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http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110408/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_syria

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Bassem Mroue, Associated Press 1 min ago

BEIRUT – Syrian security forces opened fire on thousands of protesters Friday, killing at least 13 people, wounding hundreds and forcing residents to turn mosques into makeshift hospitals in a southern city that has become a flashpoint for anti-government demonstrations, witnesses said.

The government acknowledged violence in Daraa, but said only two people died and blamed armed thugs.

One witness said he helped ferry the dead and wounded to the city’s hospital, where he counted 13 corpses.

“My clothes are soaked with blood,” he said by telephone from Daraa, adding that he was among thousands of people at the protest and he witnessed security forces shooting live ammunition.

Like most activists and witnesses who spoke to The Associated Press, he requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.

A nurse at the hospital said they had run out of beds; many people were being treated on the floor or in nearby mosques.

Protest organizers have called on Syrians to take to the streets every Friday for the past three weeks, demanding reform in one of the most authoritarian nations in the Middle East. The protests have rattled the regime of President Bashar Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for nearly 40 years.

The witness accounts coming out of Syria could not be independently confirmed because the regime has restricted media access to the country. Human rights groups say around 115 people have been killed in the security crackdown.

Witnesses in several other cities across Syria also reported protests Friday. An eyewitness in the coastal city of Latakia said hundreds of people took part in a largely peaceful protest Friday calling for political freedoms.

“Peaceful, peaceful!” they shouted, marching past soldiers who were deployed in force in and around the religiously mixed city where clashes two weeks ago killed 12 people. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Activists said protests also erupted in the central cities of Homs and Hama, the coastal city of Banyas, the northern city of Aleppo and outside the capital, Damascus.

A video posted by activists on Facebook showed a crowd of people in the Damascus suburb of Harasta shouting “We want Freedom!” and “The Syrian people will not be humiliated.” The footage could not be independently confirmed.

The state-run News agency said a police officer and an ambulance driver were killed Friday in Daraa. The report blamed “armed men” for the violence. The government has blamed much of the unrest in recent weeks on armed thugs.

It was not clear if SANA and the eyewitness were counting the same people.

The Interior Ministry called on residents of Daraa not to provide shelter for the armed groups that opened fire on civilians and police and to provide authorities with any information they have about them.

Syria had appeared immune to the unrest sweeping the Arab world until three weeks ago, when security forces arrested a group of high school students who scrawled anti-government graffiti on a wall.

Protests then exploded in cities across the country.

Daraa is parched and impoverished, suffering sustained economic problems from a yearslong drought.

Assad has made a series of concessions to quell the violence, including sacking his Cabinet and firing two governors.

On Thursday, he granted citizenship to thousands of Kurds, fulfilling a decades-old demand of the country’s long-ostracized minority. But the protest Friday in Amouda — a Kurdish city — suggested the population still was not satisfied.

An activist in Douma, a Damascus suburb where at least eight people were killed during protests last Friday, said he was expecting a large turnout Friday. Hundreds of activists and residents have met this week to prepare for the demonstration.

But telephone lines to Douma appeared to be cut Friday. Activists in Damascus, quoting people who came from Douma, said thousands of people were demonstrating outside the suburb’s Grand Mosque.

Despite the regime’s gestures, many Syrian activists remain skeptical about the regime’s concessions and have called for much more concrete reforms, such as lifting the state of emergency, which has been in place since 1963 and gives the regime a free hand to arrest people without charge.

___

AP writers Zeina Karam in Beirut and Elizabeth A. Kennedy in Cairo contributed to this report.

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/idol-worship/american-idol-recap-scotty-mccreery-175786

For Rock and Roll Hall of Fame week, the night started off with just the right superstar talking points: Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Elton John, James Brown… Will.I.Am? Errrkay. The week’s co-mentor is a Jimmy Iovine crony — and a serious hitmaker in his own right — much like Gwen Stefani, who styled the Top 9 in her own L.A.M.B. line (it must be said: did Gwen also dress Randy Jackson, or is he auditioning for a spot in the Black Eyed Peas?) Neither was seen in the studio audience, according to our own Shirley Halperin, but Todd Rungren was along with Christian Slater (more on him later), pimping his new Fox show Breaking In. Also spotted in the house: Season 8 finalist Scott MacIntyre and his fiancée Christina Teich, who canoodled every chance they got. 

Up first was Jacob Lusk, who said that he changed his song from “Let’s Get It On” to “Man in the Mirror” because his moral code prevents him from conveying that raunchy a message or something like that. Then, he threw down a challenge: if he ends up in the bottom 3 on Thursday night, then America “wasn’t ready to look at themselves in the mirror.” Ok, Jacob — way to triple dog dare the audience. We’ll see how that works out for you. 
 
As for the performance, Jacob seemed to be having trouble with his in-ears at the beginning of the song so he just yanked them out. He then sang a duet with Naima… Ok, not Naima, but Siedah Garrett, who co-wrote the Michael Jackson hit. Jacob looked a little awkward trying some hip swivels, but I like him working with a partner. Too bad he didn’t try to do something that had a little more rock in it.  After beckoning Garrett back out and crediting her with writing the ‘greatest song ever written,” Steven Tyler then gave his standard critique: “that was beautiful.” Steven, please do us all a favor and try another adjective. Jennifer said Jacob makes us feel like we can do anything (except get it on, perhaps?). Randy was proud of him and said he had “Jacob moments all over the place.” 
 
Haley Reinhart probably has the best shot on a rock-and-roll-themed night, with that Janis Joplin growl on “Piece of My Heart. It was time that she embraced the Joplin comparison, but if you’ve never seen footage of the legendary singer, check out one of the greatest moments at WoodstockMelissa Etheridge also absolutely KILLED it performing the same song at Woodstock 94 decades later. So Reinhart had big shoes to fill Wednesday night, and she had the rock look down decked in leather, but for some reason hiding her legs in pants (a bummer for Idol’s few male viewers, no doubt). Still, she brought it down with a bluesy finish that had Jennifer growling while speaking — it’s infectious! Jennifer said the competition was off to a strong start and Randy agreed, welcoming Haley back for the umpteenth time this season. Steven credits Janis with giving rock and roll “the voice in 1968,” and Haley brought it back. A mighty big compliment for what was by far Haley’s strongest performance, even if I still see her as Miley Cyrus’s long lost twin. 
 
For Casey Abrams to do “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” the same week the mighty Constantine Maroulis returns to the stage was a tall order. Even Jimmy warned him that he sounded too Vegas, so Casey changed his song as well, even deciding to bring out the upright bass. It turned out Creedence Clearwater Revival and John Fogerty’s vocal was a much better match for Casey. Though he’s still gritting his teeth when he sings, which puts me off every time, this was a fine performance. Randy told him that he made CCR proud, and proclaimed him a revolutionary for making the upright bass cool again. Steven called him a “true musician,” and Jennifer said she would pay top dollar to be in the front row, which is, of course, a fraction of what she pays for a pair of her Louboutin shoes. 
 
Lauren Alaina came next with Aretha Franklin’s “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman” which had Christian Slater cheering in the audience. Lauren’s country spin holds up and is pleasant enough but I’ve heard it done better. Still, Jennifer called her amazing, and Randy wasn’t jumping up and down, but alluded to people in previous seasons (ahem, Kelly Clarkson) who sang the heck out of that song. Steven loved her voice and was borderline drooling over Lauren, telling her, “You came here an immature little girl. Now you’re a natural born woman.” Walk this way, Lauren. Walk this way.
 
James Durbin also referenced a past Idol, channeling the Adam Lambert look on his slowed down version of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I understand James trying to turn in a more subtle performance a la Adam, but the song’s lower register threatens his pitch. He can’t help himself, though, and lets out a wail at the end. He even, yes, weeped. Jennifer and Randy loved his sensitive side, and advised him that chances like these advance careers. As for Steven, perhaps he needs a reminder that George Harrison was in the Beatles when he wrote that song.
 
Bringing out the country side of rock was Scotty McCreery with “That’s All Right, Mama” by Elvis Presley, and for the second time, we got an upright bass!  Scotty grew up idolizing Elvis, and dagumit, he sounded like him on Wednesday night! If you closed your eyes and listened, it was as if the King were there possessing young Scotty (his hip swivels even rivaled Jacob’s). The unlikely teen idol this season had girls bum-rushing the stage (orchestrated by Nigel Lythgoe, says Shirley) but left me wondering: did Elvis hold his microphone to the side? Just putting it out there. Randy announced that we were witnessing the “new Scotty,” while Jennifer wanted to know if Scotty watches rap, because she feels some “flavor.” Um, not so much. Steven, in classic form, whips up another Tyler-ism, “I thought you were all hat, no cattle.” 
 
As promised, Pia Toscano took on Tina Turner’s “River Deep Mountain High.” I would have preferred “Proud Mary“ but that’s just me. Meanwhile, Gwen dressed her like a lamb. As in Mary Had a Little Lamb. I have to hand it to Pia, she is so in control of her vocals, it’s scary. She even used pyrotechnics, and actually moved around the stage. Christian Slater’s daughter also loves Pia, and I’m having trouble seeing my dreamboat from “Heathers” as a dad. Sigh… Jennifer told Pia how special she is and declared that her mission is to make Pia even greater. Randy was pleased that Pia can deliver an up-tempo song and I was loving Pia’s jewelry. Steven made another head-scratching quip: “There’s a million guys, in a million bars, having a million drinks about you tonight.”  Again — what? He really is becoming the male version of Paula!
 
Still looking for connection, Stefano Langone chose Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves a Woman.” Coached by Will.I.am and Ryan Tedder, they tried their best to get him to be more Percy and less Michael Bolton. Stefano kept his eyes open, used his sweet falsetto, and engaged in a way we haven’t seen yet, but he was nearly wheezing towards the end and I still felt like I was on a cruise ship (Simon Cowell, come back!). Jennifer was, of course, super proud of him, and cried out “Baby, baby, I knew you had it in you!” But Randy wasn’t feeling it, instructing Stefano to let the song marinate. So Idol is now a cooking show. 
 
Idol’s “imperfect boy” and Vote For The Worst’s love child Paul McDonald considered toning down Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” but Will.i.am and Jimmy disagreed, advising him to do all kinds of crazy things, like drink his own spit and get all “method” with his hair. It’s unclear whether Paul listened, but he nevertheless redeemed himself with impressive energy, nearly attacking the guitarist with some crazed dance moves. It’s a barn burner, y’all! Randy gave him three words, “I loved it,” and Jennifer said the performance was right in Paul’s lane. It all led to a raucous end to the show as the contestants boogied through the credits, but was it enough to erase the stench Paul left on stage last week?
 
Bottom 3 this week? I call Jacob (because he dared me), Stefano, and a toss up between Paul and Lauren. What say you, Idol Worshipers? 

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/as_japan_earthquake

By SHINO YUASA and JAY ALABASTER, Associated Press Shino Yuasa And Jay Alabaster, Associated Press 11 mins ago

TOKYO – A suspected breach in the reactor at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant could mean more serious radioactive contamination, Japanese officials revealed Friday, as the prime minister called the country’s ongoing fight to stabilize the plant “very grave and serious.”

A somber Prime Minister Naoto Kan sounded a pessimistic note at a briefing hours after nuclear safety officials announced what could be a major setback in the urgent mission to stop the plant from leaking radiation, two weeks after a devastating earthquake and tsunami disabled it.

“The situation today at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant is still very grave and serious. We must remain vigilant,” Kan said. “We are not in a position where we can be optimistic. We must treat every development with the utmost care.”

The uncertain situation halted work at the nuclear complex, where dozens had been trying feverishly to stop the overheated plant from leaking dangerous radiation. The plant has leaked some low levels of radiation, but a breach could mean a much larger release of contaminants.

The possible breach in Unit 3 might be a crack or a hole in the stainless steel chamber of the reactor core or in the spent fuel pool that’s lined with several feet of reinforced concrete. The temperature and pressure inside the core, which holds the fuel rods, remained stable and was far lower than would further melt the core.

Suspicions of a possible breach were raised when two workers waded into water 10,000 times more radioactive than levels normally found in water in or around a reactor and suffered skin burns, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

Kan apologized to farmers and business owners for the toll the radiation has had on their livelihoods: Several countries have halted some food imports from areas near the plant after milk and produce were found to contain elevated levels of radiation.

He also thanked utility workers, firefighters and military personnel for “risking their lives” to cool the overheated facility.

The alarm Friday comes two weeks to the day since the magnitude-9 quake triggered a tsunami that enveloped cities along the northeastern coast and knocked out the Fukushima reactor’s cooling systems.

Police said the official death toll jumped past 10,000 on Friday. With the cleanup and recovery operations continuing and more than 17,400 listed as missing, the final number of dead was expected to surpass 18,000.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

The nuclear crisis has compounded the challenges faced by a nation already saddled with a humanitarian disaster. Much of the frigid northeast remains a scene of despair and devastation, with Japan struggling to feed and house hundreds of thousands of homeless survivors, clear away debris and bury the dead.

A breach could mean a leak has been seeping for days, likely since the hydrogen explosion at Unit 3 on March 14. It’s not clear if any of the contaminated water has run into the ground. Radiation readings for the air were not yet available for Friday, but detections in recent days have shown no significant spike.

But elevated levels of radiation have already turned up in raw milk, seawater and 11 kinds of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and turnips. Tap water in several areas of Japan — including Tokyo — also showed radiation levels considered unsafe for infants, who are particularly vulnerable to cancer-causing radioactive iodine, officials said.

The scare caused a run on bottled water in the capital, and Tokyo municipal officials are distributing it to families with babies.

Previous radioactive emissions have come from intentional efforts to vent small amounts of steam through valves to prevent the core from bursting. However, releases from a breach could allow uncontrolled quantities of radioactive contaminants to escape into the surrounding ground or air.

Government spokesman Yukio Edano said “safety measures may not be adequate” and warned that may contribute to rising anxiety among people about how the disaster is being managed.

“We have to make sure that safety is secured for the people working in that area. We truly believe that is incumbent upon us,” the chief Cabinet secretary told reporters.

Edano said people living 12 to 20 miles (20 to 30 kilometers) from the plant should still be safe from the radiation as long as they stay indoors. But since supplies are not being delivered to the area fast enough, he said it may be better for residents in the area to voluntarily evacuate to places with better facilities.

“If the current situation is protracted and worsens, then we will not deny the possibility of (mandatory) evacuation,” he said.

NISA spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said later that plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. was issued a “very strong warning” for safety violations and that a thorough review would be conducted once the situation stabilizes.

Meanwhile, damage to factories was taking its toll on the world’s third-largest economy and creating a ripple effect felt worldwide.

Nissan Motor Co. said it may move part of its engine production line to the United States because of damage to a plant.

The quake and tsunami are emerging as the world’s most expensive natural disasters on record, wreaking up to $310 billion in damages, the government said.

“There is no doubt that we have immense economic and financial damage,” Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said. “It will be our task how to recover from the damage.”

At Sendai’s port, brand new Toyota cars lay crushed in piles. At the airport, flooded by the tsunami on March 11, U.S. Marines used bulldozers and shovels to shift wrecked cars that lay scattered like discarded toys.

Still, there were examples of resilience, patience and fortitude across the region.

In Soma, a hard-hit town along the Fukushima prefecture coast, rubble covered the block where Hiroshi Suzuki’s home once stood. He watched as soldiers dug into mounds of timber had been neighbors’ homes in search of bodies. Just three bodies have been pulled out.

“I never expected to have to live through anything like this,” he said mournfully. Suzuki is one of Soma’s lucky residents, but the tsunami washed away the shop where he sold fish and seaweed.

“My business is gone. I don’t think I will ever be able to recover,” said Suzuki, 59.

Still, he managed to find a bright side. “The one good thing is the way everyone is pulling together and helping each other. No one is stealing or looting,” he said.

“It makes me feel proud to be Japanese.”

___

Alabaster reported from Onagawa. Associated Press writers Elaine Kurtenbach, Tomoko A. Hosaka, Kristen Gelineau, Jean H. Lee and Jeff Donn in Tokyo, Eric Talmadge in Soma and Johnson Lai in Sendai contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110322/ap_on_re_eu/libya_us_jet

By DAVID RISING, Associated Press David Rising, Associated Press 42 mins ago

BERLIN – A U.S. fighter jet crashed in Libya after an apparent equipment malfunction but both crewmembers were able to eject and were back in American hands with only minor injuries, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

The F-15E Strike Eagle jet was conducting a mission Monday night against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s air defenses when it crashed at 2130 GMT (5:30 p.m. EDT), said Lt. Cmdr. Karin Burzynski, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Africa Command.

A spokesman for the Libyan opposition, Mohammed Ali, said the U.S. plane went down about 25 miles (40 kilometers) outside of the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city.

Britain’s Telegraph newspaper published a series of photographs it said was the wreckage of the plane, showing people milling around the burned-out aircraft in a Libyan field.

One of the jet’s airmen landed in a field of sheep after ejecting from the plane, then raised his hands and called out “OK, OK” to a crowd who had gathered, the Telegraph cited witness Younis Amruni, 27, as saying.

“I hugged him and said: ‘Don’t be scared, we are your friends,'” Amruni told the newspaper, adding that people then lined up to shake the airman’s hand.

“We are so grateful to these men who are protecting the skies,” he said. “We gave him juice and then the revolutionary military people took him away.”

A Marine Corps Osprey search and rescue aircraft retrieved the main pilot, while the second crew member, a weapon systems officer who is also a pilot, was recovered by rebel forces and is now in American hands, a U.S. official said in Washington. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

Amruni said the Osprey fired shots to keep locals away, then swooped in and rescued the second crew member.

Click image to see photos of protests in Libya

The two were separated after ejecting from the crippled jet at high altitude and drifting down to different locations, Africa Command spokesman Vince Crawley said, adding they sustained minor injuries.

The aircraft, based out of Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, was flying out of Italy’s Aviano Air Base in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn. The cause of the crash is being investigated.

The Air Force has said only that B-2, F-15 and F-16 fighters are participating in operations over Libya. The U.S. involvement in Libya is being run by Africa Command, which is based in Stuttgart, Germany.

The air campaign by U.S. and European militaries that began Saturday has rearranged the map in Libya and rescued rebels from what had appeared to be imminent defeat.

On Monday night, Libyan state TV said a new round of strikes had begun in the capital, Tripoli, marking the third night of bombardment.

But while the airstrikes can stop Gadhafi’s troops from attacking rebel cities — in line with the U.N. mandate to protect civilians — the United States, at least, has appeared deeply reluctant to go beyond that toward actively helping the rebel cause to oust the Libyan leader.

_____

Pauline Jelinek in Washington, Cassandra Vinograd in London and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_thelookout/20110316/ts_yblog_thelookout/japans-nuclear-crisis-where-things-stand

The ongoing crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has turned into what one analyst calls “a slow-moving nightmare,” with fires, leaks of poisonous radiation, and mass evacuations.

With events shifting quickly, and a sometimes confusing succession of announcements coming from authorities, it can be hard to get a clear sense of exactly what’s happening, and of what to expect going forward. So here’s a rundown, based on several recent news reports, on where things stand five days in…

 

What’s at the root of the problem?

Friday’s earthquake and tsunami caused power outages across northern Japan — including at the Daiichi plant, which comprises six separate reactors. That in turn caused a failure of the reactors’ cooling systems, which are needed to keep the nuclear fuel from overheating and melting down and/or triggering an explosion, releasing poisonous radiation into the atmosphere.

What’s the current situation at the plant?

Yesterday, an explosion caused the containment vessel covering the Number 2 reactor to crack, releasing into the air a surge of radiation 800 times more intense than the recommended hourly exposure limit in Japan. One third of the fuel rods at the reactor were reportedly damaged. In addition, another powerful explosion blew a 26-foot wide hole in the side of Number 4 reactor, causing fires to break out and a pool containing spent fuel rods to begin dangerously overheating.

The Japanese military tried to use helicopters to dump water from the air to cool the Number 4 reactor, but that plan was abandoned after a third explosion — this one damaging the roof and cooling system of the Number 3 reactor — because it would have meant flying a helicopter into radioactive steam. Gregory Jaczko, the top U.S. nuclear official, said today that all the water was gone from the pool containing the fuel rods at the Number 4 reactor — an assertion denied by a spokesman for the Japanese power company that runs the plant. If Jaczko is correct, it would mean there is nothing to stop the fuel from melting down, spewing radiation.

Water was also poured into the Numbers 5 and 6 reactors, suggesting that essentially the entire plant could be at risk of overheating.

In what appears to have been an understatement, the plant operator described the situation at the Number 4 reactor as “not so good.” But in some ways the rupture at the Number 3 reactor is especially troubling, because it’s the only reactor that uses plutonium as part of its fuel mix. If absorbed into the bloodstream, plutonium can stay in the liver or bone marrow and cause cancer.

Japanese officials said early Thursday they’re close to completing a new power line which would restore the cooling systems for the reactors, but it’s unclear when the line will be up and running.

How much of the surrounding area is likely to be affected by the radiation?

The government has told the roughly 140,000 people who live within 18 miles of the plant to stay indoors, but has said that people outside that zone can safely go outside. However, some experts have accused the Japanese authorities of underplaying the severity of the crisis. The U.S. embassy has recommended that Americans within 50 miles of the plant evacuate the area or stay indoors.

Tokyo, 180 miles south of the plant, has recorded radiation levels only slightly above normal. Still, both France and Australia have urged their nationals throughout the country to leave, and many Tokyo residents have been staying indoors. One American couple living in Tokyo told family they don’t yet see a need to leave, but are monitoring the situation closely.

What other ideas are being considered?

In what experts describe as a last-ditch effort, police are hoping to use a water cannon — usually used to quell riots — to cool the nuclear fuel. Officials have also proposed using boric acid, which can help slow nuclear reactions by absorbing neutrons.

On Monday, 750 workers were withdrawn from the facility, leaving a core of 50 to battle the crisis alone while exposing themselves to potentially deadly levels of radiation. But even those workers appeared to have been withdrawn today after a surge in radiation caused by new explosions made the area too dangerous.

What are the best- and worst-case scenarios?

The best case scenario is that efforts to cool the fuel rods succeed, and damage to the surrounding environment is limited to an area within about 15 miles of the plant. The worst is a full-scale meltdown of the reactors caused by overheating, which would release much larger amounts of radiation into the air than has yet occurred.  In that case, the damage could potentially approach the level of the Soviet Union’s 1986 Chernobyl disaster, for which estimates of deaths vary from 4000 to close to one million.

How does the crisis rank, in terms of nuclear plant accidents?

On Saturday, Japanese authorities ranked the incident a Level Four on a one-to-seven scale used to rank nuclear accidents. but things have worsened since then, and yesterday France’s nuclear authority said it should be classified as a Level Six. Chernobyl is the only Level 7 accident ever to have occurred.

In this image released by Tokyo Electric Power Co., smoke billows from the No. 3 unit among four housings cover four reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, on Tuesday, March 15, 2011.  (AP Photo/Tokyo Electric Power Co.)

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110309/ap_on_re_as/as_pakistan

By RIAZ KHAN, Associated Press Riaz Khan, Associated Press 5 mins ago

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – A suicide bomber struck a funeral attended by anti-Taliban militiamen in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing at least 36 mourners and wounding more than 100 in the deadliest militant attack in the country this year. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.

The blast near the city of Peshawar was not far from the tribally administered regions bordering Afghanistan where militants are at their strongest. The area struck is home to several tribal armies that battle the Pakistani branches of the Taliban with the government’s encouragement.

Police officer Zahid Khan said about 300 people were attending the funeral for the wife of a militiaman in the Matani area when the bomber struck. TV footage showed men picking up bloodied sandals and caps from a dusty, open space where mourners had gathered.

Witnesses said the bomber, who appeared to be in his late teens, showed up at the funeral just as it was about to begin.

“We thought this youth was coming to attend the funeral, but he suddenly detonated a bomb,” survivor Syed Alam Khan said.

Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan said the insurgents targeted the militiamen because they were allied with the Pakistani government and, effectively, the United States.

“We will carry out more such attacks if they did not stop their activities,” he said via phone from an undisclosed location.

Militia commander Dilawar Khan said he would consult his fighters and local elders about whether to keep battling the Taliban, insisting that the government did not provide them with the resources they need.

Another witness, Farman Ullah, complained that there was no police security in place for the funeral.

“It was the duty of the government to provide us security, but it did not do it,” he said.

The main hospital in Peshawar received at least 36 bodies and more than 100 wounded after the blast, hospital official Jamal Shah said.

Al-Qaida and Taliban militants are waging a bloody war against the Pakistani state from their bases in the northwest. The army has launched several offensives against the Islamist extremists but has also encouraged the formation of private militias to help out in the fight.

While human rights groups are alarmed at the state ceding authority to armed civilians, the government has praised the role of the militias in battling the Taliban or holding ground retaken from them.

Police in Peshawar said late last year that the militias in Matani were essential in stopping Taliban infiltration into the city.

The militiamen operate from heavily fortified compounds in the region and have seen their influence rise. But commanders have complained they do not get enough government help.

The army says it is winning the war against militants, but bombings still regularly strike in much of the country. On Tuesday, at least 20 people were killed in a car bombing in Punjab province.

Also Wednesday, police in Pakistan’s largest city said they had arrested four Pakistani Taliban militants after a tip and a shootout, but four alleged insurgents managed to escape. The militants were believed to be planning attacks in Karachi, a southern city of 18 million, senior police official Mohammad Aslam said.

Police showed reporters four hooded men who they said were the suspects. They also displayed an explosives-laden sucide jacket, assault rifles and other weapons they said they recovered late Tuesday.

Karachi has a history of sectarian, political and ethnic violence. Officials say Pakistani Taliban fighters, who tend to be based in the northwest, increasingly use Karachi as a hide-out.

In the country’s southwest, a landmine exploded next to a vehicle in Dera Bugti area of southwestern Baluchistan province, killing five people and wounding 18, government official Shoaib Jadoon said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility. But Baluchistan has long been the scene of a low-level insurgency which wants the province to have more autonomy and a greater share of the money derived from its natural resources.

____

Associated Press writers Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Ashraf Khan in Karachi and Abdul Sattar in Quetta contributed to this report.

Ya’ll read this and tell me what you think.

http://finance.yahoo.com/family-home/article/112284/subway-passes-mcdonalds

by Julie Jargon
Monday, March 7, 2011

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    It’s official: the Subway sandwich chain has surpassed McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCDNews) as the world’s largest restaurant chain, in terms of units.

    At the end of last year, Subway had 33,749 restaurants worldwide, compared to McDonald’s 32,737. The burger giant disclosed its year-end store count in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing late last month.

    The race for global dominance is an important one for an industry that’s mostly saturated in the U.S. High unemployment and economic uncertainty have battered the restaurant industry in the U.S., and chains are increasingly looking overseas for growth, particularly in Asia.

    [More from WSJ.com: Where to Put Your Cash Now.]

    Starbucks Corp. Honda (Nasdaq: SBUXNews) recently said it plans to triple its number of outlets in China, for example. Dunkin’ Brands Inc., parent of Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, plans to open thousands of new outlets in China in coming years as well as its first stores in Vietnam in the next 18 months. Subway just opened its 1,000th location in Asia, including its first in Vietnam.

    Subway, which opened its first international restaurant in 1984, in Bahrain, expects its number of international restaurants to exceed its domestic ones by 2020, says Don Fertman, Subway’s Chief Development Officer. The chain currently has just over 24,000 restaurants in the U.S., where it generated $10.5 billion of its $15.2 billion in revenue last year.

    [More from WSJ.com: The Most Expensive Town in America.]

    The closely held company, owned by Doctor’s Associates Inc., does not disclose its profits.

    McDonald’s is still the leader when it comes to sales. The burger chain reported $24 billion in revenue last year. “We remain focused on listening to and serving our customers, and are committed to being better, not just bigger,” a McDonald’s spokeswoman says.

    Subway, which surpassed the number of McDonald’s in the U.S. about nine years ago, expects China to eventually become one of its largest markets. The sandwich shop only has 199 restaurants in China now, but expects to have more than 500 by 2015.

    [More from WSJ.com: TV’s Next Wave: Tuning In to You.]

    Subway has achieved its rapid growth, in part, by opening outlets in non-traditional locations such as an automobile showroom in California, an appliance store in Brazil, a ferry terminal in Seattle, a riverboat in Germany, a zoo in Taiwan, a Goodwill store in South Carolina, a high school in Detroit and a church in Buffalo, New York.

    “We’re continually looking at just about any opportunity for someone to buy a sandwich, wherever that might be. The closer we can get to the customer, the better,” Mr. Fertman says, explaining that it now has almost 8,000 Subways in unusual locations. “The non-traditional is becoming traditional.”

    // The company has some concerns about the economies of certain international markets, such as Germany and the United Kingdom. The company is trying to develop more affordable offerings in those countries, similar to the $5 foot-long sandwiches that have been successful in the U.S.

    “Finding that kind of value proposition in those countries is essential,” Mr. Fertman says.

    I heard about this last night. I’m sad because I love McDonald’s. But, theres nothing I can do about it. So please comment and tell me what you think.

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