Posted: Aug 18, 2012 4:00 PM
Updated: Aug 19, 2012 4:01 AM
Syrian president makes rare public appearance at mosque in Damascus for Eid prayers
BEIRUT (AP) Syria's President Bashar Assad attended Eid prayers in a mosque in Damascus on Sunday, his first appearance in public after a bombing in the Syrian capital last month that killed the country's defense minister and three other top security officials.
Elsewhere across Syria, thousands held anti-government protests in mosques and cemeteries to mark Eid al-Fitr, a holiday when pious Muslims traditionally visit graves and pray for the dead.
The three-day holiday marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which was particularly deadly in Syria as the 18-month-old uprising reached the country's two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo.
Amateur video posted by activists on the Internet showed a large group of worshippers in a mosque at al-Zahera district in Damascus shouting, "There is no God but Allah and Assad is the enemy of God," while clapping their hands over their heads.
"May God protect the Free Syrian Army!" they also cried, referring to the main rebel group fighting to topple Assad.
Bomb hidden in cemetery kills Afghan police official, brother of lawmaker in south
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) A bomb hidden in a cemetery in a southern Afghan city exploded Sunday, killing a police official and his brother as they were visiting the grave of a relative, police said.
Seven other family members were wounded in the blast in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but it matched the declared strategy of the Taliban to target government officials and others who align themselves with the government or international forces.
The two men killed in the explosion were brothers of a lawmaker for Helmand province, Abdulwadood Popal, who was not at the cemetery at the time of the blast. The family was visiting the grave after morning prayers for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which ends the month-long Ramadan fast.
In a speech marking the holiday, President Hamid Karzai on Sunday condemned the repeated insurgent attacks that took place during Ramadan.
Romney, Obama dig in on criticism of each other's Medicare record, warn seniors
TREASURE ISLAND, Fla. (AP) Showing no signs of letting up, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are doubling down on claims the other would threaten seniors' golden years.
Both campaigns sharpened their critique of the other's Medicare policies in recent days and planned to intensify them yet again on Sunday, as the already acrimonious race for the White House reached a new level. Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, on Saturday told seniors here on Florida's western coast that he sees parallels with Europe's debt crisis that cut seniors' benefits. He warned the same could happen right here at home.
Campaigning in New Hampshire, Obama said it is a sure thing that Romney would tear apart Medicare.
Medicare, the popular though costly health program for seniors, has become a flashpoint in the presidential race in the frenzied week since Romney picked Ryan as his vice presidential pick. Ryan, a deficit hawk and the House Republicans' chief budget writer, brought buzz to the ticket but also left Romney trying to explain to seniors that he would not take a wrecking ball to the program seniors see as a right.
Ryan has stood out in Washington for laying out tough spending choices that many lawmakers in both parties avoid. So it was almost inevitable that his selection as running mate would vault Medicare to the top of the campaign debate. But it isn't clear it will remain the top priority in an election that, to this point, has been a contest between Romney and Obama over who would be best for jobs and the economy.
Ousted Chinese politician's wife, accused of murder, will likely escape death penalty
BEIJING (AP) A fallen Chinese politician's wife who confessed to killing a British businessman is due to hear the verdict Monday in her murder trial and Communist Party leaders might have decided against a death penalty for fear it could incite public sympathy for her.
The conclusion of Gu Kailai's trial will be a step toward closing a scandal that has rocked the Chinese leadership at a sensitive time when it is preparing to hand over power to younger leaders. But even after the verdict is announced, questions will remain over the fate of her husband, Bo Xilai, a prominent figure who was dismissed in March as party secretary of the major city of Chongqing.
Gu is accused of killing Briton Neil Heywood, a former Bo family associate, after a dispute over money and state media claim Heywood threatened her son. A family aide has been charged as an accessory. State media say Gu confessed to intentional homicide, for which the penalty ranges from 10 years in prison to death. One option is a suspended death sentence that can be commuted later to a long prison term.
Chinese courts regularly impose death sentences for murder, rape and some nonviolent crimes.
Any ruling will be politically delicate, and Chinese leaders might have decided to impose a lengthy prison term instead of death for fear a more severe penalty might stir outrage or give Gu the image of a scapegoat for her husband's misdeeds, political and legal analysts say. The party says Bo was removed due to unspecified violations.
Russian clerics forgive Pussy Riot after band's 2-year sentence for anti-Putin rant in church
MOSCOW (AP) Russia's top Orthodox clerics on Saturday asked for mercy for the punk band Pussy Riot for its anti-government protest in a Moscow cathedral, but the church's forgiveness is unlikely to change the band's punishment in a case that caused an international furor over political dissent.
Despite its plea for clemency for the three rock activists, a leading cleric called the demonstration "awful" and defiant of the powerful church that is the heart of Russia's national identity.
The case, which ended Friday with the three band members' conviction for hooliganism and sentence to two years each in prison, became an emblem of Russia's intolerance of dissent and was widely seen as a warning that authorities will tolerate opposition only under tightly controlled conditions.
Tikhon Shevkunov, who is widely believed to be President Vladimir Putin's spiritual counselor, said on state television Saturday that his church forgave the singers after their "punk prayer" in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow in February.
"We did forgive them from the very start. But such actions should be cut short by society and authorities," said the cleric, who heads Moscow's Sretensky Monastery.
Residents return to homes near wildfires in Wash, Calif.; Idaho town evacuates as flames near
SEATTLE (AP) Thunderstorms and lightning threatened fire officials' plans to contain a large blaze in central Washington state as hundreds of Washington and California residents returned home to find out whether their homes were spared.
In Idaho, authorities on Saturday issued a mandatory evacuation order for some 350 homes in the area around Featherville due to thick smoke. That town and the community of Pine, both recreation getaways in the mountains 105 miles northeast of Boise, remained in the path of a 130-square-mile wildfire that has been burning for two weeks.
Fire managers were concerned that poor visibility could hamper the evacuation process, fire spokesman David Eaker said. The smoke also prevented retardant bombers from reaching the fire and aerial reconnaissance flights from locating the fire's leading edge.
"It's a very active, very dangerous fire," fire information officer Steve Till said. Crews "were prepared for it, but civilians are probably much better not being here."
The Idaho Emergency Operations Center on Saturday assigned an Idaho National Guard helicopter to fires in the southwest part of the state to be available for medical evacuations if needed. Officials said the UH-72 Lakota helicopter and seven soldiers were scheduled to be stationed in Pine as early as Monday.
Rescuers search for Philippine Cabinet member, 2 pilots after crash; aide who escaped helping
MANILA, Philippines (AP) About 300 rescuers were searching Sunday for Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and his two pilots after their small plane crashed into the sea while attempting an emergency landing. An aide of Robredo made a dramatic escape from the doomed plane and was helping in the search, officials said.
The four-seat Piper Seneca took off Saturday from central Cebu city, where Robredo had met local officials, and was 30 minutes into the flight to his hometown of Naga city when one of two engines failed and the plane began to wiggle. The Filipino pilot and Nepali student co-pilot scrambled to land in Masbate province but missed the runway by about 500 meters (550 yards), Transport Secretary Mar Roxas said.
President Benigno Aquino III flew Sunday with his defense chief and the heads of the national police and the military to Masbate, about 380 kilometers (235 miles) southeast of Manila, to oversee the U.S. military-backed search.
Only the tip of the right wing has been found so far, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told The Associated Press.
Dozens of divers scoured the sea while helicopters and ships crisscrossed overhead. Troops and police searched along the coast and a U.S. Navy plane flew over the area to help look for the wreckage.
Photo Gallery: Celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, around the world
Muslims around the world on Saturday started celebrating the Eid al-Fitr, the feast that marks the end of the month of Ramadan this weekend.
The Muslim holy month devoted to dawn-to-dusk fasting, prayers, good deeds and abstinence from worldly pleasures culminates with the holiday of Eid al-Fitr. In most places Eid is usually celebrated up to three days and is a public holiday.
Shoppers flooded markets in India to stock up on food and other treats and in Pakistan, women decorated their feet and hands with henna tattoos. Other people gave prayers by themselves or with large crowds in the Philippines and Indonesia.
Here is a look at celebrations of Eid al-Fitr around the world.
Hurricane Gordon speeding toward eastern Azores islands where hurricane warning is in effect
MIAMI (AP) Hurricane Gordon sped across the Atlantic early Sunday toward the eastern Azores islands, where a hurricane warning is in effect, U.S. forecasters in Miami said.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Gordon was centered about 390 miles (630 kms) west-southwest of Sao Miguel Island in the Azores as of 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT). It added that Gordon remained a Category 2 hurricane with top sustained winds of 105 mph (165 kph) and higher gusts.
The hurricane, which formed on Saturday, was moving toward the east at 23 mph (37 kph).
The hurricane was on a forecast track expected to take it near or over the islands of the eastern Azores early Monday. Forecasters said that while the Gordon was expected to weaken somewhat Sunday, it still was expected to be a hurricane pasing near or acrosss the eastern Azores.
Portugal's government, meanwhile, has discontinued a hurricane warning for the central Azores.
Endurance athlete Diana Nyad attempts record Cuba-Fla. swim despite several jellyfish stings
HAVANA (AP) American Diana Nyad endured several jellyfish stings as the 62-year-old endurance athlete sought to become the first person to swim unaided from Cuba to Florida without a wetsuit or a shark cage.
A team member posted on Nyad's Twitter account that the American was steadily stroking onward early Sunday despite jellyfish stings to the lips, feet and legs. Her goal: to become the first person to set a record 103-mile (166-kilometer) unaided crossing of the Florida Straits.
"There are so many jellyfish," said one of the tweets, adding, "Diana is swimming backstroke right now leading with the cap-covered part of her head to minimize contact."
While sharks were among Nyad's concerns along with potentially treacherous currents and any surprise weather changes, jellyfish that tend to surface at night were a worry, her team signaled. Another tweet said there were jellyfish particles everywhere in the water as Nyad swam through the night. But the tweet added that "the backstroke is working!"
Nyad, who is less than a week shy of her 63rd birthday, jumped into the warm waters near Havana on Saturday in her latest bid to make the crossing since last summer, when first an asthma attack and then jellyfish stings forced her to abandon separate attempts.