Weekend News Digest is an Open Thread
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1 Japan Democrats win landslide in historic election
By Linda Sieg and Chisa Fujioka, Reuters
2 hrs 56 mins ago
|TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese voters swept the opposition to a historic victory in an election on Sunday, ousting the ruling conservative party and handing the untested Democrats the job of breathing life into a struggling economy.
The win by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) ended a half-century of almost unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and breaks a deadlock in parliament, ushering in a government that has promised to focus spending on consumers, cut wasteful budget outlays and reduce the power of bureaucrats.
“The people are angry with politics now and the ruling coalition. We felt a great sense of people wanting change for their livelihoods and we fought this election for a change in government,” said Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama, 62.
2 Japanese election upends long-ruling party
By ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press Writer
42 mins ago
|TOKYO – Japan’s opposition swept to a historic victory in elections Sunday, crushing the ruling conservative party that has run the country for most of the postwar era and assuming the daunting task of pulling the economy out of its worst slump since World War II.
A grim-looking Prime Minister Taro Aso conceded defeat just a couple hours after polls had closed, suggesting he would quit as president of the Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan for all but 11 months since 1955.
“The results are very severe,” Aso said. “There has been a deep dissatisfaction with our party.”
3 Japan’s centre-left in landslide win: exit polls
by Miwa Suzuki, AFP
Sun Aug 30, 11:11 am ET
|TOKYO (AFP) – Japanese voters swept to power an untested centre-left party on Sunday in an electoral avalanche that ended more than half a century of almost unbroken conservative rule, according to exit polls.
The opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), led by Yukio Hatoyama, was set to storm home with more than 300 seats in the 480-seat lower house of parliament, according to the exit polls of several television stations.
Voters frustrated with the government’s handling of Japan’s worst post-war recession punished Prime Minister Taro Aso and forced the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) from office for only the second time since 1955.
4 Fleeing fighters say Myanmar crushed border enclave
By Chris Buckley, Reuters
Sun Aug 30, 6:57 am ET
|NANSAN, China (Reuters) – Men who said they had been fighting Myanmar government troops in fierce battles over recent days streamed into China on Sunday, saying their long-autonomous enclave had fallen and its future was in doubt.
The clusters of weary men, some clutching a few belongings, described widespread bloodshed in the Kokang ethnic enclave in northeast Myanmar after government troops moved in, seeking to dislodge local rulers and their militia who have long controlled this mountainous terrain next to China.
Some said the Kokang militia had been decisively defeated, a turn that will present Myanmar and China with tricky choices on how to govern the enclave and deal with the tens of thousands of residents who have fled to neighboring Yunnan province in China.
5 Myanmar rebels drop weapons, flee into China
By NG HAN GUAN, Associated Press Writer
2 hrs 32 mins ago
|MENG PENG, China – Hundreds of ethnic rebels have fled clashes in northeastern Myanmar, surrendering their weapons and uniforms to Chinese border police and crossing to safety after several days of skirmishes with Myanmar government troops.
Myanmar’s military junta ended a news blackout about the clashes Sunday, saying three days of fighting had killed 26 government forces and at least eight rebels. It said the fighting had ended and “the region has now regained stability.”
The United Nations and Chinese officials say up to 30,000 civilian refugees have streamed into China to escape the fighting, which broke out last week after hundreds of Myanmar soldiers moved into Kokang, a mostly ethnic Chinese region run by a local militia.
6 Karzai extends Afghan vote lead; run-off indicated
By Hamid Shalizi and Peter Graff, Reuters
Sat Aug 29, 10:32 am ET
|KABUL (Reuters) – Partial Afghan election returns released on Saturday showed President Hamid Karzai extending his lead in last week’s vote, but still falling short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off.
Afghanistan has been on tenterhooks since the Aug 20 election, with official results coming out in slow drips, Karzai’s camp claiming victory and his main rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, alleging widespread fraud.
With results from about a third of polling stations tallied, Karzai leads Abdullah by 46.3 percent to 31.3 percent.
7 Blast kills 16 Pakistan cadets; NATO trucks bombed
By KAY JOHNSON and ASIF SHAHZAD, Associated Press Writers
7 mins ago
|ISLAMABAD – Bombings targeted a Pakistani police station and set a NATO fuel convoy ablaze Sunday, killing 16 cadets in the northwest’s Swat Valley and threatening the supply line to international forces in Afghanistan in a separate attack near the border.
The two blasts hours apart and hundreds of miles from each other came as Pakistani officials said the Taliban were ramping up strikes to avenge recent setbacks, including the loss of territory to the military and the death of their top leader in a CIA missile strike near the Afghan border.
Pakistan’s military has in recent months intensified its fight against the al-Qaida-linked extremists, who threaten stability in the nuclear-armed nation and are suspected of helping plot attacks against U.S. and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan.
8 Former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert indicted
By JOSEF FEDERMAN, Associated Press Writer
12 mins ago
|JERUSALEM – Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was indicted on corruption charges Sunday, becoming the first Israeli premier to go on trial and highlighting a series of cases that have shaken the public’s faith in the political system.
The charges likely end the three-decade career of a man who just three years ago seemed poised to lead his nation to a bold withdrawal from the West Bank and an aggressive push for peace with the Palestinians.
Olmert, who was forced to step down because of the case, was accused of illegally accepting funds from an American backer, double-billing for official trips abroad and pocketing the difference, concealing funds from a government watchdog and cronyism. All of the alleged crimes took place before Olmert was elected prime minister in 2006.
9 Return of swine flu: What’s ahead for Americans?
By LAURAN NEERGAARD, AP Medical Writer
1 hr 11 mins ago
|WASHINGTON – The alarm sounded with two sneezy children in California in April. Just five months later, the never-before-seen swine flu has become the world’s dominant strain of influenza, and it’s putting a shockingly younger face on flu.
So get ready. With flu’s favorite chilly weather fast approaching, we’re going to be a sick nation this fall. The big unknown is how sick. One in five people infected or a worst case – half the population? The usual 36,000 deaths from flu or tens of thousands more?
The World Health Organization predicts that within two years, nearly one-third of the world’s population will have caught it.
10 Cheney says politics behind CIA probe at Justice
By LARA JAKES, Associated Press Writer
2 hrs 52 mins ago
|WASHINGTON – Former Vice President Dick Cheney says politics are driving the Justice Department’s decision to investigate whether CIA interrogators abused terror suspects detained after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I just think it’s an outrageous political act that will do great damage, long term, to our capacity to be able to have people take on difficult jobs, make difficult decisions, without having to worry about what the next administration is going to say,” Cheney said in an interview aired on “Fox News Sunday.”
At issue is Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to look into abuse allegations after the release of an internal CIA inspector general’s report. President Barack Obama has said interrogators would not face charges if they followed legal guidelines.
11 Blackwater tapped foreigners on secret CIA program
By ADAM GOLDMAN and PAMELA HESS, Associated Press Writers
1 hr 18 mins ago
|WASHINGTON – When the CIA revived a plan to kill or capture terrorists in 2004, the agency turned to the well-connected security company then known as Blackwater USA.
With Blackwater’s lucrative government security work and contacts arrayed in hot spots around the world, company officials offered the services of foreigners supposedly skilled at tracking terrorists in lawless regions and countries where the CIA had no working relationships with the government.
Blackwater told the CIA that it “could put people on the ground to provide the surveillance and support – all of the things you need to conduct an operation,” a former senior CIA official familiar with the secret program told The Associated Press.
12 Focus on Ind. Gov. Daniels sparks White House talk
By MIKE SMITH, Associated Press Writer
12 mins ago
|BAINBRIDGE, Ind. – Republican Mitch Daniels has repeatedly insisted that his 2008 run for a second term as Indiana’s governor was his last election and that he’s not interested in the “savagery” of a national campaign.
But like it or not, Daniels’ name is being dropped in conservative GOP circles as someone to watch in 2012. Many say Daniels is just what the battered GOP needs, a blend of conservative values, cool demeanor and fiscal discipline.
“Mitch has been steady to the cause, he’s stayed principled,” said Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee. “The nation is going to recognize him.”
13 State fairs offer many people badly needed jobs
By NOMAAN MERCHANT, Associated Press Writer
21 mins ago
|FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. – A year’s worth of failed job leads prepared Richard Briggs for anything, including night shifts as a Minnesota State Fair custodian.
For $8.50 an hour, the out-of-work financial analyst vacuums and cleans bathrooms in fairground buildings. Briggs, 38, said he’s “something of a curiosity” among his co-workers.
“You know, they don’t hire financial analysts to clean the sidewalks,” Briggs said.
14 USS Missouri to get Pearl Harbor shipyard makeover
By AUDREY McAVOY, Associated Press Writer
28 mins ago
|PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii – The “Mighty Mo,” the World War II battleship best known for hosting the formal surrender of Japan in 1945, is heading to the shipyard for repairs.
The USS Missouri, now a decommissioned vessel called the Battleship Missouri Memorial, will leave its historic spot at Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor in October.
The move will come shortly after the vessel on Wednesday hosts a ceremony marking the 64th anniversary of Japan’s surrender. U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, and Ret. Lt. Gen. Wallace “Chip” Gregson, newly sworn in as Assistant Secretary of Defense, are scheduled to speak at the event.
15 Slow start: No rush for same-sex weddings in Vt.
By JOHN CURRAN, Associated Press Writer
1 hr 44 mins ago
|MONTPELIER, Vt. – Bed-and-breakfast owner Jeff Connor was hoping for a boom in business once Vermont opened the door for same-sex couples to marry.
The law takes effect Tuesday, but he’s still waiting. So far, he has only one wedding celebration planned at the 11-unit Grunberg Haus, in Duxbury. It’s for Sept. 8.
“I guess the word’s still getting around out there,” said Connor, who runs the inn with wife Linda.
16 Conn. and Pa. state budgets still in limbo
By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press Writer
2 hrs 2 mins ago
|HARTFORD, Conn. – A program that helps thousands of Connecticut welfare recipients find work has been in limbo for two months. Family resource centers, which provide child care, adult education, and other services, have shut their doors.
In Pennsylvania, day-care centers have laid off workers. Some preschool programs are scrapping plans to reopen in September. And tens of thousands of state employees had to wait to be paid for several weeks.
While most states have already passed their budgets, Connecticut and Pennsylvania remain the only two in the nation still at odds over how to balance the books this fiscal year amid plummeting state revenues. Connecticut’s revenue flow has dropped by $2 billion from last year while Pennsylvania’s came in $3.3 billion less than expected.
17 SC GOP vents anger over gov.’s extramarital affair
By JIM DAVENPORT, Associated Press Writer
Sun Aug 30, 3:05 am ET
|MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – Republican legislators fumed Saturday over Gov. Mark Sanford’s affair and questionable travel, though they stopped short of trying to force his resignation or impeachment before they return to the Statehouse in January.
Still, the House GOP Caucus that dominates the lower chamber with 73 of the body’s 124 members made two things clear – they want Sanford gone and they want to act soon. However, lawmakers are waiting to make any decisions until the state ethics commission finishes its investigation. And starting impeachment proceedings now could require a costly and special session.
In all, 56 members were on hand and not one raised a word to defend Sanford, who shocked state residents by disappearing for five days in June to rendezvous with his Argentine lover. Since then, investigations by The Associated Press and a state senator have prompted state Attorney General Henry McMaster to call for an ethics investigation. The probe has been under way for about a week.
18 Justifiable homicide defense eyed in Roeder’s case
By ROXANA HEGEMAN, Associated Press Writer
Sat Aug 29, 3:15 pm ET
|WICHITA, Kan. – The suspect in the killing of abortion provider George Tiller is in talks with a prominent attorney who represents anti-abortion protesters and has long advocated justifiable homicide as a legal defense in such cases.
Scott Roeder, 51, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and aggravated assault charges in the May 31 shooting death of Tiller in the foyer of his Wichita church. The Kansas City, Mo., man has refused to discuss his case, but he has told The Associated Press that Tiller’s killing was justified to save “the lives of unborn children.”
Roeder has court-appointed defense attorneys, but he apparently has now turned to Michael Hirsh, the lawyer who represented Paul Hill on appeal for killing a Florida abortion provider and his bodyguard in 1994. Hill was executed in 2003 after the Florida Supreme Court rejected Hirsh’s argument that the judge should have allowed Hill to present to jurors his claim that the killings were justified to prevent abortions.
19 Arts an easy target as many states cut budgets
By DAVID TWIDDY, Associated Press Writer
Sat Aug 29, 2:35 pm ET
|LAWRENCE, Kan. – Ben Ahlvers is a full-time arts education coordinator, but his passion is with the fanciful creatures, human figures and oversized hammers he fashions from clay.
The nationally recognized ceramic artist was chosen to receive a fellowship from the Kansas Arts Commission to attend an artist residency in Montana. But after Kansas officials cut the commission’s budget midyear by $300,000, he didn’t receive the $1,000 check.
“They were still going to have a reception and I joked to somebody that I was going to go and eat $1,000 worth of finger food,” said Ahlvers, 35, who said he and his wife had to live off their credit cards and sell more of his artwork to fund the trip.
20 Revival planned for notorious LA community
By JACOB ADELMAN, Associated Press Writer
Sat Aug 29, 12:00 pm ET
|LOS ANGELES – Juanita Sims has lived in the notorious Jordan Downs project in Watts for nearly four decades, raising eight children behind the barred windows of the cramped barracks-like apartments.
She moved in shortly after the Watts riots in the 1960s left nearly three dozen people dead and made the South Los Angeles community a national symbol of urban decay.
Now Sims fears she’ll have to leave, just as Watts emerges from years of neglect with a proposed urban village of shops, homes and businesses that would force the demolition of Jordan Downs.
21 Ahmadinejad urges Iran parliament to approve cabinet
by Farhad Pouladi and Aresu Eqbali, AFP
Sun Aug 30, 2:42 am ET
|TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran’s embattled President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose disputed re-election unleashed the worst crisis in the Islamic republic’s history, appealed to parliament on Sunday to approve his new cabinet.
The conservative-dominated assembly is beginning a three-day debate on the ministerial nominees chosen by Ahmadinejad and will then hold a vote of confidence on on Wednesday.
“I hope the majlis (parliament) will firmly approve all ministers and with a decisive vote it will turn the hopes of ill-wishers into despair,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech to lawmakers as he introduced his cabinet line-up.
22 Iran’s top conservatives oppose Ahmadinejad cabinet
by Jay Deshmukh and Farhad Pouladi, AFP
Sun Aug 30, 8:20 am ET
|TEHRAN (AFP) – In a blow to embattled Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, top conservative lawmakers openly opposed his cabinet line-up after he urged parliament on Sunday to approve his nominees.
“Sixteen nominees have no experience required for the ministries they have been nominated for,” said powerful MP Ahmad Tavakoli as parliament began a three-day debate on the 21-member new cabinet ahead of Wednesday’s vote of confidence.
“The cabinet lacks harmony in its view when it comes to handling crucial issues such as economic development. The views of candidates nominated to head the economy, oil and commerce ministries contradict that of the agriculture ministry nominee.”
23 Ahmadinejad says Iran opposition leaders should be punished
by Hiedeh Farmani, AFP
Fri Aug 28, 12:27 pm ET
|TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran’s hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for the first time on Friday for the punishment of opposition leaders over the street unrest unleashed by his disputed re-election in June.
Ahmadinejad also renewed the Islamic republic’s allegations that Britain sought to overthrow the regime, in a speech at weekly prayers.
“Serious confrontation should take place with the leaders and main instigators of the incidents. Those who provoked, organised and implemented the enemy’s line should be confronted firmly,” Ahmadinejad said.
24 Merkel on defensive over Opel as election looms
by Laure Fillon, AFP
Sun Aug 30, 12:40 am ET
|BERLIN (AFP) – Angela Merkel’s efforts to secure a rescue of General Motors’ Opel unit and the jobs of its 25,000 German employees have put the chancellor on the defensive, just four weeks before general elections.
So far in her campaign to win a second term, Merkel has been criticised for sitting on the fence on many issues, hoping that remaining aloof will keep her poll ratings high until voting day.
But on Opel, Merkel has stuck her neck out, ramming home again and again that she wants GM to sell a majority stake in the unit to Canadian auto parts maker Magna and state-owned Russian lender Sberbank.
25 LNG boom to make Australia ‘Middle East of gas’
by Neil Sands, AFP
Sat Aug 29, 11:42 pm ET
|MELBOURNE (AFP) – Australia is poised to become “the Middle East of gas” as Asia’s rapidly growing economies queue up to buy its vast reserves in liquid form, according to analysts.
The government last week approved the massive Gorgon liquefied natural gas (LNG) project off Western Australia, which Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said would cost 50 billion dollars (41 billion US) to build and would generate 6,000 jobs.
The joint venture by Chevron, Shell and ExxonMobil is already underpinned by supply contracts with China and India worth more than 60 billion US dollars, and more customers are likely to sign up before it begins operating in 2014.
26 Iraq ministry bombers ‘recently freed by US’
by Ammar Karim, AFP
Sun Aug 30, 7:44 am ET
|BAGHDAD (AFP) – The suicide bombers who killed 95 people in devastating attacks at Iraqi government ministries on August 19 were recently released from US custody, a senior interior ministry official said on Sunday.
The truck bombings in Baghdad also wounded 600 people in what was the worst day of violence to hit the country for 18 months, dealing a major blow to the nation’s security efforts in the wake of a major pullout of US troops.
“The suicide bomber who blew himself up at the ministry of foreign affairs was released three months ago from Camp Bucca,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity, referring to the US jail near Basra.
27 Forest lair where Hitler nightmares took shape
by Maja Czarnecka, AFP
Sat Aug 29, 10:53 pm ET
|GIERLOZ, Poland (AFP) – Lying overgrown in a northern Polish forest, a scattering of ruined concrete bunkers offer a chilling reminder of World War II, when Adolf Hitler turned his darkest dreams into reality.
The “Wolfsschanze” (Wolf’s Lair), the Nazi German dictator’s command post for much of the war, has long been a major draw for history buffs.
Tourist interest has been stoked by this year’s Tom Cruise movie “Valkyrie” about the failed 1944 bomb plot against Hitler which took place here.
28 Gabon to elect new leader
by Fanny Pigeaud, AFP
Sat Aug 29, 9:56 pm ET
|LIBREVILLE (AFP) – Gabon goes to the polls Sunday to elect a successor to Africa’s longest serving ruler Omar Bongo, whose son appears to be the frontrunner in the oil-rich country’s presidential race.
As campaigning wound down Saturday, Ali Bongo, 50, seemed to have a distinct advantage over a divided opposition, with the backing of the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party and a huge campaign war chest.
He told AFP that he was “totally satisfied” with his campaign and confident of the result.
29 Four years after Katrina, who will lead New Orleans?
By Patrik Jonsson, The Christian Science Monitor
Sun Aug 30, 4:00 am ET
|new Orleans – Just outside Lee Harvey Oswald’s old New Orleans apartment, Harold Cavilliere pauses as he places an assortment of hats on a wrought-iron fence as part of his weekly Saturday yard sale along Magazine Street.
With the qualifying date for the mayoral election only three months away, who is the right man or woman to free New Orleans from its history of racial politics and lead the city out of hurricane Katrina’s shadow?
“To be honest, I have no idea,” the World War II vet says, shaking his head.