Fans injured when car sails into fence at Daytona


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — At least 33 fans were injured Saturday during a NASCAR race when a car flew into the fence at Daytona International Speedway, hurling a tire and large pieces of debris into the stands.


The accident happened on the last lap of the second-tier Nationwide Series race on the eve of Sunday's Daytona 500, which officials said would go on as scheduled.


The crash began as the field approached the checkered flag and leader Regan Smith attempted to block Brad Keselowski to preserve the win. That triggered a chain reaction, and rookie Kyle Larson hit the cars in front of him and went airborne into the fence.


The entire front end was sheared off Larson's car, and his burning engine wedged through a gaping hole in the fence. Chunks of debris from the car were thrown into the stands, including a tire that cleared the top of the fence and landed midway up the spectator section closest to the track.


The 20-year-old Larson stood in shock several yards away from his car as fans in the stands waived frantically for help. Smoke from the burning engine briefly clouded the area, and emergency vehicles descended on the scene.


Ambulance sirens could be heard wailing behind the grandstands at a time the race winner would typically be doing celebratory burnouts.


"It was freaky. When I looked to my right, the accident happened," said Rick Harpster of Orange Park, Fla., who had a bird's-eye view of the wreck. "I looked over and I saw a tire fly straight over the fence into the stands, but after that I didn't see anything else That was the worst thing I have seen, seeing that tire fly into the stands. I knew it was going to be severe."


Shannan Devine, of Egg Harbor Township, N.J., was sitting about 250 feet away from where the car smashed into the fence and could see plumes of smoke directly in front of her.


"I didn't know if there was a car on top of people. I didn't know what to think. I'm an emotional person and I immediately started to cry. It was very scary. Absolutely scary. I love the speed of the sport. But it's so dangerous," said Devine who was planning to attend her second Daytona 500.


She said many fans got in the way of rescue efforts by trying to take pictures and videos, even jumping over fencing in hopes of getting closer to the scene.


Shannon Speedway President Joie Chitwood said 14 fans were treated on site, and 14 others were taken to hospitals. Chitwood didn't give any updates on their conditions. Local officials said 19 fans were taken to neighboring hospitals, including two who were in critical condition but were later upgraded to stable.


The accident happened the day before the Sprint Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500 — NASCAR's version of the Super Bowl. Daytona workers could be seen repairing the large section of fence where Larson hit, as well as the wall that was damaged in the accident.


"First and foremost our thoughts and prayers are with our race fans," Chitwood said. "Following the incident we responded appropriately according to our safety protocols, and had emergency medical personnel at the incident immediately.


"We're in the process of repairing the facility and will be ready to go racing tomorrow."


As emergency workers tended to injured fans and ambulance sirens wailed in the background, a somber Tony Stewart skipped the traditional post-race victory celebration.


Stewart, who won for the 19th time at Daytona and seventh time in the last nine season-opening Nationwide races, was in no mood to celebrate.


"The important thing is what is going on on the frontstretch right now," said Stewart, the three-time NASCAR champion. "We've always known, and since racing started, this is a dangerous sport. But it's hard. We assume that risk, but it's hard when the fans get caught up in it.


"So as much as we want to celebrate right now and as much as this is a big deal to us, I'm more worried about the drivers and the fans that are in the stands right now because that was ... I could see it all in my mirror, and it didn't look good from where I was at."


The accident spread into the upper deck and emergency crews treated fans on both levels. There were five stretchers that appeared to be carrying fans out, and a helicopter flew overhead. A forklift was used to pluck Larson's engine out of the fence.


"It's a violent wreck. Just seeing the carnage on the racetrack, it's truly unbelievable," driver Justin Allgaier said.


It was a chaotic finish to a race that was stopped for nearly 20 minutes five laps from the finish by a 13-car accident that sent driver Michael Annett to a hospital, where his Richard Petty Motorsports team said he would be held overnight with bruising to his chest.


The race resumed with three laps to go, and the final accident occurred with Smith trying to hold off Keselowski through the final turn.


"I tried to throw a block. It's Daytona, you want to go for the win here," Smith said. "I don't know how you can play it any different other than concede second place, and I wasn't willing to do that today. Our job is to put them in position to win, and it was, and it didn't work out."


As the cars began wrecking all around Smith and Keselowski, Stewart slid through for the win, but Larson plowed into Keselowski and his car was sent airborne into the stands. When Larson's car came to a stop, it was missing its entire front end. The 20-year-old, who made his Daytona debut this week, stood apparently stunned, hands on his hips, several feet away from his car, before finally making the mandatory trip to the care center.


He said his first thought was with the fans.


"I hope all the fans are OK and all the drivers are all right," Larson said. "I took a couple big hits there and saw my engine was gone. Just hope everybody's all right."


He said he was along for the ride in the last-lap accident.


"I was getting pushed from behind, I felt like, and by the time my spotter said lift or go low, it was too late," Larson said. "I was in the wreck and then felt like it was slowing down and I looked like I could see the ground. Had some flames come in the cockpit, but luckily I was all right and could get out of the car quick."


It appeared fans were lined right along the fence when Larson's car sailed up and into it, but Chitwood indicated there was a buffer. He said there would be no changes to the seating before the Daytona 500.


"We don't anticipate moving any of our fans," Chitwood said. "We had our safety protocols in place. Our security maintained a buffer that separates the fans from the fencing area. With the fencing being prepared tonight to our safety protocols, we expect to go racing tomorrow with no changes."


Larson's car appeared to hit where the cross-over gate — a section that can be opened for people to travel back and forth from the infield to the grandstands — is located in the fence. Previous accidents in which drivers hit crossover gates were severe, but the gates were in the wall and not the fence for Mike Harmon's accident at Bristol in 2002 and Michael Waltrip's at the same track in 1990.


Still, NASCAR senior vice president Steve O'Donnell said it would be studied.


"I think we look at this after every incident," O'Donnell said. "We've learned in the past certain protocols put in place today are a result of prior incidents. Again, our initial evaluation is still ongoing. But it's certainly something we'll look at. If we can improve upon it, we'll certainly put that in play as soon as we can."


Larson had been scheduled to race his sprint car later Saturday night in Ocala, Fla., and even seemed restless to get there during the late stages of the Nationwide race. He pulled out of the event following the accident.


"Honestly, the race itself pales in comparison to the injuries sustained by the fans," said Chip Ganassi, the team owner who has Larson in his driver development program. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the fans that were injured as a result of the crash. As for Kyle, I am very happy that he is OK."


Keselowski watched a replay of the final accident, and said his first thoughts were with the fans. As for the accident, he agreed he tried to make a winning move and Smith tried to block.


"He felt like that's what he had to do, and that's his right. The chaos comes with it," Keselowski said. "I made the move and he blocked it, and the two of us got together and started the chain events that caused that wreck. First and foremost, just want to make sure everyone in the stands is OK and we're thinking about them."


Keselowski said the incident could cast a pall on the Daytona 500.


"I think until we know exactly the statuses of everyone involved, it's hard to lock yourself into the 500," Keselowski said. "Hopefully, we'll know soon and hopefully everyone's OK. And if that's the case, we'll staring focusing on Sunday."


___


AP Sports Writers Dan Gelston and Jerome Minerva in Daytona Beach and Associated Press writer Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.


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Analysis: Italian election explained











Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader








STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Silvio Berlusconi is campaigning to win his old job back for the fourth time

  • The eurozone's third largest economy is hurting, with unemployment surpassing 11%

  • Pier Luigi Bersani of the center-left Democratic Party is expected to narrowly win

  • Italy's political system encourages the forming of alliances




(CNN) -- Little more than a year after he resigned in disgrace as prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi is campaigning to win his old job back -- for the fourth time.


Berlusconi, the septuagenarian playboy billionaire nicknamed "Il Cavaliere," has been trailing in polls behind his center-left rival, Per Luigi Bersani.


But the controversial media tycoon's rise in the polls in recent weeks, combined with widespread public disillusionment and the quirks of Italy's complex electoral system, means that nothing about the race is a foregone conclusion.


Why have the elections been called now?


Italian parliamentarians are elected for five-year terms, with the current one due to end in April. However in December, Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party (PdL) withdrew its support from the reformist government led by Mario Monti, saying it was pursuing policies that "were too German-centric." Monti subsequently resigned and the parliament was dissolved.






Berlusconi -- the country's longest serving post-war leader -- had resigned the prime ministerial office himself amidst a parliamentary revolt in November 2011. He left at a time of personal and national crisis, as Italy grappled with sovereign debt problems and Berlusconi faced criminal charges of tax fraud, for which he was subsequently convicted. He remains free pending an appeal. He was also embroiled in a scandal involving a young nightclub dancer - which led him to be charged with paying for sex with an underage prostitute.


MORE: From Venice to bunga bunga: Italy in coma


He was replaced by Monti, a respected economist and former European Commissioner, who was invited by Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano to lead a cabinet of unelected technocrats. Monti's government implemented a program of tax rises and austerity measures in an attempt to resolve Italy's economic crisis.


Who are the candidates?


The election is a four-horse race between political coalitions led by Bersani, Berlusconi, Monti, and the anti-establishment movement led by ex-comedian Beppe Grillo. Polls are banned within two weeks of election day, but the most recent ones had Bersani holding onto a slender lead over Berlusconi, followed by Grillo in distant third.


READ MORE: Will Monte Paschi banking scandal throw open Italy's election race?


The center-left alliance is dominated by the Democratic Party, led by Bersani. He is a former Minister of Economic Development in Romano Prodi's government from 2006-8 -- and has held a comfortable lead in polls, but that appears to be gradually being eroded by Berlusconi.


Italy's political system encourages the forming of alliances, and the Democratic Party has teamed with the more left-wing Left Ecology Freedom party.


The 61-year-old Bersani comes across as "bluff and homespun, and that's part of his appeal -- or not, depending on your point of view," said political analyst James Walston, department chair of international relations at the American University of Rome.


He described Bersani, a former communist, as a "revised apparatchik," saying the reform-minded socialist was paradoxically "far more of a free marketeer than even people on the right."


Bersani has vowed to continue with Monti's austerity measures and reforms, albeit with some adjustments, if he wins.


At second place in the polls is the center-right alliance led by Berlusconi's PdL, in coalition with the right-wing, anti-immigration Northern League.


Berlusconi has given conflicting signals as to whether he is running for the premiership, indicating that he would seek the job if his coalition won, but contradicting that on other occasions.


In a recent speech, he proposed himself as Economy and Industry Minister, and the PdL Secretary Angelino Alfano as prime minister.


Roberto Maroni, leader of the Northern League, has said the possibility of Berlusconi becoming prime minister is explicitly ruled out by the electoral pact between the parties, but the former premier has repeatedly said he plays to win, and observers believe he is unlikely to pass up the chance to lead the country again if the opportunity presents itself.


Berlusconi has been campaigning as a Milan court weighs his appeal against a tax fraud conviction, for which he was sentenced to four years in jail last year. The verdict will be delivered after the elections; however, under the Italian legal system, he is entitled to a further appeal in a higher court. Because the case dates to July 2006, the statute of limitations will expire this year, meaning there is a good chance none of the defendants will serve any prison time.


He is also facing charges in the prostitution case (and that he tried to pull strings to get her out of jail when she was accused of theft) -- and in a third case stands accused of revealing confidential court information relating to an investigation into a bank scandal in 2005.


Despite all this, he retains strong political support from his base.


"Italy is a very forgiving society, it's partly to do with Roman Catholicism," said Walston. "There's sort of a 'live and let live' idea."


Monti, the country's 69-year-old technocrat prime minister, who had never been a politician before he was appointed to lead the government, has entered the fray to lead a centrist coalition committed to continuing his reforms. The alliance includes Monti's Civic Choice for Monti, the Christian Democrats and a smaller centre-right party, Future and Freedom for Italy.


As a "senator for life," Monti is guaranteed a seat in the senate and does not need to run for election himself, but he is hitting the hustings on behalf of his party.


In a climate of widespread public disillusionment with politics, comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo is also making gains by capturing the protest vote with his Five Star Movement. Grillo has railed against big business and the corruption of Italy's political establishment, and holds broadly euro-skeptical and pro-environmental positions.


How will the election be conducted?


Italy has a bicameral legislature and a voting system which even many Italians say they find confusing.


Voters will be electing 315 members of the Senate, and 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies. Both houses hold the same powers, although the Senate is referred to as the upper house.


Under the country's closed-list proportional representation system, each party submits ranked lists of its candidates, and is awarded seats according to the proportion of votes won -- provided it passes a minimum threshold of support.


Seats in the Chamber of Deputies are on a national basis, while seats in the senate are allocated on a regional one.


The party with the most votes are awarded a premium of bonus seats to give them a working majority.


The prime minister needs the support of both houses to govern.


Who is likely to be the next prime minister?


On current polling, Bersani's bloc looks the likely victor in the Chamber of Deputies. But even if he maintains his lead in polls, he could fall short of winning the Senate, because of the rules distributing seats in that house on a regional basis.


Crucial to victory in the Senate is winning the region of Lombardy, the industrial powerhouse of the north of Italy which generates a fifth of the country's wealth and is a traditional support base for Berlusconi. Often compared to the U.S. state of Ohio for the "kingmaker" role it plays in elections, Lombardy has more Senate seats than any other region.


If no bloc succeeds in controlling both houses, the horse-trading begins in search of a broader coalition.


Walston said that a coalition government between the blocs led by Bersani and Monti seemed "almost inevitable," barring something "peculiar" happening in the final stages of the election campaign.


Berlusconi, he predicted, would "get enough votes to cause trouble."


What are the main issues?


There's only really one issue on the agenda at this election.


The eurozone's third largest economy is hurting, with unemployment surpassing 11% -- and hitting 37% for young people.


Voters are weighing the question of whether to continue taking Monti's bitter medicine of higher taxation and austerity measures, while a contentious property tax is also proving a subject of vexed debate.


Walston said the dilemma facing Italians was deciding between "who's going to look after the country better, or who's going to look after my pocket better."


He said it appeared voters held far greater confidence in the ability of Monti and Bersani to fix the economy, while those swayed by appeals to their own finances may be more likely to support Berlusconi.


But he said it appeared that few undecided voters had any faith in Berlusconi's ability to follow through on his pledges, including a recent promise to reverse the property tax.


What are the ramifications of the election for Europe and the wider world?


Improving the fortunes of the world's eighth largest economy is in the interests of Europe, and in turn the global economy.


Italy's woes have alarmed foreign investors. However, financial commentator Nicholas Spiro, managing director of consultancy Spiro Sovereign Strategy, says the European Central Bank's bond-buying program has gone a long way to mitigating investors' concerns about the instability of Italian politics.


Why is political instability so endemic to Italy?


Italy has had more than 60 governments since World War II -- in large part as a by-product of a system designed to prevent the rise of another dictator.


Parties can be formed and make their way on to the political main stage with relative ease -- as witnessed by the rise of Grillo's Five Star Movement, the protest party which was formed in 2009 but in local and regional elections has even outshone Berlusoni's party at times.


Others point to enduringly strong regional identities as part of the recipe for the country's political fluidity.


READ MORE: Italian Elections 2013: Fame di sapere (hunger for knowledge)







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At least 28 hurt in crash at Daytona Speedway

Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood and NASCAR's Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Steve O'Donnell discuss the crash during the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday. Twenty-eight fans were injured in the race.









DAYTONA BEACH – More than two dozen people in the stands were injured at Daytona International Speedway when a multicar accident sent wreckage into the safety fence in front of the grandstand Saturday afternoon, authorities said.


The accident came on the final lap of the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300.


Fourteen people were taken to hospitals. Another 14 were treated at the track, officials said.








Volusia County emergency responders transported eight race fans, six of which were trauma level patients with serious injuries, said Volusia County government spokesman Dave Byron.


Six were sent to Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, one was taken to Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center in Daytona Beach and one to Halifax Health Medical Center of Port Orange. It's not clear where the other six were taken, nor were their conditions released.


As drivers jockeyed for position on the final lap, a number of cars made contact. Kyle Larson's' car was sheared in half as cars spun out of control.


"We saw a tire and debris go into the crowd," said race fan Bryon Gifford of Orlando, who had seats along the front stretch. "There was chaos everywhere."


As drivers jockeyed for position on the final lap, a number of cars made contact. Kyle Larson's' car was sheared in half as cars spun out of control..


His engine caught fire and ended up in front of fans along the front stretch after the car tore through the catch fence that's designed to protect fans in case of accidents. The debris splattered, hitting a spectator 45 rows up in the stands at Daytona International Speedway. Other car parts, included a tire, also flew into the stands.


"I know I took a couple of big hits there and saw my engine was gone," Larson said.


Tony Stewart raced through the carnage to win the race.


"The important thing is what's going on the front stretch right now," he said."We've always known since racing was started this is a dangerous sport. But it's hard. We assume that risk. It's hard when the fans get caught up in it.


"As much as we want to celebrate right now, as much as this is a big deal to us, I'm more worried about the drivers and fans in the stands right now. I could see it all in the mirror and it didn't look good from where I was, either."


Although no driver was seriously hurt, the condition of the fans was still being assessed.


"You've been able to see and explain," said Mike Helton, NASCAR President on the ESPN broadcast following the race. "There was some intrusion into the fence, and there were plenty of emergency workers ready to go and jumped right into it quickly."


"They are moving folks into the care center and Halifax Medical Center."


Driver Michael Annett was transported to Halifax Medical Center after his car slammed into the SAFER barrier head on during an earlier incident during the race.


NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said the damage to the stands will be reviewed in time for the running of the 55th Daytona 500 Sunday afternoon.


Sentinel staff writers Susan Jacobson and Arelis R. Hernández contributed to this report. Read George Diaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego or e-mail him at gdiaz@orlandosentinel.com



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Italians head to polls in crucial vote for euro zone


ROME (Reuters) - Italians vote on Sunday in one of the most closely watched elections in years with markets nervous about whether it will produce a strong government to pull Italy out of recession and help resolve the euro zone debt crisis.


A huge final rally by anti-establishment-comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo on Friday before a campaigning ban kicked in has highlighted public anger at traditional parties and added to uncertainty about the election outcome.


Polling booths will open between 02:00 am-04:00 pm EST on Sunday and 01:00 am-09:00 am EST on Monday. Exit polls will come out soon after voting ends and official results are expected by early Tuesday.


The election will be followed closely by financial markets with memories still fresh of the potentially catastrophic debt crisis that brought technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti to power more than a year ago.


Italy, the euro zone's third-largest economy, is stuck in deep recession, struggling under a public debt burden second only to Greece's in the 17-member currency bloc and with a public weary of more than a year of harsh austerity policies.


Italy's Interior Ministry has urged some 47 million eligible voters to not let bad weather forecasts put them off, and said it was prepared to handle even snowy conditions in some northern regions to ensure everyone had a chance to vote.


Final polls published two weeks ago showed center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani with a five-point lead, but analysts disagree about whether he will be able to form a stable majority that can push though the economic reforms Italy needs.


Bersani is now thought to be just a few points ahead of center-right rival Silvio Berlusconi, the four-times prime minister who has promised tax refunds and staged a media blitz in an attempt to win back voters in recent weeks.


While the center left is still expected to gain control of the lower house thanks to rules that guarantee a strong majority to whichever party wins the most votes nationally, a much closer battle will be fought in the Senate, which any government also needs to control in order to be able to pass laws.


Seats in the upper house are awarded on a region-by-region basis, meaning that support in key regions can decisively influence the overall result.


Pollsters still believe the most likely outcome is a center-left government headed by Bersani and possibly backed by Monti, who is leading a centrist coalition.


But strong campaigning by Berlusconi and the fiery Grillo, who has drawn tens of thousands to his election rallies, have thrown the election wide open, causing concern that there may be no clear winner.


Whatever government emerges from the vote will have the task of pulling Italy out of its longest recession for 20 years and reviving an economy largely stagnant for two decades.


The main danger for Italy and the euro zone is a weak government incapable of taking firm action, which would rattle investors and could ignite a new debt crisis.


Monti replaced Berlusconi in November 2011 after the euro zone's third-largest economy came close to Greek-style financial meltdown while the center-right government was embroiled in scandals.


The former European Commissioner launched a tough program of spending cuts, tax hikes and pension reforms which won widespread international backing and helped restore Italy's credibility abroad after the scandals of the Berlusconi era.


Italy's borrowing costs have since fallen sharply after the European Central Bank pledged it was prepared to support countries undertaking reforms by buying unlimited quantities of their bonds on the markets.


But economic austerity has fuelled anger among Italians grappling with rising unemployment and shrinking disposable incomes, encouraging many to turn to Grillo, who has tapped into a national mood of disenchantment.


(Reporting by Catherine Hornby; Editing by Jason Webb)



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U.S., Japan agree on approach to Trans-Pacific Partnership talks


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Japan on Friday agreed on language aimed at giving Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe political cover to bring the world's third-largest economy into negotiations on a U.S.-led free trade agreement in the Asia Pacific region.


In a carefully worded statement following Abe's meeting with President Barack Obama, the two countries reaffirmed that "all goods would subject to negotiation" if Japan joins the talks with the United States and 10 other countries.


At the same time, the statement leaves open a possible outcome to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, talks where the Japan could still protect its rice sector and the United States could keep duties on Japanese autos.


"Recognizing that both countries have bilateral trade sensitivities, such as certain agricultural products for Japan and certain manufactured products for the United States, the two governments confirm that, as the final outcome will be determined during the negotiations, it is not required to make a prior commitment to unilaterally eliminate all tariffs upon joining the TPP negotiations," the statement said.


Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, called the joint statement "a big step forward" in the process of determining whether Japan will join TPP talks, which members hope to finish this year.


"The United States and Japan agreed that the deal has to be comprehensive, but you don't commit to the final terms before you even get into the negotiations," Schott said.


But Representative Sander Levin, the top Democrat on the powerful House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, called the statement "worrisome" and warned any agreement that includes Japan would not pass Congress unless it truly pries open that country's farm and automotive markets.


Abe, who is on his first trip to Washington since taking office in December, has vowed to revive Japan's economy with an expansive monetary policy, big spending and structural reform.


Joining the TPP talks could help with the third task by exposing Japanese companies and farmers to more competition.


But Japanese rice and other farmers who have long enjoyed high tariff protections are opposed to Tokyo entering the talks, and Abe curried their favor during his campaign last year by promising not to unilaterally agree to eliminate tariffs on certain sensitive products.


The current TPP members - United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei - have pledged to negotiate an agreement that eliminates tariffs in as many areas as possible.


To accomplish that goal they have agreed not to exclude any sectors or products from the negotiations.


That stance also worries Ford Motor Co and the United Auto Workers, which have pressured the Obama administration not to allow Japan into the talks until Tokyo makes reforms to open its market to more auto imports.


Although Japan already has no auto tariffs, Ford and the UAW argue that the country relies on regulatory and other non-tariff barriers to keep out auto imports.


The U.S.-Japan joint statement said the two governments would continue their discussions on the possibility of Japan joining the TPP talks.


"While progress has been made in these consultations, more work remains to be done," in areas such as autos and insurance, the joint statement said.


A final decision to allow Japan into the negotiations would have to be made by all the current TPP members.


Additionally, the White House would have to give Congress 90 days notice before starting talks with Japan.


(Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by David Brunnstrom and Eric Walsh)



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Oscar Pistorius gets bail as murder trial looms


PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius walked out of court Friday — free at least for now — after a South African magistrate released him on bail, capping four days of often startling testimony that foreshadowed a dramatic trial in the Valentine's Day slaying of his girlfriend.


But as he was driven away, chased by photographers and cameramen, questions continued to hound the double-amputee Olympian about what actually happened the night he gunned down Reeva Steenkamp inside a locked bathroom in his home.


Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder, and even Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair expressed doubts about his story that he mistook the 29-year-old model for an intruder and fired out of fear.


"Why would (Pistorius) venture further into danger" by going into the bathroom at all, Nair asked.


Cries of "Yes!" went up from Pistorius' supporters when Nair announced his decision to a packed courtroom after a nearly two-hour explanation of the ruling.


Nair set bail at 1 million rand ($113,000), with $11,300 in cash up front and proof that the rest is available. The 26-year-old track star was also ordered to hand over his passports, turn in any guns he owns and keep away from his upscale home in a gated community in Pretoria, which is now a crime scene.


He cannot leave the district of Pretoria without his probation officer's permission and is not allowed to consume drugs or alcohol, the magistrate said. His next court appearance was set for June 4.


Earlier, Pistorius alternately wept and appeared solemn and composed, especially as Nair criticized police procedures in the case and as a judgment in the track star's favor appeared imminent. He showed no reaction as he was granted bail.


Pistorius left the courthouse in a silver Land Rover just over an hour after the bail conditions were set. The vehicle, tailed by motorcycles carrying television cameramen, later pulled into the home of Pistorius' uncle.


"We are relieved at the fact that Oscar got bail today, but at the same time we are in mourning for the death of Reeva, with her family," said Pistorius' uncle, Arnold Pistorius. "As a family, we know Oscar's version of what happened on that tragic night and we know that that is the truth and that will prevail in the coming court case."


Dozens of journalists and international and local television crews had converged on the red-brick courthouse to hear the decision — a sign of the global fascination with a case involving a once-inspirational athlete and his beautiful girlfriend, a law school graduate and budding reality TV show contestant.


Nair said Pistorius' sworn statement, an unusual written account of what happened during the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14, had helped his application for bail.


"I come to the conclusion that the accused has made a case to be released on bail," Nair said.


Pistorius said he shot Steenkamp accidentally, believing she was an intruder in his house. He described "a sense of terror rushing over" him and feeling vulnerable because he stood only on his stumps before opening fire.


Prosecutors say he intended to kill Steenkamp as she cowered in fear behind the locked bathroom door after a loud argument between the two.


Yet despite poking holes in Pistorius' version of events and bringing up incidents they say highlight his temper, the state's case started to unravel during testimony by the lead investigator, Detective Warrant Officer Hilton Botha.


Botha, who faces seven charges of attempted murder in an unrelated incident, was removed from the case Thursday. His replacement, the nation's top detective, Vinesh Moonoo, stopped by the hearing briefly Friday.


While Nair leveled harsh criticism at Botha for "errors" and "blunders," he said one man does not represent an investigation and that the state could not be expected to put all "the pieces of the puzzle" together in such a short time.


The prosecution accepted the judge's decision without protest. "We're still confident in our case," prosecution spokesman Medupe Simasiku said.


Pistorius faced the sternest bail requirements in South Africa because of the seriousness of the charge, which carries a life sentence if convicted. His defense attorneys had to prove that he would not flee the country, would not interfere with witnesses or the case, and his release would not cause public unrest.


Nair questioned whether Pistorius would be a flight risk when he stood to lose a fortune in cash, cars, property and other assets. Nair also said that while it had been shown that Pistorius had aggressive tendencies, he did not have a prior record of offenses for violent acts.


Anticipating the shape of the state's case at trial, he said he had serious questions about Pistorius' account: Why didn't he try to locate his girlfriend if he feared an intruder was in the house? Why didn't he try to determine who was in the bathroom before opening fire? And why did he venture into perceived "danger" in the bathroom when he could have taken other steps to ensure his safety?


"There are improbabilities which need to be explored," Nair said, adding that Pistorius could clarify these matters by testifying under oath at trial.


Sharon Steenkamp, Reeva's cousin, said the model's family would not be watching the bail decision and had not been following the hearing.


"It doesn't make any difference to the fact that we are without Reeva," she told The Associated Press.


Before the hearing, Pistorius' longtime coach, Ampie Louw, said he hoped to put the runner back into his training routine if he got bail.


"The sooner he can start working the better," said Louw, who persuaded the double-amputee to take up track as a teenager a decade ago. But he acknowledged Pistorius could be "heartbroken" and unwilling to immediately pull on the carbon-fiber running blades that earned him the nickname "Blade Runner."


___


AP Sports Writer Gerald Imray contributed to this report from Johannesburg.


___


Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .


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Analysis: Italian election explained











Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader








STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Silvio Berlusconi is campaigning to win his old job back for the fourth time

  • The eurozone's third largest economy is hurting, with unemployment surpassing 11%

  • Pier Luigi Bersani of the center-left Democratic Party is expected to narrowly win

  • Italy's political system encourages the forming of alliances




(CNN) -- Little more than a year after he resigned in disgrace as prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi is campaigning to win his old job back -- for the fourth time.


Berlusconi, the septuagenarian playboy billionaire nicknamed "Il Cavaliere," has been trailing in polls behind his center-left rival, Per Luigi Bersani.


But the controversial media tycoon's rise in the polls in recent weeks, combined with widespread public disillusionment and the quirks of Italy's complex electoral system, means that nothing about the race is a foregone conclusion.


Why have the elections been called now?


Italian parliamentarians are elected for five-year terms, with the current one due to end in April. However in December, Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party (PdL) withdrew its support from the reformist government led by Mario Monti, saying it was pursuing policies that "were too German-centric." Monti subsequently resigned and the parliament was dissolved.






Berlusconi -- the country's longest serving post-war leader -- had resigned the prime ministerial office himself amidst a parliamentary revolt in November 2011. He left at a time of personal and national crisis, as Italy grappled with sovereign debt problems and Berlusconi faced criminal charges of tax fraud, for which he was subsequently convicted. He remains free pending an appeal. He was also embroiled in a scandal involving a young nightclub dancer - which led him to be charged with paying for sex with an underage prostitute.


MORE: From Venice to bunga bunga: Italy in coma


He was replaced by Monti, a respected economist and former European Commissioner, who was invited by Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano to lead a cabinet of unelected technocrats. Monti's government implemented a program of tax rises and austerity measures in an attempt to resolve Italy's economic crisis.


Who are the candidates?


The election is a four-horse race between political coalitions led by Bersani, Berlusconi, Monti, and the anti-establishment movement led by ex-comedian Beppe Grillo. Polls are banned within two weeks of election day, but the most recent ones had Bersani holding onto a slender lead over Berlusconi, followed by Grillo in distant third.


READ MORE: Will Monte Paschi banking scandal throw open Italy's election race?


The center-left alliance is dominated by the Democratic Party, led by Bersani. He is a former Minister of Economic Development in Romano Prodi's government from 2006-8 -- and has held a comfortable lead in polls, but that appears to be gradually being eroded by Berlusconi.


Italy's political system encourages the forming of alliances, and the Democratic Party has teamed with the more left-wing Left Ecology Freedom party.


The 61-year-old Bersani comes across as "bluff and homespun, and that's part of his appeal -- or not, depending on your point of view," said political analyst James Walston, department chair of international relations at the American University of Rome.


He described Bersani, a former communist, as a "revised apparatchik," saying the reform-minded socialist was paradoxically "far more of a free marketeer than even people on the right."


Bersani has vowed to continue with Monti's austerity measures and reforms, albeit with some adjustments, if he wins.


At second place in the polls is the center-right alliance led by Berlusconi's PdL, in coalition with the right-wing, anti-immigration Northern League.


Berlusconi has given conflicting signals as to whether he is running for the premiership, indicating that he would seek the job if his coalition won, but contradicting that on other occasions.


In a recent speech, he proposed himself as Economy and Industry Minister, and the PdL Secretary Angelino Alfano as prime minister.


Roberto Maroni, leader of the Northern League, has said the possibility of Berlusconi becoming prime minister is explicitly ruled out by the electoral pact between the parties, but the former premier has repeatedly said he plays to win, and observers believe he is unlikely to pass up the chance to lead the country again if the opportunity presents itself.


Berlusconi has been campaigning as a Milan court weighs his appeal against a tax fraud conviction, for which he was sentenced to four years in jail last year. The verdict will be delivered after the elections; however, under the Italian legal system, he is entitled to a further appeal in a higher court. Because the case dates to July 2006, the statute of limitations will expire this year, meaning there is a good chance none of the defendants will serve any prison time.


He is also facing charges in the prostitution case (and that he tried to pull strings to get her out of jail when she was accused of theft) -- and in a third case stands accused of revealing confidential court information relating to an investigation into a bank scandal in 2005.


Despite all this, he retains strong political support from his base.


"Italy is a very forgiving society, it's partly to do with Roman Catholicism," said Walston. "There's sort of a 'live and let live' idea."


Monti, the country's 69-year-old technocrat prime minister, who had never been a politician before he was appointed to lead the government, has entered the fray to lead a centrist coalition committed to continuing his reforms. The alliance includes Monti's Civic Choice for Monti, the Christian Democrats and a smaller centre-right party, Future and Freedom for Italy.


As a "senator for life," Monti is guaranteed a seat in the senate and does not need to run for election himself, but he is hitting the hustings on behalf of his party.


In a climate of widespread public disillusionment with politics, comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo is also making gains by capturing the protest vote with his Five Star Movement. Grillo has railed against big business and the corruption of Italy's political establishment, and holds broadly euro-skeptical and pro-environmental positions.


How will the election be conducted?


Italy has a bicameral legislature and a voting system which even many Italians say they find confusing.


Voters will be electing 315 members of the Senate, and 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies. Both houses hold the same powers, although the Senate is referred to as the upper house.


Under the country's closed-list proportional representation system, each party submits ranked lists of its candidates, and is awarded seats according to the proportion of votes won -- provided it passes a minimum threshold of support.


Seats in the Chamber of Deputies are on a national basis, while seats in the senate are allocated on a regional one.


The party with the most votes are awarded a premium of bonus seats to give them a working majority.


The prime minister needs the support of both houses to govern.


Who is likely to be the next prime minister?


On current polling, Bersani's bloc looks the likely victor in the Chamber of Deputies. But even if he maintains his lead in polls, he could fall short of winning the Senate, because of the rules distributing seats in that house on a regional basis.


Crucial to victory in the Senate is winning the region of Lombardy, the industrial powerhouse of the north of Italy which generates a fifth of the country's wealth and is a traditional support base for Berlusconi. Often compared to the U.S. state of Ohio for the "kingmaker" role it plays in elections, Lombardy has more Senate seats than any other region.


If no bloc succeeds in controlling both houses, the horse-trading begins in search of a broader coalition.


Walston said that a coalition government between the blocs led by Bersani and Monti seemed "almost inevitable," barring something "peculiar" happening in the final stages of the election campaign.


Berlusconi, he predicted, would "get enough votes to cause trouble."


What are the main issues?


There's only really one issue on the agenda at this election.


The eurozone's third largest economy is hurting, with unemployment surpassing 11% -- and hitting 37% for young people.


Voters are weighing the question of whether to continue taking Monti's bitter medicine of higher taxation and austerity measures, while a contentious property tax is also proving a subject of vexed debate.


Walston said the dilemma facing Italians was deciding between "who's going to look after the country better, or who's going to look after my pocket better."


He said it appeared voters held far greater confidence in the ability of Monti and Bersani to fix the economy, while those swayed by appeals to their own finances may be more likely to support Berlusconi.


But he said it appeared that few undecided voters had any faith in Berlusconi's ability to follow through on his pledges, including a recent promise to reverse the property tax.


What are the ramifications of the election for Europe and the wider world?


Improving the fortunes of the world's eighth largest economy is in the interests of Europe, and in turn the global economy.


Italy's woes have alarmed foreign investors. However, financial commentator Nicholas Spiro, managing director of consultancy Spiro Sovereign Strategy, says the European Central Bank's bond-buying program has gone a long way to mitigating investors' concerns about the instability of Italian politics.


Why is political instability so endemic to Italy?


Italy has had more than 60 governments since World War II -- in large part as a by-product of a system designed to prevent the rise of another dictator.


Parties can be formed and make their way on to the political main stage with relative ease -- as witnessed by the rise of Grillo's Five Star Movement, the protest party which was formed in 2009 but in local and regional elections has even outshone Berlusoni's party at times.


Others point to enduringly strong regional identities as part of the recipe for the country's political fluidity.


READ MORE: Italian Elections 2013: Fame di sapere (hunger for knowledge)







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Drew Peterson transferred to Pontiac prison









Drew Peterson’s new life as an Illinois Department of Corrections inmate has begun.


Peterson was transferred this morning to the Stateville Correctional Center near Crest Hill, where he was evaluated for placement based upon factors such as his conviction, length of sentence, program needs and medical and mental health requirements.


Peterson stayed at Stateville only a few hours before being sent to his new home at Pontiac prison northeast of Bloomington, a maximum security facility that has a protective custody unit.  The assignment was based upon factors such as his conviction, length of sentence, program needs and medical and mental health requirements, per Illinois Department of Correction protocol.








Officials have not said whether he has a cellmate or if he will be in solitary confinement like he had been during his jail stay.


As part of his daily routine there, he will remain in his cell for most of the day, though he will be allowed out for meals and showers. Most inmates also get about five hours of recreation time outside per week, Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Stacey Solano said.


The Will County jail – which had held Peterson in solitary confinement since his May 2009 arrest for his own safety – had the paperwork prepared for his transfer by the time he returned from his sentencing hearing Thursday, officials said.


The sheriff’s department, which oversees the jail, kept the former Bolingbrook police sergeant segregated from the general population there amid concerns that his high-profile case and law-enforcement background would make him a target of inmates looking to build tough-guy reputations.


Jail supervisors began preparing Peterson at 8:30 a.m. and he left without incident by 9:22 a.m., officials said.


Drew Peterson wanted to make sure he was heard when he was given one last chance to speak Thursday, shortly before being sentenced to 38 years in prison for the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

Declining to speak from the defense table, where there was no microphone, the former Bolingbrook police sergeant shuffled to the witness stand in his jail-issued blue scrubs and orange shoes and began quietly.


"I hope I don't aggravate the situation," he turned and told the judge. Then Peterson screamed into the microphone, "I did not kill Kathleen!" startling almost everyone in the courtroom.


"Yes, you did!" Savio's sister Sue Doman yelled back from the gallery, prompting Will County Circuit Judge Edward Burmila to order her out of the courtroom.


It was an odd end to a case replete with oddities and circuslike sideshows. For the next 40 minutes, Peterson cried, raged and whispered, challenged the state's attorney to look him in the eye and indulged in self-pity as he unleashed his multitudinous thoughts like a character in a Dostoevsky novel.


The 59-year-old said he expects to die in prison. Barring any successful appeal, he won't be eligible for release until he's 93.


Peterson claimed that lies and mistakes by witnesses, prosecutors and police led to his conviction, and made disparaging remarks about Savio's family, attorneys and others involved in the case. His defense attorneys called the monologue an impassioned plea for leniency, but prosecutors said it was proof that Peterson is a psychopath.


"When he got up on the stand and (in) that shrill, kinda-feminine screech that he didn't kill Kathy — that's the guy that killed Kathy," Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow said. "You got a glimpse into his soul."


But in describing himself on the stand Thursday, Peterson said he was maligned and misunderstood.


"Until this happened, I thought I was viewed as a great guy," Peterson said, giving a litany of public and private good deeds before announcing he planned to tattoo the phrase "No good deed goes unpunished" across his shoulders.


"The state took an accident and staged a homicide," Peterson said, before turning to the judge. "Can I get some water?"


Once refreshed, Peterson said he had upheld the oath he swore when he became a police officer.


"I always took my job seriously, I never violated the public trust," he said, his voice husky with emotion before quoting one of the Ten Commandments. "And I never beared false witness against anyone."





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Wall Street ends lower on growth worries

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks fell for a second straight day on Thursday and the S&P 500 posted its worst two-day loss since November after reports cast doubt over the health of the U.S. and euro-zone economies.


But a late-day rally helped stocks erase some of their losses with most of the pullback concentrated in the technology- heavy Nasdaq. The move suggested investors were still willing to buy on dips even after the sharp losses in the last session.


In Europe, business activity indexes dealt a blow to hopes that the euro zone might emerge from recession soon, showing the downturn across the region's businesses unexpectedly grew worse this month.


"The PMI numbers out of Europe were really a blow to the market," said Jack De Gan, chief investment officer at Harbor Advisory in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. "The market was expecting signs that recovery is still there, but the numbers just highlighted that the euro-zone problem is still persistent."


U.S. initial claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week while the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said its index of business conditions in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region fell in February to the lowest in eight months.


Gains in Wal-Mart Stores Inc shares helped cushion the Dow. The shares gained 1.5 percent to $70.26 after the world's largest retailer reported earnings that beat expectations, though early February sales were sluggish.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> fell 46.92 points, or 0.34 percent, to 13,880.62 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> lost 9.53 points, or 0.63 percent, to 1,502.42. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> dropped 32.92 points, or 1.04 percent, to close at 3,131.49.


The two-day decline marked the U.S. stock market's first sustained pullback this year. The Standard & Poor's 500 has fallen 1.8 percent over the period and just managed to hold the 1,500 level on Thursday. Still, the index is up 5.3 percent so far this year.


The abrupt reversal in markets, which started on Wednesday after minutes from the Federal Reserve's January meeting suggested stimulus measures may end earlier than thought, looks set to halt a seven-week winning streak for stocks that had lifted the Dow and the S&P 500 close to all-time highs.


Wall Street will soon face another test with the upcoming debate in Washington over the automatic across-the-board spending cuts put in place as part of a larger congressional budget fight. Those cuts, set to kick in on March 1 unless lawmakers agree on an alternative, could depress the economy.


Semiconductor stocks ranked among the weakest of the day, pressuring the Nasdaq as the Philadelphia Semiconductor Index <.sox> fell 1.8 percent. Intel Corp fell 2.3 percent to $20.25 while Advanced Micro Devices lost 3.7 percent to $2.60 as the S&P 500's biggest percentage decliner.


The Dow also got a helping hand from personal computer maker Hewlett-Packard Co , which rose 2.3 percent to end the regular session at $17.10. The company was scheduled due to report first-quarter results after the closing bell.


Shares of Boeing Co rose 1.6 percent to $76.01 as a senior executive was set to meet with the head of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Friday and present a series of measures to prevent battery failures that grounded its 787 Dreamliner fleet, according to a source familiar with the plans.


In other company news, shares of supermarket operator Safeway Inc jumped 14.1 percent to $22.97 after the company reported earnings that beat expectations.


Shares of VeriFone Systems Inc tumbled nearly 43 percent to $18.24 after the credit-card swipe machine maker forecast first- and second-quarter profits well below expectations.


Of the 427 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results so far, 69.3 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, compared with a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters, according to Thomson Reuters data through Thursday morning.


Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 5.9 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.


Berry Petroleum Co jumped 19.3 percent to $46.02 after oil and gas producer Linn Energy LLC said it would buy the company in an all-stock deal valued at $4.3 billion, including debt. Linn Energy shares advanced 2.8 percent to $37.68.


About two stocks fell for everyone that rose on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. About 7.64 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, well above the 20-day moving average of around 6.6 billion shares.


(Editing by Jan Paschal)



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A 1-2 knockout: McIlroy, Woods lose in Match Play


MARANA, Ariz. (AP) — The snow is gone from the Match Play Championship, and so are Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.


In a stunning conclusion to what already is a bizarre week on Dove Mountain, Shane Lowry of Ireland made a 4-foot par putt on the 18th hole to eliminate Rory McIlroy in the opening round Thursday of golf's most unpredictable tournament.


"It's definitely a day I'm going to remember," said Lowry, the third player in the last four years to beat the No. 1 seed in the opening round.


Moments later, Charles Howell III finished off a fabulous round in cold conditions by defeating Woods on the 17th hole. Howell, who had not faced Woods in match play since losing to him in the third round of the 1996 U.S. Amateur, played bogey-free on a course that still had patches of snow and ice after being cleared Thursday morning.


The match was all square when Howell hit a wedge that stopped inches from the cup on the 15th hole for a conceded birdie. Then, he holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 16th and went 2 up when Woods badly missed a 12-foot birdie putt.


"I had nothing to lose," said Howell, who started the year outside the top 100 in the world and hasn't qualified for this World Golf Championship in five years. "In this format, match play is crazy. He's Tiger Woods. I was lucky to hang in there."


The final matches were played in near darkness, and they could have stopped after 15 holes. Woods wanted to play on, even though Howell had the momentum. Woods was 2 under for the day, and neither of them made a bogey.


"We both played well," Woods said. "He made a couple of more birdies than I did. He played well, and he's advancing."


McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world, built a 2-up lead early in the match until Lowry rallied and grabbed the moment by chipping in for birdie on the par-3 12th and then ripping a fairway metal to within a few feet for a conceded eagle on the 13th.


Lowry missed a short par putt on the 14th, only for McIlroy to give away the next hole with a tee shot into the desert and a bunker shot that flew over the 15th green and into a cactus. But the two-time major champion hung tough, coming up with a clutch birdie on the 16th to stay in the game.


McIlroy nearly holed his bunker on the 18th, and Lowry followed with a steady shot out to 4 feet and calmly sank the putt.


"Deep down, I knew I could beat him," Lowry said. "There's a reason I'm here, and this is match play."


For McIlroy, more questions are sure to follow him to Florida for his road to the Masters. He now has played only 54 holes in the first two months of the season, missing the cut in Abu Dhabi and losing in the first round at Dove Mountain.


"You want to try and get as far as you can, but I guess that's match play," McIlroy said. "I probably would have lost by more if I had played someone else in the field. It wasn't a great quality match. But it would have been nice to get through and just get another day here and another competitive round under my belt."


Just like that, the Match Play Championship lost its two biggest stars in one day. The only other time the top two seeds lost in the opening round was in 2002, when Woods and Phil Mickelson lost at La Costa.


Luke Donald nearly made it the top three seeds except for a clutch performance. He holed a 10-foot birdie putt to halve the 17th hole and stay tied with Marcel Siem of Germany. Donald then birdied the 18th from 7 feet to win the match.


Louis Oosthuizen, the No. 4 seed, rallied to get past Richie Ramsay of Scotland.


The opening round was halted Wednesday after 3½ hours because of a freak snowstorm that covered Dove Mountain with nearly 2 inches. It continued to snow at times overnight, and it took nearly five hours to clear snow from the golf course for the tournament to resume.


Turns out snow wasn't the only surprise.


Howell said he has never beaten Woods — not as an amateur, not even in dozens of games at Isleworth before Woods moved away to south Florida. What a time to change that losing streak.


"I had to play extremely well to have a chance, and I still kept waiting for that Tiger moment," Howell said.


It never came.


Woods missed short birdie chances at the 10th and 11th, but the real damage came on the 15th when he went long of the green with a wedge in hand. Howell also missed a pair of short putts on the back nine, but he came up big with the putt on the 16th.


"Really, I didn't even realize I was 2 up with two to go until I got right to the tee on 17, and it actually threw me for a bit because I never maybe was really in the moment and didn't quite realize how things were," Howell said. "And as far as beating Tiger Woods, it shows you that match play is crazy. I did have to play a good round. But yeah, it's a bit hard to believe I'm sitting here today."


Howell and Lowry will have to wait until Friday to find out their opponents.


Carl Pettersson was 1 up on Rickie Fowler through 17 holes when they stopped because of darkness. The winner gets Lowry, who will be fighting some history. Of the previous three players to beat the No. 1 seed in the opening round, all of them lost in the second round.


Howell gets either Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano or Francesco Molinari, who were all square through 15 holes.


In other matches:


— Ernie Els lost in the opening round for the sixth time. He missed a 3-foot par putt on the 16th hole that would have given him the lead, and he missed a 5-foot par putt on the 18th hole to lose to Fredrik Jacobson.


— Russell Henley, two months into his rookie season, defeated the hottest player in the field when he took down Charl Schwartzel, who had won twice and finished no worse than fifth in his last six tournaments worldwide.


— Rafael Cabrera Bello beat Lee Westwood in 19 holes after Westwood missed a 6-foot par putt on the last hole.


The opening round of the Match Play is typically the best day in golf. This one took two days, and it was unlike any other.


Nearly 2 inches of snow covered Dove Mountain on Wednesday, and with more snow overnight, nothing had changed when players began arriving Thursday morning. There already was a two-hour delay when they arrived.


"There was a guy building a snowman this morning at 8, and they said they were going off at 10:30," Henley said. "I figured it was going to be awhile"


No one had an easier day than Bo Van Pelt.


Having won six straight holes to go 5 up before snow suspended play on Wednesday, Van Pelt finally got back on the golf course and struck all of two shots — an 8-iron and a 45-foot putt. He won the 13th hole with a par to complete a 6-and-5 win over John Senden of Australia.


And then there was Sergio Garcia. He was one putt away from winning when play stopped Wednesday. He three-putted from 12 feet to lose the hole, and on the 18th hole, Thongchai Jaidee made a 6-foot birdie to send the match into overtime.


On the first extra hole, Garcia removed his cap and was putting his golf ball and tees in the bag as Jaidee settled over a 10-foot birdie. The putt ran around the back edge of the cup, giving Garcia life. He made birdie on the par-5 second hole to win in 20 holes.


So instead of hitting one shot Thursday, he had to play 19 of them. Garcia's was the first match of the tournament. It took him about 30 hours to finish.


"It's weirdness, I guess," Garcia said. "I guess at the end of the day, I was pleased to get through."


That's one thing McIlroy and Woods can't say.


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Chicago could see 6 inches of snow








A winter storm that is walloping the Great Plains will hit the Chicago area tonight and linger through the morning commute on Friday, possibly dumping up to half a foot of snow here.

A winter weather advisory has been issued for the Chicago area from 9 p.m. Thursday until 6 p.m. Friday,  with snow falling at a rate of an inch per hour overnight in some places and winds blowing at 25 to 30 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service.

The snow will change over to freezing drizzle Friday morning, the weather service said.


As of about 8 p.m. the radar on the Chicago weather center showed clouds moving over the area in advance of the storm.

Anywhere from 3 to 7 inches could fall here, but up to 16 inches are expected in Kansas and Nebraska, states expected to bear the brunt of the storm that has already closed schools, scuttled air travel and cut off power to some communities.

The storm could be the worst to hit the Midwest since a storm dumped 1 to 2 feet of snow from central Oklahoma to the lower Great Lakes and central New England between Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, 2011. The storm spawned the infamous Groundhog Day Blizzard that buried Chicago in 20.2 inches of snow.

Winter storm warnings and advisories are in place for much of the central and southern Plains and into the upper Midwest and Mississippi River Valley as the storm moves east, packing snow, sleet and freezing rain, the National Weather Service said.

Ice storm warnings were in effect for parts of northern Arkansas. The massive storm was expected to unleash thunderstorms and rain on its southern edge from eastern Texas to Georgia, the forecaster said.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency because of hazardous travel and possible power outages. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback ordered state offices closed because of the storm.

Kansas City encountered an unusual mixture of snow, thunder and lightning, with 2 to 3 inches of snow falling per hour.

"When there is thunder and lightning, it's a pretty screaming clue that you are going to have massive snowfall," said Andy Bailey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, Mo. A foot of snow is likely there by Thursday afternoon, he said.

In Nebraska, a woman was killed in a two-car Interstate 80 accident Wednesday afternoon near Giltner. The victim was identified as Kristina Leigh Allen, 19, of Calloway, Neb. The Nebraska State Patrol said weather was a factor.

More than 90 percent of flights out of Kansas City International Airport were canceled Thursday morning, according the airport website.

Some 55 commuter flights were canceled out of Denver International Airport overnight, mostly due to adverse conditions in Midwestern destinations in Kansas and Nebraska, said spokeswoman Laura Coale.

About 30 flights in and out of Omaha's Eppley Airfield were canceled by mid-morning Thursday.

The brunt of the snowstorm churned through Kansas, causing scores of accidents and vehicles sliding off roads, but no fatalities, according to the state highway patrol. Two semi-trucks got stuck on Interstate 35 near Emporia, Kansas, closing the southbound lane Thursday morning, according to transportation officials.

"Most of the issues we are dealing with are people getting stuck in the snow on ramps when they go to exit," said Gary Warner of the Kansas Highway Patrol office in Wichita. Snow on Wednesday resulted in about 50 crashes with no injuries and 11 with injuries on Wichita area highways, he said.


More than 90 miles of Interstate 70 in north-central Kansas were closed on Thursday afternoon because of the storm.

Some parts of southeast Kansas reported power outages because warmer temperatures created sleet and ice on power lines, said Sharon Watson, spokesperson for Kansas emergency management services.

The snowstorm had been predicted well in advance, prompting schools and offices to close and keeping a lot of people off the roads, said Watson.

In Oklahoma, up to 12.5 inches of snow fell in northern parts of the state while schools were closed throughout the Oklahoma City area because of treacherous driving conditions.

Areas of southwest and central Nebraska received 8 inches of snow overnight, according to the National Weather Service. Snowfall of 3 to 4 inches was widespread in central Nebraska.

Omaha and Lincoln in eastern Nebraska were bracing for about 8 or more inches of snow.

Even as students were making their way to school this morning in Iowa, administrators in dozens of districts announced early dismissals.

Few of the 150 members of the Iowa General Assembly were in the state capitol in Des Moines this morning, deciding not to brave the weather.

Snow from the powerful storm fell as far south as Tucson, Ariz. on Wednesday. The rare snowfall halted play at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play tournament near Tucson.






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French, Malian forces fight Islamist rebels in Gao


GAO, Mali (Reuters) - French and Malian troops fought Islamists on the streets of Gao and a car bomb exploded in Kidal on Thursday, as fighting showed little sign of abating weeks before France plans to start withdrawing some forces.


Reuters reporters in Gao in the country's desert north said French and Malian forces fired at the mayor's office with heavy machineguns after Islamists were reported to have infiltrated the Niger River town during a night of explosions and gunfire.


French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a news conference in Brussels that Gao was back under control after clashes earlier in the day.


"Malian troops supported by French soldiers killed five jihadists and the situation is back to normal," he said.


In Kidal, a remote far north town where the French are hunting Islamists, residents said a car bomb killed two. A French defense ministry source reported no French casualties.


French troops dispatched to root out rebels with links to al Qaeda swiftly retook northern towns last month. But they now risk being bogged down in a guerrilla conflict as they try to help Mali's weak army counter bombings and raids.


"There was an infiltration by Islamists overnight and there is shooting all over the place," Sadou Harouna Diallo, Gao's mayor, told Reuters by telephone earlier in the day, saying he was not in his office at the time.


Gao is a French hub for operations in the Kidal region, about 300 km (190 miles) northeast, where many Islamist leaders are thought to have retreated and foreign hostages may be held.


"They are black and two were disguised as women," a Malian soldier in Gao who gave his name only as Sergeant Assak told Reuters during a pause in heavy gunfire around Independence Square.


Six Malian military pickups were deployed in the square and opened fire on the mayor's office with the heavy machineguns. Two injured soldiers were taken away in an ambulance.


French troops in armored vehicles later joined the battle as it spilled out into the warren of sandy streets, where, two weeks ago, they also fought for hours against Islamists who had infiltrated the town via the nearby river.


Helicopters clattered over the mayor's office, while a nearby local government office and petrol station was on fire.


A Gao resident said he heard an explosion and then saw a Malian military vehicle on fire in a nearby street.


Paris has said it plans to start withdrawing some of its 4,000 troops from Mali next month. But rebels have fought back against Mali's weak and divided army, and African forces due to take over the French role are not yet in place.


Islamists abandoned the main towns they held but French and Malian forces have said there are pockets of Islamist resistance across the north, which is about the size of France.


CAR BOMB


Residents reported a bomb in the east of Kidal on Thursday.


"It was a car bomb that exploded in a garage," said one resident who went to the scene but asked not to be named.


"The driver and another man were killed. Two other people were injured," he added.


A French defense ministry official confirmed there had been a car bomb but said it did not appear that French troops, based at the town's airport, had been targeted.


Earlier this week, a French soldier was killed in heavy fighting north of Kidal, where French and Chadian troops are hunting Islamists in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains, which border Algeria.


Operations there are further complicated by the presence of separatist Tuareg rebels, whose rebellion triggered the fighting in northern Mali last year but were sidelined by the better-armed Islamists.


Having dispatched its forces to prevent an Islamist advance south in January, Paris is eager not to become bogged down in a long-term conflict in Mali. But their Malian and African allies have urged French troops not to pull out too soon.


(Additional reporting by Emanuel Braun in Gao, Adama Diarra in Bamako, David Lewis and John Irish in Dakar and Adrian Croft in Brussels; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Jason Webb and Roger Atwood)



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Wall Street ends down sharply after Fed minutes

TORONTO, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Canada's Rebecca Marino, a rising star in women's tennis, stepped away from the sport in search of a normal life on Wednesday, weary of battling depression and cyber-bullies. Ranked number 38 in the world two years ago, the 22-year-old admitted she had long suffered from depression and was no longer willing to make the sacrifices necessary to reach the top. "After thinking long and hard, I do not have the passion or enjoyment to drive myself to the level I would like to be at in professional tennis," Marino explained in a conference call. ...
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Police add more confusion to Oscar Pistorius case


PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — The prosecution case against Oscar Pistorius began to unravel Wednesday with revelations of a series of police blunders and the lead investigator's admission that authorities have no evidence challenging the double-amputee Olympian's claim he killed his girlfriend accidentally.


Detective Hilton Botha's often confused testimony left prosecutors rubbing their heads in frustration as he misjudged distances and said testosterone — banned for professional athletes in some cases — was found at the scene, only to be later contradicted by the prosecutor's office.


The second day of what was supposed to be a mere bail hearing almost resembled a full-blown trial for the 26-year-old runner, with his lawyer, Barry Roux, tearing into Botha's testimony step by step during cross examination.


Police, Botha acknowledged, left a 9 mm slug from the barrage that killed Reeva Steenkamp inside a toilet and lost track of illegal ammunition found inside the house. And the detective himself walked through the crime scene without wearing protective shoe covers, potentially contaminating the area.


Authorities, Roux asserted, were selectively taking "every piece of evidence to try to extract the most possibly negative connotation and present it to the court."


The case has riveted South Africa, with journalists and the curious crowding into the brick-walled courtroom where Pistorius, dubbed the Blade Runner for his prosthetic legs, faces a charge of premeditated murder in the Valentine's Day slaying.


Pistorius says he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder and shot her out of fear, while prosecutors say he planned the killing and attacked her as she cowered behind a locked bathroom door.


The day seemed to start out well for the prosecution, with Botha offering new details of the shooting that appeared to call into question Pistorius' account of the moments leading up to the 29-year-old model's death.


Ballistic evidence, he said, showed the bullets that killed her had been fired from a height, supporting the prosecution's assertion that Pistorius was wearing prosthetic legs when he took aim at the bathroom door. The athlete has maintained he was standing only on his stumps, and felt vulnerable and frightened as he opened fire from a low position.


Projecting a diagram of the bedroom and bathroom, prosecutor Gerrie Nel said it showed Pistorius had to walk past his bed to get to bathroom and could not have done so without seeing that Steenkamp was not asleep there.


"There's no other way of getting there," Nel said in disputing Pistorius' claim that he had no idea Steenkamp was no longer in bed when he pumped four bullets into the bathroom door, striking her with three.


Botha backed the prosecutor up, saying the holster for Pistorius' 9 mm pistol was found under the left side of the bed, where Steenkamp slept, and it would have been impossible for Pistorius to get the gun without checking to see if she was there.


"I believe that he knew that Reeva was in the bathroom and he shot four shots through the door," the detective said.


Botha described how bullets struck Steenkamp in the head and shattered her right arm and hip, eliciting sobs from Pistorius, who held his head in hands.


However, when asked if Steenkamp's body showed "any pattern of defensive wounds" or bruising from an assault, Botha said "no." He again responded "no" when asked if investigators found anything inconsistent with Pistorius' version of events, though he later said nothing contradicted the police version either.


Testimony began with the prosecutor telling the court that before the shooting, a neighbor heard "nonstop" shouting between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. at Pistorius' upscale home in a gated community in the capital, Pretoria.


However, Botha later said under cross examination that the witness was in a house 600 yards (meters) away, possibly out of earshot. He cut that estimate in half when questioned again by the prosecutor, as confusion reigned for much of his testimony.


At one point, Botha told the court that police found syringes and two boxes of testosterone in Pistorius' bedroom — testimony the prosecution later withdrew, saying it was too early to identify the substance, which was still being tested.


"It is not certain (what it is) until the forensics" are completed, Medupe Simasiku, a spokesman for South Africa's National Prosecution Agency, told The Associated Press. It's not clear if it was "a legal or an illegal medication for now."


The defense also disputed the claim. "It is an herbal remedy," Roux said. "It is not ... a banned substance."


Still, Botha offered potentially damaging details about Pistorius' past, saying the athlete was once involved in an accidental shooting at a restaurant in Johannesburg and asked someone else "to take the wrap."


The runner also threatened men on two separate occasions, Botha said, allegedly telling one he'd "break his legs."


The detective said police found two iPhones in Pistorius' bathroom and two BlackBerrys in his bedroom, and none had been used to phone for help. Guards at the gated community did call the athlete, Botha said, and all he said was: "I'm all right," as he wept uncontrollably.


Roux later suggested that a fifth phone, not collected by the police, was used by Pistorius to call for help.


The question now is whether Botha's troubled testimony will be enough to convince Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair to keep Pistorius in prison until trial. While Pistorius faces the harshest bail requirements under South African law, the magistrate has said he would consider loosening them based on testimony in the hearing. Final arguments were scheduled for Thursday.


___


Gerald Imray reported from Johannesburg. Associated Press writer Michelle Faul in Johannesburg contributed to this report.


___


Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP. Gerald Imray can be reached at www.twitter.com/geraldimrayAP.


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What legacy for Hillary on gay rights?






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Frida Ghitis: As secretary of state, Clinton made equality for gays a foreign policy value

  • She says treatment of LGBT citizens is a microcosm of a nation's human rights approach

  • She says Clinton used U.S. sway to advance LGBT rights as global standard

  • Ghitis: Clinton gave a boost to human rights for all and nudge to process of freedom




Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns


(CNN) -- As Hillary Clinton makes a whirlwind round of appearances in her last days as secretary of state, one groundbreaking aspect of her work deserves a moment in the spotlight: In a bold departure with tradition, Clinton made the promotion of equality for gay people a core value of U.S. foreign policy.


That is a transformative change, one that advances the cause of human rights around the world -- not just for gays and lesbians, but for everyone.



Frida Ghitis

Frida Ghitis



The way governments treat their LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) citizens can tell us much about their overall approach to human rights and democracy. Mistreatment of sexual minorities is a microcosm of greater repression.


Take a look at the gruesome spectacle of young gay men executed by the government of Iran in the streets, for all to see. Or, look at the new anti-gay laws coming into effect in Russia's increasingly authoritarian regime. It is no accident that the growing repression of LGBT Russians coincides with a dramatic deterioration of political freedom and what the nonpartisan Freedom House called "the return of the iron fist in Russia."


It is clear that gays and lesbians are the canaries in the coal mine of human rights. When gays live under pressure, everyone should worry.



That, however, is not how Clinton explained it 14 months ago, when she stood before the Human Rights Council in Geneva, in front of an audience filled with representatives from Arab and African countries, from places where homosexuality is a crime, even one punishable by death, and declared that gay rights and human rights "are one and the same." Gay people, she explained, deserve equality simply because everyone does.


It was Human Rights Day, the commemoration of the signing of the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, and she used the occasion to send a message to the world on behalf of the United States. She declared unequivocally that there is no exception for gay people when it comes to human rights.


Opinion: President Hillary Clinton? If she wants it


She admitted that the U.S. record on human rights for gays and lesbians "is far from perfect." But by proclaiming, without caveat or qualification, the American stance on the issue, she sent a signal to the rest of the world that, while equality for gay people is far from reached, the rightness of the goal is beyond debate, much like it is with equal rights for women or for racial minorities.


In doing this, she announced it was now the official policy of the U.S. government to promote the rights of LGBT people everywhere. Clinton has always been a couple of steps ahead of President Barack Obama when it comes to gay rights. It's a safe bet she persuaded him to jump on board and put the full force of the administration behind this new policy.


In Geneva that day, she announced that the president had instructed all U.S. government agencies working in other countries to "combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct" to help protect vulnerable LGBT, helping refugees and asylum seekers and responding to abuses.






Today, American diplomats, as part of their official mandate and as an explicit tenet of U.S. values, must speak up for the rights of individuals experiencing persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation, as when a couple were sentenced in Cameroon for "looking" gay.


News: Hillary Clinton talks future 'adventures'


America may be not as influential as it once was, but no country carries more weight; there's not even a close second. America's opinion matters if you want foreign aid or political assistance.


But it matters even more to people on the ground, eager, perhaps desperate to make their case before the authorities, their boss or their family. In the latter case, that it was the popular and respected Hillary Clinton making the argument undoubtedly made a difference on a personal level, even if dictators did not relent.


Clinton also noted that "being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality," and noted nations that have enacted protections for their gay citizens, including South Africa, Colombia and Argentina.


It was a rebuke to that tragicomic moment in 2007, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told an audience in New York, "In Iran, we do not have homosexuals like you do in your country," prompting an explosion of laughter from the crowd. Of course, gay people live in Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death.


America's stance, promoted so passionately by Clinton, is gradually becoming the global standard for human rights.


Under intense lobbying from America, the usually feckless and frequently counterproductive U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a measured entitled "Ending Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity," and another supporting equality, important symbols that this is a standard for the entire world.


Clinton moved the issue of equality for members of the LGBT community to the front of America's diplomatic agenda; in the process, she gave a boost to human rights for all and a considerable nudge to the inexorable progress of freedom. Let's hope her successor doesn't let up.


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.






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