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AP News in Brief

The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 6:31 AM

-- Rebels try to save city under Gadhafi siege; US warns allied strikes could end in stalemate

ZWITINA, Libya (AP) - Coalition forces bombarded Libya for a third straight night, targeting the air defenses and forces of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, stopping his advances and handing some momentum back to the rebels, who were on the verge of defeat just last week.

But the rebellion's more organized military units were still not ready, and the opposition disarray underscored U.S. warnings that a long stalemate could emerge.

The air campaign by U.S. and European militaries has unquestionably rearranged the map in Libya and rescued rebels from the immediate threat they faced only days ago of being crushed under a powerful advance by Gadhafi's forces. The first round of airstrikes smashed a column of regime tanks that had been moving on the rebel capital of Benghazi in the east.

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, appeared deeply reluctant to go beyond that toward actively helping the rebel cause to oust the Libyan leader.

President Barack Obama said Monday that "it is U.S. policy that Gadhafi has to go." But, he said, the international air campaign has a more limited goal, to protect civilians.

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Rate of coalition attacks on Libya is slowing; officials say US role to lessen in coming days

WASHINGTON (AP) - Building on what U.S. officials called a successful first stage of international military action in Libya, the focus is shifting to widening a no-fly zone across the North African country while continuing smaller-scale attacks on Libyan air defenses and setting the stage for a humanitarian relief mission.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others said the U.S. military's role will lessen in coming days as other countries take on more missions and the need declines for large-scale offensive action like the barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles fired Saturday and Sunday mainly by U.S. ships and submarines off Libya's coast.

A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss classified data, said Monday the attacks thus far had reduced Libya's air defense capabilities by more than 50 percent. That has enabled the coalition to focus more on extending the no-fly zone, which is now mainly over the coastal waters off Libya and around the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east, across the country to the Tripoli area this week.

Discord was evident Monday in Europe over whether the military operation should be controlled by NATO. Turkey blocked the alliance's participation, while Italy issued a veiled threat to withdraw the use of its bases unless the alliance was put in charge. Germany also questioned the wisdom of the operation, and Russia's Vladimir Putin railed against the U.N.-backed airstrikes as outside meddling "reminiscent of a medieval call for a crusade."

In his first public comments on the crisis, Army Gen. Carter Ham, the lead U.S. commander, said it was possible that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi might manage to retain power.

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Anxiety, weariness burbles among evacuees as Japan nuke plant storage pool boils

FUKUSHIMA, Japan (AP) - Weariness and anxiety percolated Tuesday among people who left their homes near Japan's radiation-shedding nuclear complex as workers tried urgently to cool an overheated storage pool and methodically to reconnect critical cooling systems.

In another day of progress and setbacks, a pool holding spent nuclear fuel heated up to around the boiling point, a nuclear safety official said. With water bubbling away, there is a risk that more radioactive steam could spew out. "We cannot leave this alone and we must take care of it as quickly as possible," said the official, Hidehiko Nishiyama.

It wasn't clear if crews had to retreat to stop work hooking up electrical systems and checking machinery to power up cooling systems.

People at Fukushima city's main evacuation center waited in long lines for bowls of hot noodle soup. A truck delivered toilet paper and blankets. Many among the 1,400 people living in the crowded gymnasium came from communities near the nuclear plant and worry about radiation and weary of the daily routine of the displaced.

"It was an act of God," said Yoshihiro Amano, a grocery store owner whose house is 4 miles (6 kilometers) from the reactors. "It won't help anything to get angry. But we are worried. We don't know if it will takes days, months or decades to go home. Maybe never. We are just starting to be able to think ahead to that."

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With Yemen crumbling, US sees fragile counterterrorism ally fading, and few good options ahead

WASHINGTON (AP) - For two years, the Obama administration has had a relationship of convenience with Yemen: The U.S. kept the Yemeni government armed and flush with cash. In return, Yemen's leaders helped fight al-Qaida or, as often, looked the other way while the U.S. did.

That relationship is about to get a lot less convenient.

Of all the uprisings and protests that have swept the Middle East this year, none is more likely than Yemen to have immediate damaging effects on U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Yemen is home to al-Qaida's most active franchise, and as President Ali Abdullah Saleh's government crumbles, so does Washington's influence there.

Saleh's 32-year hold on power has weakened during street protests over the past month. Several foreign diplomats have turned against him. On Monday, three senior army commanders joined a protest movement calling for his ouster, and as rival tanks rolled through the streets of the capital, current and former government officials and analysts said Saleh's days appeared to be numbered.

"In the counterterrorism area, it will be a great loss," said Wayne White, a former senior State Department intelligence analyst.

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Yemen's leader says he is ready to step down by year-end, vows not to hand power to military

SANAA, Yemen (AP) - A spokesman for President Ali Abdullah Saleh says the Yemeni leader is willing to step down by the end of the year as part of a "constitutional" transfer of power.

Ahmed al-Sufi told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Saleh informed senior Yemeni officials, military commanders and tribal leaders of his intention in meetings on Monday night.

He said the president also vowed never to hand over power to the military.

Saleh's comments are a reversal of his rejection earlier this month of an opposition proposal demanding his resignation by the year's end.

It is not clear whether the opposition movement calling for Saleh's ouster will accept his latest offer, especially after his security forces shot dead more than 40 protesters on Friday.

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Gaza's Hamas rulers and teachers protest UN plans to teach Holocaust in territory's schools

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - The United Nations has launched a new plan to teach the Holocaust in Gaza schools, drawing fierce condemnation from Gaza's militant Hamas rulers, school teachers - and even the body tasked with peace negotiations with Israel.

If implemented, it would be the first time most Palestinian children learn about Jewish suffering. But the outcry underscores how sensitive the issue is to Palestinians.

"Playing with the education of our children in the Gaza Strip is a red line," Hamas Education Minister, Mohammed Asqoul told a website of the group. He said Hamas will block attempts to teach the Holocaust "regardless of the price."

The uproar erupted after a U.N. official told a Jordanian daily in February that UNRWA, the main U.N. agency serving Palestinian refugees, would introduce a short case study about the Holocaust to Gaza students as part of its human rights curriculum.

"Instead of pre-emptive accusations, it is important for Palestinians ... to fully understand the tragedies and suffering that happened to all people through generations, without divvying up facts and taking things out of context," the official, Sami Mushasha, was quoted as saying.

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100 years after Triangle fire killed 146 in NYC and galvanized labor, the horror resonates

NEW YORK (AP) - It was a warm spring Saturday when dozens of immigrant girls and women leapt to their deaths - some with their clothes on fire, some holding hands - as horrified onlookers watched the Triangle Shirtwaist factory burn.

The March 25, 1911, fire that killed 146 workers became a touchstone for the organized labor movement, spurred laws that required fire drills and shed light on the lives of young immigrant workers near the turn of the century.

The 100th anniversary comes as public workers in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere protest efforts to limit collective bargaining rights in response to state budget woes. Labor leaders and others say one need only look to the Triangle fire to see why unions are crucial.

"This is a story that needs to be told and retold," said Cecilia Rubino, the writer-director of "From the Fire," an oratorio inspired by the Triangle fire. "We don't have that many moments in our history where you see so clearly the gears of history shift."

To mark the centennial, hundreds of theatrical performances, museum exhibits, lectures, poetry readings, rallies and panel discussions are taking place nationwide. Two documentaries have aired on TV; PBS' "Triangle Fire" premiered Feb. 28 and HBO's "Triangle: Remembering the Fire" on Monday.

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A perfect GOP presidential candidate is hard to find; personal missteps, policy flaws abound

WASHINGTON (AP) - Mitt Romney is the godfather of what Republican critics call Obamacare. Newt Gingrich is an adulterer on his third marriage. Tim Pawlenty is too green - environmentally, that is.

Jon Huntsman worked for President Barack Obama. And Haley Barbour has come off as dismissive of racial segregation.

Is any potential Republican presidential nominee without vulnerabilities that could alienate voters, especially those in the GOP primaries, and provide ready-made attacks for opponents?

Not in this crop.

The 2012 Republican field is deeply flawed, lacking a serious GOP contender without a personal misstep or policy move that angers the party base. Each of those weighing bids has at least one issue that looms as an obstacle to White House ambitions, and that could derail the candidate if not handled with care.

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Ralph Macchio on top, Mike Catherwood finishes last as `Dancing' begins its 12th season

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The 12th season of "Dancing With the Stars" is under way.

The hit ABC show began its latest season with performances by its new cast of 11 stars. Actor Ralph Macchio was the night's top scorer with 24 points out of 30. Kirstie Alley came in second place with 23 points.

Radio host Mike Catherwood finished last with 13 points. Talk-show host Wendy Williams did one point better.

The other contestants are actress Chelsea Kane, singer Romeo, reality star Kendra Wilkinson, model Petra Nemcova and athletes Sugar Ray Leonard, Hines Ward and Chris Jericho.

All will dance again on March 28. One contestant will be eliminated from the show on March 29.

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Opening statements set for Tuesday after jury selected in Bonds perjury trial

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Now that a jury has been selected in the Barry Bonds perjury trial, the prosecutors and the slugger's lawyers are scheduled Tuesday to deliver opening statements.

Both sides spent five hours Monday picking a jury of eight women and four men with two women alternates. The jurors were excused Monday afternoon without hearing testimony, which will begin after opening statements.

Along with the swearing in of the jury and opening statements, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston is expected to send the jurors out of the courtroom Tuesday so she can send Bonds' former personal trainer Greg Anderson to jail.

Illston told Anderson on March 1 that she plans to have him kept in custody for the length of the trial if he follows through as expected on his vow of silence. Anderson's attorney, Mark Geragos, said he will argue that Anderson can't be jailed on contempt charges because he already served a little more than a year on similar charges after refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating Bonds.

After she dispenses with Anderson, the jury will be seated and instructed on how to consider evidence during the two-to-four week trial. They will also be admonished from discussing the case outside of court.

© 2011 The Associated Press