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    Saturday, March 15, 2008

    Barack Obama,, Blackberry team up

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    Dalai Lama's on Crisis in tibet

    Dalai Lama's Tibet bloodshed fear
    The Dalai Lama has said he fears there will be more deaths in Tibet unless Beijing changes its policies towards the Chinese-controlled territory.

    The Tibetan spiritual leader told the BBC he had "grave concerns" over Friday's deadly protests in Lhasa city.

    But he emphasised that he still supported Beijing's staging of the Olympic Games this summer.

    Lhasa, Tibet's main city, was reported quiet on Sunday, locked down by a heavy Chinese security presence.

    The demonstrators, who on Friday set fire to Chinese-owned shops and hurled rocks at local police, have been penned into an area of the old town by government forces.

    Shops remain closed, the streets are empty and locals say a curfew is in force.

    US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday urged China to "exercise restraint" in dealing with the protests.

    Call for restraint

    State media say 10 people died in Friday's clashes, including business people said to have been "burnt to death".

    But the Dalai Lama told the BBC he had heard the death toll may be as high as 100, although the figure could not be verified.

    A British journalist in the city said that on Saturday, police in Lhasa used tear gas to disperse demonstrators defying a curfew in Lhasa.

    But the disorder was nowhere near the scale of Friday's rioting, he said.

    The authorities in Tibet have urged the protesters to hand themselves in by Monday midnight, promising leniency to those who surrender.

    The violence - the worst in Tibet since 1989 - erupted on the fifth day of largely peaceful protests that began on last Monday's anniversary of a 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.

    The demonstrations - like those last September in Burma - were initially led by Buddhist monks and then attracted crowds of ordinary people.

    Chinese officials said the riots had been "masterminded" by the Dalai Lama, an accusation he has denied.
    Story from BBC NEWS:

    Published: 2008/03/16 05:28:18 GMT


    Thursday night on the Williamsburg

    On Thursday night, we went to the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn that connects to Manhattan and took Photographs.

    Bear Stearns Stock Graph 2008: Reuters

    Reuters - With high risk and cheap stock, will Bear be sold?

    This article was sent to you from, who uses Reuters Mobile Site to get news and information on the go. To access Reuters on your mobile phone, go to:

    With high risk and cheap stock, will Bear be sold?

    Saturday, Mar 15, 2008 6:43PM UTC

    By Jessica Hall

    PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The emergency rescue of Bear Stearns Co Inc <BSC.N> on Friday left observers from all quarters wondering who would be the last man standing at the Wall Street bank.

    When a Bear Stearns analyst moved to ask a question at a biotechnology investor meeting, Genentech Chief Executive Arthur Levinson quipped, "There's still somebody here from Bear? Let's give him a hand."

    "I'm still here," said Bear Stearns analyst Mark Schoenebaum. But pointing to a JPMorgan analyst, he said, "I think I work for Geoff Meacham now."

    The rescue by JPMorgan Chase & Co <JPM.N> and the Federal Reserve Bank after Bear said its cash position had deteriorated sharply put the word takeover on the tip of tongues all over Wall Street, with JPMorgan seen as a leading contender to buy out Bear Stearns.

    But while Bear's cheap stock price could attract some suitors keen to buy its mortgage finance and trading assets, its liquidity problems may prevent a deal from being consummated, analysts and bankers said.

    Shares of Bear Stearns, the fifth largest U.S. investment bank which has been hard-hit by its heavy exposure to the faltering U.S. mortgage market, fell 45 percent, reducing its market value by $3.2 billion to $3.64 billion.

    Bear Stearns Chief Executive Alan Schwartz said the company is working with Lazard Ltd. <LAZ.N> to examine its alternatives, but it will focus on protecting customers and "maximizing shareholder value."

    He said Bear's first-quarter earnings would meet Wall Street expectations.

    CNBC reported that Bear Stearns "is actively being shopped." While JPMorgan is "the most likely suspect," CNBC said it was not the only company to receive a pitch to buy the company.

    "Our view is it would not be a surprise to see a merger announced over the weekend," said Andrew Brenner, senior vice president of MF Global in New York.

    A person familiar with JPMorgan said the bank, which has previously expressed interest in expanding its prime brokerage business, is interested, at the right price, in buying the Bear division that provides loans and handles trades for hedge funds.

    The concern for any buyer would be whether Bear Stearns has fully exposed all of its problems or if there is another debacle in the offing.

    "Looking from the outside you have to ask, Are they at the end of their troubles? That's a very difficult question," said Anthony Sabino, professor of law and business at St. John's University, in New York.

    Bankers and analysts rattled off a list of potential suitors but suggested them with caution, saying it's unclear why any company would buy Bear Stearns when they could pursue stronger assets at other banks.

    "The question someone would ask if they were in a potential M&A position would be, Shouldn't we just go after the people? Bring the people in rather than by the firm," said Michael Holland, chairman of private investment firm Holland & Co.

    In addition to JP Morgan, potential buyers include Merrill Lynch & Co Inc <MER.N> and foreign companies such as HSBC Holdings Plc <HSBA.L>, Barclays Plc <BARC.L> and Royal Bank of Scotland Plc <RBS.L>, some bankers and analysts said.

    "If you think about a company like Bear, they don't have hard assets, just computers, office space and people, and one would imagine that people at Bear are polishing up their resumes," said James Ellman, portfolio manager at Seacliff Capital in San Francisco.

    "That's how Wall Street works -- when a firm is in trouble, clients leave and your best employees leave. We've seen this story many times before," Ellman said.

    Bear Stearns currently trades at 4.9-times fiscal 2008 earnings estimates, compared with the sector average of 18.5-times earnings.

    In addition, foreign banks could face some regulatory problems that would add headaches to the purchase of an already ailing company, analysts said. And U.S. banks could try to buy the bank in pieces instead of as a whole, analysts said.

    "As far as who in the U.S. would look to take them over -- there are possibilities but I think every American outfit would say, 'We've got our own headaches'," Sabino said.

    Bear Stearns' problems emerged because it has more exposure to the U.S. bond markets than its competitors and has a large mortgage-backed securities business.

    It's unclear whether Bear Stearns will be able to survive the "run on the bank" that Schwartz described if customers continue to flee and its businesses deteriorate further.

    "JPMorgan might buy it for a dollar. I mean you're going to get a good price. Ultimately you have to ascertain if the assets are worth more than the liabilities," Barish said.

    Bears' cheap stock price might entice some suitors to take a risk in buying the firm, some investment bankers said. "Just because someone wasn't interested at $120 might doesn't mean they wouldn't be interested at $34," said one head of investment banking at a U.S. brokerage firm. "Bear Stearns now is under pressure to preserve what assets they have, protect their people, protect their clients.

    "They might be forced to sell at a price that would have been unthinkable before."

    (Additional reporting by Jui Chakravorty, Megan Davies, Dan Wilchins and Bill Berkrot in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)

    (For more M&A news and our DealZone blog, go to

    AP Video Link: Riots in Tibet Turn Deadly

    Turmoil in Tibet. Click here for AP video

    Turmoil in Tibet

    AP Custom Newswire Service
    [Powered by iCopyright] E-Mail | Print | Post | Republish | More>
    March 15, 2008
    Chinese Security Forces Swarm Tibet
    Associated Press Writer

    Soldiers on foot and in armored carriers swarmed Tibet's capital Saturday, enforcing a strict curfew a day after protesters burned shops and cars to vent their anger against Chinese rule. In another western city, police clashed with hundreds of Buddhist monks leading a sympathy demonstration.

    The violence erupted just two weeks before China's Summer Olympic celebrations kick off with the start of the torch relay, which passes through Tibet. China is gambling that its crackdown will not draw an international outcry over human rights violations that could lead to boycotts of the Olympics.

    The latest unrest began Monday on the anniversary of a 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Tibet was effectively independent for decades before communist troops entered in 1950.

    Initially, the protests were led by Buddhist monks demanding the release of other detained monks. Their demands spiraled to include cries for Tibet's independence and turned violent Friday when police tried to stop a group of protesting monks. Pent-up grievances against Chinese rule came to the fore, as Tibetans directed their anger against Chinese and their shops, hotels and other businesses.

    It was the fiercest challenge to Beijing's authority in nearly two decades.

    China's official Xinhua News Agency reported at least 10 civilians were burned to death on Friday. The Dalai Lama's exiled Tibetan government in India said Chinese authorities killed at least 30 Tibetans and possibly as many as 100. The figures could not be independently verified.

    In the Tibetan capital Lhasa on Saturday, police manned checkpoints and armored personnel carriers rattled on mostly empty streets as people stayed indoors under a curfew, witnesses said. The show of force imposed a tense quiet.

    Several witnesses reported hearing occasional bursts of gunfire. One Westerner who went to a rooftop in Lhasa's old city said he saw troops with automatic rifles moving through the streets firing, though did not see anyone shot.

    Foreign tourists in Lhasa were told to leave, a hotel manager and travel guide said, with the guide adding that some were turned back at the airport.

    "There are military blockades blocking off whole portions of the city, and the entire city is basically closed down," said a 23-year-old Canadian student who arrived in Lhasa on Saturday and who was making plans to leave. "All the restaurants are closed, all the hotels are closed."

    Even as Chinese forces appeared to reassert control in Lhasa, a second day of sympathy protests erupted in an important Tibetan town 750 miles away.

    Police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Buddhist monks and other Tibetans after they marched from the historic Labrang monastery and smashed windows in the county police headquarters in Xiahe, witnesses said.

    Also Saturday, fresh demonstrations by Tibetan exiles and their supporters sprouted up in New York, neighboring Nepal, Switzerland and Australia.

    The Chinese government is hoping a successful Olympics will boost its popularity at home as well as its image abroad. But Beijing's hosting of the Olympics has already attracted scrutiny of China's human rights record and its pollution problems.

    So far, international criticism of the crackdown in Tibet has been mild. The U.S. and European Union called for Chinese restraint without any threats of an Olympic boycott or other sanctions.

    "What is happening in Tibet and Beijing's responses to it will not affect the games very much unless the issue really gets out of control," said Xu Guoqi, a China-born historian at Kalamazoo College in Michigan.

    International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said Saturday he opposed an Olympic boycott over Tibet.

    "We believe that the boycott doesn't solve anything," Rogge told reporters on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. "On the contrary, it is penalizing innocent athletes and it is stopping the organization from something that definitely is worthwhile organizing."

    China restricts access to Tibet for foreign media, making it difficult to independently verify the casualties and the scale of protests and suppression.

    Yet the details emerging from witness accounts and government statements suggested Beijing was preparing a methodical campaign — one that if carefully modulated would minimize bloodshed and avoid wrecking Beijing's grand plans for the Aug. 8-24 Olympics.

    The China-installed governor of Tibet vowed to deal harshly with the protesters in Lhasa, but said no shots had been fired and promised that "calm will be restored very soon."

    "Beating, smashing, looting and burning — we absolutely condemn this sort of behavior," Champa Phuntsok, an ethnic Tibetan, told reporters in Beijing.

    In Lhasa, law-enforcement agencies issued a notice offering leniency for demonstrators who surrender before the end of Monday and threatening severe punishment for those who do not.

    Neighborhood committees went door-to-door handing out the notices, telling locals defiance would be treated as a criminal act and hinting of rewards if they turned protesters in, said Robbie Barnett, a Tibet specialist at Columbia University, who talked with Lhasa residents by phone.

    The calculated mix of threats and inducements underscored the difficulties the communist leadership faces in trying to quell a serious challenge to its 57-year rule in Tibet while saving the Olympics.

    Preparing the public for tough measures, state-run television on the evening newscast showed footage of red-robed monks battering bus signs and Tibetans in street clothes hurling rocks and smashing shop windows as smoke billowed across Lhasa.

    "The plot by an extremely small number of people to damage Tibet's stability and harmony is unpopular and doomed to failure," a narrator said as the footage played.

    Chinese newspapers and Internet sites, all state-controlled, ran no reports on the violence except a brief Xinhua statement vowing to reassert order.


    On the Net:

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    Chinese official news agency:

    Press Association

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    Image of Underwater Coral Reef Diving

    i'm coming for you

    USA TODAY - Belize's coral reef is gorgeous but threatened

    This story has been sent from the mobile device of For real-time mobile news, go to

    By Laura Bly, USA TODAY

    Fifty feet below the Caribbean's sun-dappled surface, schools of navy blue tangs drift like smoke, their languid progress mirrored by the gentle waving of purple sea fans and yellow tube sponges. A hawksbill turtle chugs along a ledge studded with elkhorn and brain coral, oblivious to the gaggle of adoring scuba divers trailing in its wake.

    From this comparatively pristine vantage point, it's easy to see why naturalist Charles Darwin declared this necklace of mangroves, seagrass and submerged coral, stretching more than 150 miles off the Belize coast, "the most remarkable reef in the West Indies."

    READ MORE: The right way to treat reefs

    But troubles at the Western Hemisphere's largest barrier reef, like those at other "underwater rain forests" scattered across the globe, run deep.

    A potent mix of coastal development, tourism, overfishing, pollution and climate change has damaged an estimated 40% of the Belize reef system, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts more than a third of Belize's 850,000 annual visitors.

    A recent string of "bleaching events" where vibrantly hued coral turn a skeletal white occurred when a spike in water temperatures that scientists associate with global warming expelled symbiotic algae living inside corals.

    Worldwide, experts calculate that nearly 50% of coral reefs are under imminent or long-term threat of collapse through human pressures; 20% have been destroyed. And as a coalition of governmental and environmental groups trumpets 2008 the International Year of the Reef, anglers, snorkelers and divers from Cozumel, Mexico, to Cairns, Australia, are getting fish-eye views of an alluring but increasingly imperiled ecosystem.

    In Belize, a former pirate haunt and British colony that gained independence in 1981, those dangers are particularly evident at Ambergris Caye (pronounced "key").

    Once a favorite stop on the backpacker circuit and rumored subject of the Madonna hit La Isla Bonita, the narrow, 25-mile-long island has retained much of its "no shirt, no shoes, no problem" vibe. Golf carts and rusty bicycles still outnumber cars on the recently paved streets of tourist hub San Pedro, the island's only town (pop. 10,000).

    Waterlogged revelers, many clutching Belize-brewed Belikin beers or concoctions made with local One Barrel rum, gather there on Wednesday nights for the "chicken drop" a gambling exercise involving numbered squares and a defecating pollo.

    But the island's dense mangroves and coastal forests, onetime shelters for jaguars, crocodiles and juvenile fish bound for the coral reef a half-mile offshore, are giving way to condos and resorts that have drawn the likes of John Grisham and the stars of the 2001, Ambergris-based reality show Temptation Island.

    A casino just opened in San Pedro, and Ambergris Caye now has 107 hotels. That's double the number a few years ago, says Dorian Nuez of the newspaper Ambergris Today, and a dozen large projects are in the works. Leonardo DiCaprio, who bought his own nearby island in 2005, reportedly plans to build an upscale eco-hotel there.

    The developments' resulting sedimentation, combined with coral bleaching, hurricanes and other ills, worries locals such as Mito Paz, director of the San Pedro-based environmental group Green Reef.

    "People who have never been here before go out to the reef and think it's fantastic," says Paz, 46, who grew up on the island. "But if you went to dive and snorkel sites where tour operators don't feed the fish, you'd barely see any."

    That impact is visible even in such protected areas as Hol Chan Marine Reserve, a 15-minute boat ride south of San Pedro.

    Established two decades ago and the most popular of Belize's 18 marine protected areas, the park draws about 54,000 visitors a year to its shallow, gin-clear waters and variety of sea life, from ballerina-like spotted eagle rays to lumbering Nassau groupers, an endangered species threatened by overfishing.

    "I've seen good changes at Hol Chan," says longtime San Pedro snorkel guide Erlindo Alphonso ("Lil' Alphonso") Graniel, who wows clients by cradling the docile nurse sharks he attracts from dangled bait at the reserve's aptly named Shark Ray Alley. When the park doubled its user fee to $10 a person a few years ago, officials noted a sharp drop-off in cruise ship visits that had strained resources.

    But severe coral bleaching in 1998, followed by a hit from Category 5 Hurricane Mitch the same year, ravaged a wide swath of Belize's reefs, including Hol Chan. Adds Paz: "You could have a million snorkelers touching coral, and they wouldn't do the damage of a single bleaching event. Belize has done a lot of good things, from training its guides to using mooring buoys instead of anchors, but global warming is a global issue."

    A three-hour boat ride southeast of Ambergris Caye, the Belize reef system encompasses Turneffe Atoll, a 30-mile-long, 10-mile-wide maze of lagoon and more than 200 mangrove islands that ranks as one of the Caribbean's largest and most diverse marine ecosytems.

    Apart from a smattering of seasonal fishing and lobster camps and regular visits from dive boats, civilization at Turneffe is limited to three low-key lodges and a research field station run by San Francisco-based Oceanic Society Expeditions, a non-profit outfit that leads natural history trips around the world.

    Under the tutelage of scientists, small groups of curious travelers spend their days wielding clipboards and snorkels to learn about coral reef and mangrove ecology and such local denizens as bottlenose dolphins and crocodiles.

    Evenings, they retreat to weathered wooden cabanas where entertainment consists of counting stars, scratching no-see-'em bites and listening to the lulling roar of waves breaking on the reef just a few yards from the beach.

    One of the most popular excursions from Turneffe is Lighthouse Reef, another atoll 90 minutes to the east whose secluded islets and stretches of azure waters are home to a sizable bird rookery at Half Moon Caye Natural Monument and the country's most celebrated dive destination, the Blue Hole.

    Made famous after a 1972 visit by Jacques Cousteau, the oval remnant of a collapsed limestone cave consists of sheer walls that plummet to more than 400 feet though most divers are content to peer into the abyss from a forest of stalactites and stalagmites some 100 feet beneath the surface.

    As visitors to Oceanic's field station learn early on, even these remote Belizean outposts aren't immune to the pressures affecting Ambergris Caye and other places that depend on the coral reef for their economic survival.

    A stroll along Turneffe's powdery beaches leads past more than conch shells and skittering crabs: constant deposits of mostly plastic flotsam and jetsam, carried by currents from the far corners of the globe. And grad student Katheryn Patterson's lecture on the atoll's history includes a warning about its future: a wave of development that includes a proposed 4,800-acre planned community and golf course that could infringe on crucial fish and wildlife habitats.

    Belizean Joseph Walker, whose long exposure to sun and sea make him seem older than his 63 years, spends at least eight months a year as a caretaker at a fishing camp overlooking Turneffe's lagoon. He says he has seen a decline in fish over the years, though he blames overzealous commercial fishermen more than climate change.

    As for what's coming in on the next tide, "I just hope I live to be 120," says Walker. "I want to see whether things will work out."

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    Image of Crane Collapse in New York Coty

    what the fuck?

    Another Image of crane collapse in New York City


    CNN - Four die when New York City crane collapses

    Sent from's mobile device from

    Four die when New York City crane collapses

    Four people died and at least five were trapped Saturday after a crane collapsed in midtown Manhattan, emergency management officials said.

    A portion of the crane damaged a high-rise residential building across the street from the construction site about 2:30 p.m., according to eyewitnesses and New York police. Watch a flyover of the scene

    The crane was at least 15 stories tall, and its wreckage destroyed a small brick building, according to The Associated Press.

    John PlaGreco, who owns Fu Bar in the crushed building, said he feared that one of his employees was dead in the rubble.

    "Our bar is done," he said. "The crane crashed the whole building. If I wasn't watching a Yankees game, I would've come to work early and gotten killed."

    A piece of steel fell and sheared off one of the ties holding it to the building, causing the crane to detach and topple, said Stephen Kaplan, an owner of Reliance Construction Group.

    "It was an absolute freak accident," Kaplan said. "All the piece of steel had to do was fall slightly left or right, and nothing would have happened."

    Kaplan said the company had subcontracted the work and was not in charge of the crane. He wasn't sure whether any workers at the site were among the dead.

    Witnesses reported a strong smell of gas to the AP.

    Reuters - Clinton, Obama clash despite plan to talk issues

    This article was sent to you from, who uses Reuters Mobile Site to get news and information on the go. To access Reuters on your mobile phone, go to:

    Clinton, Obama clash despite plan to talk issues

    Saturday, Mar 15, 2008 9:46PM UTC

    By James Vicini

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama clashed on Saturday over his ties to an indicted Chicago businessman and her tax records, despite their agreement two days earlier on the need to focus on issues.

    Clinton's campaign questioned Obama's judgment in his dealings with campaign supporter and businessman Antoin "Tony" Rezko.

    Obama's campaign fired back, calling it "the height of hypocrisy for Sen. Clinton to demand the release of documents already on our campaign Web site" while she has refused to release her full tax returns during her time in the Senate.

    The stepped-up attacks came ahead of the crucial April 22 Pennsylvania primary.

    Obama, who would be the first black president, and Clinton, who would be the first woman president, are in a close race for the Democratic nomination to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, in the November election.

    Clinton's aides cited Obama's disclosure that Rezko had raised up to $250,000 for his earlier political campaigns, a higher figure than he previously reported, and called on him to disclose all documents and e-mails about his Rezko dealings.

    "It raises questions about Sen. Obama's judgment," Clinton's deputy communications director, Phil Singer, said. "The revelations make clear that Sen. Obama has not always been straight forward about his relationship with Tony Rezko."

    Obama's spokesman fired back by calling on Clinton to disclose her tax returns and other information.


    "Democrats across the country should be very concerned about Sen. Clinton's refusal to offer a full and complete accounting of what could be lurking in this financial information," Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

    Singer said her returns would be released around April 15.

    Rezko, a property developer and restaurant entrepreneur is on trial, accused by federal prosecutors of extorting bribes and campaign donations as well as money laundering.

    Obama has long denied there was anything in his relationship with Rezko that relates to the corruption trial and there is no evidence he did anything wrong.

    Clinton's campaign called on Obama to release all details about his contacts with Rezko over his home deal. Obama coordinated the purchase of his Chicago home with Rezko and bought part of an adjoining property from Rezko and his wife.

    The exchanges between the two campaigns occurred after Clinton and Obama talked briefly Thursday on the Senate floor.

    "We talked about the importance of keeping our campaigns on the issues," Clinton told reporters on her plane in Pittsburgh.

    "We both have had instances during the course of the year with staff members, supporters saying things that we've had to reject and repudiate, and we want to make sure that we try to keep this campaign focused on what voters are interested in," she said.

    Obama's campaign gave a similar account of the meeting.

    Clinton, with a bright green scarf wrapped around her neck, campaigned and marched in St. Patrick's Day parades in Pittsburgh and Scranton, Pennsylvania, where she sought to reach out to the state's sizable constituency of Catholic and Irish Americans.

    In response to criticism that she exaggerated her role in the Northern Ireland peace process, she said, "I helped with the peace process in Northern Ireland. ... That's been validated in many different settings by many different people who were part of the process."

    Meanwhile, Obama, in a speech in Plainfield, Indiana, again repudiated the remarks made by his Chicago pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Wright was removed as the "spiritual adviser," to the campaign.

    In Wright's sermons over the years, which have been circulated in the media and on the YouTube Web site, he has called the September 2001 attacks retribution for U.S. foreign policy, cited the U.S. government as the source of the AIDS virus, and railed against a racist America.

    "Most recently you heard some statements from my former pastor that are incendiary and that I completely reject, although I knew him and know him as somebody in my church who talked to me about Jesus and family and friendships," Obama said.

    "But if all I knew was those statements that I saw on television, I would be shocked. And it reminds me we've got a tragic history when it comes to race in this country. We've got a lot of pent-up anger and bitterness and misunderstanding," he said.

    (Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Andrew Stern, Editing by Jackie Frank)

    Race and Gender Fracturing Dem's Base

    March 15, 2008

    Old Polarities Persist in Dem Race

    Associated Press Writer

    Something happened to the feel-good, way-cool Democratic presidential contest in the months since a woman and a black man began their path-breaking race for the White House.

    By the millions, black voters voted for the black candidate and women voted for the woman. White men seemed torn, by the millions.

    Sen. Barack Obama has broken historic barriers, especially among the young, as the first black candidate with a serious chance at the presidency. Voters who might ordinarily balk at a female president have backed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in her pioneering effort.

    Those gains have not been enough to erase divisions by race, a task perhaps beyond any mortal and any one election, nor lesser ones between the sexes.

    And when the campaign moves beyond Democrats, the party of diversity, and into the general election, it's questionable how much room is left for such progress.

    A significant minority of voters in Democratic contests have considered the race or sex of the candidates important — about one in five in each case. That's according to surveys of voters in about two dozen states across the country on and since Super Tuesday.

    Whether clumsy, coarse or calculating, remarks by party stalwarts or hangers-on have brought race repeatedly into the discomfort zone, which is easy to do, suggesting a post-racial political consciousness is for a more distant future.

    Weeks before Geraldine Ferraro argued that the color of Obama's skin gave him an edge, fellow Clinton supporter Ed Rendell appeared to argue the opposite. The Pennsylvania governor, an important figure in the big April 22 primary, said "there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American."

    On the defensive about that, he added Clinton "has the same handicap" because some voters won't vote for a woman.

    By that accounting, backed by evidence in exit polls, polarized politics is still ingrained, taking bites out of "Yes we can" unity.

    Clinton was an early crossover figure in one sense — blacks preferred her over Obama last year, while Obama was the pick of upper income whites.

    But that changed after the Illinois senator scored a big win in mostly-white Iowa, and his movement was born.

    In the South Carolina primary and beyond, blacks have powered his victories in states where they live in large numbers, joined by the young of any race — and by white men in varying degrees.

    Women are credited with reviving Clinton's campaign in New Hampshire and helping to drive her wins in Texas and Ohio.

    David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a black think tank, says Clinton probably lost more black support than she gained among whites when supporters such as her husband began dropping subtle race cards into the debate.

    "It has shifted the black vote entirely into Obama's camp," he said, and so far without costing him equivalent white support. He estimated Clinton could have held on to a third of black votes absent tactics that he said drove them away. As it is, he's beaten her 83-15 percent among black voters, according to exit polls for The Associated Press.

    That's not to say most of her supporters necessarily have a problem with a black candidate, he said.

    "White women are supporting Hillary because she's a woman," he said. "It's not because Obama is black." She's held a 59-36 percent advantage among white women.

    Racial divisions have been most evident in the South, although not exclusive to it.

    A quarter of white voters in Mississippi's Democratic primary said race was important in their choices Tuesday, and they voted heavily for Clinton. Thirty-seven percent of blacks said race was important, and nearly all voted for Obama.

    In Ohio, 18 percent of white voters said race was important to their vote. Among them, 76 percent backed Clinton. She won by 16 points among women in Ohio and 29 points among whites.

    In all, Clinton is winning the majority of white votes in Democratic primaries in which both candidates competed.

    Obama has performed best among whites in liberal Vermont and his home state of Illinois, although he has also edged Clinton in the white vote in Wisconsin, Virginia, Utah and New Mexico.

    All told, voter surveys suggest that Clinton ends up with more votes because she's a woman than Obama nets because he's black.

    Barack Obama'a Rebutal to The Statements of His Pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright

    Barack Obama: On My Faith and My Church
    by Sam Graham-FelsenFriday, March 14, 2008 at 10:34 PM

    Just published at the Huffington Post...

    Barack Obama: On My Faith and My Church

    The pastor of my church, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who recently preached his last sermon and is in the process of retiring, has touched off a firestorm over the last few days. He's drawn attention as the result of some inflammatory and appalling remarks he made about our country, our politics, and my political opponents.

    Let me say at the outset that I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have been the subject of this controversy. I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies. I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it's on the campaign stump or in the pulpit. In sum, I reject outright the statements by Rev. Wright that are at issue.

    Because these particular statements by Rev. Wright are so contrary to my own life and beliefs, a number of people have legitimately raised questions about the nature of my relationship with Rev. Wright and my membership in the church. Let me therefore provide some context.

    As I have written about in my books, I first joined Trinity United Church of Christ nearly twenty years ago. I knew Rev. Wright as someone who served this nation with honor as a United States Marine, as a respected biblical scholar, and as someone who taught or lectured at seminaries across the country, from Union Theological Seminary to the University of Chicago. He also led a diverse congregation that was and still is a pillar of the South Side and the entire city of Chicago. It's a congregation that does not merely preach social justice but acts it out each day, through ministries ranging from housing the homeless to reaching out to those with HIV/AIDS.

    Most importantly, Rev. Wright preached the gospel of Jesus, a gospel on which I base my life. In other words, he has never been my political advisor; he's been my pastor. And the sermons I heard him preach always related to our obligation to love God and one another, to work on behalf of the poor, and to seek justice at every turn.

    The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation. When these statements first came to my attention, it was at the beginning of my presidential campaign. I made it clear at the time that I strongly condemned his comments. But because Rev. Wright was on the verge of retirement, and because of my strong links to the Trinity faith community, where I married my wife and where my daughters were baptized, I did not think it appropriate to leave the church.

    Let me repeat what I've said earlier. All of the statements that have been the subject of controversy are ones that I vehemently condemn. They in no way reflect my attitudes and directly contradict my profound love for this country.

    With Rev. Wright's retirement and the ascension of my new pastor, Rev. Otis Moss, III, Michelle and I look forward to continuing a relationship with a church that has done so much good. And while Rev. Wright's statements have pained and angered me, I believe that Americans will judge me not on the basis of what someone else said, but on the basis of who I am and what I believe in; on my values, judgment and experience to be President of the United States.

    UPDATE: Here is a special video message from Barack...

    Barack Obama Acknowledges Campain contribuion of $250,000 dollars by indicted Chicago businessman, Antoin Rezko

    CHICAGO - Presidential candidate Barack Obama said Friday that he got more political money from indicted Chicago businessman Antoin "Tony" Rezko than he has previously acknowledged.

    Rezko helped raise up to $250,000 for his various political races, Obama's campaign said. The campaign had previously put the figure at $150,000 but now says that amount was only for his 2004 Senate race.

    And in interviews with two Chicago newspapers, the Democrat again said it was a mistake to involve Rezko in his purchase of a new home — not just because Rezko was under federal investigation but because he was a contributor and political activist.

    Still, Obama said he did nothing unethical.

    "He never once asked me for any favors, or ever did any favors for me," the Illinois senator said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. "He never gave me any gifts or gave me any indication he was setting me up to ask for any favors in the future."

    Obama met Friday with the editorial boards of the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times in an effort to resolve nagging questions about his relationship with Rezko, a Chicago businessman and major fundraiser in Illinois politics.

    Rezko is on trial on charges including mail fraud and attempted extortion. Federal prosecutors say he tried to use his connections to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to demand kickbacks from companies wanting to do business with state government.

    Obama is not accused of any wrongdoing.

    But his long friendship with Rezko has hampered his efforts to campaign as a new-style politician who abhors backroom deals and insider favors.

    Rezko has not contributed to Obama's presidential campaign, but he did raise money for Obama's bids for other offices.

    His staff said Friday evening that Rezko raised about $160,000 for Obama's successful run for U.S. Senate in 2004 and $60,000 to $90,000 for his state Senate campaigns and a failed bid for Congress in 2000.

    Previously, his presidential campaign said Rezko was connected to about $150,000, all of which was later donated to charity.

    "We reviewed our records for any contributions we believe could reasonably be credited to Mr. Rezko's political support and that is the generous estimate we concluded upon," spokesman Ben LaBolt said in an e-mail.

    Rezko advised Obama on buying a new Chicago home in 2005 and his wife bought a vacant lot next to the Obamas' house. Rezko's wife, Rita, later sold part of the lot to Obama so they would have a bigger side yard.

    Obama said he got no price break on his new house because Rezko was buying the lot next door from the same sellers. And he said it was Rezko's idea, not his, to buy the lot.

    "He said, 'Well, I might be interested in purchasing the lot.' And my response was, 'That would be fine,'" Obama said. "This is an area where I can see sort of a lapse in judgment, where I could have said 'No, I'm not sure that's a good idea.'"

    © Copyright 2007 All rights reserved.


    Reuters - Burned alive for "not washing feet"

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    Burned alive for "not washing feet"

    Wednesday, Mar 12, 2008 9:55PM UTC

    BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese bride burned her new husband to death after he got into bed after a drunken argument without washing his feet, state media reported on Wednesday.

    "Wang and his wife, Luo, were married on February 2. The couple, however, frequently fought over trivial things while still on their honeymoon," the official Xinhua news agency quoted a local newspaper as saying.

    The couple, from the central province of Hubei, had another fight on the night of March 4, "and in frustration they together drank a bottle of liquor to ease their anger."

    "At about 10 p.m., Luo watched her husband get into bed without cleaning or washing his feet. In a fit of anger and intoxication, she set fire to the sheet he was sleeping in," the report said.

    "When he awoke, the two began fighting before a very drunk Wang collapsed. As fire engulfed the bedroom. Luo escaped to the living room, leaving her other half to burn," it added.

    The woman has been arrested, Xinhua said.

    (Reporting by Ben Blanchard)

    Reuters - State passes droopy pants law

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    State passes droopy pants law

    Friday, Mar 14, 2008 2:47PM UTC

    TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - The Florida Senate wants public school students to pull up their pants. Lawmakers passed a bill Thursday that could mean suspensions for students with droopy britches.

    It won't become law unless the House of Representatives passes a companion measure.

    Florida could join several southern U.S. towns and cities that have passed "saggy pants" laws aimed at outlawing what some teenagers consider a fashion statement -- wearing pants half way down their buttocks, exposing flesh or underwear.

    Supporters say schools sometimes don't properly police dress codes and parents are often "under aware" of what their kids are wearing to school.

    Critics say the measure is unnecessary, arguing that appearance and dress codes should be the responsibility of school districts and parents.

    Despite being the butt of jokes, the bill's sponsor, Orlando Sen. Gary Siplin, a Democrat, has said the fashion statement has a back-story -- it was made popular by rap artists after first appearing among prison inmates as a signal they were looking for sex.

    "All we're trying to do now is trying to inform folks that we have a fad now that does not have a very good origination," Siplin said. "We're trying to make an example in school," he added, saying it would help students get jobs and a degree.

    The Florida city of Riviera Beach passed its own saggy pants law Tuesday, with a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail for repeat offenders.

    (Reporting by Michael Peltier, editing by Jim Loney and Todd Eastham)

    Image of The late 'John Ritter' of "Threes Company" and "9 Simple Rules"

    USA TODAY - 2 doctors cleared in John Ritter's death

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    GLENDALE, Calif.
    By Linda Deutsch, Associated Press

    A jury cleared a cardiologist and a radiologist on Friday of negligence in the diagnosis and treatment of actor John Ritter, who died of a torn aorta in 2003.

    Jurors found that the radiologist advised Ritter to follow up with treatment by a physician after a body scan two years before his death. Ritter didn't follow the order.

    The lawsuit was brought by Ritter's widow and children. The 9-3 verdict means there is no damage judgment against the doctors. Verdicts do not have to be unanimous in civil cases.

    Radiologist Matthew Lotysch testified he told Ritter he had calcification in three coronary arteries and should consult other doctors. But in a related finding, the jury decided that Ritter's failure to pursue that medical consultation was not a cause of his death.

    When he died on Sept. 11, 2003, Ritter was starring in 8 Simple Rules ... for Dating My Teenage Daughter. He was 54.

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    USA TODAY - 'Girls Gone Wild' founder back in California

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    By Raquel Maria Dillon, Associated Press Writer

    Joe Francis is back to work promoting his Girls Gone Wild products after returning to California from Florida, where he pleaded no contest to child abuse and prostitution.

    Francis claimed during a Beverly Hills news conference Thursday that he was victorious in the Florida court case, where he was sentenced to time served and fines. The case involved filming of underage girls.

    The producer of videos showing young women in sexually provacative situations is now touting a new Girls Gone Wild magazine and tequila.

    Francis recently returned to Florida after months in jail in Reno, where he still faces trial on federal tax evasion charges that carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

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    USA TODAY - Call girl laments use of exotic photos

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    By Colleen Long, Associated Press Writer

    The lawyer for the call girl linked to the downfall of Gov. Eliot Spitzer lashed out at the media on Friday for thrusting the 22-year-old woman into the "public glare" without her consent and publishing revealing photos.

    Since her identity was disclosed, newspapers and Web sites have splashed photos of Ashley Alexandra Dupre in suggestive poses on front and inside pages. Dupre was known as "Kristen" in court documents accusing Spitzer of paying thousands for prostitutes' services.

    Her attorney, Don D. Buchwald, said she did not consent to the use of her photos in this manner, and the usage may be a violation of federal copyright laws. He said the photos have appeared on commercial Web sites without her consent.

    Buchwald stopped short of saying Dupre would sue media outlets, but he contended that she is not a public figure and said he would take "all steps that we deem necessary or appropriate to protect Ms. Dupre from any unwarranted exploitation of her name, picture, voice or likeness for purposes of profit."

    He did not specify the publications to which he was referring. The New York Post ran four photos Friday in which Dupre, topless, barely covers her breasts, as well as two other images of her scantily clad. The pictures, credited in the paper to Wesley Mann at Contact Press Images, have become an Internet sensation. The Post had no comment on Buchwald's statement.

    The Daily News of New York also published a photo in which Dupre appears to be topless, but it wasn't clear where the image came from. The Daily News did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

    Other media outlets, including The New York Times and The Associated Press, published other images that were from Dupre's MySpace page. The AP distributed three of those images, in one of which she is wearing a bikini, and issued a disclaimer authorizing the use of the photos only with reports or commentary on the Spitzer scandal. The photos were also restricted from commercial sale.

    "The Associated Press discussed the photos obtained from the MySpace page in great detail and found that they were newsworthy," said Associated Press National Photo Editor V.W. Vaughan. "We distributed the photos that were relevant to the story. Those photos did not show nudity, nor were they explicit."

    The Times did not return calls seeking comment.

    Spitzer resigned earlier this week amid the prostitution scandal. The married father of three teenage girls was accused of spending tens of thousands of dollars on prostitutes -- including a tryst with the call girl "Kristen" in Washington the night before Valentine's Day. Lt. Gov. David Paterson is taking his place on Monday.

    Buchwald said the montage of Dupre's suggestive photos has nothing to do with the Spitzer story.

    "While the circumstances surrounding Governor Spitzer's resignation are newsworthy, some publications, in violation of journalistic norms, have used the occasion of Gov. Spitzer's political misfortunes as an excuse to exploit Ms. Dupre's persona for commercial purposes," he said.

    But media interest in Dupre still swirled. Hustler Publisher Larry Flynt told the AP Friday that he had e-mailed Dupre, offering her $1 million to pose nude for his magazine. He said he hadn't heard back.

    "It will be something that will very tastefully done," Flynt said of the proposed photo spread, but he added that Dupre would have to appear completely naked and not just topless.

    "Hustler readers don't like to compromise," he said. "They want the whole enchilada."

    Flynt acknowledged he wasn't sure whether Dupre would accept, adding she is likely being approached with offers from other men's magazines, as well as book publishers and other media.

    Media outlets had been camped outside her apartment in Manhattan's Flatiron district for days. A spokesman for her building issued a statement Thursday night saying she was not there and indicated Dupre's fellow tenants -- who pay $6,595 for two-bedroom apartments -- were fed up with the media circus and curiosity-seekers.


    Associated Press writer John Rogers contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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    Reuters - India says not considering banning BlackBerry

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    India says not considering banning BlackBerry

    Friday, Mar 14, 2008 3:36PM UTC

    NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India is not considering banning Research In Motion's <RIM.TO> <RIMM.O> BlackBerry services at this point of time, the top official in the telecoms ministry said on Friday.

    Security agencies have raised concerns the service posed a risk as emails sent using it could not be traced or intercepted.

    "There is no question of banning at this point," Telecoms Secretary Siddhartha Behura told reporters on the sidelines of an industry conference.

    "We are not interested that we say BlackBerry will not used in this country," he said, adding the telecoms department was "very keen" the services should continue.

    "The interactions are going on with various stakeholders including the home ministry ... I do believe it will be resolved," Telecoms Minister Andimuthu Raja said.

    The department of telecoms has told RIM officials of the concerns and on Friday evening will meet representatives of the four mobile phone service providers who offer BlackBerry in India, Behura said.

    Sector leader Bharti Airtel Ltd <BRTI.BO>, No. 2 Reliance Communications Ltd <RLCM.BO>, Vodafone Plc- <VOD.L> controlled Vodafone Essar Ltd and privately held BPL Mobile provide the service in India.

    "We want operators to talk to BlackBerry people and put pressure on them to provide the necessary and satisfactory answers to security agencies. That is what we are talking to them," Behura said.

    (Reporting by C. Jacob Kuncheria, Editing by Mark Williams)

    Reuters - China video site Youku ties up with MySpace China

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    China video site Youku ties up with MySpace China

    Friday, Mar 14, 2008 12:15PM UTC

    SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Video-sharing Web site, which is trying to position itself as China's next YouTube, has tied up with News Corp-invested social networking site MySpace China to target the local market.

    The partnership is aimed at driving Internet traffic to both Web sites and sharing online products, Youku Chief Executive Victor Koo said in a statement on Friday.

    Social networks such as MySpace and Facebook let users share images, music, videos and blogs. By November last year, Youku had completed three rounds of venture financing totaling $40 million, including from Brookside Capital, Sutter Hill Ventures, Farallon Capital and Chengwei Ventures.

    Launched in December 2006, Youku has more than 100 million daily video views, according to research firm Nielsen/NetRatings.

    MySpace China ( is a locally owned, operated and managed company that has secured investment from Rupert Murdoch's MySpace Inc, publisher IDG and China Broadband Capital Partners LP, a fund operated by Edward Tian, the former chief of China Netcom Group.

    China, which had 210 million Web users at the end of last year, has since overtaken the United States as the world's biggest Internet market by number of users, Beijing-based research firm BDA said on Thursday.

    (Reporting by Sophie Taylor; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

    Reuters - Chinese seethe on Web over rare riots in Tibet

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    Chinese seethe on Web over rare riots in Tibet

    Saturday, Mar 15, 2008 8:44AM UTC

    By Sophie Taylor

    SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's carefully controlled media may have remained largely silent on the unrest in Tibet, but a look at Chinese blogs reveals a vitriolic outpouring of anger and nationalism directed against Tibetans and the West.

    China -- which routinely censors its news to avoid stoking popular sentiment -- has less of a stranglehold over what is posted online, and over 200 million enthusiastic Internet users.

    On Saturday, a rash of angry blog posts appeared after China confirmed deaths in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, and U.S. actor Richard Gere called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics should the authorities mishandle the protests.

    "Westerners think they know all about China, telling us that this, that and the other is bad," wrote one blogger, who listed historical reasons justifying Tibet's inclusion as part of China.

    "Most foreigners have been brainwashed as far as this issue is concerned," assented another user.

    Other blogs were virulently nationalistic.

    "If you behave well, we'll protect your culture and benefits," said one blogger, addressing Tibetans in China.

    "If you behave badly, we'll still take care of your culture ... by putting it in a museum. I believe in the Han (Chinese) people!"

    Many blamed the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, for inciting the riots.

    "Simple monks, simple Tibetans, do they even know what is the driving force behind the push for independence?" said one blog.

    The view was echoed by some residents in Beijing, due to host the Olympics in less than six months' time.

    "I think that the Chinese government has to cut this cancer out. We can start with the Dalai Lama, and even though we don't have relations with the Dalai Lama, we should arrest those who are behind the riots," said one man surnamed Song.

    In striking contrast to the media blackout during the Tiananmen protests in 1989, China's flourishing online chatrooms, bulletin boards and Web logs means citizens have more opportunity to air their opinions publicly, even as censors rush to remove the offending comments mere hours later.

    Some Web surfers expressed indignation at the muzzled mainland Chinese press, having only stumbled on reports of the riots while browsing international sites.

    "The local papers haven't covered this. Luckily for us there is still online media," said one.

    China, which has ruled Tibet since 1950, maintains that the predominantly Buddhist Himalayan region has been traditionally part of the country for centuries, a view taught exclusively at Chinese schools.

    Still, while most blog postings appeared to agree with Beijing's official stance, a rare few differed.

    "I'm not some big Stalinist, and I don't share the view that Tibet is part of China. Every minority has the right to choose its own path of development," said one blogger who claimed to have lived in Tibet for four years.

    (Editing by Ben Blanchard)

    Reuters - China sets deadline for Tibet rioters to surrender

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    China sets deadline for Tibet rioters to surrender

    Saturday, Mar 15, 2008 10:16AM UTC

    By Chris Buckley and Benjamin Kang Lim

    BEIJING (Reuters) - China set a "surrender" deadline after riots in Lhasa that it said killed 10 innocent people, launching a crackdown on Saturday after the worst unrest in Tibet for two decades.

    The response came after torrid protests on Friday which flew in the face of official claims the region was immune from unrest as Beijing readies to hold the Olympic Games in August.

    Xinhua news agency said 10 "innocent civilians" were shot or burnt to death in fires that accompanied street clashes in the remote, mountain capital on Friday. It said no foreigners died, and the dead included two people killed with shotguns.

    Tibetan law-and-order departments offered leniency for rioters who turned themselves in by Monday midnight.

    "Criminals who do not surrender themselves by the deadline will be sternly punished according to the law," stated the notice on the Tibetan government Web site ( It added that those who "harbor or hide" them also face harsh treatment.

    The government offered rewards and protection for informers.

    Chinese television showed footage of rioters trashing shops and trying to break down the entrance of a bank, and plumes of smoke floating above the city.

    A source close to the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile suggested China's death toll of 10 was not the full story. He said at least five Tibetan protesters were shot dead by troops. Other groups supporting Tibetan independence have claimed many more may have died.

    The Olympic torch arrives in Lhasa in a matter of weeks.

    China has accused followers of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, of masterminding the rioting, which has scarred its image of national harmony in the build-up to the Beijing Olympics.

    A rash of angry blog posts appeared after China confirmed deaths in Lhasa and Hollywood actor Richard Gere, a Buddhist and an activist for Tibetan causes, suggested an Olympic boycott.

    Tibetan crowds in the remote mountain city attacked government offices, burnt vehicles and shops and threw stones at police on Friday in bloody confrontations that left many injured.

    A Reuters picture showed a protester setting afire a Chinese national flag. Another depicted security personnel shielding themselves against rocks hurled by protesters.

    Qiangba Puncog, the top government official in Tibet, told reporters in Beijing that Tibetan authorities had not fired any shots to quell the violence.

    But official statements suggested the government reaction in coming days will be tough, and will bring Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries under tighter controls.

    The Tibet government notice claimed that the burning of schools, hospitals, shops and houses was "premeditated". And an announcement on Tibet television urged residents to denounce the "malicious intent" of the Dalai Lama, "protect national sovereignty" and "reject lawless monks and nuns".

    The International Campaign for Tibet cited unconfirmed reports of scores of Tibetans killed. John Ackerly of the group said in an e-mailed statement he feared "hundreds of Tibetans have been arrested and are being interrogated and tortured".

    Danish tourist Bente Walle, 58, said Lhasa was like a ghost town on Saturday.

    "Today Lhasa is completely closed and there is Chinese military all over," she said, adding that many people were tying white prayer scarves on doors. "The Tibetans put them on their doors to tell everybody: here is a Tibetan."


    The riots emerged from a volatile mix of pre-Olympics protests, diplomatic friction over Tibet and local discontent with the harsh ways of the region's Communist Party leadership.

    China has chided the leaders of the United States and especially Germany in past months for hosting the Dalai Lama, saying such acts boost what they call his "separatist" goals. It has also urged India to stop protests there by exiled Tibetans.

    "We are fully capable of maintaining the social stability of Tibet," Xinhua quoted an official as saying in a statement repeated across Chinese state media on Saturday.

    But already the protests have become an international issue dogging the Beijing Games, which China hopes will showcase its economic progress and social harmony.

    Asked whether he thought the unrest in Tibet would affect the torch relay passing through there, Sun Weide, spokesman for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, said no.

    "The preparations for the Torch relay in Tibet and taking the flame up Mount Qomolangma have been progressing smoothly," he said. Mount Qomolangma is better known as Mount Everest.

    (Additional reporting by Guo Shipeng, Nick Mulvenney and Ben Blanchard in Beijing, John Ruwitch in Chengdu and Sophie Taylor in Shanghai; Editing by Nick Macfie and Jerry Norton)

    USA TODAY - Obama denounces pastor's 9/11 comments

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    By Nedra Pickler, Associated Press Writer

    Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Friday denounced inflammatory remarks from his pastor, who has railed against the United States and accused the country of bringing on the Sept. 11 attacks by spreading terrorism.

    Obama called the statements appearing on television and the Internet "completely unacceptable and inexcusable" in a Fox News interview and said they didn't reflect the kinds of sermons he had heard from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright while attending services at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ.

    Obama, a member of the church since the early 1990s, said he would have quit Trinity had such statements been "the repeated tenor of the church. ... I wouldn't feel comfortable there."

    Earlier Friday, Obama responded by posting a blog about his relationship with Wright and Trinity on the Huffington Post. Wright brought Obama to Christianity, officiated at his wedding, baptized his daughters and inspired the title of his book, "The Audacity of Hope."

    Obama wrote that he's looked to Wright for spiritual advice, not political guidance, and he's been pained and angered to learn of some of his pastor's comments for which he had not been present. Obama told MSNBC that Wright had stepped down from his campaign's African American Religious Leadership Committee.

    "I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies," Obama said in his blog posting. "I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it's on the campaign stump or in the pulpit. In sum, I reject outright the statements by Reverend Wright that are at issue."

    In a sermon on the Sunday after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Wright suggested the United States brought on the attacks.

    "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye," Wright said. "We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost."

    In a 2003 sermon, he said blacks should condemn the United States.

    "The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."

    He also gave a sermon in December comparing Obama to Jesus, promoting his candidacy and criticizing his rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    "Barack knows what it means to be a black man to be living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people," Wright told a cheering congregation. "Hillary can never know that. Hillary ain't never been called a nigger."

    Obama told MSNBC that he would not repudiate Wright as a man, describing him as "like an uncle" who says something that he disagrees with and must speak out against. He also said he expects his political opponents will use video of the sermons to attack him as the campaign goes on.

    Questions about Obama's religious beliefs have dogged him throughout his candidacy. He's had to fight against false Internet rumors suggesting he's really a Muslim intent on destroying the United States, and now his pastor's words uttered nearly seven years ago have become an issue.

    Obama wrote on the Huffington Post that he never heard Wright say any of the statements, but he acknowledged that they have raised legitimate questions about the nature of his relationship with the pastor and the church. He wrote that he joined Wright's church nearly 20 years ago, familiar with the pastor's background as a former Marine and respected biblical scholar who lectured at seminaries across the country.

    "Reverend Wright preached the gospel of Jesus, a gospel on which I base my life," he wrote. "And the sermons I heard him preach always related to our obligation to love God and one another, to work on behalf of the poor and to seek justice at every turn."

    He said Wright's controversial statements first came to his attention at the beginning of his presidential campaign last year, and he condemned them. Because of his long and deep ties to the 6,000-member congregation church, Obama said he decided not to leave.

    "With Reverend Wright's retirement and the ascension of my new pastor, Rev. Otis Moss III, Michelle and I look forward to continuing a relationship with a church that has done so much good," he wrote.

    Also Friday, the United Church of Christ issued a 1,400-word statement defending Wright and his "flagship" congregation. The statement lauded Wright's church for its community service and work to nurture youth and the pastor for speaking out against homophobia and sexism in the black community.

    "It's time for all of us to say no to these attacks and to declare that we will not allow anyone to undermine or destroy the ministries of any of our congregations in order to serve their own narrow political or ideological ends," John H. Thomas, United Church of Christ's president, said in the statement.


    AP Religion Writer Eric Gorski in Denver contributed to this report.


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    USA TODAY - Atlanta braces for another severe storm

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    By Dorie Turner, Associated Press Writer

    Crews hadn't even had time to assess the damage from a possible tornado that ripped through downtown, smashing skyscraper windows, sucking furniture out of hotel rooms, crumbling part of an apartment building and rattling a packed sports arena, before they braced for another storm on Saturday.

    An even larger system than the one that hit Friday night was forecast to move through northern Georgia starting at daybreak, bringing heavy rains and high winds to the area, said Vaughn Smith, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Peachtree City. Crews were expected to be in downtown Atlanta then to determine whether Friday's damage was caused by a tornado, he said.

    At an early morning news conference, Mayor Shirley Franklin called the storm "what we now know was a tornado." But weather service officials continued to say only that a "possible tornado" hit around 9:40 p.m., accompanied by a storm packing 60 mph winds.

    At least 20 people were hurt. Streets around the Georgia Dome, Phillips Arena, the CNN Center and Centennial Olympic Park were littered with broken glass, downed power lines, crumbled bricks, insulation and even the occasional office chair. Billboards collapsed onto parked cars. Stunned fans from the arenas and hotel guests wandered through the debris in disbelief.

    "It was crazy. There was a lot of windows breaking and stuff falling," said Terrence Evans, a valet who was about to park a car at the Omni Hotel when the apparent twister hit.

    A tornado warning had been issued for downtown a few minutes before.

    There was no announcement of the approaching storm for the 18,000 fans inside the Georgia Dome for the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament. The first sign was a rumbling from above and the rippling of the Fiberglas fabric roof. Catwalks swayed and insulation rained down on players during overtime of the Mississippi State-Alabama game, sending fans fleeing toward the exits and the teams to their locker rooms.

    "I thought it was a tornado or a terrorist attack," said Mississippi State guard Ben Hansbrough, whose team won 69-67 after an hourlong delay under a roof with at least two visible tears. A later game between Georgia and Kentucky was postponed. SEC officials said the tournament's remaining games would be played at Georgia Tech.

    "Ironically, the guy behind me got a phone call saying there was a tornado warning," fan Lisa Lynn said. "And in two seconds, we heard the noise and things started to shake. It was creepy."

    A half-mile away, the sign of the Phillips Arena parking garage was left mangled by the storm, but basketball fans inside the arena noticed little disruption during a game between the Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers.

    Most of the damage from the storm was concentrated in downtown Atlanta. Power was knocked out to about 19,000 customers. Authorities blocked off roads around the CNN Center, where heavy debris filled the streets. A chair from the building's lobby sat in the middle of the street, flanked by cars crushed by fallen debris.

    Atlanta Fire Department Capt. Bill May said the department was working "multiple incidents" and that part of a loft apartment building collapsed, but he did not know if there were any injuries.

    The loft apartment building, built in an old cotton mill -- had severe damage to one corner, and appeared to have major roof damage. Fire officials said it "pancaked," and they were uncertain whether all the occupants had escaped.

    Darlys Walker, property manager for the lofts, told WSB-TV there was one minor injury.

    Taylor Morris, 29, who lives near the lofts, said he and his girlfriend took shelter in the bathroom when the storm passed over in a matter of 15 to 20 seconds.

    "The whole house was shaking," he said. "We didn't know what was going on."

    He said shingles and a sheet of plywood were ripped from his roof and tossed into a neighbor's tree.

    Georgia Emergency Management Agency spokesman Buzz Weiss said at least 20 people were transported to hospitals from damaged areas across the city. He did not know the severity of the injuries or the condition of the victims. Grady Memorial Hospital, the city's large public hospital where many of the injured were taken, had broken windows but was operating as usual.

    Kendra Gerlach, spokeswoman for Atlanta Medical Center, said late Friday the hospital was treating about five patients in the emergency department. She said each patient suffered minor injuries with only cuts, scraps and bruises.

    May said a vacant building also collapsed, with no apparent injuries. Weiss said state officials and the American Red Cross were setting up a shelter at a senior center to house more than 100 people displaced by the storm.

    Officials were unsure of the extent of the damage, he said, but said it "seems to be a little more widespread than it initially appeared." The Fulton County Emergency Management Agency will comb downtown at sunrise to survey damage, Weiss said.

    "One thing that concerns is greatly is we have more bad weather moving in," he said.

    On its Web site, CNN said its headquarters building sustained ceiling damage, allowing water to pour into the atrium, and windows shattered in the newsroom and the company's library.

    In East Atlanta, downed trees, debris and power lines were strewn in the street, which was eerily quiet in the wake of the pounding hail, sheets of rain, flashes of lightning and growling thunder.

    Melody and Brad Sorrells were at home with their two children when the storm hit. The family was in their living room when Melody Sorrells said she heard the huge pine in their front yard crash into their house.

    "I saw it falling and we ran into the back bedrooms in the closet," she said, while turning to look at the trunk blocking the front door. "I feel sick."

    The family escaped out of the back of the house. Brad Sorrells said the winds sounded like a roaring train.

    "It was a tornado," he said, with arms folded.

    According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the most recent tornado to hit a major city's downtown was on Aug. 12, 2004, in Jacksonville, Fla. Downtown tornadoes have also struck Fort Worth, Texas; Salt Lake City, Little Rock, Ark.; and Nashville, Tenn., in the past decade.

    If confirmed, the tornado would be the first in recorded history to hit downtown Atlanta, said Smith, the meteorologist. The last tornado to strike inside the city was in 1975, and it hit the governor's mansion north of downtown, he said.


    Associated Press writers Errin Haines and John Amis and AP Sports Writer Paul Newberry contributed to this report.

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    CNN - Rescuers search for Atlanta tornado victims

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    Rescuers search for Atlanta tornado victims

    The search for anyone who might be trapped in an apartment building that collapsed when a tornado swept through downtown Atlanta Friday evening could last until Sunday, Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran said early Saturday.

    The Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts, just east of downtown Atlanta, collapsed in a "pancake fashion," Cochran said.

    Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin said emergency officials have determined that it was a tornado that ripped through the heart of her city, damaging the roof of the Georgia Dome during a college basketball game, shattering windows and tearing roofs from buildings before continuing into several residential neighborhoods.

    Officials at two Atlanta hospitals said they'd treated at least 15 people for injuries -- two of them firefighters.

    Hospital officials called one of the injuries "life threatening" but said most were superficial cuts and bruises.

    The building that houses CNN was at the epicenter of the storm -- sitting next to the dome and hotels where thousands of basketball fans attending the Southeastern Conference tournament were at least temporarily displaced. Watch coverage of damage to CNN Center

    "It was actually in overtime, and the game was getting exciting, and I thought people from the Alabama side were hitting the bleachers trying to get some noise going," said Lucas Shields, who was attending the game between Mississippi State and the University of Alabama.

    "All of a sudden the TV went out, the overhead clock stopped working, and you hear that distinctive noise of a train."

    Timothy Wood, 30, of Cumming, Georgia, took refuge from rain at Philips Arena. "First thing I saw were cups then I saw larger objects -- like parts of Philips Arena were coming off and being blown into the street," Wood said.

    Police closed several streets in the vicinity of CNN Center because of glass and other debris from the storm. Watch scene outside CNN Center after storm hit

    The storm tracked from the northwest side of the city to the southeast, demolishing buildings and downing trees that crushed cars and ripped through the roofs of homes.

    At the Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts, the storm pulled the entire roof off of one of the cluster of apartment buildings.

    Mahsud Olufani, an Atlanta painter and sculptor with a studio in one of the other buildings, said he rushed to his studio when he saw news of the damage.

    "It looks like a bomb went off, it looks like World War III," he said. "It's a disaster area."

    The converted lofts also were the site of a massive 1999 fire, during which a dramatic helicopter rescue was televised worldwide.

    In the neighborhood of East Atlanta, resident Cameron Beasley said he could see four or five homes with storm damage, including trees knocked through their roofs, and several cars crushed by downed trees.

    "Something really fierce came down," said Beasley, who said he and his wife ran with their two children into their basement about 15 seconds before the storm hit. "It was just crushing cars, crushing houses."

    The National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for the area, in effect until 10 p.m. The storm came through at about 9:45 p.m.

    Inside CNN Center, water poured through damage in the ceiling into the building's atrium. Glass shattered, and parts of the building filled with dust.

    Virtually all of the windows facing Centennial Olympic Park on the Omni Hotel, which is attached to CNN Center, were shattered, leaving curtains flapping in the darkened windows. Visitors to the hotel were evacuated to the facility's exhibition hall at street level. Watch survey of damage to Omni Hotel

    Windows also were shattered in the newsroom, with staffers saying that there was a computer missing -- apparently sucked through one of the windows. CNN's library was also damaged. See photos of the damage

    Outside the building, debris littered the streets and billboards collapsed onto parked cars. Centennial Olympic Park was also severely damaged.

    Next door at the Georgia Dome, the Alabama-Mississippi State game was halted. The storm visibly rippled the ceiling of the dome and caused some damage, video of the arena showed. Scaffolding holding the facility's scoreboard swayed 15 minutes after the storm hit.

    The game resumed about an hour later, but a later game between Kentucky and Georgia was postponed.

    Joe Bryson, 28, of Cumming, Georgia, was outside when the winds hit.

    "When it started to drizzle a little bit, everyone got under some shelter, watching things develop. It started to pick up a bit. When the metal barriers fell over and started skidding along the ground that's when everyone started -- not panicking -- but going inside.

    "I saw two fellas who were running to come to shelter and they were getting pushed from the back [by the wind]. They got knocked down but got right back up and followed everyone inside," Bryson said.

    Catherine Niehaus, an iReporter, was inside the Georgia Dome when she said the roof split, scaffolding slipped and the scoreboard started to sway.

    Slabs of metal and insulation material smothered the streets outside. Cars and emergency vehicles were scattered among the debris as hundreds of people, many of them attending the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament, wandered around talking on cell phones.

    Heaps of bricks and sheetrock were pushed up against cars. Streets signs were bent in half.

    At the neighboring Georgia World Congress Center, the storm blew down a wall, allowing water to pool ankle deep inside the building.

    Further east, heavy damage was reported near Grady Memorial Hospital.

    According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the most recent downtown tornado in the United States hit Jacksonville, Florida, August 12, 2004. There were no deaths.

    According to the NOAA, the deadliest tornado to hit a downtown area in the 20th century was May 11, 1953, when 114 people were killed in Waco, Texas.

    Although downtown tornadoes are rare, it's a misconception they can't happen, according to The Tornado Project, a company that gathers and compiles tornado information. "That more 'cities' aren't struck by tornadoes is probably more coincidence than anything else," according to the project's Web site.

    "There are very few 'big cities' with skyscrapers in Tornado Alley. In fact, there are only a dozen, and one of them, St. Louis, Missouri, has a long history of tornadoes in its central area."

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