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AP News in Brief

The Associated Press
Sunday, March 20, 2011; 6:19 PM

-- Gadhafi vows 'long war' as US, allies pound his forces from air and sea

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) - Moammar Gadhafi vowed a "long war" as allied forces launched a second night of strikes on Libya on Sunday, and jubilant rebels who only a day before were in danger of being crushed by his forces now boasted they would bring him down. The U.S. military said the international assault would hit any Gadhafi forces on the ground that are attacking the opposition.

The U.S. military said the bombardment so far - a rain of Tomahawk cruise missiles and precision bombs from American and European aircraft, including long-range stealth B-2 bombers - had succeeded in heavily degrading Gadhafi's air defenses.

But the international campaign went beyond hitting anti-aircaft sites. U.S., British and French planes blasted a line of tanks that had been moving on the rebel capital Benghazi, in the opposition-held eastern half of the country. On Sunday, at least seven demolished tanks smoldered in a field 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Benghazi, many of them with their turrets and treads blown off, alongside charred armored personnel carriers, jeeps and SUVs of the kind used by Gadhafi fighters.

"I feel like in two days max we will destroy Gadhafi," said Ezzeldin Helwani, 35, a rebel standing next to the smoldering wreckage of an armored personnel carrier, the air thick with smoke and the pungent smell of burning rubber. In a grisly sort of battle trophy, celebrating fighters hung a severed goat's head with a cigarette in its mouth from the turret of one of the gutted tanks.

The strikes that began early Sunday gave immediate, if temporary, relief to Benghazi, which the day before had been under a heavy attack that killed at least 120 people. The city's calm on Sunday highlighted the dramatic turnaround that the allied strikes bring to Libya's month-old upheaval: For the past 10 days, Gadhafi's forces had been on a triumphant offensive against the rebel-held east, driving opposition fighters back with the overwhelming firepower of tanks, artillery, warplanes and warships.

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Libya bombing called successful, but questions remain about whether it will force Gadhafi out

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. on Sunday claimed initial success two days into an assault on Libya that included some of the heaviest firepower in the American arsenal - long-range bombers designed for the Cold War - but American officials said Sunday it was too early to define the international military campaign's endgame.

The top U.S. military officer suggested that Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi might stay in power in spite of the military assault aimed at protecting civilians, calling into question the larger objective of an end to Gadhafi's erratic 42-year rule. Other top U.S. officials have suggested that a weakened and isolated Gadhafi could be ripe for a coup.

A second wave of attacks, mainly from American fighters and bombers, targeted Libyan ground forces and air defenses, following an opening barrage Saturday of sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles.

At the Pentagon, Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, staff director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news conference that the back-to-back assaults Saturday and Sunday had inflicted heavy damage. They largely silenced Gadhafi's air defenses, blunted his army's drive on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and confused his forces.

"We judge these strikes to have been very effective in significantly degrading the regime's air defense capability," Gortney said. "We believe his forces are under significant stress and suffering from both isolation and a good deal of confusion."

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Some progress reported in Japan's efforts to ease crisis at stricken nuclear plant

FUKUSHIMA, Japan (AP) - Japanese officials reported progress Sunday in their battle to gain control over a leaking, tsunami-stricken nuclear complex, though the crisis was far from over, with the discovery of more radiation-tainted vegetables and tap water adding to public fears about contaminated food and drink.

The announcement by Japan's Health Ministry late Sunday that tests had detected excess amounts of radioactive elements on canola and chrysanthemum greens marked a low moment in a day that had been peppered with bits of positive news: First, a teenager and his grandmother were found alive nine days after being trapped in their earthquake-shattered home. Then, the operator of the overheated nuclear plant said two of the six reactor units were safely cooled down.

"We consider that now we have come to a situation where we are very close to getting the situation under control," Deputy Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said.

Still, serious problems remained at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex. Pressure unexpectedly rose in a third unit's reactor, meaning plant operators may need to deliberately release radioactive steam. That has only added to public anxiety over radiation that began leaking from the plant after a monstrous earthquake and tsunami devastated northeastern Japan on March 11 and left the plant unstable.

The safety of food and water was of particular concern. The government halted shipments of spinach from one area and raw milk from another near the nuclear plant after tests found iodine exceeded safety limits. But the contamination spread to spinach in three other prefectures and to more vegetables - canola and chrysanthemum greens. Tokyo's tap water, where iodine turned up Friday, now has cesium. Rain and dust are also tainted.

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AT&T to buy T-Mobile USA for $39 billion, would make it largest US cellphone company

NEW YORK (AP) - AT&T Inc. said Sunday it will buy T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom AG in a cash-and-stock deal valued at $39 billion that would make it the largest cellphone company in the U.S.

The deal would reduce the number of wireless carriers with national coverage from four to three, and is sure to face close regulatory scrutiny. It also removes a potential partner for Sprint Nextel Corp., the struggling No. 3 carrier, which had been in talks to combine with T-Mobile USA, according to Wall Street Journal reports.

AT&T is now the country's second-largest wireless carrier and T-Mobile USA is the fourth largest. The acquisition would give AT&T 129 million subscribers, vaulting it past Verizon Wireless to make it the largest U.S. cellphone company. The combined company would serve about 43 percent of U.S. cellphones.

For T-Mobile USA's 33.7 million subscribers, the news doesn't immediately change anything. Because of the long regulatory process, AT&T expects the acquisition to take a year to close. But when and if it closes, T-Mobile USA customers would get access to AT&T's phone line-up, including the iPhone.

The effect of reduced competition in the cellphone industry is harder to fathom. Public interest group Public Knowledge said that eliminating one of the four national phone carriers would be "unthinkable."

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Yemen's president suffers devastating political blow when own tribe demands his resignation

SANAA, Yemen (AP) - The U.S.-backed president of Yemen suffered a devastating political blow on Sunday when his own powerful tribe demanded his resignation, joining religious leaders, young people and the country's traditional opposition in calls for an end to his three decades in power.

Massive crowds flooded cities and towns around the impoverished and volatile nation, screaming in grief and anger as they mourned dozens of protesters killed Friday when President Ali Abdullah Saleh's security forces opened fire from rooftops on a demonstration in the capital.

Saleh appeared to be trying to hold on, firing his entire Cabinet ahead of what one government official said was a planned mass resignation, but making no mention of stepping down himself. Yemen's ambassador to the United Nations and its human rights minister had announced their resignations earlier in the day.

Experts said that Saleh, who has cooperated closely with U.S. military operations against his country's branch of al-Qaida, had lost the support of every major power base in Yemen except the military.

Many said he would now be forced to choose between stepping down and confronting demonstrators with even deadlier force.

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Egypt: Constitutional amendments approved in final results of Egypt referendum

CAIRO (AP) - Egyptian voters overwhelmingly approved changes in the constitution, opening the way for parliamentary and presidential elections within months, according to final results from a landmark referendum announced Sunday. Opponents fear the swift timetable could boost the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood and members of the former ruling party.

The Brotherhood had campaigned heavily for a "yes" vote in the referendum. Critics say that since it and the former ruling party are the best organized political forces in the country, they stand to gain the most in an early election - which will bring in Egypt's first democratically elected government to replace the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

The results are likely to open a frenzied campaign season, with liberal pro-democracy forces scrambling to put together political parties to contest the upcoming races.

Shady Ghazali, one of the organizers of the protests that forced Mubarak out after 18 days, said the youth coalition that led the demonstrations is discussing putting forward a national list of candidates for the parliamentary elections under its name.

The parliamentary and presidential elections are key because the next legislature and government are to lead the process of wider change, including likely drawing up a new constitution. Many of those who led the wave of popular protests that ousted Mubarak on Feb. 11 want a radically new document that would break the total hold that the presidency held over government during Mubarak's rule. They worry that the Brotherhood or former ruling party could dominate the process.

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States push to make Amazon, others collect tax from online sales, but Web retailers fight back

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Tax-free shopping is under threat for many online shoppers as states facing widening budget gaps increasingly pressure Amazon.com Inc. and other Internet retailers to start collecting sales taxes from their residents.

Billions of dollars are at stake as a growing number of states look for ways to generate more revenue without violating a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibits a state from forcing businesses to collect sales taxes unless the business has a physical presence, such as a store, in that state.

States are trying to get around that restriction by passing laws that broaden the definition of a physical presence. Retailers are resisting being deputized as tax collectors.

Until recently, the Supreme Court ruling has meant that Wal-Mart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Ark., would collect taxes from shoppers in all states with sales taxes, whether those shoppers buy items on or off the Web, because it has stores nationwide.

But Amazon, based in Seattle, wouldn't collect taxes from Floridians because it doesn't have a presence there. Although in such cases, shoppers in Florida are supposed to pay the tax directly to their state, few actually do.

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Playing tourist and family guy, Obama embraces Brazil's move to democracy as example for world

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - Immersing himself in Brazil's poverty and pride, President Barack Obama on Sunday held up the South American nation as a model of democratic change in a time of uprisings and crackdowns across the Arab world and yet another war front for the United States.

From Rio's glamorous beaches to a notorious slum to an elegant theater, Obama glimpsed the city's cultural extremes and offered the kind of personal engagement that can pay political dividends for years. Less than one day after announcing U.S. military strikes against Libya's government, Obama made time to kick a soccer ball around with kids in a shantytown.

The competing stories of Obama's itinerary - a war front in Africa, an economic commitment to South America - divided his time in incongruous ways. By morning, he spoke with his security team about the international assault against Moammar Gadhafi's defenses; by night, he was to stand atop a mountain and admire Rio's world famous statue of Jesus.

Meanwhile, U.S. warplanes pounded faraway Libya.

It was all summed up by one image: Obama, adeptly juggling a soccer ball, as his aides helped him juggle his agenda.

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No. 1 seed UConn begins quest for third straight NCAA title with 75-39 rout of Hartford

STORRS, Conn. (AP) - Stefanie Dolson scored all 12 of her points in the first half to lead a balanced Connecticut offense, and the top-seeded Huskies routed Hartford 75-39 on Sunday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Maya Moore, Bria Hartley and Tiffany Hayes added 12 points each for the Huskies (33-1), who started their journey toward a third consecutive national championship. The victory was UConn's 21st straight and 82nd in a row at home, where the Huskies are hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament and giving their local fans one more weekend to see them.

Alex Hall scored 10 points to lead Hartford (17-16), which was making its sixth trip to the NCAA tournament.

It didn't take very long for UConn to take control of the game, as Dolson, a 6-foot-5 freshman center, had her way with the smaller Hawks. Their tallest player was 6-1 and it showed in the rebounding numbers, where the Huskies had a 47-23 advantage.

The Huskies will face eighth-seeded Kansas State or No. 9 Purdue on Tuesday night.

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Hip-hop singer Wyclef Jean says he was grazed by bullet when stepping out of car in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - Musician Wyclef Jean said Sunday that a bullet grazed his hand as he stepped out of a car to make a telephone call, but he said he was only slightly injured.

Jean, who has been in Haiti helping the presidential campaign of his friend and fellow musician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, said the bullet grazed him late Saturday night as he stepped out of his car in the Delmas section of the capital, Port-au-Prince, to make a call on his cellphone.

"The way I can explain it is that the bullet grazed me in my right hand," Jean told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "I heard blow, blow, blow and I just looked at my hand."

Jean, who was with a driver and the Haitian hip-hop singer FanFan at the time, said he doesn't know who fired the shots, or whether they were directed at him.

He said he got out of the car to have a private conversation that FanFan would not overhear. He heard the shots and looked down to see blood on his shirt and sneakers.

© 2011 The Associated Press