Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tuareg rebels advance as junta asserts control

Tuareg rebels closed in on a key city in northern Mali Saturday, taking advantage of a power vacuum in Bamako where putschists insisted they were in firm control after ousting the government.

As the junta concentrated on stamping out rumours it was losing control and condemned widespread looting, soldiers in the distant north recruited militia to help them fight Tuareg rebels waging a battle for independence.

"Thanks to Allah the almighty and his blessings, we will soon take our land in Kidal," Tuareg rebel group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) said in a statement as its fighters surrounded one of the north's main towns.

Ansar Dine is an Islamist group fighting alongside the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) for the independence of the traditional homeland of the nomadic desert Tuareg in the northern triangle of the bow-tie shaped nation.

In the southern triangle where the capital Bamako is situated, mutinous soldiers seized power on Thursday, saying they were fed-up with the government's inability to deal with the Tuareg insurrection which has completely overwhelmed the military.

The light-skinned desert tribes which sparsely populate the north are a minority in the vast country and have staged several uprisings in recent decades as they feel marginalised by Bamako.

On January 17, the Tuareg launched their first rebellion since 2009, boosted by the return of heavily-armed and battle-hardened fighters from Libya, where they had worked for slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Several towns have fallen and scores of soldiers are said to have been killed and captured.

Angry soldiers revolted Wednesday, leading to a full-blown coup by early Thursday as they seized government buildings and attacked the presidency, forcing President Amadou Toumani Toure to flee.

Soldiers left facing the Tuareg are being supported by two notorious militia groups from black communities, mostly Fulani and Songhai, who were involved in earlier Tuareg uprisings.

"We are about 200 youths, the Malian army gave us weapons today and uniforms to fight the country's enemies. We are already in the Gao military camp", said one of these militia, Mahamane Maiga. A Malian officer confirmed the information.

Back in Bamako, a junta frozen out by the international community was at pains to assure citizens it was firmly in power, appearing on state television at regular intervals.

"I am Captain Sanogo and I am in good health, all is well," the coup leader said in a segment broadcast on Saturday, after rumours of his death swirled the evening before.

He insisted he had the backing of all of the armed forces, asking the camera to pan over representatives of the police, paratroopers, air force and paramilitary police -- all low-ranking officers.

Sporadic looting continued despite calls to order by the putsch leaders, sparking anger and fear in Bamako.

"We are scared they come steal from us," said Becaye Soukoule, who says he left his shop closed.

The soldiers also urged petrol station owners to open up and assured they would be secured. Writing ran across the bottom of the television screen telling citizens to call a hotline with any concerns.

"The junta looks increasingly isolated and rudderless," said analyst Paul Melly, of the London-based Chatham house, in Dakar.

"There's no sign of a coherent plan and the putschists seem to be feeling their way hour by hour," he said.

"They don't seem to have expected the rebuff they have encountered from the political class, where all the main parties have united in condemning the coup."

The coup also prompted swift international condemnation. The African Union temporarily suspended Mali, Europe and Canada froze aid and the United States has threatened to follow suit.

A joint mission from the African Union and Economic Community of West African States met representatives of the junta on Friday, according to Malian state television, however details on the talks were not divulged.

Early Saturday, a group of soldiers briefly arrested an opposition politician who had spoken out against the coup and several others told AFP they had gone underground, fearing they were being sought by armed men.

A presidential election in which President Toure was to step down after two terms had been scheduled for April 29.

Toure, who led his own coup in 1991, has not spoken publicly since his ouster, but was believed to be safe.

Sanogo has said all arrested government officials are "safe and sound" and promised the African Union the safe return of top foreign officials stranded in Bamako after the coup.

Egypt liberal MPs quit constitution panel vote

Egyptian liberal MPs withdrew on Saturday from a crucial parliament vote for a panel to draft a new constitution amid a rift with Islamists over the constituent assembly's make up, liberals said.

The liberals accused the majority Islamists of trying to monopolise the 100-member panel, whose constitution will replace the one annulled by the ruling military after an uprising toppled president Hosni Mubarak last year.

"All our MPs withdrew," said Naguib Sawiris, founder of the Free Egyptians Party, the largest liberal party in the Islamist-dominated parliament.

"It's ridiculous," he said. "A constitution being written by one force and one force alone. We tried our best and there was no use."

Sawiris said two parties, including his and a coalition of secular and left-leaning parties, withdrew from the vote for the 100-member panel, half of which will be senators and parliamentarians.

Lawmakers are to vote for 50 members from the upper and lower houses of parliament, and 50 people outside parliament to sit on the panel.

According to preliminary results of the vote, published by the official MENA news agency, the panel will include 25 lawmakers affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, 11 lawmakers from the ultra conservative Salafist Al-Nur party and 14 independents or members of other parties.

The 50 members chosen outside parliament include Islamists, several liberal figures, a handful of Copts and a member of the ruling military council, according to MENA and press reports.

Ahead of the vote, at least two other parties had boycotted the voting from the start, including the leftwing Tagammu party.

"The constitution should not reflect the majority, it should reflect all forces in society," said Rifaat al-Said, the head of Tagammu.

"There is an attempt to posses everything," he said of his party's Islamist opponents. "Possessing the constitution is the most dangerous thing."

Mustafa al-Naggar, head of the Adl (Justice) Party, said parliamentarians should not even be on the panel, which will also include 50 public figures.

"Parliamentarians have a special interest," he said.

The constitution will lay out the powers of the legislature, which Islamists dominated in elections after Mubarak's fall.

According to a schedule established by the military, the panel is meant to finish its work before presidential elections, which now seems unlikely ahead of the vote due to be held in May.

Some presidential candidates fear that could leave the new president without constitutionally defined powers, as the dominant Islamist Freedom and Justice Party angles to give more powers to a prime minister in the new charter.

The FJP, the political arm of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, has been pressuring the military to sack the cabinet and appoint an FJP-led government.

At Saturday's joint session, which began at noon local time (1000 GMT), the lawmakers were each to list 100 members they want appointed to the panel and then cast their ballots in 14 boxes, parliamentary speaker Saad al-Katatni said.

Liberals fear that the Islamists will try to beef up references to Islam in the new constitution.

The old charter said that the principles of Islamic law were the source of legislation, a vague formulation that hardliners in the ultra-conservative Salafi Nur party want clarified in the new constitution.

But the Muslim Bortherhood's FJP has sought to allay fears that it wants a stricter adherence to Islamic law in the new constitution.

In a comment on his Twitter account, Mohamed ElBaradei, the former UN nuclear watchdog chief turned Egyptian dissident, also questioned parliament's right to form the panel.

"A parliament whose legitimacy is in doubt will elect a panel, half of it from parliament, that is not partial to forming a constitution for Egypt rather than for the (parliamentary) majority," he wrote.

City stumble as emotional Bolton down Rovers


Manchester City's Premier League title hopes suffered a setback with a 1-1 draw at Stoke on Saturday as Bolton paid tribute to stricken star Fabrice Muamba with a morale-boosting win over Blackburn.

With leaders Manchester United expected to beat Fulham on Monday, City desperately needed a win at the Britannia Stadium to keep the pressure on their cross-town rivals.

However City were forced to scramble a draw via a deflected long-range shot from Yaya Toure after Stoke striker Peter Crouch had fired City ahead with a spectacular 30-yard volley.

The draw returned City to the top of the table on goal difference but means that United can now open up a crucial three-point lead if they beat Fulham at Old Trafford on Monday.

"We're a little bit disappointed but a draw is a good result," City defender Kolo Toure told ESPN. "Every point now is very important. We have to treat every game like a final now."

Elsewhere, Bolton gave Muamba the perfect get well present with a 2-1 victory over fellow strugglers Rovers at the Reebok Stadium, one week after the midfielder collapsed from a heart attack at Tottenham.

Two first-half headers from David Wheater settled the game in Bolton's favour with Steven Nzonzi getting on the scoresheet for Blackburn.

"In a football context it's a great end to the week to get three points but the perfect end will be for Fabrice to come out of that hospital better with that big smile of his," Bolton boss Owen Coyle said.

"Our thoughts are still with him. He's not only a footballer and a colleague to those players in the dressing room but an outstanding young man."

Arsenal tightened their grip on third place with a comfortable 3-0 win over Aston Villa -- the Gunners' seventh victory in a row.

First-half goals from Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott and a stunning long-range free-kick from Mikel Arteta were enough for Arsene Wenger's side, who moved three points clear of Tottenham in fourth place.

Tottenham were held to a 0-0 draw by Chelsea in the early kick-off, a result which leaves the fifth-placed Blues struggling to close the gap on Spurs in the race for a Champions League qualifying place.

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp praised his side's performance but warned they still faced a fight to finish in the top four.

"It was a big point for us. It keeps them five points behind us," Redknapp told Sky Sports television.

"It was a tough away game. We have a decent enough run-in but you have to be at it in every game."

But Chelsea interim manager Roberto Di Matteo admitted his team now faced an uphill struggle to secure a top four place.

"We knew we were behind (in the league) and had to catch up. It is not going to be easy but we will try to the end," Di Matteo said.

Liverpool's slim hopes of a top four finish were effectively extinguished after Kenny Dalglish's men suffered a shock 2-1 defeat against Wigan at Anfield.

Wigan stunned Liverpool when Shaun Maloney put the Latics ahead from the penalty spot on 31 minutes after Martin Skrtel's challenge on Victor Moses.

Liverpool drew level through Luis Suarez immediately after half-time but Gary Caldwell's 63rd minute winner clinched victory for Wigan and left Dalglish's side 13 points adrift of fourth place.

Queens Park Rangers -- who had stunned Liverpool 3-2 in midweek -- were brought down to earth after an emphatic 3-1 loss at Sunderland.

Sunderland's goals came from Nicklas Bendtner, James McClean and Stephane Sessegnon as QPR saw Djibril Cisse sent off for the second time in his short career with the Londoners following a wild challenge on Fraizer Campbell.

Taye Taiwo scored a late consolation for QPR.

Meanwhile Wolves remain rooted to the foot of the table after a 2-1 defeat to Norwich at Carrow Road.

Wolves snatched a 25th-minute lead through Matt Jarvis but Norwich drew level inside a minute through a Grant Holt strike before the Canaries striker made it 2-1 with a penalty on the stroke of half-time.

Norwich endured a nervous finish when Holt was sent off in the second half but Paul Lambert's side dug in for the win.

Everton ended a run of two consecutive defeats with a 2-0 win at form team Swansea courtesy of goals from Leighton Baines and Nikica Jelavic.

Michigan's steadier job growth reason for optimism

Michigan has regained more than 151,000 jobs since the number of working residents fell to a recessionary low in mid-2009, a steady climb that began under Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and has continued under Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

Still, even as the state has seen its unemployment rate drop from a peak of 14.2 percent in August 2009 to 9 percent in January, economists say Michigan still has a long way to go to recover the 857,000 jobs lost between the April 2000 employment peak — when the jobless rate was just 3.4 percent — and the trough the state hit two years ago. As of January, over 700,000 remained unrecovered.

Yet the sense is growing that Michigan — finally — may be over the decade-long slump that Snyder says left residents divided and far too discouraged about the state's advantages and ability to recover. Michigan residents are giving both the Republican governor and Democratic President Barack Obama higher job approval ratings as the economic climate improves. But a sense of caution remains.

"We have been busy reinventing Michigan, breaking some bad habits of the past and embracing new opportunities for our future," Snyder told German company officials during a weeklong trade trip that resulted in a German orchid grower announcing it would open a 30,000-square-foot facility in Kalamazoo. "To those of you looking to expand your global presence or enter the North American market, Michigan is the place to be."

Rick Waclawek, director of the state's Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, has followed the long slump and slow recovery.

"We've been able to increase our employment after nine or 10 years where we were losing employment in Michigan," he said. "As far as job growth, we are one of the leaders in the nation, on a percentage basis."

He still sees areas of concern. Although the February unemployment rate, due out Wednesday, could continue the steady improvement the state has seen over the past four months, the percentage of discouraged workers or those working only part-time when they want to work full-time averaged 18.3 percent in Michigan in 2011, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"There's still that nagging unemployment level, particularly the long-term unemployed," Waclawek said. "That's probably the thing we need to be focused on, to make sure that we develop some (training) opportunities, jobs for the long-term unemployed."

To help students and workers find out information about careers, educational and training opportunities and job openings, Snyder launched the Pure Michigan Talent Connect website in early December. The site is intended to give employers and jobseekers a place to find each other and allow workers to assess their skills and connect with mentors and internships.

The governor wants lawmakers to approve self-employment assistance that would give benefits to unemployed workers who are setting up their own businesses rather than requiring them to pursue job opportunities in order to qualify.

Snyder also has proposed spending $15 million starting Oct. 1 to provide job training for 15- to 29-year-olds and ex-offenders in cities with the most crime to get the chronically unemployed back to work.

"Obviously, you can't fill every job, because there will always be openings," Snyder said when he unveiled his plan for "growing talent" late last year. "But if you start saying, 'Can we cut that number in half?' that would drop the unemployment rate by a whole percentage point. And that's a lot of jobs and major improvement."

The biggest driver of Michigan's resurgence has been the auto industry. Ever since General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group emerged from managed bankruptcies in 2009, they've been on an upward swing, allowing the state in 2010 to add more manufacturing jobs than it lost for the first time since 1999. GM even won back the title of the world's No. 1 automaker from competitor Toyota Motor Co., after Toyota had to slow production last year after an earthquake and tsunami struck northern Japan.

The improvement has spread into other sectors, giving Michigan its lowest unemployment rate in more than three years.

"When manufacturing goes up ... it puts more money back into the economy," Waclawek said.

Not every sector has grown. Local governments and school districts have shed thousands of jobs as tight tax revenues have led to layoffs. Michigan has been among states with the largest government job losses since June 2009.

And its jobless rate has dropped in part because jobless workers have become discouraged and either moved away, headed back to school or otherwise quit looking for work. Waclawek says it's almost impossible to track where those former workers have gone.

Still, the trend is hopeful. Michigan's January jobless rate was lower than 10 other states and the District of Columbia, coming in nearly 4 percentage points below nation-leading Nevada's rate of 12.7 percent and well below rates in California and North Carolina. It's slowly growing closer to the national rate of 8.3 percent, and has seen a decline of 5 percentage points since the end of the national recession in mid-2009.

University of Michigan economist George Fulton forecasts Michigan will add about 26,000 net jobs this year and 28,500 in 2013 before seeing greater growth of 46,800 jobs in 2014. That's slower than the net 63,500 jobs the state added in 2011, but Fulton said it's still reason for optimism.

"Now that the darkest days are in the books, much of today's news is positive," Fulton told state officials in January.

Report: Sandusky called 'likely pedophile' in '98

A psychologist who looked into a 1998 allegation against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky told police at the time that his behavior fit the profile of a likely pedophile, NBC News reported Saturday.

Yet Sandusky was never criminally charged, nor placed on a state registry of suspected child abusers, and prosecutors say he continued assaulting boys for more than a decade until his arrest in November.

NBC obtained a copy of the campus police department's investigatory report on an encounter in which Sandusky was accused of having inappropriate contact with an 11-year-old boy with whom he had showered naked on the Penn State campus.

The police file includes the report of State College psychologist Alycia Chambers, who interviewed and providing counseling to the boy.

"My consultants agree that the incidents meet all of our definitions, based on experience and education, of a likely pedophile's pattern of building trust and gradual introduction of physical touch, within a context of a 'loving,' 'special' relationship," Chambers wrote.

A second psychologist, however, concluded that Sandusky had neither assaulted the boy nor fit the profile of a pedophile.

Centre County prosecutors ultimately decided not to charge Sandusky, and the case was closed until a statewide grand jury accused the retired defensive coordinator of abusing the boy and nine others over a 15-year period. Sandusky, who faces more than 50 counts of child sex abuse, has pleaded innocent and awaits trial.

Chambers' warning to authorities raises new questions about the university's failure to stop Sandusky. Eight of the 10 boys were attacked on campus, prosecutors allege.

In 2002, four years after the 1998 investigation, prosecutors say then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary caught Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the football showers. McQueary reported what he saw to coach Joe Paterno, who, in turn, reported the allegation to university officials. But no police investigation was ever done.

The 1998 allegation was the first known complaint made to authorities about Sandusky. A woman called the Penn State police department, saying she was troubled after her 11-year-old son told her he had showered naked with Sandusky on campus.

Prosecutors say Sandusky lathered up the boy — known as Victim 6 in the state's current criminal case — bear-hugged him naked from behind, and picked him up and put his head under the shower. Detectives say that later, with police secretly listening in, Sandusky told the boy's mother the joint shower had been a mistake, and blurted: "I wish I were dead."

The woman's complaint triggered a separate review by state Department of Public Welfare, which found no indication of abuse by Sandusky.

But state welfare department investigator Jerry Lauro told AP in December that he didn't have access to the criminal investigative file. On Wednesday, he told The Patriot-News of Harrisburg that he never would have closed the case had he seen the reports from Chambers and the second psychologist, John Seasock.

"The course of history could have been changed," Lauro told the newspaper, which first reported the existence of the twin psychological reports.

"The conclusions (Chambers) had drawn in her report were pretty damaging," Lauro told the paper. "I would have made a different decision. ... It's unbelievable, and it gets my blood pressure going when I think about it."

Seasock, who worked with Centre County Office of Children and Youth Services, interviewed the boy for an hour and wrote in his report — also included in the police file obtained by NBC — that he did not find any evidence of "grooming" or "inappropriate sexual behavior" by Sandusky.

"All the interactions reported by (the boy) can be typically defined as normal between a health adult and a young adolescent male," Seasock wrote.

Seasock, however, did not review Chambers' report or prior interviews with the boy before submitting his own report, the police report indicates, nor did he elicit key details, including the fact that Sandusky had kissed the boy and told him he loved him.

Chambers and Seasock did not immediately return phone messages left at their offices Saturday.

Sandusky's attorney, Joseph Amendola, told The Associated Press on Saturday that Seasock's report was "exculpable" and that the 1998 incident was not as clear-cut as Chambers made it out to be.

"We could get five psychologists, child psychologists, who specialize maybe in sexual dysfunctions or pedophilia look at the same case and talk to the same people and come up with five different conclusions," he said in a phone interview.

Amendola said that Chambers has refused to talk to the defense, but that he would try anew in light of the NBC report.

"Any argument the commonwealth had about privilege is out the window," said Amendola. He said he found the timing of the NBC report curious because it came several days after a judge ordered the attorney general to turn over the psychological reports to the defense unless prosecutors could persuade the court they are not subject to disclosure.

Chambers told NBC in an interview that she was horrified to learn that Sandusky allegedly continued assaulting boys long after she warned Penn State authorities about him.

"I was horrified to know that there were so many other innocent boys who had been subject to this, who had their hearts and minds confused, their bodies violated. It's unspeakable," she said.

Chambers told NBC her 1998 investigation found "behavior that was consistent with a predator, a male predator, a pedophile."

Six children, two adults die in West Virginia house fire

Eight people, including six children under the age of nine, died early Saturday in a fire that swept a two-story wood house in Charleston, West Virginia, the worst death toll in the state's capital city in decades, a fire official said.

All of the people staying in the house at the time of the fire were related, Charleston Assistant Fire Chief Bob Sharp said. It was not known if they were all living together in the house or if some were visiting, he said.

A seventh child was in a hospital intensive care unit and "not doing great," Sharp said, and an adult woman occupant of the house who reported the fire from a neighbor's house was later taken to the hospital "very traumatized" for treatment.

"I've been here 26 years and we've never had anything of this magnitude," Sharp said.

The cause of the fire was unknown. Authorities were not yet releasing the names of the people injured or killed in the fire.

There was only one smoke detector found in the house and it was located under a kitchen counter -- rather than on a ceiling, so it wasn't in the best place to alert residents of the emergency, Sharp said.

The deaths appeared to be from smoke inhalation -- bodies were found still in sleeping positions, Sharp said.

Sharp said the children in the house ranged in age from one year to eight years old, including five boys and two girls. He did not know if the hospitalized child was a boy or a girl.

The fire was reported at 3:30 a.m. It left the front of the house blackened.

Neighbors interviewed said that the family had only lived in the house for a few months.

"I'd see the kids out riding tricycles," said Evelyn Fazio, who lives on the same block. "It's awful." She said it's a "quiet, good neighborhood."

Friday, March 23, 2012

UNHRC throws out Russia proposal on Libya detentions

The UN Human Rights Council on Friday adopted a resolution urging Libya's new rulers to probe all alleged abuses, but threw out a Russian proposal calling for a halt to arbitrary detentions.

The council also rejected an amendment tabled by the Ugandans, who sought to include a reference to "express deep concern about the deliberate killings ... of persons of Sub-Saharan origins."

The amendments tabled by the two delegations hours before the council session was due to close sparked frantic negotiations among ambassadors.

Russia said its proposal would have made the resolution backed by Western states "more balanced."

"It calls upon the Transitional Government of Libya to address the cases of arbitrary detention, including of foreign nationals, and to release them immediately or to bring them to fair trial," said Russia.

Uganda meanwhile said its amendment was tabled as it feared that "impunity and a deliberate targeting of a particular ethnic group would continue."

"We hope that this amendment will in some nature treat all situations of abuse with equal measure," said the Ugandan envoy.

However, the United States and Italy both said they could not support the proposals as they came too late.

Explosion in Rwanda leaves one dead, five injured: police

An explosion killed one person and wounded five others Friday in northern Rwanda, a police spokesman said, adding that a probe had been launched to determine the nature of the explosive device.

The blast occurred on Friday evening at a bus park in the town of Musanze, around 90 kilometres (56 miles) north of the capital Kigali, Theos Badege told AFP.

"We don't know the nature of the explosive device. Investigations are under way to determine whether it was a grenade or not," added Badege, saying that the blast also damaged nearby vehicles.

Several civilians have been killed or wounded in grenade attacks in the past. In January, 10 people were injured in a central Rwanda town, days after two others were killed and 16 wounded in the capital Kigali.

Security forces have previously blamed attacks on the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a Rwandan Hutu rebel group based in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as former security officials in exile.

Mali coup: the revenge of the rank and file

At the barracks where Mali's junta has set up camp, mutinous soldiers expressed their pride Friday at having snatched the reins of power from a leadership they perceive as incompetent.

"Yes, it's power to the rank and file," shouted one corporal, his eyes red with fatigue, as hundreds of troops lined up inside the Soundiata Keita camp, named after the founder of the 13th century empire of Mali.

Located around 15 kilometres (nine miles) north of the capital Bamako, the camp is bustling with hundreds of soldiers awaiting orders, a day after the junta announced on state television that it seized power.

Sitting on a stool, a pen in hand, the corporal patiently jotted down the names of those who request a meeting with the troubled west African country's new strongman: Amadou Sanogo.

There were no portentous generals bristling with medals in Mali's new centre of power, rather mostly low-ranking enlisted soldiers with a grudge.

Sanogo himself, who set up an office in a rundown building inside the camp, is only a captain.

A handful of "Red Berets" from the presidential guard appear to have joined the putsch and now form part of Sanogo's bodyguard.

The captain, who declared himself the leader of a National Committee for the Establishment of Democracy on Thursday, led the troops who shot their way to the palace on Wednesday evening and forced President Amadou Toumani Toure to flee.

The junta claims the rank and file was fed up with the regime's failure to snuff out a rebellion launched by Tuaregs in the north two months ago.

On Friday, around 20 soldiers guarded the location at the entrance of the camp where senior members of the ousted regime, including several ministers, were held.

"We have orders to treat them well," said one sergeant. "We will not harm them."

He did not comment on the fate of the ousted president. Sanogo only said Friday that Toure, who has not spoken publicly since the coup, was "doing very well" and in a safe location.

In the middle of a courtyard, women are cooking rice in a large pot. "This is for the soldiers. They have worked well for the country," said one of them.

Those soldiers who took part in the fighting two nights earlier were still in a defiant mood.

"The organisation of the attack on the presidential palace? That was me," Sergeant Alissa Garba boasted, brandishing his weapon. "I took over command of the operation and charged towards the palace."

The presidential guard tried to fight back on the night of the assault "but the mutineering soldiers were irresistible," said Moussa Kante, another corporal.

Another soldier, corporal Didier Dicko, joined the enthusiastic reenactment and let rip at army top brass.

"We don't trust the senior officers. We're between ourselves now, the rank and file, we understand each other. It's the end of all this waste and incompetence," he said.

A few kilometres away from Soundiata Keita camp, on a hill overlooking Bamako, the vacant presidential palace lies, partly gutted by fire.

An abandoned tank and pockmarked vehicles sat in the deserted courtyard. Official stationary flapped over on a bed of bullet casings.

In central Bamako, traffic was slowly resuming despite sporadic gunfire still ringing out in the city and cases of looting by soldiers.

"I am still afraid. I have no idea what is going to happen next so I'm staying at home," said Ahmed, a nurse in the Magnambougou neighbourhood.

No slip-ups as Murray eases into Miami third round

World number four Andy Murray eased into the Miami Masters third round on Friday when he saw off Colombia's Alejandro Falla 6-2, 6-3, avoiding a repeat of last week's embarrassment in California.

The Scot, who was surprisingly eliminated in the first round of the Indian Wells Masters by Spain's Guillermo Garcia Lopez, had no such problems in Florida.

Murray will tackle either Canadian 26th-seed Milos Raonic or Arnaud Clement of France for a place in the last 16.

Fourth seeded Murray, the 2009 champion in Miami when he defeated Novak Djokovic, recorded his 15th match win of the season, hitting four aces for victory in 77 minutes against Falla.

The 24-year-old won his 22nd ATP World Tour title at the Brisbane International in January and fell to Roger Federer in the Dubai final earlier this month.

He is 15-3 overall on the year.

France's Gilles Simon, the No. 13 seed, overcame Spanish qualifier Roberto Bautista-Agut 6-4, 6-2 in 85 minutes.

APNewsBreak: Europe faces jihadist threat

With France's deadly attacks, Islamic terror has apparently struck once more in the heart of Europe — and authorities say there's a dangerous twist: the emergence of homegrown extremists operating independent of any known networks, making them hard to track and stop.

"We have a different kind of jihadist threat emerging and it's getting stronger," Europol chief Rob Wainwright told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from The Hague. "It is much more decentralized and harder to track."

France's motorcycle gunman traumatized a nation heading into presidential elections and spread fear across the continent that the specter of al-Qaida was once again threatening daily life.

Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, sowed his terror over the course of nine days, killing paratroopers, Jewish children and a rabbi. He died Thursday in a shootout after police raided the Toulouse apartment where he had been holed up.

Merah traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan and had claimed to have trained with al-Qaida there, but French authorities said Thursday they had no evidence that he had any contact with terrorist groups or that al-Qaida had ordered the killings.

Wainwright warned that Europe faces a tough challenge ahead.

Combating individuals acting in apparent isolation, he said, will take smarter measures in monitoring the Internet, better intelligence and international cooperation in counterterrorism efforts.

And he conceded there were limits to what law enforcement officials can do. "We can't police the Internet," he said.

Other European terror authorities echoed that view, saying that apprehending suspicious individuals with no clear connections to terrorist networks is legally problematic.

"We have one law for war, one law for peace, but we don't have a law for the current situation," said Alain Chouet, a former intelligence director at France's DGSE spy agency.

"If we stopped (Merah) three weeks ago, what would people have said? 'Why are you stopping him? What did he do?'"More...

UK anti-Islamist group to form "Freedom Party"

The leader of a British anti-Islamist group said on Friday his populist protest movement, which critics say represents a new far right in Britain, would form a political party in May.

Stephen Lennon, head of the English Defence League (EDL), said the three-year-old grassroots group wanted to move on from holding street demonstrations to contesting elections.

"The British political anti-Islamist party will be launched in May at our Luton demonstration," Lennon told Reuters, saying the new body would be called the Freedom Party.

"At the Luton demonstration, the whole country will hear an anti-Islamist political party that gives everyone an option in a non-racist way - the opposite to the British National Party."

The EDL was formed in response to a protest by a small group of radical Muslims who shouted slogans at British soldiers during a homecoming parade in Luton, to the north of London.

While still a small organisation, as many as 12,000 people have attended the numerous marches and demonstrations the EDL has staged across England since then. More than 31,000 people have given its Facebook website their backing.

Britain's population is about 62 million.

The EDL gained international attention last July after Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian who killed 77 people in what he said was an international mission to counter Islam, claimed to have had contact with EDL members and leaders.

The EDL has denied any formal links to Breivik and Lennon rejects the description of his group as far-right, arguing that genuine extremists hate him.

"We hate Nazis, we're anti-Nazi," he said, emphasising his groups' support for Jews and Israel. "In England, we're the only organisation that stands up for the Jewish community."

CRITICS

However, critics and commentators accuse the EDL of being an acceptable face of a new far right, which was not just opposed to violent Islamism as it says but racially opposed to all Muslims, with members who include former soccer hooligans.

Lennon himself was convicted last year over a street brawl involving soccer fans and was also found guilty of assault during an altercation at an EDL rally.

The group's rallies have often ended in violent confrontations with anti-fascist organisations.

How successful the party will be is unclear.

The far-right British National Party, a nationalist group which wants an end to immigration and the voluntary repatriation of immigrants, won two seats to the European Parliament in 2009.

"If the BNP got two seats, we'll get more than two seats," said Lennon, who added he would not be the new party's leader.

Other populist anti-Islam parties have enjoyed election successes elsewhere in the European Union in recent years, notably the Dutch Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders.

The issue has become prominent in France's presidential election after an al Qaeda-inspired Islamist murdered seven people before being shot dead by police on Thursday.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen asserted after the shootings that entire suburbs had been surrendered to Islamist radicals by negligent politicians.

"The problem is militant Islam and the problem's spreading across Europe like a wildfire," Lennon said. "Brave people like Marine le Pen and brave people like Geert Wilders are prepared to put their lives on the line."

Poland exhumes some 2010 plane crash victims

One autopsy report describes organs that had been removed years before. Another adds 20 centimeters (nearly 8 inches) to a short man, making no mention of bones disfigured by childhood polio. One family doubts whether an autopsy was performed at all.

Polish investigators have exhumed the remains of three of the 96 Poles killed in the 2010 plane crash in Russia that killed President Lech Kaczynski due to flaws in the initial autopsies performed by Russian officials.

The need for the new autopsies has added to suspicions held by some Poles that the Russians were, at best, sloppy in their handling of the crash aftermath, and, at worst, trying to cover something up. Russian authorities say any inaccuracies result from the fragmented state of the bodies after the crash.

Two of the 96 bodies were exhumed this week in Poland, following a first such exhumation August. Victims' families and officials say other victims also have reports riddled with mistakes, and prosecutors say more exhumations are possible.

"There were discrepancies. Evidence gathered in Poland differed from information in the Russian documentation," said Col. Zbigniew Rzepa, spokesman for the chief military prosecutor's office. "We had to carry out the exhumations to clarify all the doubts."

Surviving relatives of the three have been enraged by the faulty autopsy reports, which have added to their private grief. Many also fault the Polish government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk for not being firmer with Russia in demanding greater transparency. This comes amid a sense of indignation that key evidence in the crash — black boxes, the plane wreckage and the late Polish president's satellite phone — remain in Russian hands.

At one extreme, the flawed autopsies and the sense that Russians are not being fully transparent have encouraged Polish conspiracy theories claiming Russian leaders might have played a role in the downing of Kaczynski's plane, which crashed in fog after clipping a tree at an airport near Smolensk, Russia, on April 10, 2010.

An official Polish report blamed the fog, pilot error and poor guidance from Russian air traffic controllers.

But Antoni Macierewicz, a conservative lawmaker who heads a parliamentary commission trying to clarify the reasons for the crash, said Friday that he doesn't believe the official Polish explanation and that other theories need to be explored.

Suspicions center on the fact the plane, a Tupolev-154, was Russian built. Some Poles don't believe that the plane could have crashed just by clipping a tree, and find it strange that there were no survivors when it was already so close to the ground when it crashed.

"A lack of openness creates conspiracy theories," said Michael Baden, an American forensic pathologist who has advised some of the victims' families. "You can't investigate a major catastrophe in secret."

Andrei Kovalyov, the head of the Russian Center for Forensic Expertise, which conducted the autopsies, said genetic research and inspections of the bodies were performed to international standard.

"Any discrepancies, if they exist, are likely rooted not in badly performed autopsies but the fact that the bodies were fragmented," Kovalyov said. "When remains of the numerous victims get mixed up inside the cabin there can be problems regarding the attribution of body parts."

Many Poles easily accept the Russian explanation and see no need for the exhumations, feeling that it doesn't change the larger picture of the tragedy.

Tusk, the prime minister, said it's hard to expect perfect reports given "what state the bodies were in after the crash."

The first victim to be exhumed, the late conservative lawmaker Zbigniew Wassermann, had an autopsy report that was largely incorrect, and described organs that had been surgically removed years before, Macierewicz said.

For instance, the 60-year-old had only a part of his liver left, but his report described it as being the entire healthy liver of a young man, Macierewicz said.

"The document from the Russian autopsy was taken out of the blue," said Wassermann's daughter, Malgorzata Wassermann. "It disagreed with the facts: It described things that did not exist and did not describe things that were there."

His new autopsy, carried out in August, corrected the record but did not change the larger conclusions about the cause of his death, said Col. Ireneusz Szelag, a spokesman for prosecutors.

Another lawmaker, Przemyslaw Gosiewski, was exhumed on Monday. The Russian autopsy report described him as 1.8 meters tall (5 foot 9), when in fact he was 20 centimeters (nearly 8 inches) shorter, according to the law firm representing the family.

The report also failed to mention bone defects resulting from childhood polio.

"Glaring irregularities in the documentation mean there can't be certainty if an autopsy was even carried out," said Rafal Rogalski, the Gosiewski family lawyer.

In the case of the third exhumation, family members of Janusz Kurtyka, the head of a state historical institute, doubt that an autopsy was performed because they saw no marks on his body indicating a post-mortem, Szelag said.

Andrzej Melak, the brother of another victim, Stefan Melak, told the parliamentary commission Friday that the Russian documentation was 25 centimeters off in describing his brother's height.

Melak said he felt at a loss, and criticized the Polish government for not demanding more from Russia. "I don't know what to do," he said. "Our government doesn't care about Polish citizens."

Families are also angry because the new autopsies have been perfomed by state experts and they are not allowed to do their own.

Lech Kaczynski was a deeply patriotic leader who was skeptical of Russia, a historic foe that invaded Poland's eastern half during World War II and controlled the country during the Cold War. Most of the people traveling with him were political allies who shared his views, so it's no surprise their families would voice distrust in Russia after the crash.

The presidential delegation was traveling to honor 22,000 Polish officers murdered by Josef Stalin's secret police at the start of World War II in the Katyn forest and other locations. That symbolism only added to the national grief and to the suspicions.

Organ recipient testifies at trial in Kosovo

A Canadian man testified Friday that he paid $105,000 (€80,000) to an Israeli citizen in 2008 to organize a kidney transplant in a Kosovo clinic allegedly used by an international organ trafficking network for dozens of illegal operations.

Raul Fain, 66, of Toronto, told an EU-run panel of three judges that he sought foreign organ donors after doctors told him he could wait up to 12 years for such an operation in Canada.

Fain testified from Canada via a video link to the trial of seven Kosovars suspected of involvement in the criminal network. Kosovo law forbids the removal and transplant of organs.

Fain was shown photos of a building that he identified as the Medicus clinic in Pristina where he was driven for his kidney transplant in June 2008.

The witness said he had been met in Istanbul, Turkey, by Israeli national Moshe Harel, who allegedly organized the transplant, and flown to Kosovo together with an elderly German man also seeking a kidney and two Russian women prepared to each donate one.

Harel and Turkish Dr. Yusuf Sonmez, who allegedly performed the operations, remain at large and are being sought by European Union prosecutors in charge of the case.

Prosecutor Jonathan Ratel has said the Russian women were just two of some 20 foreign nationals "recruited with false promises of payments" in 2008.

Victims were promised up to $20,000 (€4,500), while kidney recipients were required to pay between $105,000-$132,000 (€80,000 and €100,000), according to Ratel.

Fain testified Friday that his operation took place in a cold, dark room at the Medicus clinic and that he spent five days recovering before flying back to Canada.

He said he saw the two Russian women at the clinic but did not talk with them. Asked by the prosecution if he had received on of their kidneys, Fain said: "I believe so."

The case began with indictments in November 2010, and the trial began last year. It is providing a stark look at a crime network that allegedly organized organ transplants and included criminals from countries such as Kosovo, Moldova, Ukraine, Turkey, Russia and Israel.

Ratel said Friday he will ask Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty to testify at the trial. Marty alleged in a report last year that Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and other citizens who once served as rebel commanders in the Kosovo Liberation Army had run detention centers on Albania's border with Kosovo where civilian captives, including Serbs, were killed and their organs sold on the black market during Kosovo's war for independence from Serbia.

Thaci and Albania's government have denied those allegations.

Ratel is part of a 3,000-strong EU rule of law and police mission in Kosovo that deals with sensitive cases such as war crimes and organized crime.

Kim Kardashian Gets Flour Bombed, Keeps On Working

Reality star Kim Kardashian was flour bombed on the red carpet in West Hollywood on Thursday night.

Just before 8 PM, after finishing posing for the photographers at an event for her new fragrance, True Reflection, at the London Hotel off of Sunset Blvd., Kim was speaking to the house crew on the red carpet when a young woman strolled up to the reality star and dumped a bag of what appeared to be flour on Kim's head.

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"She came from Kim's left, with a Zip-Lock baggie," an Access Hollywood staffer on the scene said, noting the bag had about three fists full of white powder, believed to be flour. "The girl just kind of showed up on the red carpet."

According to the Access staffer, who witnessed the event, no one stopped the woman, as she approached Kim.

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"She went in between Kim and her publicist and started dumping the bag on Kim's head and shoulders," the staffer recounted.

Only a small amount of the powder actually touched the reality star, landing on her head and shoulders.

"She was shocked," the Access witness said of Kim's reaction. "And, as soon as it happened, she put her head down and security grabbed her and they rushed her off into the elevators."

VIEW THE PHOTOS: The Many Men Of Kim Kardashian

As for the flour bomber, she tried to briskly walk away from the scene, but was stopped and escorted away by security.

Not one to let a little flour stop her, after about 10 minutes, Kim went back to work, returning to chat with the media, where she made jokes about the incident.

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"She was very bubbly, very high-spirited and she actually joked about it," the Access staffer recounted. "She said she wasn't too upset because the woman didn't get any on her face. She made a joke about having told her makeup artist she needed more powder."

It was not immediately clear why the young woman chose to dump the substance on Kim's head, however, late last year, someone flour bombed Kim's pal, Jonathan Cheban.

According to reports at the time, the assailant said they did it for Kris Humphries, Kim's ex, during the incident.

To see what happened at the event and Kim's interview, tune into Access Hollywood on Friday night.

Copyright 2012 by NBC Universal, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Syria crisis: EU to put sanctions on Asma al-Assad

EU foreign ministers are set to impose a travel ban and asset freeze on the UK-born wife of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, diplomats say.

Asma al-Assad is among 12 Syrians to be added to a number of figures, including the president, who are already subject to sanctions.

It was unclear whether the ban would stop her from travelling to the UK.

Anti-government activists accuse the regime of killing thousands of protesters over the past year.

In recent weeks, the Damascus government has stepped up its efforts to crush pockets of rebellion in cities including Homs and Hama.

Every day, activists report dozens of deaths and more protests.

Mr Assad has promised political reform, but observers and his opponents have dismissed his plans as window-dressing.

The BBC's Chris Morris in Brussels says for years there was a perception that Mrs Assad's Western upbringing could encourage reform in Syria.

The 36-year-old, who is of Syrian descent but spent much of her life in west London, has generally played a low-key role in the regime.

However, in February she wrote to Britain's Times newspaper to explain why she thought her husband was still the right man to lead Syria.

Last week activists released some 3,000 emails they said were from private accounts belonging to Mr Assad and his wife.

The messages, which have not been independently verified, suggested Mrs Assad continued to shop online for luxury goods even after the uprising was in full swing.

The UN says at least 8,000 people have died since the uprising against Mr Assad's regime began last March.

The president and his allies say terrorist and armed gangs are behind the violence, and say hundreds of security personnel have been killed fighting them.

Robert Bales to face murder charges over Afghan massacre

A US soldier suspected of killing civilians in Afghanistan will be charged with 17 counts of murder, US officials have told the BBC.

Staff Sgt Robert Bales is accused of attacking the villagers in their homes in Kandahar province on 11 March. Most victims were women and children.

Sgt Bales, 38, was later moved to a military prison in the US after being transported from Afghanistan to Kuwait.

He could face the death penalty if convicted.
'No evidence'

Sgt Bales would also be charged with six counts of assault and attempted murder, a US official told the BBC.

The charges are to be read to the soldier at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, later on Friday, according to the Associated Press news agency.

The Taliban said on Friday that it had no faith in any trial of Sgt Bales.

"This was a planned activity and we will certainly take revenge on all American forces in Afghanistan and don't trust such trials," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters news agency by telephone.

Sgt Bales is the only known suspect in the killings - despite repeated Afghan assertions that more than one American was involved.

He is being held in solitary confinement at Fort Leavenworth.

His lawyer, who has played down reports that his client was drunk on the night of the killings, said earlier this week Sgt Bales remembers "very little" of the incident.

John Henry Brown said there was "no forensic evidence" against him and "no confession".

The lawyer said Sgt Bales had received body and brain injuries while serving in Iraq and was unhappy about going for another tour of duty. He had already completed three tours in Iraq.

Mr Brown also said his client - whom he described as "a decorated soldier" with an exemplary record before the shooting - had witnessed his friend's leg blown off the day before the killings.

The case has undermined US relations with Kabul and led to calls for Nato to speed up its planned withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

Sgt Bales' trial could take years, contrasting with Afghan demands for swift and decisive justice.

The Taliban called off peace talks in the wake of the deadly rampage.

Kris Jenner's Inappropriate Outfit Copies Daughter Kim Kardashian

Usually, when your mom does embarrassing stuff, you’re the only one who suffers. But in the case of the Kardashians’ mom, Kris Jenner, the world gets to see her cringe-worthy antics.

Most recently, the 56-year-old mother of Kim Kardashian wore an outfit that would be better suited for a 20-year-old (in fact, Kim and sister Khloe have worn similar outfits): hot-pink skinny jeans, black leather jacket, oversized silver handbag, and high-heeled, leopard print mules.

It’s an outfit that a teenager could probably pull off, but Jenner is pushing the fashion bounds in this overly trendy look for her age. The reality TV mom got low marks on the Web. One commenter at the Daily Mail opined the general feeling: “She is a garish attention-seeker. She dresses too young for her age.”

The publicity-hungry mom made waves recently by wearing nothing at all. In “honor” of her son Rob’s 25th birthday, she posted a racy photo of herself when she was pregnant with him. One horrified reader on Yahoo! asked, “What normal person would do that to their son on their birthday? It's one thing to show the picture amongst the family but to post it online for the world. Starving for attention much?!?”

Another added: “Kris, it is not all about you. Why would you post such a private picture on your blog for all to see and why on HIS birthday? No shame whatsoever.”

Not everyone minded it. One gushed: “I think it’s fantastic she posted this… A pregnant woman is beautiful no matter who she is.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wide receiver Manningham signs two-year deal with 49ers


Wide receiver Mario Manningham, whose spectacular sideline catch helped the New York Giants win the Super Bowl last month, has been signed by the San Francisco 49ers on a two-year deal.

The move was announced by the 49ers on Thursday, five days after Manningham's agent said terms had been agreed by the two parties.

"We are very pleased to add a player like Mario to our team," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement.

"Although it is still early in his NFL career, he is a productive wide receiver with a lot of big game experience. He will be a nice compliment to our current wide receiver group and a good fit for our offensive system."

Manningham, who had also considered a move to the St. Louis Rams, said on a conference call: "They (the 49ers) have a great defense and I know I can come in there and make plays. I know I can make an impact there."

Asked why he had settled on the 49ers, he replied: "Knowing that they have good coaches there with good players around them and I know what they are capable of doing."

A third-round draft pick by the Giants in 2008, Manningham has recorded 160 receptions for 2,315 yards and 18 touchdowns in 49 games.

Last season, he had 39 catches for 523 yards and four touchdowns in 12 regular season games before adding 13 receptions for 189 yards and three touchdowns in the playoffs.

With the season on the line, the 25-year-old Manningham grabbed the headlines during the Giants' 21-17 Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots in Indianopolis on February 5.

Trailing the Patriots 17-15, Giants quarterback Eli Manning lofted a pass down the left sideline that Manningham brilliantly corralled, tip-toeing inside the sideline for a 38-yard gain.

Manning connected with Manningham again before Ahmad Bradshaw darted through the middle for the go-ahead score with 57 seconds to play in New York's win.

Senator calls hearing to examine bounties in NFL

The Senate wants to grill the NFL about bounties. And the NBA, NHL, NCAA and Major League Baseball are invited, too.

Sen. Dick Durbin is setting up a Judiciary Committee hearing about bounties in professional football and other major sports in the wake of news that New Orleans Saints players received extra cash for hits that hurt particular opponents.

The assistant Senate majority leader, an Illinois Democrat, said Thursday he wants to examine whether federal law should make such bounty systems a crime.

"Let's be real basic about it here. If this activity were taking place off of a sporting field, away from a court, nobody would have a second thought (about whether it's wrong). 'You mean, someone paid you to go out and hurt someone?'" Durbin said in a telephone interview before raising the issue on the floor of the Senate.

"It goes way beyond the rules of any sporting contest, at least team contest, to intentionally inflict harm on another person for a financial reward," he said.

His announcement came a day after the NFL took a harsh stand on bounties, suspending Saints head coach Sean Payton for all of next season, and indefinitely banning their former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis was barred for half of 2012, an assistant coach got a six-game ban, and the team also was docked two second-round draft picks and $500,000.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell still needs to decide what penalties to give players who were involved in the Saints' scheme from 2009-11.

"I am encouraged by what the National Football League did. What they came down with as a penalty on the New Orleans Saints was decisive and historic," Durbin said, adding that he thought the league was "taking this very seriously."

But moving forward, the NFL and other leagues must "come up with standards to make sure this isn't going to happen again," he said. Otherwise, lawmakers will need to "at least explore whether it is necessary to have federal legislation in this area."

One possibility, Durbin explained, would be to extend federal sports bribery laws to cover bounties, so that "if someone offers in a team sports situation some sort of value, money or otherwise, to intentionally hurt another player, that, in fact, would be a crime."

Under the bounty system overseen in New Orleans by Williams — who was hired in January by the St. Louis Rams — the targeted players included quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. "Knockouts" were worth $1,500 and "cart-offs" $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs.

According to the league, Saints defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to any player who knocked then-Vikings QB Favre out of the 2010 NFC championship game.

Durbin isn't sure when the hearing will happen, but he said it could be two to three weeks from now.

Stella McCartney shows off her UK Olympic designs

How many ways can you stretch Britain's red, white and blue Union Jack over finely toned Olympic athletes?

Ask Stella McCartney.

The famed designer unveiled her ideas for Britain's Olympians on Thursday with uniforms that made imaginative use of the familiar flag. The designs, a closely guarded secret for months, were shown at the Tower of London in a gala event that combined fashion's razzle-dazzle with the star quality of top Olympic competitors.

Out with rail-thin fashion models, in with real Olympic stars.

McCartney, who is serving as adidas' creative director for the Summer Games, said she hoped both competitors and the British public like the uniforms and are proud of the athletes who will wear them at the Olympics and the Paralympics.

"The basic message is to unify the team," McCartney told The Associated Press backstage after the show. "The athletes all want to feel like one team. The other big starting point for me was the Union flag, an iconic flag, I think every Briton is so proud of it, but I wanted to look at it in a different way."

McCartney said instead of simply using the flag in its traditional form she broke it up and used various elements in an original way.

"I wanted to make it slightly more delicate and feminine, while still keeping the masculinity in some ways," she said.

Britain isn't the only team that has pressed a top designer into duty — Ralph Lauren is working on some outfits for the U.S. team, and Giorgio Armani is lending his skills to the Italian Olympians.

One challenge for McCartney was to incorporate the latest technological improvements and fabric developments into the designs without sacrificing her aesthetic goals.

"My first question for the athletes was, 'What can I do for you?'" she said. "This isn't about me, it's about Team Great Britain. They all said 'we need the technology.'"

That mean some of the artistic imagery had to be toned down.

"There are seams you can't mess up, there's tons of things, home and away kits, in gymnastics you have to have symmetry or you're marked down," McCartney said. "But it's been an incredible journey."

Triple jumper Phillips Idowu said it felt great to don the new uniform.

"All eyes will be watching London 2012 so every little detail matters," he said. "I love what Stella has done with the design."

He said the handsome designs and modern technology will provide a competitive boost.

"Looking good is psychologically important but my sprint suit is also technically advanced, so not only do I look good but I also have confidence in the technology."

The clothing included competition uniforms, training wear, a presentation suit, footwear and accessories.

British athletes who modeled the new gear included heptathlete Jessica Ennis, rowing champion Pete Reed and double Paralympic swimming gold medallist Ellie Simmonds.

Inzaghi out with hamstring strain

Veteran forward Filippo Inzaghi will be out for two to three weeks with a hamstring strain, his club AC Milan said Thursday.

The 38-year-old has been a bit-part player this season, making just eight appearances in all competitions. All of those, bar one, was as a substitute.

The injury comes at an inopportune time for Inzaghi, who may have been in line for more regular first team action with Pato out injured, Antonio Cassano's long-term heart problem and doubts over both Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

It means only Argentine Maxi Lopez and youngster Stephan El Shaarawy are definitely fit for this weekend's game against Roma, although Ibrahimovic is expected to overcome a back problem.

Rooney says sorry after breaking young fan's wrist

Wayne Rooney has apologised to a nine-year-old Manchester United supporter after the striker accidentally broke the boy's wrist with a stray shot before his side's 5-0 win at Wolves on Sunday.

Rooney was taking shots at goal during the pre-match warm-up and one wild effort from the United star flew into the crowd and struck Jamie Thomas on the wrist as he tried to block the ball.

Thomas managed to watch the first half of the Premier League match, but was taken into the first aid tent after his arm "ballooned" at half time.

Medics then sent the youngster to hospital where he had a plaster cast put on his injured wrist.

Rooney was not aware of the incident at the time, but he used his Twitter page to say sorry to the schoolboy and promised to send him a personalised gift.

He said in a tweet: "I want to apologise to Jamie Thomas. I have arranged for a letter and a signed shirt to be sent to his home address."

Thomas was watching his United heroes for the first time and his father, Andy, told the Shropshire Star: "It shook him up a bit but he's fine about it now and I don't think it's put him off going to other games.

"I don't think Rooney realised what he had done, otherwise I am sure he would have come over."

Vatican: Pope's Cuba trip should help democracy

The Vatican's No. 2 has dismissed suggestions that Cuba's Communist government could exploit Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming trip as a propaganda tool, saying the visit should help promote democracy on the island.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, said he expects an outpouring of support for the pope because he is the head of the Catholic Church and that the visit will only make things better for the Cuban church.

"I don't believe the visit will be exploited by the government," Bertone told the Turin daily La Stampa in an interview published Thursday. "In fact, I think the government and Cuban people will do their utmost to welcome the pope and show him the esteem and trust that the leader of the Catholic Church deserves."

Benedict, 84, leaves Friday for a six-day trip that will take him first to Mexico, then to Cuba on March 26. It's Benedict's first trip to Spanish-speaking Latin America, and Pope John Paul II's shadow will be looming large, given his five visits to Mexico, which claimed the Polish pope as its own, and his historic 1998 trip to Cuba.

For starters, there's the question of a papal meeting with Fidel Castro. When John Paul visited, Castro shed his trademark olive-green fatigues for a suit and tie to greet the pope at the airport and they later met privately.

The 85-year-old revolutionary leader has since been replaced as president by his brother Raul Castro, who will handle the official protocol greetings and meetings this time around. While a Benedict-Fidel meeting isn't on the official agenda, it's widely expected.

Cuba's single-party, Communist government never outlawed religion, but it expelled priests and closed religious schools upon Fidel Castro's takeover of Cuba in 1959. Tensions eased in the early 1990s when the government removed references to atheism in the constitution and let believers of all faiths join the Communist Party.

John Paul's 1998 visit further warmed relations.

But problems remain. Despite years of lobbying, the church has virtually no access to state-run radio or television, is not allowed to administer schools, and has not been granted permission to build new places of worship. The island of 11.2 million has just 361 priests, many of them non-Cubans. Before 1959 there were 700 priests for a population of 6 million.

Bertone cited the school and building bans in the interview, saying it was an issue that had to be resolved.

"But after 14 years (since John Paul's visit) ... there's no doubt that the current visit of Pope Benedict XVI will help the process of development toward democracy and will open new spaces for the church's presence and activity," Bertone was quoted as saying.

In an interview earlier this week with Vatican Radio, Bertone spoke about the Mexico leg of the trip, saying Benedict would be bringing a message of hope particularly to young Mexicans confronting the country's violent drug war.

He said the pope wants to urge young Mexicans to not be discouraged or be taken in by easy ways to make money but to instead "feel committed to making a solid, honest society."

More than 47,000 people have died in drug violence nationwide since President Felipe Calderon began a crackdown on drug cartels in December 2006.

Bertone also voiced opposition to abortion and gay marriage, both of which have been legalized in Mexico City by the leftist Democratic Revolution Party. Bertone said he expects the pope to refer to these issues, repeating the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" and church teaching that says marriage exists solely between man and woman.

Benedict's main activity in Mexico is an outdoor Mass on Sunday in Silao's Bicentennial Park that is expected to draw more than 350,000 people and will mark the 200th anniversary of the region's independence.

On Monday, he flies to Santiago de Cuba to mark the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the image of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba's patron. He arrives in Havana on Tuesday and celebrates Mass in the capital's famed Revolution Plaza the following day before returning to Rome.

Former Polish President Lech Walesa, whose Solidarity movement that helped topple communism was inspired by John Paul's 1979 visit to Poland, said he believes Benedict's visit to Cuba will "open a new chapter in Cuba's history."

Walesa's office said Thursday that his hopes were expressed in a letter sent to Benedict earlier this month in which Walesa said he hoped the trip would force Cuban authorities to listen to the will of the people.

TNT Post to trial deliveries in London

Britain's second largest postal firm TNT Post is to trial deliveries on the streets of west London next month as it steps up ambitions to rival state-owned Royal Mail Group as the UK's postal provider.

TNT Post UK, which is owned by Dutch mail company PostNL NV and handles more than 300 million items a month in the UK, will run test deliveries to homes and businesses in the capital from mid-April after a successful tryout in Liverpool.

The firm currently collects and sorts post before handing it over to Royal Mail to deliver what is known as the 'final mile' to residential addresses and businesses.

TNT Post UK wants to provide this service itself but before its orange and black clad postal workers hit the streets permanently it is fighting to get a Royal Mail VAT exemption on the final mile removed first. Any other company wanting to offer a delivery service is subject to VAT.

"We want to make a significant investment in infrastructure and create thousands of jobs in the UK but the government is doing little to help us to do this," TNT Post UK Chief Executive Nick Wells said in a statement on Thursday.

In a separate interview with Reuters on Thursday, TNT Post's owner said it would look to invest 300 million euros, raised from the 1.5 billion euros sale of its stake in TNT Express to United Parcel Service, in operations outside of the Netherlands.

Asked if some of the cash might be heading to Britain, a spokesperson for TNT Post UK told Reuters that "it wasn't in a position to comment on future investment plans".

UNIVERSAL SERVICE

Royal Mail, which on Wednesday moved a step closer to being privatised after EU regulators approved government plans to free the company of its deficit-ridden pension scheme, said potential rival operators would disadvantage customers.

In a statement it said that unrestricted development of rival end-to-end services would undermine the Universal Service agreement it works to, which ensures that UK consumers get a universally-priced, affordable postal service, six days a week.

"The Universal Service is the bedrock of the postal system. It benefits every user of the post, whether they post a small number of birthday and Christmas cards or they are a large business posting millions of letters," Royal Mail said.

"If a rival service cherry picks profitable, easy-to-deliver mail, it will weaken and ultimately undermine the Universal Service that only Royal Mail currently has the ability and commitment to deliver to the UK's 29 million addresses."

Postal regulator Ofcom has said that it will assess on a case-by-case basis any interest in providing so-called 'end-to-end competition' in the UK, where a postal operator receives the letters and delivers to an address without using Royal Mail's network.

In October, Ofcom proposed letting Royal Mail set prices for the majority of its products in a bid to help it sustain its services levels amid declining mail volumes and operating losses at its letters and parcels unit, which stretched to 41 million pounds in the six months to September 25.

A decision on these proposals in expected in the spring.

TNT Post UK, which processes around 17 percent of mail in Britain, also said on Thursday that it had signed an agreement with Tesco to handle up to 180 million items a year for the world's third-biggest retailer. A value for the deal was not given.

UK comedy firm sues Twentieth Century Fox over 'Glee'

A British chain of comedy clubs has taken Hollywood giant Twentieth Century Fox to court over the name of its hit television series "Glee".

Comic Enterprises, which runs four music and stand-up comedy venues called Glee Club, has made a claim against the US film and TV company for trademark infringement.

The British firm's owner Mark Tughan said many customers assume there is a link between his company and the US series, and that the confusion is damaging his 16-year-old business.

The TV comedy, about a high school singing club, has been wildly popular since its first series in 2009, but Tughan did not start legal proceedings until September in the hope its success would die down.

"When he first saw the television programme he had already witnessed how shows such as Disney's 'High School Musical' had started off and flopped," judge Colin Birss said at the Patents County Court in London on Thursday.

"His initial feeling was that this could be possible with 'Glee'," added Birss, ruling that the case could be transferred to the High Court.

"However, the television programme has clearly not flopped. It is very successful."

Now in its third season, the Golden Globe-winning series has spawned 11 soundtrack albums, and hundreds of the cast's cover versions of pop and show tunes are available for digital download.

With more than 32 million downloads in the US, the cast last month entered the list of top ten digital US artists of all time, according to the Nielsen SoundScan sales tracker.

Birss said Tughan had stressed he was not bringing the claim against Twentieth Century Fox "on the basis of how much money the claimant could potentially receive from Fox as a result of the success of 'Glee'."

The judge said that if Comic Enterprises's claim was successful, "the television programme at least in its current form would have to be taken off the air".

As well as contesting the case, the judge said Fox has launched a counterclaim challenging Comic Enterprises' right to the registered trademark.

Fox points out "that the Oxford English Dictionary defines a glee club as a society for singing part-songs", said Birss.

'Pit bull-type' dog savages five London police

Five police officers were taken to hospital on Thursday after being mauled by a "pit bull-type" dog during a raid in east London, Scotland Yard said.

Four of the constables were said to be in a serious but stable condition after being injured in the attack in Albert Square in Stratford, Newham, which happened when they went to arrest a suspect at around 9am.

The remaining officer suffered minor injuries.

The dog was shot dead by a specialist firearms squad following the incident and the suspect, a man aged in his 20s thought to be the animal's owner, was detained for grievous bodily harm and kidnapping.

Police said the raid was part of Operation Big Wing, a major Metropolitan police initiative aimed at wanted suspects across the capital.

Ownership of pit bull terriers was banned in Britain in 1991 following a spate of attacks by dangerous dogs.

Terry hands Chelsea fitness boost

Chelsea captain John Terry has handed his side a major boost ahead of Saturday's crucial clash against Tottenham as the England defender returned to training on Thursday.

Terry has missed Chelsea's last two matches, including Wednesday's 2-1 defeat at Manchester City, with calf cramps and had not been able to train properly since before last week's Champions League win over Napoli.

That loss to City has left fifth-placed Chelsea five points adrift of Tottenham, who currently occupy the fourth and final Champions League place in the Premier League table.

In the circumstances, Blues interim boss Roberto Di Matteo knows it would be a significant factor if Terry is available for Tottenham's visit to Stamford Bridge.

And the 31-year-old looks set to feature in the London derby after coming through a training session on Thursday.

Although Terry is now expected to figure against Spurs, Chelsea are still waiting on news regarding the thigh injury picked up by Serbian defender Branislav Ivanovic at Eastlands.

Meanwhile, Terry's fellow defender Gary Cahill, who scored in the City defeat, remains convinced Chelsea can pile on the problems for Spurs this weekend.

Spurs have dropped out of the top three after failing to win any of their last four matches and another slip would leave them facing a battle to qualify for the Champions League.

"Arsenal are having decent form and Spurs have been hit the last few games," Cahill said.

"It is hard to keep that momentum going throughout the season. Spurs have been absolutely fantastic but it is tough to keep it going every single game week in, week out.

"You'll always have a blip in the season and maybe theirs has come now.

"We're at home, where we have some confidence now, and we are looking to get the positive result we need."

French standoff ends with suspect shot in the head

In a dramatic end to a 32-hour standoff, a masked French SWAT team slipped into the apartment of an Islamist extremist Thursday, sparking a firefight that ended with the suspect jumping out the window and being shot dead in the head.

Mohamed Merah, 23, was wanted in the deaths of three French paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi — all killed since March 11 in what Merah reportedly told police was an attempt to "bring France to its knees."

Police had been trying to capture him alive since a predawn raid Wednesday to arrest him at his apartment in the southwestern city of Toulouse. The killings he was accused of — and boasted about to police — have shocked France, ignited fear in moderate Muslims about stoking discrimination and may even affect the country's upcoming presidential election.

The seven slayings, carried out in three motorcycle shooting attacks, are believed to be the first killings inspired by Islamic radical motives in France since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking in Paris, said an investigation was under way to see if Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent who claimed links to al-Qaida, had any accomplices.

His mother and a brother were detained Wednesday by police after the mother's computer became a critical link in tracking Merah down. The brother Abdelkader had already been linked to Iraqi Islamist networks.

The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors Internet messages, reported Thursday that a lesser-known jihadist group was claiming responsibility for the attacks in France. SITE said Jund al-Khilafah issued a statement saying "Yusuf of France" led an attack Monday, the day of Jewish school shootings. There was no independent confirmation of the claim.

Authorities said Merah espoused a radical form of Islam and had been to Afghanistan and the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan, where he claimed to have received training from al-Qaida. He also had a long record of petty crimes in France for which he served time in prison.

Merah told negotiators he killed to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and to protest the French army's involvement in Afghanistan.

After initially agreeing to surrender, Merah declared he would resist and that it would be either them or him.

"If it's me, who cares? I'll go to paradise," Prosecutor Francois Molins quoted Merah as saying.

Molins said Merah burst out of his bathroom when police gingerly entered his apartment Thursday morning, wildly firing his gun about 30 times before jumping out an apartment window.

"(He) launches an assault, charging police through the apartment and firing at them with a Colt .45, continuing to advance, armed and firing, as he jumps from the balcony," Molins said.

Merah fired "until he was hit by a retaliatory shot from the RAID (elite police unit), which felled him with a bullet to the head," Molins said, insisting that police fired in self-defense.

It was not clearly exactly when he was hit by the bullet to the head.

The prosecutor said police had gone in cautiously, using robot cameras to see if there were any boobytraps. Three members of the special squad were wounded Thursday, bringing the total of injured French officers throughout the standoff to five.

Merah, lying on the ground below his second-story apartment, was wearing a flak jacket and black djellabah robe. A Colt 45 — the type of weapon used in the three attacks — was at his side along with a sack, Molins said.

Merah had made "extremely explicit films" of all three deadly attacks, video since viewed by police, and claimed to have posted them online, the prosecutor said. Merah told investigators where to find the bag with the videos, caught by a camera that had been strapped to his chest and given to someone else to keep.

In the film of the March 11 attack that killed a paratrooper, the prosecutor said the gunman is heard saying: "You kill my brothers — I kill you."

In his film of the second attack, on March 15 that killed two paratroopers and wounded a third in nearby Montauban, Merah cried out "Allahu Akbar!" or "God is great" in Arabic, the prosecutor said.

Authorities spoke little about the video of the third attack at a Jewish school in Toulouse. A witness to another video of that rampage, from a school camera, said it was chilling and had described him shooting young children in the head.

A stash of arms was found in a car rented by Merah, including an automatic Sten pistol, a revolver, a pump-action rife and an Uzi submachine gun. Ingredients for Molotov cocktails were stashed on the apartment balcony. Inside, were three empty ammunition clips, a pot packed with pieces of ammunition and a Colt .45 with a near-empty clip.

Merah had told investigators where to find the car.

More than 200 special investigators had worked to track him down. They found his mother's computer, which he used to respond to an online ad posted by the first victim, a paratrooper trying to sell his scooter. They also found a Yamaha motorcycle shop where Merah suspiciously sought information about how to deactivate a GPS tracker.

After the standoff ended, Sarkozy announced tough new measures to combat terrorism. He said anyone who regularly visits "websites that support terrorism or call for hate or violence will be punished by the law." He also promised a crackdown on anyone who goes abroad "for the purposes of indoctrination in terrorist ideology."

The French president also appealed to citizens not to confuse violence with France's estimated 5 million Muslims.

"Our Muslim compatriots had nothing to do with the crazy motive of a terrorist," Sarkozy said, noting that Muslim paratroopers were among those killed.

The threat of radical Islam in France was apparently affecting the presidential race, in which Socialist Francois Hollande has long been the pollster's favorite to unseat Sarkozy, a conservative.

A poll released Thursday suggested that Sarkozy may benefit politically from the horror of recent days.

The survey by CSA suggested Sarkozy would slightly dominate the first round of voting on April 22 but lose to Hollande in the May 6 runoff, by 36 percent to 45 percent. That was the smallest spread yet and the highest score for Sarkozy so far for polls by CSA in this campaign.

The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday, after the rabbi and three children were killed at a Jewish school but before details about Merah emerged. A total of 1,003 people were questioned by telephone.