International news briefs

Establishment vs. outsiders as voters in Ariz., Alaska head to primary polls in Tuesday’s primaries

Number of US troops in Iraq now below 50,000 figure mandated by Obama, lowest since invasion

BAGHDAD (AP) _ The number of U.S. troops in Iraq has fallen below 50,000 for the first time since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and ahead of the end-of-the-month deadline mandated by President Barack Obama, the American military said in a statement Tuesday.

The number is a watershed in the more than seven years that the United States has been at war in Iraq. Under Obama’s plan, American forces will no longer conduct combat operations but are instead to train Iraqi troops and help with counterterrorism operations _ if asked for by the Iraqis.

“Today, in line with President Obama’s direction and as part of the responsible drawdown of forces, U.S. military force levels in Iraq are below 50,000,” the statement read.

“U.S. military forces will transition to Operation New Dawn, effective Sept. 1, 2010,” it added, referring to the change in operation name from Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the commanding general in Iraq, told reporters Tuesday that 49,700 troops are currently in Iraq and that the number would remain level through next summer.

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2nd bore hole for communications reaches 33 trapped miners, ventilation shaft nearly there

COPIAPO, Chile (AP) _ Rescuers are lowering capsules containing rehydration tablets, glucose and oxygen down a long hole to 33 miners who surprised the world by staying alive while trapped a half-mile underground for 21/2 weeks.

Raising hopes further Monday, a second bore hole punched into the chamber where the miners are entombed and a third probe was nearing the spot, Mining Minister Laurence Golborne reported.

The hole that reached the miners Sunday will continue to be used to lower supplies, the second will be for communication and the third will provide ventilation, Golborne said.

Their ordeal, however, is far from over.

Above ground, doctors and psychological experts are debating how to keep them sane during the estimated four months it will take to dig a tunnel wide enough to get them out of the safety chamber 2,200 feet (670 meters) underground where they have been buried since Aug. 5.

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Establishment vs. outsiders as voters in Ariz., Alaska head to primary polls

WASHINGTON (AP) _ It’s the political establishment vs. the outsiders in Tuesday’s primaries. And the establishment has the better odds.

Republican Sens. John McCain and Lisa Murkowski were poised to win bitter primaries in Arizona and Alaska against tea-party-backed candidates.

In Florida, boatloads of cash may not be enough to propel former health care executive Rick Scott and real estate businessman Jeff Greene to victory in gubernatorial and Senate primaries.

“I think the voters have figured out that no matter how much money some guy spends, just because he’s wealthy and can run ads that slam the other guy doesn’t make him the right person to govern Florida,” said state Attorney General Bill McCollum, who is locked in a bruising Republican gubernatorial campaign against Scott.

Scott has spent almost $39 million of his own money on the campaign and for months has blanketed the state with his commercials, most attacking McCollum.

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China demands answers after 8 Hong Kong tourists killed in Philippine bus hijacking

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ China demanded answers Tuesday from the Philippines after a 12-hour hostage drama in the heart of Manila ended with eight Hong Kong tourists dead along with their Filipino hostage-taker after a day of botched negotiations.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said his government was “appalled” and telephoned his Philippine counterpart Alberto Romulo to voice concern, while Hong Kong residents expressed outrage and media outlets in the Chinese territory denounced Philippine police as incompetent.

Dismissed policeman Rolando Mendoza, 55, was armed with a M16 rifle and a pistol when he seized the busload of 21 Hong Kong tourists and four locals to demand his reinstatement on the force. The ordeal ended in bloodshed on live TV with police storming the bus and killing the gunman after he fired at the tourists, killing eight of them.

“The Chinese government demands the Philippine government launch a thorough investigation into the incident and inform the Chinese side of related details as soon as possible,” Yang said, according to a statement posted on his ministry’s website.

At the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong, a wealthy former British colony unaccustomed to violence, several dozen protesters chanted: “Strongly condemn the Philippine government for being careless about human life!”

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AP IMPACT: Katrina recovery a tale of SBA delays, rejections, ‘things that were wrong’

CHALMETTE, La. (AP) _ Five years after Hurricane Katrina, Jay Young is still haunted by the desperate voices on the other end of the telephone crying and begging for help.

As a loan officer for a federal agency that was supposed to help homeowners and businesses get back on their feet, he had high expectations he could make a difference. But he recalls how he was forced to turn away many qualified applicants because of what he says was pressure from his supervisors to close files quickly.

Karen Bazile remembers having high hopes, too, when she applied for a loan from the same agency, the Small Business Administration, to rebuild her home in the New Orleans suburb of Chalmette. While she ultimately got the money, she quickly lost faith as she struggled with different loan officers who misplaced her paperwork and told her she had only 48 hours to find and fax critical documents or her application would be canceled.

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Supporters say church destroyed on 9/11 is being ignored in furor over mosque near ground zero

NEW YORK (AP) _ Supporters of a Greek Orthodox church destroyed on Sept. 11 say officials willing to speak out about a planned community center and mosque near ground zero have been silent on efforts to get the church rebuilt.

But the World Trade Center site’s owner says a deal to help rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was offered and rejected, after years of negotiations, over money and other issues.

Though the projects are not related, supporters _ including George Pataki, New York’s governor at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks _ have questioned why public officials have not addressed St. Nicholas’ future while they lead a debate on whether and where the Islamic cultural center should be built.

“What about us? Why have they forgotten or abandoned their commitment to us?” asked Father Alex Karloutsos, assistant to the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. “When I see them raising issues about the mosque and not thinking about the church that was destroyed, it does bother us.”

In an effort to deal with the furor over the planned location of the Islamic center, Gov. David Paterson has suggested that state land farther away from ground zero be used. He was scheduled to meet with New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan on Tuesday to discuss the Park51 project, which is planned for two blocks north of the 16-acre World Trade Center site.

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Honolulu’s long-standing trash woes grow worse as plan to ship garbage to Washington falters

HONOLULU (AP) _ Gigantic piles of shrink-wrapped garbage have been moldering in the heat of a Hawaii industrial park for more than five months, waiting for a place to be shipped.

That wait appeared to end Monday when city officials inked a deal to dispose of the 40 million-pound pile of odious rubbish over the next six months by mostly burning it in an existing waste-to-power plant.

But bigger problems remain for Honolulu as the state’s largest city struggles to find a home for all its waste.

Honolulu’s lone dump is filling up fast and its plan to ship trash to Washington state has faltered.

But the city produces nearly 1.6 million tons a year, and though it will burn more in a couple of years, it still will have to site a new landfill soon after.

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CAPITAL CULTURE: Obama official driving push for expansion of electric vehicles

WASHINGTON (AP) _ David Sandalow starts his five-mile commute each day by unplugging an orange extension cord connecting his Toyota Prius hybrid to an outlet in his brick carport.

His Prius, which was converted two years ago to allow him to recharge the battery from an electric outlet, gets more than 80 miles per gallon and lets him drive 30 miles on a single charge. He fills up his car with gasoline about once every month or two, an oddity in a transportation sector long dominated by the internal combustion engine.

“If you’re thirsty, you can get a Diet Coke or orange juice or water. If you’re hungry you can get a hamburger or hot dog or a fruit plate. If you want to drive someplace, you only have one choice. You can use gasoline or petroleum-based products,” says Sandalow, the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for policy and international affairs. “That doesn’t seem strange to us … but it’s odd. It’s strange that we are utterly dependent on this one fuel source for mobility.”

If American consumers begin to shift to electric cars this decade, Sandalow will be one of the government’s driving forces behind the change. Crafting policy from the vantage point of an electric car driver himself, the former Brookings Institution scholar has helped shape the Obama administration’s ambitious plan to pump billions of dollars into partnerships aimed at developing cars running on electric power, creating an advanced battery industry and helping communities prepare for the transition.

President Barack Obama has pledged to bring 1 million plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to U.S. highways by 2015, and turned to the nascent battery industry as one of the hallmarks of his economic recovery plan. Electric vehicles built by General Motors and Nissan are arriving in showrooms later this year and every major auto manufacturer is working on an electric strategy, encouraged by federal funding and tax incentives.

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22-year-old Miss Universe quickly embraces role as ambassador for native Mexico

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ From flags to Facebook, 22-year-old Jimena Navarrete has quickly made it clear what she plans to promote as the world’s newest Miss Universe _ her home country of Mexico.

“I want the whole world to know about my country and my people,” the Guadalajara native said after beating 82 competitors for global bragging rights at the pageant in Las Vegas.

“I imagine that they’re all going crazy in Mexico right now,” she said through an interpreter. “I’m extremely proud and I’m sure they’re very proud, too.”

She donned a flowing red dress, strutted confidently in a violet bikini, and said onstage that the Internet is indispensable and requires parents to impart family values.

The model-turned pageant queen then posed for pictures with a Mexican flag and Mexico’s last Miss Universe as congratulations from her countrymen came pouring in.

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9 months after Tiger Woods caught in adultery, his marriage ends in divorce

Divorced. Single dad. Golf game still to be determined.

And so, after nine months of turmoil over his extramarital affairs, now begins the next chapter in the life and times of Tiger Woods.

In a hearing that lasted no more than 10 minutes in a Florida judge’s chambers, Woods and his Swedish-born wife officially divorced Monday.

“We are sad that our marriage is over and we wish each other the very best for the future,” Woods and Elin Nordegren said in a joint statement released by their lawyers.

The divorce was granted shortly after 2 p.m. in Bay County Circuit Court in Panama City, Fla., about 375 miles from their Isleworth home outside Orlando, where Woods drove his SUV over a fire hydrant and into a tree on Thanksgiving night. That set off shocking revelations that sports’ biggest star had been cheating on his wife through multiple affairs.

Woods’ life and golf game have been in disarray ever since.

He and Nordegren were married Oct. 5, 2004, in Barbados and have a 3-year-old daughter, Sam, and an 18-month-old son, Charlie.

Terms of the divorce _ such as how much it will cost Woods _ were not disclosed. They said only that they will “share parenting” of their two children.

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