World Briefly for Aug. 2

Published 9:20 pm Friday, August 1, 2008

Final twist: Anthrax scientist kills self — was about to be charged in 2001 letter deaths

WASHINGTON (AP) — Anthrax-laced letters that killed five people and severely rattled the post-9/11 nation may have been part of an Army scientist’s warped plan to test his cure for the deadly toxin, officials said Friday. The brilliant but troubled scientist committed suicide this week, knowing prosecutors were closing in.

The sudden naming of scientist Bruce E. Ivins as the top — and perhaps only — suspect in the anthrax attacks marks the latest bizarre twist in a case that has confounded the FBI for nearly seven years. Last month, the Justice Department cleared Ivins’ colleague, Steven Hatfill, who had been wrongly suspected in the case, and paid him $5.8 million.

Ivins worked at the Army’s biological warfare labs at Fort Detrick, Md., for 18 years until his death on Tuesday. He was one of the government’s leading scientists researching vaccines and cures for anthrax exposure. But he also had a long history of homicidal threats, according to papers filed last week in local court by a social worker.

The letters contained anthrax powder were sent on the heels of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and turned up at congressional offices, newsrooms and elsewhere, leaving a deadly trail through post offices on the way. The powder killed five and sent numerous victims to hospitals and caused near panic in many locations.

Workers in protective garb that made them look like space men decontaminated U.S. Capitol buildings after anthrax letters were discovered there. Major postal substations were closed for years. Newsrooms were checked all over after anthrax letters were mailed to offices in Florida and New York.


Obama endorses energy compromise that includes additional offshore drilling

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Friday he would be willing to support limited additional offshore oil drilling if that’s what it takes to enact a comprehensive policy to foster fuel-efficient autos and develop alternate energy sources.

Shifting from his previous opposition to expanded offshore drilling, the Illinois senator told a Florida newspaper he could get behind a compromise with Republicans and oil companies to prevent gridlock over energy.

Republican rival John McCain, who earlier dropped his opposition to offshore drilling, has been criticizing Obama on the stump and in broadcast ads for clinging to his opposition as gasoline prices topped $4 a gallon. Polls indicate these attacks have helped McCain gain ground on Obama.

“My interest is in making sure we’ve got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices,” Obama said in an interview with The Palm Beach Post.

“If, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage — I don’t want to be so rigid that we can’t get something done.”


McCain depicts Obama as too close to teacher’s union and against school choice for the poor

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — John McCain, the father of private school students, criticized Democratic rival Barack Obama on Friday for choosing private over public school for his kids.

The difference, according to the Arizona Republican, is that he — not Obama — favors vouchers that give parents more school choices.

“Everybody should have the same choice Cindy and I and Sen. Obama did,” McCain told the National Urban League, an influential black organization that Obama will address on Saturday.

McCain listed a variety of changes in education policies that he contended would improve a flawed system — from school choice to more local control and direct public support to parents for tutoring. In each case, he said Obama came up short.

“My opponent talks a great deal about hope and change, and education is as good a test as any of his seriousness,” he said. “If Sen. Obama continues to defer to the teachers unions instead of committing to real reform, then he should start looking for new slogans.”

McCain’s criticism of Obama, the first serious black candidate for president, to the National Urban League echoed the Republican theme that the Democrat’s words don’t necessarily match his actions or his thin resume.


Canadian police identify suspect in bus attack, beheading; friends say victim was 22

TORONTO (AP) — A man who witnesses said stabbed and beheaded his seat mate on a Greyhound bus in Canada made his first court appearance Friday, while police offered no motive for the savage attack against a 22-year-old carnival worker.

Vince Weiguang Li, 40, of Edmonton, Alberta, has been charged with second-degree murder. He shuffled into the courtroom Friday in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba with his head bowed and feet shackled.

He did not reply when the judge asked him whether he was going to get a lawyer, and only nodded slightly when asked whether he was exercising his right not to speak. He was not required to enter a plea.

The prosecutor asked for a psychiatric assessment, but the judge said he wanted to give Li a chance to meet with his lawyer. Li’s next court appearance is scheduled for Tuesday.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Li has no known criminal record.


AP Interview: Brazil dismemberment suspect high on cocaine when British teen killed

GOIANIA, Brazil (AP) — The Brazilian man accused of dismembering a British teenager and stuffing her torso in a suitcase told The Associated Press on Friday that he doesn’t remember most of what happened the night she died because he was high on cocaine.

“I don’t remember much,” Mohamed D’Ali Carvalho Santos said in an interview through the bars of his jail cell. “I had used too much drugs.”

Earlier Friday, however, Santos denied that he killed her in comments he made to reporters after returning from a trip with police to guide them to the remote area where he allegedly tossed Cara Marie Burke’s head and limbs from a bridge.

“It wasn’t me,” Santos said. “I deny it.”

Police say the 20-year-old already confessed to killing 17-year-old Burke on July 25 before cutting up her body because she threatened to tell Santos’ parents he was a drug dealer and addicted to cocaine.


Wisconsin dragnet ends with man’s arrest in deadly river ambush on 3 swimmers

NIAGARA, Wis. (AP) — A gunman suspected of opening fire on a group of young swimmers gathered along a riverbank was arrested Friday after he emerged from woods near the scene where three teenagers were slain and a fourth person was wounded.

Scott J. Johnson, 38, was dressed in camouflage when deputies confronted him following an all-night manhunt. He dropped his assault rifle as officers approached.

“We believe he was in the woods and near our officers who were also in the woods all night,” said Jerry Sauve, chief’s sheriff’s deputy in Marinette County.

Nine young adults had gathered at a railroad bridge to go swimming in the Menominee River when the gunman appeared Thursday afternoon and opened fire, authorities said.

Investigators have not determined a motive. The sheriff said there was no communication between the gunman and his victims.


Chinese cheered by solar eclipse a week before Olympics, after months of natural disasters

XI’AN, China (AP) — Finally, China had an act of nature it could celebrate.

After an Olympic year of freakish natural disasters, crowds of Chinese watched a total solar eclipse along the country’s ancient Silk Road on Friday, one week before the start of the Summer Games in Beijing.

It was a welcome respite after a 2008 that began with heavy snowstorms at the Chinese New Year, followed by China’s deadliest earthquake in a generation, then river flooding — and even a huge algae bloom at the Olympic sailing site. Online, some Chinese murmured about curses.

But on Friday evening, the eclipse — once a bad omen for China’s imperial rulers — was cheered by a country eager for any auspicious sign before the games. State media called China’s first solar eclipse of the century the “Olympics eclipse,” and TV stations broadcast it live.

“Listen, I think everyone hopes this will bring some luck,” said Xiao Ning, one of hundreds watching on the old city wall in Xi’an as the eclipse darkened the sky near sunset in this ancient capital and Silk Road terminus.

Told by the local newspaper’s front-page story to watch the eclipse safely through darkened film, people held up X-rays of teeth and other bones, cheerfully tearing the sheets into smaller pieces to share with others.


Troyer enters new phase of struggle over sex tape, sues former girlfriend who appeared in it

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The battle over a sex tape featuring Verne Troyer has reignited after that actor sued his ex-girlfriend for $20 million, claiming she allowed snippets of the tape to be released.

Troyer’s lawsuit also claims that ex-girlfriend Ranae Shrider was abusive and inflicted emotional distress on the “Austin Powers” actor.

The new lawsuit comes roughly two weeks after Troyer settled with a porn distributor and broker and successfully blocked the release of the 50-minute tape of him and Shrider having sex. The new suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, is an outgrowth of that original claim.

In late June, celebrity gossip site TMZ revealed that the tape existed and was being marketed. The site later disclosed in court documents that Shrider granted it permission to air portions of the tape.

Troyer originally claimed in court papers that the tape had been stolen. His lawsuit states that detail was included because Shrider tearfully told Troyer that she did not know how the tape became public and that it must have been taken from their home.


Ford, Toyota US sales down in difficult July for automakers as leasing troubles loom

DETROIT (AP) — U.S. auto sales slumped to a 16-year low in July as automakers failed to keep up with consumers’ growing demand for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. While production changes may help that problem, trouble in the credit and auto leasing markets will continue to take a toll on sales.

General Motors, Ford, Toyota and other automakers said Friday that their U.S. sales fell by double-digits. Nissan Motor Co. was the only major automaker to report a gain, with truck sales up 18 percent thanks in part to the new Rogue crossover and a boost in incentives. Nissan’s overall sales rose 8.5 percent.

Automakers were expecting a slide in July as high gas prices continued to cut into sales of trucks and sport utility vehicles and new troubles in the auto leasing sector further wrecked consumers’ confidence. July’s seasonally adjusted sales rate — which shows what sales would be if they continued at the same pace for the full year — was 12.5 million vehicles, according to Autodata Corp. That’s down from 17 million as recently as 2005.

Automakers expect things to get worse before they get better.

“We expect the second half of 2008 will be more challenging that the first half as economic and credit conditions weaken,” Ford’s marketing chief, Jim Farley, said in a statement.


Karstens, new-look Pirates stop Cubs’ 5-game winning streak 3-0

CHICAGO (AP) — Jeff Karstens and the new-look Pittsburgh Pirates made a strong showing, beating Chicago 3-0 Friday and ending the Cubs’ five-game winning streak.

Coming off a four-game sweep at Milwaukee that boosted their lead in the NL Central to five games, the Cubs stumbled against a team that just traded two of its best players — outfielders Jason Bay and Xavier Nady.

Karstens (1-0), acquired in last week’s deal that sent Nady to the New York Yankees, pitched six impressive innings in his first start of the season. Andy LaRoche, obtained from the Dodgers in the Manny Ramirez deal Thursday that moved Bay to Boston, singled and scored a run.

Right fielder Brandon Moss, who came from Boston in the Bay trade, started one of Pittsburgh’s four double plays. The victory moved the Pirates out of last place.

Jason Michaels hit an RBI single during a two-run second, then hit a solo homer off Jason Marquis (6-7) in the sixth.