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Clinton, Obama go on attack ahead of crucial vote

With two days to go before a crucial U.S. presidential vote, Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton sharpened their attacks on Sunday, with Clinton pouncing on Obama for saying Republican John McCain would be better for the country than George W. Bush.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton smiles during a rally at Liberty High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, April 20, 2008. With two days to go before a crucial U.S. presidential vote, Democrats Barack Obama and Clinton sharpened their attacks on Sunday. (REUTERS/Tim Shaffer)

Obama told a rally in Reading, Pennsylvania McCain would be an improvement over Bush, a comment that seemed to undercut the message he often pushes that electing McCain would amount to giving the current Republican president a third term.

"You have a real choice in this election -- you know, either Democrat would be better than John McCain, and all three of us would be better than George Bush," Obama said.

Clinton, vying with Obama for the Democratic nomination and the right to run against presumptive Republican nominee McCain in the November election, criticized Obama's comments.

"We need a nominee who will take on John McCain, not cheer on John McCain," she said at a rally in Johnstown.

The two candidates sparred ahead of Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary, which has become a major test in the race for the party's nomination.

Clinton, a New York senator who needs a win in the state to keep her presidential ambitions alive, leads in polls but Obama, an Illinois senator and the national front-runner, has cut into her one-time double-digit lead in recent weeks.

At a later event in Scranton, Obama appeared to backtrack on his suggestion that McCain would be better than Bush, once again reiterating his view that the Arizona senator was "running for George Bush's third term."

"We can't afford four more years of George Bush policies under the guise of John McCain," Obama said.

He also said Clinton's campaign tactics amounted to "game-playing" and said she would not represent enough of a change from the Bush administration.


"Trying to score cheap political points may make good headlines and good television but it doesn't make for good government," Obama said.

"If we're really going to solve big problems then we can't just settle for a little bit better. We need something fundamentally different," he added.

Clinton said it was Obama who had gone negative since their Philadelphia debate last week.

"It's no wonder that my opponent has been so negative these last few days of the campaign because I think you saw ... a big difference between us," she said at a rally in Bethlehem.

"While my opponent says one thing, his campaign, he does another. You can count on me to tell you what I will do," she said in Johnstown.

Clinton, who with her husband former President Bill Clinton has been the subject of many conservative investigations since the couple first entered the White House in 1993, was endorsed on Sunday by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review whose publisher, Richard Mellon Scaife, funded many of those probes.

"Clinton's decision to sit down with the Trib (editorial board) was courageous, given our long-standing criticism of her," the paper said. "Political courage is essential in a president. Clinton has demonstrated it. Obama has not."

Obama picked up an endorsement, too, from the Financial Times. "After Tuesday's vote, the Democrats should move quickly to affirm Mr. Obama's nomination," it said. "He is, in fact, the better candidate."

Ahead of Tuesday's Pennsylvania vote, most analysts believed Clinton would win but the size of the victory has become the focus of both campaigns.

McCain this week was heading off on a multistate tour of areas hard hit by poverty. Before leaving, he addressed the issue of his temper, which was the subject of a front-page Washington Post story on Sunday.

He said on ABC's "This Week" examples given in the story were decades old, "totally untrue or grossly exaggerated."

"I am very happy to be a passionate man," he said. "I love this country. I love what we stand for and believe in, and many times I deal passionately when I find things that are not in the best interests of the American people."

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U.S. Democrat Obama hauls in $42.8 million in March

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama raised more than $42 million in campaign donations in March, his campaign reported on Sunday.

The Illinois senator hauled in $42.8 million in the scramble for cash ahead of a showdown with rival Sen. Hillary Clinton in Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary, the campaign said in a monthly fund-raising report.

U.S. Senator Barack Obama addresses supporters at a town meeting in Reading, Pennsylvania April 20, 2008. Obama raised more than $42 million in campaign donations in March, his campaign reported on Sunday. (REUTERS/Bradley Bower)

The $42.8 million Obama raised in March was less than the $55 million his campaign brought in during February.

The February total for the Illinois senator was an all-time high for any presidential candidate during a primary and the March number, while lower, was the second highest.

The candidates had until midnight EDT Sunday to file monthly campaign fund-raising reports with the U.S. Federal Election Commission.

Sen. Hillary Clinton's March report was not out yet. A campaign source said earlier this month the New York senator expected to raise about $20 million.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain began April with $11.6 cash on hand, his campaign said in its fundraising disclosure report.

The Arizona senator, who has clinched the Republican presidential nomination to contest the November election, raised $15.4 in March and spent $11.8 during the month, the campaign reported.

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Hillary, Obama hit each other in attack ads

Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton were bashing one another with the most negative attacks of the primary season, bidding for undecided voters in Tuesday's critical Pennsylvania primary.

The former first lady gained the endorsement of a Pittsburgh newspaper whose owner funded probes that led to her husband's impeachment a decade ago.

With just 10 pre-convention contests remaining after Pennsylvania, it appeared mathematically impossible for either candidate to gather the 2,025 delegates needed for nomination going into the party convention in August. That leaves the nomination in the hands of so-called superdelegates, the nearly 800 party officials who can vote for either candidate regardless of state primary or caucus results.

The battle for Pennsylvania has turned particularly nasty as Clinton, who initially was expected to win easily and by a large margin, has seen her lead shrink in state polls. Obama _ who is the clear front-runner for the nomination _ is fighting equally hard to keep his expected loss as narrow as possible, hoping to diminish Clinton's argument to the superdelegates that she has unstoppable momentum.

She goes into the Pennsylvania primary having most recently won the delegate-heavy states of Texas and Ohio, but Obama leads nationwide in delegates selected in primary elections and state caucuses, in the popular vote and the number of pre-convention state contests won.

Overall, including the nearly 500 superdelegates who have committed to one of the Democrats, Obama leads 1,646 to 1,508. On Sunday, Clinton's campaign was bristling over new Obama TV ads that claimed the New York senator's health care plan would force Americans to buy into the program even if they couldn't afford it. Obama also was striking out at Clinton, charging her with having cozy links to lobbyists _ that in response to her campaign claims that he was taking money from special interest groups.

In a development that would have seemed impossible as the campaign opened, Clinton won the backing of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and its owner and publisher, billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.

In the 1990s, he spent $2.3 million (euro1.46 million) to fund a series of articles by The American Spectator magazine that dug into Bill Clinton's behavior as governor of Arkansas. The magazine reported that Clinton had asked state troopers to help procure women for him and that he had sexually harassed a state worker named Paula Jones. Jones's legal case against Clinton helped launch an independent counsel investigation that eventually exposed his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Hillary Clinton famously defended her husband at the time, saying the allegations were part of a "vast right-wing conspiracy'' heavily funded by Scaife. Clinton was impeached in the House of Representatives, but the Senate failed to convict him on charges brought by the Republican-dominated lower house.

Candidate Clinton met with the Tribune-Review's editorial board, including Scaife, last month. Afterward, Scaife wrote an editorial titled "Hillary, Reassessed,'' telling his readers he was impressed by the former first lady.

The Pennsylvania vote will divvy up 158 delegates to the August Democratic national convention, but the party's rules for apportioning those delegates mean that even a big victory will likely do little to close Obama's overall lead.

Geoff Garin, Clinton's new top strategist, faced David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, Sunday with each accusing the other of negative campaigning. But the one word that was not heard, as it usually is from Clinton campaign officials, was August.

In the past Clinton has vowed to fight for the nomination right to the convention late that month.

When asked on NBC television's "Meet the Press'' if Clinton might drop out if she turns in poor showings in the June 3 primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, even if she wins in Pennsylvania, Garin said: "I would advise people to wait until June 3 when this process is played through, see how close, how close it is, how well the candidates are doing, how they're conducting themselves.''

Garin did not once repeat Clinton's determination to continue the struggle into the convention.

Also Sunday, Obama, who often argues that John McCain is the same as President George W. Bush, said the Republican presidential candidate would be better for the country than Bush had been.

"You have a real choice in this election. Either Democrat would be better than John McCain,'' Obama said to cheers from a rowdy crowd at Reading High School in central Pennsylvania. Then he said: "And all three of us would be better than George Bush.''

The comment threatened to undercut Obama's efforts _ and those of the entire Democratic Party _ to portray McCain as offering nothing more than an extension of Bush's unpopular tenure. At the very least, it provided fodder that Republicans can exploit in the general election.

Earlier, Obama renewed his criticism that McCain offers the same "failed'' policies of the Bush administration on everything from Iraq to the economy.

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds responded: "The remark underscores that John McCain has the strength to change America and move this nation forward. Barack Obama is a new face who represents old ideas.''

Obama spokesman Bill Burton shot back: "It's hard to imagine a president doing a worse job than President Bush but one thing is clear, John McCain wants to do his best to emulate Bush's failed economic and foreign policies and even his divisive political tactics.''

McCain, who has benefited from the acrimony generated between Clinton and Obama, reasserted his determination not to repeal tax cuts pushed through by the Bush administration. He also promised to assemble a "league of democracies'' to work against Iran's perceived efforts to build a nuclear weapon.

"I've already had conversations with (French) President (Nicolas) Sarkozy. Just recently, again, I had conversations with (British) Prime Minister (Gordon) Brown. We could get together a league of democracies.

We could impact the Iranians in a very significant way,'' McCain said on ABC's "This Week.''

McCain has said he would not rule out using American military force against Iran should it be on the verge of gaining a nuclear weapon and if all other efforts to deter Tehran had failed.

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Rice in Iraq, violence surges after Sadr threat

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed Iraq's crackdown on militias in a visit on Sunday to Baghdad, where the worst fighting in weeks erupted after Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr threatened all-out war.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks during a meeting with Iraqi government leaders in Baghdad April 20, 2008. (REUTERS/Ceerwan Aziz)

Rockets blasted the fortified Green Zone compound where Rice met Iraqi officials and praised their month-old campaign against Sadr's followers.

She had harsh words for the reclusive cleric, who on the eve of Rice's visit vowed "open war" if the crackdown continues. Sadr has not appeared in public in Iraq in nearly a year.

"He is still living in Iran. I guess it's all out war for anybody but him," Rice told reporters. "His followers can go to their death and he will still be in Iran."

A military spokesman said U.S. forces had killed 20 fighters overnight in a series of gunbattles and helicopter missile strikes in Sadr City, the east Baghdad slum that is a stronghold of Sadr's militia.

"I would say it's been the hottest night in a couple of weeks," the spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Stover said.

Arriving on an unannounced visit, Rice met Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and said she wanted to support what she called a new political "centre" in Iraq that has backed Maliki's anti-militia campaign.

"It is indeed a moment of opportunity in Iraq thanks to the courageous decisions taken by the prime minister and a unified Iraqi leadership," Rice said in brief televised remarks with President Jalal Talabani after they held talks.

A rebellion by Sadr's Mehdi Army militia -- whose tens of thousands of black-masked fighters control the streets in many Shi'ite areas -- could abruptly end a period of lower violence at a time when some U.S. forces are starting to leave Iraq.

Rice did not take questions during the televised appearance, and later told reporters she did not know how seriously to take Sadr's threat of war, made in a statement on his website.

Sadr's threat dramatically raises the stakes in his confrontation with Maliki, who has threatened to ban Sadr's movement from political life unless he disbands his militia.


Maliki's crackdown has led over the past month to Iraq's worst fighting in nearly a year, spreading through the south and Shi'ite parts of Baghdad. Although fighting in the south has died down, the Baghdad clashes have continued unabated.

The crackdown has been backed by all parties across Iraq's sectarian and ethnic divide except the Sadrist movement.

Referring to that support for Maliki, Rice earlier told reporters there was a "coalescing of a centre in Iraqi politics" that was working together better than at any time.

As Rice met Maliki and other ministers, rockets could be heard hitting the Green Zone government and diplomatic compound where the prime minister has his office. Rice left the meeting about five minutes after an all-clear signal was given.

Washington says the rockets are fired from Sadr City by rogue elements of the Mehdi Army that it says are armed, trained and funded by Iran. Tehran denies responsibility.

Maliki's initial operation last month in the southern city of Basra went poorly, and U.S. commanders have acknowledged it was carried out hastily and badly planned.

Since then, however, the government forces have moved more carefully into Basra, and on Saturday they took control of the neighbourhood that had been the Mehdi Army's main stronghold.

"It has not been the smoothest of processes but it is an important step that the Iraqi government has taken," Rice said.

Sadr has pivoted back and forth between armed confrontation and peaceful politics throughout the five years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, while remaining hugely popular and staunchly hostile to the American presence he calls an "occupation".

He led two anti-American uprisings in 2004, but joined the political bloc that included Maliki and won parliamentary elections in 2005. Last year his followers quit the government for failing to demand an American withdrawal, but then Sadr abruptly declared a ceasefire, winning Washington's praise.

As his stance has changed, so has the response of American leaders. In 2004 they issued a warrant for his arrest, but more recently they praised his ceasefire and started referring to him with the respectful Arabic honorific "Sayyed".

Sadr's Mehdi Army has put up a fierce fight in Sadr City against Iraqi forces, who are backed by U.S. ground troops and air strikes. Fighting in the Sadr City slum has claimed hundreds of lives since last month.

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South Korea has new bird flu case, culling 5 mln birds

South Korea on Monday said it planned to cull a record 5.3 million birds as it announced its 17th case of bird flu in three weeks, in what has become the country's fastest and biggest outbreak of avian influenza.

South Korea has culled 4.86 million chickens and ducks since the beginning of April, as the highly virulent H5N1 strain, first reported in the southwest, has been confirmed in five provinces.

Chickens are culled at a farm with bird flu in Gimje, 215 km south of Seoul April 17, 2008. South Korea on Monday said it planned to cull a record 5.3 million birds as it announced its 17th case of bird flu in three weeks, in what has become the country's fastest and biggest outbreak of avian influenza. (REUTERS/The National Tax Service/Handout)

The agriculture ministry said on Monday it would start probing all of the country's 260 duck farms as a preemptive measure and continue quarantine work. Some 360 soldiers have been sent to the hardest-hit North Jeolla province to help slaughtering and burying farmed birds.

South Korea had to kill 5.29 million birds in its first outbreak between late 2003 and early 2004. The second outbreak in 2006-2007 saw about half that number culled.

No human deaths from the disease have been reported so far from the country.

Some 240 human deaths have been reported globally from the H5N1 strain and 381 confirmed cases of infection since 2003, according to World Health Organisation data.

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China food safety law to allow for life in jail

China unveiled a new draft food safety law on Sunday that provides for penalties of up to life imprisonment for people responsible for the production of substandard food.

The National People's Congress, or parliament, is seeking public comments on the draft until May 20, the official Xinhua news agency said.

A worker transports steamed buns at a store in Yingtan, Jiangxi province in this March 11, 2008 file photo. China unveiled a new draft food safety law on Sunday that provides for penalties of up to life imprisonment for people responsible for the production of substandard food. (REUTERS/Stringer)

It did not give a timeframe for the law's approval, but most drafts that reach the stage of seeking public comments generally pass with few changes to them.

Lesser violations of the law could incur fines, confiscation of income from sales of substandard products, or revocation of licenses, Xinhua said.

China has been hit by a series of food safety problems in the past few years, coming into the global spotlight last year through scandals over the quality of exported toothpaste, pet food and fish.

Domestic fears about food safety grew in 2004, when at least 13 babies died of malnutrition in Anhui province, in the east of the country, after they were fed fake milk powder with no nutritional value.

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British actor and comedian Eddie Izzard eyes possible career in European politics

British comedian Eddie Izzard, whose acting career is taking off, is eyeing yet another possible career _ politician.

Izzard, who plays Wayne Malloy in FX's "The Riches'' and who just finished shooting "Valkyrie,'' starring Tom Cruise, told Newsweek he sees himself getting into European politics at some point.

"We've got to make it work in Europe,'' the cross-dressing comedian, 46, told the magazine for its issue hitting newsstands Monday. "People are very worried about sovereignty and the loss of sovereignty. I think the stakes are if we don't make the European Union work, then the world is screwed. End of story.''

Izzard, who's lending his voice to the upcoming film "Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,'' said he enjoyed working on "Valkyrie.'' The film stars Cruise as Col. Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg, the aristocratic army officer executed after a failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944.

Izzard's standup comedy act, "Stripped,'' is set to begin April 28 in Boston.

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Enel CEO says rise of CO2 emission indicates Kyoto failure

The continuing rise of carbon dioxide emissions are an indication the Kyoto Protocol is basically ineffective because it lacks greater global participation, the chief executive of Italian utility Enel SpA said at a the International Energy Forum.

The Kyoto Protocol is not working in part because signatories to the agreement account for only 30 percent of total emissions, only a few sectors bear the brunt of the reduction and technology transfer is not being given sufficient importance, Fulvio Conti said in a speech.

Conti also said that reciprocity should be encouraged between the companies of energy-consuming countries and those of producing ones.

"With this perspective, Enel is committed to opening a portion of its domestic market to Gazprom,'' Enel's CEO said in his speech Sunday.

Government ministers from oil-rich nations and international oil company executives were meeting in Rome for a three-day energy conference that ends Tuesday.

While the energy ministers of most OPEC states will be present, the group was not expected to announce any policy shifts during the International Energy Forum, which was being held as crude oil prices have reached a new high of US$117 a barrel.

Italy's outgoing development minister, Pier Luigi Bersani, told the conference in his opening remarks Sunday that the high price of oil will have an impact on inflation for all of 2008.

"The price of oil has had an impact on the inflation dynamic in many countries and it is reflected in part also on food stuffs in general,'' Bersani said. "This dynamic will persist for all of 2008.''

Earlier, Eni SpA Chief Executive Paolo Scaroni said that the share of profits taken by governments of oil-rich countries is cutting international oil companies' profits, in some cases below their capital costs.

"The average government take is now moving to overcome the critical barrier of 90 percent, which means that oil companies' profitability is decreasing,'' Scaroni said.

Western oil majors have had to face a spate of re-negotiations of their contracts as hydrocarbon-rich countries aim for a bigger slice of profits on the back of surging crude prices.

International oil companies need to "profoundly rethink their business model in order to survive and prosper,'' Scaroni added.

On the sidelines of the conference, Eni signed a memorandum of understanding with Qatar Petroleum International to pursue key joint projects in Africa and the Mediterranean focusing on natural gas and crude oil. It also envisions cooperation in the petrochemical industry and power generation.

It is the latest in a string of deals by Eni _ Italy's biggest oil and gas company _ to expand its ties with state-run oil companies.

Eni recently signed new deals with companies in Venezuela and is intensifying its ties with Gazprom. Late last year, Eni reached a deal with the Libyan government to jointly develop oil and gas projects in the North African country and extend existing contracts.

Eni pulled out of Qatar in 2002, saying it was too expensive to operate, but Scaroni said the "mistake'' had been rectified.

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Benedict praises US church at Mass in Yankee Stadium, then heads home after 6-day visit

Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass and American Catholicism in storied Yankee Stadium, telling his massive U.S. flock to use its freedoms wisely as he closed out his first papal trip to the United States.

Benedict beamed before a joyous crowd of 57,000 on Sunday, hours after making a solemn stop to pray at the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

He called the Mass "a summons to move forward with firm resolve to use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations.''

And he repeated a core message of his six-day pilgrimage _ that faith must play a role in public life, citing the need to oppose abortion.

The unwavering truth of the Roman Catholic message, he said, guarantees respect for the dignity of all, "including the most defenseless of all human beings, the unborn child in the mother's womb.'' The crowd applauded the line.

Worshippers filled the seats, chanting, clapping and waving white and yellow handkerchiefs in the Vatican's colors as the white popemobile pulled in. At the end of the service the German-born Benedict again processed out slowly, serenaded by the strains of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy.''

Outside the stadium, two dump trucks filled with sand blockaded 161st Street before Mass, an extra level of security along with the heavy police presence. Pilgrims without tickets pushed up against metal police barricades, hoping to get a glimpse of the arriving pope.

Inside, ad-splashed outfield walls were draped in white with purple and yellow bunting. A white altar perched over second base, and the papal seal covered the pitcher's mound, suspended by white and yellow ribbons.

"I have never seen Yankee Stadium so beautiful, and I have season's tickets,'' said Philip Giordano, 49, a tax attorney from Greenwich, Connecticut, who won seats in the loge section behind home plate through a parish lottery. "It sure beats sitting in my local church.''

Added his wife, Suzanne: "I'm hoping to feel something from (Benedict). Everyone who has seen him says they crumple, their knees buckle. You come away just feeling different.''

New Orleans crooner Harry Connick Jr., on the pre-Mass concert program, remarked that he is often asked if he's a practicing Catholic.

"Practicing?'' he said. "I'm playing for the pope today.''

Benedict seemed to enjoy his long journey to the altar in the popemobile, waving to people in the stands. From the altar, he stood to acknowledge the crowd's roar when New York Cardinal Edward Egan welcomed him.

He praised the U.S. church, which has 65 million members, in his homily, saying that "in this land of freedom and opportunity, the church has united a widely diverse flock'' and contributed greatly to American society.

The pope departed on a special airliner nicknamed "Shepherd One'' after a farewell ceremony hosted by Vice President Dick Cheney, with Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Clinton in attendance. "May God bless America!'' the pope said before departing.

Earlier, on a chilly, gray morning, the pope blessed the site of the terrorist attacks and pleaded with God to bring "peace to our violent world.''

The visit by Benedict to ground zero was a poignant moment in a trip marked by unexpectedly festive crowds such as the one at Sunday's Mass.

Benedict was driven in the popemobile part-way down a ramp now used mostly by construction trucks to a spot by the north tower's footprint. He walked the final steps, knelt in silent prayer, then rose to light a memorial candle.

Addressing a group that included survivors, clergy and public officials, he acknowledged the many faiths of the victims at the "scene of incredible violence and pain.''

The pope also prayed for "those who suffered death, injury and loss'' in the attacks at the Pentagon and in the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. More than 2,900 people were killed in the four crashes of the airliners hijacked by al-Qaida.

"God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world,'' the pope prayed. "Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred.''

Benedict invited 24 people with ties to ground zero to join him: survivors, relatives of victims and four rescue workers. He greeted each member of the group individually as a string quartet played in the background. In his prayer, he also remembered those who, "because of their presence here that day, suffer from injuries and illness.''

New York Deputy Fire Chief James Riches, father of a fallen Sept. 11 firefighter, said the pope's visit gave him consolation. "We said 'Where was God?' on 9/11, but he's come back here today and they've restored our faith,'' Riches said.

The site where the World Trade Center was destroyed is normally filled with hundreds of workers building a 102-story skyscraper, a memorial and transit hub. It bears little resemblance to the debris-filled pit where crews toiled to remove twisted steel and victims' remains.

The remains of more than 1,100 people have never been identified.

Back at Yankee Stadium, some worshippers filed out of the service slowly, trying to soak up the atmosphere as long as they could.

"It was great for the young, it was great for the old,'' Judith Halsey, a nurse from Bayonne, New Jersey, said of Benedict's visit as she left the Mass. "It was an uplifting time for the entire Catholic religion. Everyone needed this.''

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McCain doesn't rule out preemptive war

Republican U.S. presidential candidate John McCain said on Wednesday he would not rule out launching preemptive wars against future enemies.

President George W. Bush, in launching his 2003 invasion of Iraq, said it was necessary to forestall possible future attacks from a country that was developing weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R-AZ) listens during a hearing on the the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington April 8, 2008. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

None of the weapons he alleged were in Iraq were subsequently found.

McCain, who has wrapped up his party's nomination to run for the White House in the November election, has maintained support for Iraq war and has said frequently that he would rather lose an election than a war.

When asked at a town hall meeting about the Bush policy on preemption, McCain said: "I don't think you can make a blanket statement about preemptive war because obviously it depends on the threat that the United States of America faces."

After the Sept. 11 attacks Bush approved a new national security strategy in 2002 that allowed the United States to strike first against U.S. enemies believed to be about to use weapons of mass destruction against America.

The doctrine triggered a wide debate and criticism from the administration's critics at the time.

In an October 2002 speech, Bush made the case for invading Iraq, saying: "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

McCain said the U.S. president should consult more closely with members of Congress so that the branches of government could act together if a threat were imminent.

"In normal times as you see a looming threat ... I think you need to consult more closely and more carefully not with every member of Congress but certainly the leaders of Congress."

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Clinton attacks Obama, McCain over Iraq

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Wednesday attacked her rivals over Iraq, saying Democrat Barack Obama is all talk when it comes to ending the war and Republican John McCain would keep it going.

Democratic presidential Senator Hillary Clinton is followed by the media after she questioned US Commander in Iraq General David Petraeus and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker during their appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington April 8, 2008. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Clinton sought political gain during a week in which Iraq has taken on greater importance to American voters with the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, testifying to Congress.

New York Sen. Clinton said the expected Republican nominee for the November election, Arizona Sen. McCain, has no interest in ending the war.

She also questioned whether her rival for the Democratic nomination, Illinois Sen. Obama, was committed to pulling out U.S. troops as he says he would do.

"That's the choice. One candidate will continue the war and keep troops in Iraq indefinitely, one candidate only says he'll end the war," Clinton said at a high school in a Pittsburgh suburb.

"And one candidate is ready, willing and able to end the war and to rebuild our military while honoring our soldiers and our veterans," Clinton said of herself.

Clinton and Obama both say they would begin working to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq shortly after taking office in January 2009, a position McCain calls "a failure of leadership."

McCain, a strong supporter of the current U.S. strategy in Iraq in which thousands more U.S. troops were poured into the country in a "surge," defended the lack of a clear exit plan.

Many senators, both Democrats and Republicans, raised concerns about what they called the absence of a U.S. pathway out of Iraq after five years of war, 4,000 American dead and billions of dollars spent.

"The exit strategy is success of the surge, continued Iraqi ability to take over their security, requirements to have the democratic process go forward. It's the classic counterinsurgency strategy," McCain told the Fox News Channel.

Clinton spoke one day after Petraeus told Congress that the United States must halt troop withdrawals from Iraq in July for 45 days because security gains there are fragile.

Clinton called on President George W. Bush to propose a strategy for ending U.S. involvement in Iraq, and said he should not set up a long-term security agreement with the Iraqi government without approval from Congress.

"President Bush must not saddle the next president with an agreement that extends our involvement in Iraq beyond his presidency," said Clinton, who was flanked by retired military officials.

Clinton said U.S. troops should be guaranteed one month at home for every month they spend overseas, and should be allowed to leave the military when their contractual time is up.

She also proposed expanded educational, home loan and health benefits for troops and veterans.

Petraeus' testimony allowed Clinton, Obama and McCain to push their competing positions on the Iraq war, which remains unpopular with U.S. voters.

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Obama joins Clinton, urges President Bush to boycott Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing

Barack Obama joined Democratic presidential rival Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday in calling for President George W. Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies for the Olympic games in Beijing.

Clinton had commended British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for announcing that he will skip the August ceremonies in China's capital, and called on Obama and likely Republican presidential nominee John McCain to join her in urging Bush to do the same.

Obama did later in the day; his campaign issued a statement in which, for the first time, he urged Bush to boycott the festivities.

Activists are urging world leaders to stay away from the ceremonies to underscore concerns about China's human rights record, its handling of recent unrest in Tibet and its relationship with Sudan.

Obama said a boycott "should be firmly on the table,'' but that a decision should be made closer to the games.

"If the Chinese do not take steps to help stop the genocide in Darfur and to respect the dignity, security, and human rights of the Tibetan people, then the president should boycott the opening ceremonies,'' he said. "As I have communicated in public and to the president, it is past time for China to respect the human rights of the Tibetan people, to allow foreign journalists and diplomats access to the region, and to engage the Dalai Lama in meaningful talks about the future of Tibet.''

Obama previously had said he was conflicted about U.S. participation, but that "there should be consequences'' for China if it does not take steps to respect rights and freedoms in Tibet.

Clinton said Bush should use threat of a boycott to exert leverage on the Chinese government.

"I believe that the president should not attend the opening ceremonies because that it is giving a seal of approval by our United States government,'' she told reporters near Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

McCain spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said he condemns "the brutal oppression'' the Chinese have inflicted on Tibetans, and thinks the president should monitor the situation and "keep his options open.

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Candidates court black vote on King anniversary

Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democrat Hillary Clinton sought to shore up support among black voters on Friday in the city where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was slain 40 years ago.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain places a memorial wreath at the Lorraine Motel, now part of the National Civil Rights Museum, where rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, in Memphis, April 4, 2008. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Democrat Barack Obama honored King's legacy with a speech in Indiana, while his rivals attended activities in Memphis marking the anniversary of the day King was gunned down as he stood on a Lorraine Motel balcony.

"I think it's important to spread the message that Doctor King's work is unfinished in places like Indiana and North Dakota," Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president, told reporters in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

As a steady downpour soaked a crowd outside the Lorraine Motel, Arizona Sen. McCain got a mixed greeting at a meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

A couple of people shouted "No more war" as McCain, an Iraq war supporter, was introduced. There were scattered boos as McCain said, "I was wrong" for voting against creating a federal King holiday while he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1983.

Others shouted, "We forgive you."

McCain, who will face Obama or Clinton in the November U.S. presidential election, noted he had afterward supported a King holiday in his home state of Arizona.

"We can all be a little late sometimes in doing the right thing, and Doctor King understood this about his fellow Americans," McCain said.

McCain said he was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam when King was assassinated, and that the news was broadcast to the prisoners. "I think they knew that that it would hurt our morale and make us worry a great deal about our country, and they were right," he told NBC News.

Clinton spoke at Mason Temple, headquarters of the Church of God of Christ, where King gave his famous "I've been to the mountaintop" speech the day before he died.

She said if elected president she would appoint a Cabinet-level "poverty czar" to address the problems of the disadvantaged, the people for whom King fought.

"He never gave up and neither should we," Clinton said. "Like with any faith there were dark moments -- but he would always come back from those dark places. And so must we."

Under pressure from the Obama campaign, Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, released eight years of tax records on Friday that showed they made $109 million since leaving the White House, including $51 million from Bill Clinton's speeches.

The couple paid more than $33 million in taxes and gave more than $10 million to charity between 2000 -- their last year in the White House -- and 2007, the records showed.

Obama released his returns from 2000 to 2006 last week.


Forty years after King's assassination set off race riots in more than 100 U.S. cities, race is roiling U.S. politics this presidential election year.

Both McCain and Clinton have some fence-mending to do among African-Americans.

McCain rankled black voters by skipping a Republican debate on African-American issues in September.

Clinton irked some black voters by saying on the campaign trail that King was not solely responsible for improvements in civil rights laws and that 1960s President Lyndon Johnson had a lead role as well.

Obama has been criticized over inflammatory sermons given by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the retired pastor at Obama's Chicago church, as he railed against the U.S. history of segregation.

Obama, who is getting overwhelming black support, told a crowd in Fort Wayne that American politics had not lived up to King's dream.

"For a long time, we've had a politics that's been too small for the scale of the challenges we face," he said. "Instead of having a politics that lives up to Doctor King's call for unity, we've had a politics that's used race to drive us apart."

A New York Times/CBS News poll published on Thursday found Obama's favorability rating among Democratic primary voters dropped 7 percentage points to 62 percent since late February. The decline was mostly among men and upper-income voters.

Clinton, who would be the first woman to win the White House, is scrambling to capture the Democratic presidential nomination from Obama in what seems an increasingly uphill battle.

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Clintons made $109 million since 2000, returns show

Democrat Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have made $109 million since 2000, including $51 million in speech income for Bill Clinton, according to eight years of tax information released on Friday.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton appears with her husband, former President Bill Clinton (L), at a rally in New York in this February 5, 2008 file photo. (REUTERS/Jim Young/Files)

The couple paid taxes of more than $33 million and gave more than $10 million to charity between 2000 -- their last year in the White House -- and 2007, tax records released by Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign showed.

Clinton, a New York senator, had been challenged by White House rival Barack Obama to release her tax returns as the two Democrats duel for the right to face Republican John McCain in November's election.

Obama made public his tax returns from 2000 to 2006 last week, renewing their battle over transparency. Campaign aides to Obama, an Illinois senator, had accused Clinton of being secretive and shielding documents from the public.

Presidential candidates often release their tax returns, although they are not required to do so. As senators, Obama and Clinton are both required only to file disclosure statements that give a wide range of income and provide few details on finances and holdings.

The Clinton's tax returns, released late on Friday afternoon, showed their income jumped from $350,000 in 2000, their final year in the White House, to $16 million in 2001, their first year out of office.

Their biggest money-making years were 2004 and 2007, when they made $20 million in each year. The 2004 income included more than $15 million in business income primarily from Bill Clinton's speeches.

"The Clintons have now made public 30 years of tax returns, a record matched by few people in public service. None of Hillary Clinton's presidential opponents have revealed anything close to this amount of personal financial information," Clinton spokesman Jay Carson said.

The Clinton campaign has pushed Obama to release records from his days in the Illinois legislature and his earlier tax returns.

In addition to Bill Clinton's lucrative speeches, the couple made about $40 million in book income between 2000 and 2007. Hillary Clinton made $10 million from her book "Living History" and $190,000 from "It Takes a Village," released in 1996.

Bill Clinton made more than $23 million for his autobiography "My Life," including a $15 million advance. He earned $6.3 million for "Giving," released last year.

The couple paid $33.7 million in federal taxes since 2000, which was 31 percent of their adjusted gross income. The $10 million in charitable donations was 9.5 percent of their adjusted gross income.

The campaign said the most recent Internal Revenue Service information showed taxpayers who earned more than $10 million a year gave an average of 3.1 percent of their income to charity.

In addition to seven years of tax returns, the Clintons released a summary of their 2007 finances based on estimates by their tax attorney.

The campaign said they will seek an extension beyond the April 15 tax deadline so they can receive information related to partnership income, including from a blind trust.

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Haitians riot over prices, attack U.N. peacekeepers

Protesters angry over rising living costs rioted in the southwestern Haitian town of Les Cayes, burning shops, shooting at peacekeepers and looting containers in a U.N. compound, the United Nations said in a statement on Friday.

Les Cayes was still tense after the riots on Thursday, and the U.N. force trying to maintain the peace in the volatile Caribbean country sent 100 peacekeepers as reinforcements, the statement said.

Food prices in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, have soared in recent months, stoking anger against the government of President Rene Preval.

Preval's election in 2006 raised expectations that the country would finally start on the path to stability after decades of turbulence, culminating in the February 2004 ouster of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

A small group of protesters broke into the U.N. compound in Les Cayes during Thursday's protest, damaging the main gate and ignoring warning shots from peacekeepers, the statement said.

"The protesters also burned shops in Les Cayes and threw rocks and fired weapons at some of the blue helmets during the night."

Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the more prosperous Dominican Republic, has been relatively tranquil recently, although a resurgence in kidnappings and crime has alarmed the United Nations.

Just under 9,000 Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeepers and civilian police are stationed in Haiti.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this week called on the international community and Haiti's leaders to keep up their efforts to bring stability to the country. "The potential for regression remains," he said in a report.

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Historic building in Quebec City is nearly destroyed in a fire, collapses

One of Quebec's most historic buildings was caught up in a massive fire and collapsed late Friday. No injuries were reported, police said.

Witnesses said there was a fire, followed by an explosion at the Quebec City Armoury, which was built in 1884 and used to house the Voltigeurs, a Canadian Forces reserve unit and the oldest French infantry regiment in the country.

Most of the building collapsed about two hours after the fire began, leaving only a brick wall and two towers standing at the main entrance.

Police say they do not know what caused the fire. At least eight fire trucks and dozens of firefighters were battling the flames. The building, which was being renovated, also contained a museum.

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South Korea reports new suspected bird flu case

South Korea on Saturday reported a suspected outbreak of the H5 strain of bird flu at a farm in the southwest of the country, near another farm that authorities said earlier this week had an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain.

The farm ministry said the latest outbreak took place at a duck farm and it has yet to confirm if it is also the H5N1 strain. It expects to finish testing on Monday.

Ducks are seen wading on a stream in Sungnam, south of Seoul, in this February 24, 2006 file photo. South Korea on Saturday reported a suspected outbreak of the H5 strain of bird flu at a farm in the southwest of the country, near another farm that authorities said earlier this week had an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain. (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Workers on Saturday will cull about 6,500 ducks at the farm that was raising about 12,500 ducks in Jeongeup, which is 27 km from the farm that had the H5N1 outbreak, the ministry said.

On Thursday, the country confirmed the first outbreak of highly virulent bird flu in 13 months at a farm in Gimje, about 215 km south of Seoul, and started culling over 300,000 chickens and other poultry.

The ministry also banned distribution of 3.6 million animals within a 10 km radius of the Gimje outbreak site and the destruction of eggs produced, and already distributed, in the area.

The country has had seven outbreaks of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu between November 2006 and March 2007 and has spent 58.2 billion won ($59.17 million) on quarantine measures.

Bird flu has killed 238 people globally since 2003, according to the World Health Organisation.

It largely remains an animal disease, but the big concern is that it could mutate into a disease that easily passes from one person to another, triggering a deadly global pandemic.

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Chinese media acknowledge rare pilots' strike

Pilots flying for a subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines turned back midflight to southwestern Chinese airports early this week, in a rare strike to protest lower pay and other conditions, state media reported on Saturday.

Organized labour strikes are unusual in China, where there is only one legal, government-backed union.

Chinese maintenance workers walking under a China Eastern aircraft at Hong Qiao Airport in Shanghai in this June 8, 2005 file photo. Pilots flying for a subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines turned back midflight to southwestern Chinese airports early this week, in a rare strike to protest lower pay and other conditions. (REUTERS/Aly Song/Files)

Seventeen flights returned to their departure airports in Yunnan Province after takeoff on Monday and Tuesday, in a protest by pilots of China Eastern subsidiary Yunnan Airlines.

Pilots upset that they were limited to domestic routes and therefore shorter flying hours and lower pay than counterparts in the parent company were further discouraged to find they would be taxed heavily on overtime pay, local media reported this week.

State-run television reported the strike during the midday news on Saturday, as well as passengers' complaints, after a week in which officials repeatedly denied any such strike had happened.

A China Eastern spokesman told Reuters earlier in the week that there had been no strike, and that some flights had simply taken off from Yunnan's capital, Kunming, and then returned because of poor weather. Reached on Saturday, the spokesman had no further comment.

Leading financial magazine Caijing said on Friday that pilots would not be published, citing an air administration official, after local media had reported the pilots would be banned for life.

Yunnan Airlines' flight routes include many popular tourist destinations, including the mountain towns of Dali and Lijiang. The strike came a few days before a long weekend holiday.

A boom in air travel means China is increasingly short on pilots, while cut-throat competition between airlines keeps their profit margins tight.

Last month, pilots for Shanghai Airlines and the newly formed Wuhan East Star Airline coordinated "sick-ins", in two separate incidents, media reported.

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Diana jury retires for weekend, no decision

The jury at the inquest into Princess Diana's death retired for the weekend on Friday after failing to reach a decision in three days of deliberations.

Diana and her lover Dodi al-Fayed died in August 1997 when their Mercedes limousine, driven by chauffeur Henri Paul, crashed in a Paris road tunnel while being pursued by paparazzi photographers.

The 11-member jury, who will return to court on Monday, have a choice of five possible verdicts.

They could decide her death was accidental or opt for unlawful killing through gross negligence either by Henri Paul, by "following vehicles" or by both.

The fifth option, which could give renewed life to the conspiracy theories that have surrounded Diana's death for the past decade, is an open verdict if the jury find there is insufficient evidence to support any substantive verdict.

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FACTBOX - Prince Philip in hospital

Queen Elizabeth's 86-year-old husband Prince Philip has been taken to hospital with a chest infection, Buckingham Palace said on Friday.

Here are some key facts about him:

* Philippos Schleswig-Holstein Soenderburg-Glucksburg was born on a dining room table on the Greek island of Corfu on June 10, 1921, the fifth child and only son of Prince Andrew of Greece.

* Philip's parents went into exile when he was 18 months old. They sailed from Corfu with him sleeping in a cot made hurriedly from orange boxes.

* He was educated at Gordonstoun, a tough school in Scotland, where his son, Prince Charles was later an unwilling pupil, and became a naturalised British citizen, looking and sounding every bit the English gentleman.

* Philip joined Britain's Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, southern England, as a cadet, in 1939. He graduated top of his class and served on battleships, cruisers and destroyers during World War Two. He was mentioned in dispatches, took part in the Allied landings in Sicily and was in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered in 1945.

* Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip first met when at the wedding of Prince Philip's cousin, Princess Marina of Greece, to The Duke of Kent, who was an uncle of Princess Elizabeth, in 1934.

* They were married at Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947 in a spectacular ceremony attended by statesmen and royalty from around the world.

* He continued his naval career until 1951, then took indefinite leave and devoted himself fulltime to public duties when Elizabeth became queen a year later.

* Philip's reputation, and that of the queen, has suffered as the marital problems of their children have mounted.

* He is known for his acerbic wit but has also caused offence with off-the-cuff remarks: He once told British students in China: "If you stay here much longer, you'll be slitty-eyed

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Loyalty and the Clintons: how far does it go?

If loyalty is the currency of politics, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton should have a full coffer to tap for her U.S. presidential bid.

US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) speaks at a "Hillary Live" fundraising event at the Wilshire Theater in Beverly Hills, California April 3, 2008. (REUTERS/Mark Avery)

But the former first lady and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who prize loyalty from their wide national support base, are struggling to keep that allegiance alive at a time when they need it the most.

Clinton is fighting for her political life, trying to sway so-called superdelegates -- party leaders and elected officials -- to stick with her in the race against front-runner and rival Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Clinton, observers say, is fiercely devoted to her staff, and both she and her husband expect and usually receive allegiance from their associates.

But ties to Bill Clinton's administration have not always translated into support for his wife's candidacy, to the frustration of the former first couple.

"They start with the assumption that anybody who was with them in the (previous Clinton) administration, should be with them now, and when people decide to go to Obama, most of those people are in pretty bad standing," said one former Clinton White House staffer, who asked not to be named.

Sen. Clinton, that official said, was more forgiving than her husband if a supporter comes back to the fold, as some have done after backing candidates such as former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who bowed out of the Democratic race to face Republican John McCain in the November election.

"She's not stupid. She would rather have talented staff come back than waste a lot of energy icing them."

But "icing" does take place.

When New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former energy secretary and ambassador for Bill Clinton, endorsed Obama, he was tagged with a "Judas" label by an outraged member of the Clinton camp, former adviser James Carville.

"I believed that Richardson's appointments in Bill Clinton's administration and his longtime personal relationship with both Clintons ... merited a strong response," Carville wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post.


Richardson, who dropped his own presidential bid earlier this year, said the loyalty argument had been taken too far.

"Carville and others say that I owe President Clinton's wife my endorsement because he gave me two jobs," he wrote in a separate Washington Post opinion piece.

"Do the people now attacking me recall that I ran for president, albeit unsuccessfully, against Senator Clinton? Was that also an act of disloyalty?"

Maybe not. But he probably shouldn't expect another Cabinet post if Sen. Clinton pulls off a victory.

Bruce Buchanan, a professor of government at the University of Texas, said loyalty with the former first couple was not always a two-way street.

"They have historically, especially President Clinton, thrown people over the side when they were no longer of any use," he said.

Clinton supporters dispute that characterization.

"The Clintons, I think, are people who are loyal, but they have their eyes open," said Douglas Schoen, a former Clinton adviser, saying the two would not retain staff who became liabilities as President George W. Bush has done with officials such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

"The Bush family, perhaps in some ways to their credit but in the pragmatic political sense unwisely, reciprocate loyalty much more readily than the Clintons do," Buchanan said.

Clinton may be guilty of holding on to staff too long as well. She retained campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle until early February after a string of primary losses to Obama, eventually replacing her with another loyalist, Maggie Williams, who was a top aide to Clinton as first lady.

As she trails Obama in the race for delegates who determine the nomination, the big question now will be the faithfulness of the superdelegates, and the next state nominating contest in Pennsylvania on April 22 could be key.

"Even superdelegates who have committed themselves to Clinton will start bailing out if Obama comes close -- much less wins -- in Pennsylvania," said Fred Greenstein, professor emeritus of politics at Princeton University.

"Politics also involves pragmatism, and that can call for switching."

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Snacking Mugabe, flying penguins greet April Fools

Flying penguins, lampooned heads of state, foul-mouthed chefs gone polite and a car that repels full-bladdered dogs topped the list of April Fool pranks around the world on Tuesday.

A girl watches a parade during a traditional celebration of April Fool's Day in Skopje April 1, 2008. Children in Skopje parade in costumes every year on April Fool's Day. (REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski)

An elaborate BBC video of flying penguins topped a rich offering of spoofs in Britain that included Gordon Ramsay, Alistair Darling and a full-page advert from BMW.

The Independent newspaper reported that foul-mouthed TV chef Ramsay was banning swearing in all his restaurants after Australian authorities refused an application for him to set up an eatery on the grounds of "decency".

The BMW advert, carried in several newspapers, purported to introduce Canine Repellent Alloy Protection, an ingenious system of delivering an electric shock to any dog thinking of relieving itself against a BMW wheel.

The Daily Telegraph featured a story based on BBC footage of a colony of penguins that flies thousands of miles to the rainforests of South America to sunbathe (

With an eye to last week's French state visit, the Sun said diminutive President Nicolas Sarkozy will be stretched five inches to help him see eye to eye with supermodel wife Carla Bruni.


In southern Africa, Zimbabwe's election provided rich material for the newspapers, with front page stories mocking President Robert Mugabe.

Johannesburg paper the Times said Mugabe had been seen around the grounds of the official residence of South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has faced criticism over his "quiet diplomacy" that has failed to end Zimbabwe's crisis.

"I saw a Mugabe looking in the fridge last night. Mbeki is clearly too embarrassed to entertain Mugabe at meal-time," the paper quoted a witness as saying.

It quoted a Mugabe spokesman named as "Roli Flapo" as saying it was "no business of the Western, imperialist, reactionary media whether or not a comrade visits a fridge at any time of day or night."

In Australia, various companies and media organisations got into the swing of April 1 when pranks are allowed until noon with a range of hoaxes designed more to amuse than trick people.

Google Australia announced that it was to launch a new feature "enabling you to search for content on the Internet before it is created" so you could get tomorrow's news today including share prices and sports results. (


Virgin Blue, Australia's second-largest airline, put an advert in newspapers across Australia that read: "Stand Up and Be Discounted," offering half price fares if passengers would stand for a flight with a complimentary calf massage for flights of over two hours.

"We've had over 1,000 click-throughs onto the Web site we set up ( and people had a very good humor about it. We like to have a bit of fun," said Virgin Blue spokeswoman Leonie Vandeven.

April Fools' Day dates back centuries but its origins remain unclear.

The Museum of Hoaxes, a Web site set up by self-described "hoaxpert" Alex Boese in 1997, said references began to appear in the late Middle Ages.

But Boese said the most widespread theory about its origin dates back to late 16th century, when France switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar meaning the start of the year moved from late March to January 1.

Those who continued to celebrate the New Year during the week that fell between March 25 and April 1 had various jokes played on them. Boese said there was no evidence to back this.

But not all April Fools hoaxes work out.

The worst hoax, according to Boese, was in 1998 when a newspaper owned by Saddam Hussein's son Uday informed readers that U.S. President Bill Clinton had decided to lift sanctions against Iraq. It admitted later that it was just joking.

He does, however, list the top 100 April Fools' Day hoaxes, which is headed by the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. This dates back to 1957 when the BBC news show Panorama announced Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop due to a mild winter with footage of Swiss peasants pulling spaghetti strands from trees.

Boese said April Fools' Day has never been a widely celebrated tradition but he believed pranks are becoming more common with the Internet offering fertile ground.

"Also advertisers have come to realize that a funny prank can generate lots of good publicity," he said in an e-mail.

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Judge says Diana's butler "did not tell the truth"

Princess Diana's butler Paul Burrell did not tell the truth at the inquest into her death, the presiding judge told a jury in London on Tuesday.

A photograph of the Princess of Wales left by a mourner is adorned with a rose August 31, 2002 on the gates of Kensington Palace on the fifth anniversary of her death. (REUTERS/Chris Helgren/Files)

"All in all, you may think Burrell's behaviour has been pretty shabby," Lord Justice Scott Baker told the jury as he concluded the official inquiry into the death of Diana and her lover Dodi al-Fayed in a Paris car crash in 1997.

Burrell, the butler who called himself "Diana's Rock", faced a three-day grilling from lawyers when he appeared at the inquest in January. He was repeatedly asked how much he really knew about secrets he was supposed to have held for Diana.

In February, Scott Baker asked Burrell to return to court to explain discrepancies between his evidence and comments attributed to him in a tabloid newspaper, but he refused.

"It was blindingly obvious wasn't it, that the evidence that he gave in this courtroom was not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth," Scott Baker said on Tuesday.

In a scathing reference to Burrell's emotionally charged testimony, he told the jury: "I advise you to proceed with caution especially when and if you are left with the impression that he only told you what he wanted you to hear."

The coroner was summing up to the jury after they had heard from more than 250 witnesses over the past six months in an inquest into Diana's death.

Harrods' owner Mohamed Al-Fayed, Dodi's father, fought a long legal battle to have the inquest heard by a judge and jury. Under British law, an inquest is needed to determine the cause of death when someone dies unnaturally.

The inquest was delayed for 10 years because Britain had to wait for the French legal process and then a British police investigation to run their course before it could begin.

Both police inquiries decided it was a tragic accident because chauffeur Henri Paul was drunk and driving too fast.


Tuesday's proceedings were held up for two hours after the court received a last-minute e-mail from France referring to a possible sample from Paul, who died at the wheel of the speeding Mercedes which was being pursued by paparazzi.

But the judge resumed after an extensive break, telling the jury without going into any detail "The problem has been solved. There is nothing to be concerned about."

On Monday, the opening day of his presentation to the jury, the judge dismissed conspiracy theories held by Mohamed al-Fayed, father of Dodi.

Al-Fayed had claimed Diana and his son were killed by British security services on the orders of Queen Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip, because the royal family did not want the mother of the future king to have a child with Dodi al-Fayed.

The 11-member jury is due to be sent out on Wednesday to consider their decision after the judge finishes his summing up. They have five verdicts to choose from.

They can opt for unlawful killing through gross negligence by the chauffeur, by "following vehicles" or by both.

The other two alternatives are accidental death or an open verdict if the jury felt there was not enough evidence to support any substantive verdict.

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'Rambunctious' McCain says he had chip on shoulder

Republican presidential candidate John McCain has a reputation for sometimes losing his temper, and based on his speech on Tuesday, he was even worse in high school in the 1950s.

Republican presidential candidate U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) greets supporters at his New Hampshire primary night rally in Nashua January 8, 2008. (REUTERS/Mike Segar/Files)

McCain is on a nostalgic tour this week of places that were instrumental to his upbringing as he tries to reintroduce himself to Americans, and grab some headlines while Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton dominate news coverage with their battle on who will face McCain in the November election.

Arizona Sen. McCain returned to Episcopal High School near Washington, where he graduated in 1954, and told students about being judged by his peers as "the worst rat," a title rendered to him as a first-year student for piling up demerits and other acts of immaturity.

McCain said he arrived at the private boarding school as a "pretty rambunctious boy, with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder." And he said he would respond aggressively when challenged.

Some colleagues in the U.S. Senate who have felt his wrath might agree.

"In all candor, as an adult I've been known to forget occasionally the discretion expected of a person of my years and station when I believe I've been accorded a lack of respect I did not deserve," he said.

If his detractors had known him at Episcopal, he said with a smile, "they might marvel at the self-restraint and mellowness I developed as an adult."

McCain, 71, who spent 5 1/2 years as a Vietnam prisoner of war, is using the trip to tell Americans he is a flawed individual who respects duty, honor and sacrifice for the good of the country.

He visits the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on Wednesday, where he graduated fifth from the bottom of his class, then goes on to Florida, where he trained as a pilot, and back home to Arizona, where his political career began.

"I have been a very imperfect public servant," McCain said. "I have always tried to do well, I always try to do better, but I have made more than my share of mistakes."

During a question-and-answer session with the students, a young woman asked him why he was holding an obviously campaign event at the high school, saying she had been told it was not to be a political event.

"This meeting is over," McCain joked.

Then he said he was on the tour to emphasize values and principles that guided him and to offer a vision of how to tackle challenges, and he apologized "if you are unwillingly in attendance here."

McCain is expected next week to offer a plan for helping homeowners who are having trouble paying their mortgage bills due to adjustable-rate loans, the central cause of the current housing crisis.

Democrats have criticized him for not offering more details on what he would do to help repair the U.S. economy. A broader economic speech is expected later in April.

McCain, in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America," gave some idea of what he was talking about.

"I think we can have many procedures for doing so. Having lenders and borrowers sit down together and the lending institutions having the ability to provide some relief; maybe some other incentives for people to stay in their own homes, which I'll be presenting in the next few days," he said.

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Cubans rush to buy DVD players, electric bikes

Cubans crowded shops on Tuesday to buy DVD players and electric bikes that went on sale for the first time as new President Raul Castro moved to lift many restrictions in the one-party socialist state.
A customer looks at electrical scooters on display at a store in Havana April 1, 2008. (REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa)

Stores were authorized to sell dozens of electric goods that were previously banned, including microwave ovens, flat-screen televisions and even computers.

"This should have been done long ago. They should never have been banned," said Felipe, a 53-year-old engineer, who lined up impatiently to buy his first DVD player.

The Philips and Panasonic DVD players were priced between $118 and $162, much more expensive than in other countries but lower than the going rate on Cuba's thriving black-market.

Raul Castro succeeded his ailing brother Fidel Castro as president on Feb. 24, promising to lift "excessive prohibitions" on daily life in Cuba.

His government has since moved quickly to allow Cubans to buy cellular phones and stay at hotels previously reserved for foreigners.

The changes made so far by Cuba's first new leader in half a century are aimed at reducing pent up frustrations in the country of 11 million where the ruling Communist Party has a firm grip on power.

Cubans welcomed greater access to consumer goods that are available virtually anywhere else in the world.

"After so many years of restrictions, this is great. Now Cubans have new options and I can resolve my transport problem," said Raydel Leyva, 42, the first at a Havana shopping center to buy a battery-driven moped made in China and priced at $900.

"These measures are meant to improve life and make us feel better living in our country," he said.

With wages averaging $17 a month in Cuba, many of the new goods on sale were out of reach for most pockets, but even some of those who could not afford to buy anything were happy they are now available.

"The prices are astronomical. But at least I have the choice, and I can save up to buy things I want. People will work harder to buy them," said Gelis, a self-employed tennis coach.


Computers, which until now could only be bought in Cuba by government or foreign companies, were also supposed to go on sale but none had changed hands by Tuesday afternoon.

At a shop in western Havana, Microsoft keyboards and mouses were on show, but Dell laptops and desktop computers were still in their boxes awaiting for prices to be decided.

A saleswoman said computers with 80 gigabytes of hard drive memory, 512 megabytes of RAM and a Celeron P4 chip made by Intel would sell for about $865.

"I have been saving up for three years, since I was 15, and I think I am close to buying one," said Paula, a university student waiting for the new stock to come in.

Cubans have to pay for the consumer goods in hard currency CUCs, or convertible pesos, worth 24 times more than the Cuban pesos that state wages are paid in.

About 60 percent of Cubans have access to CUCs, through cash remittances from relatives in the United States, bonuses, tips from tourists and black market dealings.

Havana shops had on sale 21-inch flat-screen television sets and home theater sets worth more than $1,300. It would take a Cuban with average six years to earn enough to buy one.

"This is all good and fine, but my purchasing power is too low to buy anything," said Yaima, a teacher who earns 592 pesos a month, about $26.60. "I'll have to wait until they strengthen the peso."

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Historic Aboriginal paintings stolen, recovered within hours

Seven historic Aboriginal paintings were stolen Tuesday from an Australian museum then recovered hours later after the thief apparently changed his mind and dumped them in a park, police said.

The paintings, valued at more than US$460,000 (euro290,000) by officials at the Northern Territory Museum and Art Gallery, were undamaged.

The thief broke into the museum in the northern city of Darwin before dawn and took six paintings from the early days of the Papunya Tula movement -- an artists' collective in central Australia credited with creating a modern Aboriginal style that is now world renowned -- and a seventh of a central Australian landscape.

Police said a blood-spattered broken window, security footage and other clues indicated the culprit had smashed it with a rock and spent 15 minutes inside while security alarms rang out.

About seven hours later, detectives found the seven paintings in parkland near the Darwin Bowls and Social Club, territory police said in a statement.

A 37-year-old man has been charged with unlawful entry, stealing and criminal damage, and will appear in court Wednesday, police said. The man is believed to have acted alone.

The museum's director, Anna Malgorzewicz, said that whatever their market value, the historical significance of the Papunya art was beyond price.

"They are one of the first bodies of work from that particular area, so historically very important,'' she told reporters.

A small group of artists founded the movement in the tiny settlement of Papunya in the early 1970s. Aboriginal tribal motifs were traditionally painted in ochre on bodies or even scratched into the desert sand. The Papunya Tula artists are considered the first to have rendered such tribal art on board or canvas.

The style, often featuring thousands of dots in bright acrylic colors, became known as Western Desert and has become iconic, lining art galleries around the world and even being daubed on a Qantas Airways jetliner.

Paintings by the style's most famous artist, the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye, now regularly sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Papunya is at the western edge of the Macdonnel Ranges, 240 kilometers (150 miles) from the central Australian town of Alice Springs. It was founded in the 1950s as a place for indigenous people of the wider region to live, and the population now numbers just a few hundred people.

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