must use ammunition designed to minimize the risk of ricocheting bullets.

Officials researched the policy and considered other options for about a year before approving the policy change, Thweatt said. The district also has other measures in place to prevent a school shooting, he said.

“The naysayers think [a shooting] won’t happen here. If something were to happen here, I’d much rather be calling a parent to tell them that their child is OK because we were able to protect them,” Thweatt said.

Texas law outlaws firearms at schools unless specific institutions allow them.

It isn’t clear how many of the 50 or so teachers and staff members will be armed this fall, because Thweatt did not disclose that information, to keep it from students or potential attackers.

Article from the Associated Press

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