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Boracay’s biggest hotel project seen to destroy wetland

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Written on 3:28 PM by yahoo

delivers the latest breaking news and info


ImageThe businessman behind Boracay’s largest hotel-condominium project is defying orders from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to halt construction of his project, which environment officials said will destroy a wetland in the country’s top beach destination.

The P1.2 billion Boracay Crown Regency Hotel and Convention Center will be the “biggest hotel in Boracay” and will “put Boracay on the world map,” said Richard King, chair of J. King and Sons Co. Inc., the firm behind the project.

The project will add 457 hotel rooms in Boracay, and its convention center will accommodate 1,800 people. The whole hotel complex, which includes a water park, is scheduled to be completed in 2010.

“I won’t stop the project. I have all the necessary permits,” King told reporters Wednesday.

That’s bad news for Boracay’s eco-system, which is already under threat from pollution and congestion brought about by heavy tourist inflows and tourism facilities development. An average of 50,000 tourists visit Boracay monthly.

No ECC

ImageBienvenido Lipayon, regional director of the DENR-Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Region 6, told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak that Mr. King’s hotel-convention project will have a negative impact on a nearby wetland. “The wetland, or a portion of the wetland, will be destroyed,” he said in a telephone interview.

According to the conservation group Wetlands International, wetlands “provide services of great value to society” since “they control floods, protect coastal zones and they host a great diversity of species.”

Lipayon has already sent J. King and Sons Co. Inc. a letter advising the company to “cease and desist” its construction “until an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) is secured from this office.”

The DENR’s Provincial Environment and Natural Resources (PENR) officer Raul Lorilla, in a February 11, 2008 letter to J. King and Sons Co., said “some concerned residents of Boracay island” have complained about the project.

Lorilla said construction of the hotel is already destroying the wetland since water used in the construction is filling it up.

“In view of the adverse impact of this undertaking to our wetland and our environment, you are hereby advised to cease and desist from further filling up this wetland areas until after an authority from the DENR is secured,” Lorilla said.

“Be advised further that this body of water serves as the recharge area of the aquifer that maintains the balance and quality of the ground water,” he said.

Not a wetland

ImageRichard King disagreed with DENR officials, saying the project will not have a bad impact on the wetland.

Rafael King, vice-president of J. King & Sons Co. Inc., even disputed the DENR’s contention that the affected area is a wetland. In a February 13 reply-letter to Lorilla, he said: “The ‘wetland’ that you referred to was created due to stormwater run-off from the nearby properties being diverted to our project site.”

Asked to comment on this, Lipayon told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak that experts from the DENR’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) have attested that it is a wetland area.

Richard King admitted his firm’s hotel project does not have an ECC, but said this was due to the failure of DENR to act on their ECC application.

J. King & Sons Co. Inc. submitted its Environmental Impact Assessment Study (EIAS) and application for ECC in September 12, 2007, but the DENR returned them on September 17, 2007 after DENR Secretary Joselito Atienza called for a moratorium on new construction of structures in Boracay.

Lipayon said the regional office had no choice but to return the ECC application after Atienza’s pronouncement.

Moratorium

After a consultation with stakeholders in mid-2007, Atienza proposed a moratorium on new construction activities, except government public utilities projects, on Boracay in light of the island’s environmental degradation

The moratorium was passed in October 2007 by the local government of Malay, Aklan, where most resorts are located. It took effect January 2 and will end on July 2, 2008. The local government is supposed to enforce the moratorium.

The six-month construction ban on structures such as hotels and apartments is also intended to give Boracay’s stakeholders time to complete its land use plan and a master development plan to “forestall and reverse environmental degradation.”

“Rapid growth threatens the viability of Boracay as a tourist destination,” Atienza said in January this year after the moratorium took effect. “Aside from the nagging problems of lack of water supply, overcrowding and waste disposal, the problem of flooding now also haunts Boracay.”

“Even the forests in Boracay have been depleted, and several residential and tourism facilities have been constructed on mountain slopes. These activities will eventually compromise public safety,” he said.

The master plan is seen as a “comprehensive strategy to keep excellent air and water quality, ample forest cover, solid waste management, and even containing floods in the resort island,” the DENR said.

It also said that “Boracay resort owners welcomed the total stop in construction activities and the moratorium on the issuance of construction permits.”

Not covered by moratorium

King told reporters Wednesday his hotel project is not covered by the six-month moratorium since they secured the necessary building and other permits in October 2007 or three months before the start of the moratorium on January 2, 2008.

King said DENR’s failure to act on their application for an ECC means an automatic approval of the permit as provided under a DENR administrative order in 2003. This order says that ECC applications “not acted upon within a specified time frame from the date of filing are deemed approved automatically.”

NGOs support moratorium

In an interview with abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak, Raul Barbarona, executive director of the Cebu-based Environmental Legal Assistance Center, lamented that despite the moratorium on new construction, projects such as the Crown Regency Hotel and Convention Center are still being implemented.

“They’ve not been able to stop all construction,” he said.

Barbarona said there has been “too much construction” on Boracay, and the moratorium was based on Boracay island’s “carrying capacity.”

Environmental lawyer Maria Paz Luna, president of Tanggol Kalikasan (Defense of Nature) told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak that in the case of Boracay, “obviously the state of water quality and resources there” already show the island has exceeded its carrying capacity.

Barbarona said the continued construction of the Crown Regency project and of other projects on Boracay shows “lack of political will” especially by the local government, which is supposed to implement it.

He also disagreed with King’s view that the ECC is deemed approved if not acted upon within a certain period. “The ECC is a list of conditions that the project proponent must comply with,” he said. “If there’s no ECC, there should be no construction.”

Although there is a DENR order which streamlines the ECC applications, Barbarona said it does not mean that a project can proceed even without an ECC. This circular should also not be used to “pressure the DENR into approving the ECC.”

Barbarona said the DENR can impose penalties on J. King & Sons for not following the proper procedures.

Lipayon said J. King & Sons has already asked a regional trial court in Aklan to issue a restraining order that seeks to stop the DENR from enforcing its order to the firm to stop construction of the project. A hearing has been set on May 29.



Clinton takes Kentucky, CNN projects

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Written on 5:40 PM by yahoo

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(CNN) -- Sen. Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic primary in Kentucky by a wide margin, CNN projects.

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Sen. Barack Obama campaigns Monday in Montana, while Sen. Hillary Clinton seeks votes in Kentucky.

With 55 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton was leading Barack Obama by 28 percentage points.

According to exit polls in Kentucky, Clinton won among men, 62-32 percent, and among women, 67-27 percent.

She also beat Obama across all age groups, income groups and education levels.

Eighty-nine percent of Tuesday's voters in Kentucky were white, according to the exit polls. Among them, Clinton won 72-22 percent. Nine percent of the voters were African-American and they overwhelmingly broke for Obama, 87-7 percent.

The exit polls from Kentucky also suggest a deep division among Democrats.

Two-thirds of Clinton's supporters there said they would vote Republican or not vote at all rather than for Obama, according to the polls.

Forty-one percent of Clinton supporters said they'd cast their vote for John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, and 23 percent said they would not vote at all.

Just 33 percent said they would back Obama in the general election, according to the polls.

Those numbers are even worse for Obama than in West Virginia one week ago, where 36 percent of Clinton voters said they would back him in the fall.

The results come as Obama is poised to take a majority of the pledged delegates after voters weigh in Tuesday in Kentucky and Oregon.

A majority of Democrats in both states think Obama will be the party's nominee, according to exit polls.

Obama's campaign sees the two contests as a milestone in the protracted fight with Clinton, who continues to campaign hard.

"This is a very important threshold today, having the majority of pledged delegates. ... We're excited about it, but it doesn't mean it's the end," said Tom Daschle, former Senate majority leader and Obama's campaign co-chairman. Daschle called the pledged delegates "the core of the convention."

"To say that we have the majority of the core of the delegates that are going to be making the decisions at the convention and selecting our nominee, that's a critical milestone," he said.

There are 3,253 pledged delegates, and Obama, even with a poor showing Tuesday, should easily top the 1,627 delegates needed to gain a majority.

A candidate needs 2,026 delegates to win the Democratic nomination. Obama has 1,929 total delegates, while Clinton has 1,741.

The Kentucky and Oregon primaries hold 103 delegates combined. Obama needs 15 more to achieve a majority of the pledged delegates -- the delegates won either in state caucuses or primaries.

Obama is the favorite in Oregon, where a CNN poll of polls indicates that he has a lead of 10 percentage points. Oregon's primary is a mail-in only contest, which means voters must mail in or hand in their ballots in person by 8 p.m. PT. I-Reporters: Send us your voting experiences

Both Kentucky and Oregon's primaries are closed, so only registered Democrats can vote in the Democratic contests.

"We still have some contests left, but if Kentucky and Oregon go as we hope, then we think we will have a majority of pledged delegates at that point, and that's a pretty significant mark," Obama said at a rally Sunday in Oregon.

"That means that after contests in every state, or almost every state and the territories, that we have received the majority of the delegates that are assigned by voters."

Obama also leads Clinton in the number of states won and in the popular vote in the primary and caucus contests this campaign season.

Obama has been careful not to declare victory in the Democratic contest, but he has focused much of his attention in recent weeks on McCain.

Obama doesn't have enough delegates to capture the nomination outright; Clinton still has a chance, if a slight one, to win the nomination if enough of the roughly 800 superdelegates were to back her.

Superdelegates are elected and party officials who have votes at the national convention. They are not bound by the primary or caucus results from the states they represent.

If the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination is almost over, Clinton isn't acting like it.

"I'm going to make [my case] until we have a nominee, but we're not going to have one today, and we're not going to have one tomorrow, and we're not going to have one the next day," Clinton said Monday in Kentucky.

She argues that she leads in the popular vote. "Right now, more people have voted for me than have voted for my opponent," she said. "More people have voted for me than for anybody ever running for president before. So we have a very close contest."

But her argument is debatable. For Clinton to claim such a lead, primary states but not caucus states -- which Obama mostly won -- would only be counted, plus the popular vote totals in Florida and Michigan.

Florida and Michigan were stripped of their delegates for scheduling their primaries too early, in violation of Democratic Party rules. Obama's name wasn't on the Michigan ballot, and he received no votes in that state's contest.
linton also argues that she's won the states that she contends would stack up stronger against McCain in the general election.

"The states I've won total 300 electoral votes. If we had the same rules as the Republicans, I would be nominee right now," she said. "We have different rules, so what we've got to figure out is who can win 270 electoral votes. My opponent has won states totaling 217 electoral votes."

from cnn



McCain, Obama trade jabs over Iran policy

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Written on 1:07 PM by yahoo

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(CNN) -- Sen. John McCain Monday faulted Sen. Barack Obama for downplaying the threat from Iran and again called the Democratic front-runner's judgment "reckless," the latest jabs in a foreign policy fight that could continue to the general election.

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Sen. John McCain called Sen. Barack Obama's foreign policy toward Iran "reckless."

Obama's willingness to sit down with the Iranian president demonstrates Obama's lack of understanding of international relations, McCain said during a speech in Chicago, Illinois.

"Such a statement betrays the depth of Senator Obama's inexperience and reckless judgment," McCain said. "Those are very serious deficiencies for an American president to possess."

Obama quickly responded during a speech in Billings, Montana, asking why the presumptive Republican presidential nominee was afraid to talk to Iran and that it was the "Bush-McCain" war policy in Iraq, not diplomacy, that would make Iran stronger.

"Make no mistake, Iran is the single biggest beneficiary of a war in Iraq that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged," the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination said.

"Thanks to George Bush's policy, Iran is the greatest threat to the United States and Israel and the Middle East for a generation. John McCain wants to double down on that failed policy."

McCain said Obama did not have an appropriate grasp of the danger Iran poses to the U.S.

"Senator Obama claimed that the threat Iran poses to our security is 'tiny' compared to the threat once posed by the former Soviet Union," McCain said during a speech in Chicago.

"Obviously, Iran isn't a superpower and doesn't possess the military power the Soviet Union had, but that does not mean that the threat posed by Iran is insignificant.

"Should Iran acquire nuclear weapons, that danger would become very dire, indeed," McCain said.

McCain was reacting to a statement Obama made in Pendleton, Oregon, Sunday night while he was defending his view that he would step up diplomatic engagements with Iran -- potentially up to the presidential level -- if he became president.

"Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union," Obama said. "They don't pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us, and yet we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying we're going to wipe you off the planet.

"We should use that position of strength that we have to be bold enough to go ahead and listen. We might not compromise on any issue, but at least we should find out are there areas of potential common interest, and we can reduce some of the tensions that have caused us so many problems around the world," Obama said.

Obama said he was aware of the "grave" threat Iran poses to the United States, but that it was "common sense" that Iran is less of a threat today to the U.S. than the Soviet Union was during the Cold War.

Obama said just as Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan did during the Cold War, the U.S. should engage diplomatically with its enemies.

"Why shouldn't we have the same courage and confidence to talk to our enemies? That's what strong countries do. That's what strong presidents do," the senator from Illinois said.

"One of the things you have to ask yourself: What are George Bush and John McCain afraid of [in] demanding a country meets all of your conditions before you meet with them?" Obama said.

McCain's attacks on Obama are a continuation of a bitter fight over foreign policy that erupted between the two candidates last week.

In a previous exchange, McCain blasted Obama for what he described as the Democrat's willingness to engage in unconditional talks with Hamas, an Islamic fundamentalist group the U.S. has labeled as a terrorist organization.

Obama denied McCain's claim, saying he would only talk to Hamas if the group renounced its call for Israel's destruction.

cnn

West Virginia exit polls show division among Dems

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Written on 4:08 PM by yahoo

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Almost as many of Hillary Clinton's West Virginia supporters would vote for John McCain as would for Barack Obama, exit polls show.

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Sen. Barack Obama has been looking ahead to states that could play key roles in the general election.

If Obama were the Democratic nominee, 36 percent of Clinton supporters would vote for him in the fall, the polls found.

But 35 percent said they'd cast their vote for McCain instead.

Obama leads Clinton in pledged delegates, in superdelegates and in the popular vote.

A bare majority of his West Virginia supporters -- 51 percent -- said they would back Clinton in the fall, but 31 percent said they'd vote for McCain.

A big win for Clinton in West Virginia could raise doubts about Obama's electability in the general election.

She is expected to win the state by a wide margin, but with only 28 delegates at stake, she will not cut significantly into his lead in the delegate count.

As polling places across West Virginia opened at 6:30 a.m., Clinton had a 40-point lead in the most recent public opinion polls, according to an average of them.

She was to be in Charleston, West Virginia, on Tuesday night for an expected victory celebration.

With a relatively large percentage of older voters and blue-collar workers, a dearth of upscale voters and a tiny African-American population, West Virginia appears to be a perfect demographic fit for Clinton.
But even a landslide victory in tiny West Virginia may not be enough to blunt Obama's momentum.

She trails Obama in delegates won, states won and the popular vote this primary season. Clinton also now trails Obama when it comes to the support of superdelegates, and her campaign is $20 million in the red.
On Tuesday, Obama appeared to be looking ahead to a general election fight with McCain.

Instead of campaigning in West Virginia, he planned to be in Washington to vote for a bill meant to protect the collective bargaining rights of police officers and firefighters. He was to then travel to Missouri and Michigan for campaign events.

Both states have voted this primary season but are considered swing states that Democrats and Republicans have in their sights for November.

Clinton said she's fighting on, telling a West Virginia crowd Sunday that "I guess my favorite message was from a woman named Angela. 'Keep strong,' she said, 'it's not over until the lady in the pantsuit says it is.' "

Like elsewhere in the country, the West Virginia voters are dealing with tough economic times.

According to exit polls, the economy is the top issue among the state's Democratic voters.

And that's not lost on Clinton, who is touting her plan, which was first proposed by McCain, to repeal the federal gas tax this summer.

"I want to give you a gas tax holiday this summer, and I want the oil companies to pay the gas tax out of their record profits," Clinton told West Virginia voters Monday. "Now, you may have heard something about this on the news, because it's controversial. My opponent, Sen. Obama, says, 'Oh, no, that's just a gimmick; that's not going to help people.' "

But tough talk like that seems to be the exception. Since last Tuesday, when she eked out a victory in Indiana but lost by double digits in North Carolina, Clinton appears to have toned down her rhetoric about her rival.

Clinton continues to tout her electability, saying she's the stronger candidate to go up against McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, in November.

"I'm winning Catholic voters and Hispanic voters and blue-collar workers and seniors, the kind of people that Sen. McCain will be fighting for in the general election," Clinton said.

Clinton is also using electoral history to make her case.

"I think it's fair to say that West Virginia is a test. It's a test for me, and it's a test for Sen. Obama, because for too long we have let places like West Virginia slip out of the Democratic column. And you know it is a fact that no Democratic president has ever won the White House since 1916 without winning West Virginia," Clinton said.

Bill Clinton won West Virginia in 1992 and 1996. George W. Bush took the state in 2000 and 2004.

Obama acknowledges that he will not win in West Virginia. Monday's single campaign event was his only campaign stop in the state in recent weeks.

He told the audience gathered at the Charleston Civic Center that "I'm extraordinarily honored that some of you will support me, and I understand that many more here in West Virginia will probably support Sen. Clinton.

After West Virginia, the campaign trail moves to Kentucky and Oregon, which vote in one week. Clinton is expected to do well in Kentucky, but Obama is the favorite to win Oregon.

cnn

Over 20 dead in Mo., Okla., Ga. after new round of storms

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Written on 7:28 PM by yahoo

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SENECA, Mo. (AP) — Stunned survivors picked through the little that was left of their communities Sunday after tornadoes tore across the Plains and South, killing at least 22 people in three states and leaving behind a trail of destruction and stories of loss.

At least 15 people died in southwestern Missouri. In the fading mining town of Picher, Okla., at least six people were killed, and at least one person died in storms in Georgia.

Susan Roberts, 61, stared at the smashed remains of her classic 1985 Cadillac sitting on her living room floor — the only thing left of her Seneca home. A woman who had apparently sought shelter in the car died there, she said.

"That is what is tearing me up," Roberts said. She had warned the woman — who stopped to change a tire as Roberts and her 13-year-old grandson drove away from the rental house — to escape. The tornado hit just minutes later.

"I'm from Kansas. I grew up watching storms," she said as she walked through the debris. "If I didn't have my grandson with me, I probably wouldn't have left."

The same storm system earlier hit Oklahoma, where at least six people died and 150 people were injured in Picher.

The town, once a bustling mining center of 20,000 that dwindled to about 800 people as families fled lead pollution there, was a surreal scene of overturned cars, smashed homes and mattresses, and twisted metal high stuck in the canopy of trees.

"I swear I could see cars floating," said Herman Hernandez, 68. "And there was a roar, louder and louder."

Ed Keheley was headed to town to help out Saturday night when he heard a woman screaming. He looked over to see her hand reaching out of debris.

"She was sitting in the bathtub, she had curlers in her hair and she wanted out of there," said Keheley, who along with several others pulled her out.

The area is part of a Superfund site, and residents have been asked to take part in state and federal buyouts in recent years.

"From what I've been able to determine, that wouldn't have any bearing on whether a disaster declaration would come forth," said Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Earl Armstrong.

One storm victim's child was initially reported dead, but state emergency management spokeswoman Michelann Ooten later said the infant was actually alive at a Tulsa hospital.

As the system moved east on Sunday, one of at least six tornadoes in Georgia killed a person in Dublin, about 120 miles southeast of Atlanta, the National Weather Service said.

The body was found in the rubble of a mobile home, said Bryan Rogers, the Laurens County administrator.

The small town of Kite was destroyed by the storm, said Caroline Pope, a spokeswoman for the Johnson County Sheriff's Department. Close to 1,000 people live in the community, she said.

"From what they're telling me, it's gone," she said from the dispatch center in the jail, which was operating on a generator because the power was out.

Storms later Sunday in North Carolina destroyed several mobile homes, but there was no word on injuries, said Patty McQuillan of the state police.

President Bush has talked with governors to express his condolences for the lives lost and to discuss needs for recovery, according to the White House.

"The federal government will be moving hard to help," Bush said.

In Missouri, the tornado hit the rural area about eight miles north of Seneca and continued east, said Keith Stammer, director of emergency management in Jasper County.

Next door to Roberts, Jane Lant climbed over splintered wood to go through the mud-caked remains of her bridal shop.

"I just feel so awful, going through this rubble when they are out looking for bodies," she said as she motioned to the search dogs wandering the field behind her. An unidentified body lay under a blue tarp nearby.

Among the dead were five family members of her neighbor who had been going to a wedding when the tornado caught their vehicle in front of her store, she said.

Next door, her husband's feed store also lay in shambles. But one bright moment came Sunday when rescuers heard chirping from the mound and found a half-dozen chicks. They had rescued about 100 the night before.

Susie Stonner, spokeswoman for the state Emergency Management Agency, said it was unclear how many homes had been damaged. But she said officials in Newton County, which includes Seneca, had initial estimates of 50 homes damaged or destroyed there.

Nearly 20 people were hospitalized in Newton County, said Keith Stammer, acting spokesman for the county emergency operations. He did not know the extent of their injuries.

In storm-weary Arkansas, a tornado caused significant damage in Stuttgart, but no one was seriously injured, said Weather Service meteorologist Joe Goudsward.

Tornadoes killed 13 people in Arkansas on Feb. 5, and another seven were killed in an outbreak May 2. In between was freezing weather, persistent rain and river flooding that damaged homes and has slowed farmers in their planting.

Gov. Mike Beebe planned to tour storm damage in Stuttgart on Monday.

"In this seemingly endless season of severe weather, another Arkansas community now faces the challenge of rebuilding, and others are again picking up after damaging storms," Beebe said in a statement Sunday. "It appears everyone in Arkansas survived this latest outbreak, and for that we are grateful. Our thoughts and prayers go out to our sister states that saw a much steeper toll of human life from Saturday's tornadoes."


By ROXANA HEGEMAN – 1 hour ago


Hezbollah militants take over West Beirut

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Written on 1:48 PM by yahoo

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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Hezbollah militias took control of western Beirut on Friday, dealing a major blow to the U.S.-backed government in Lebanon.

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Future TV, with a poster of slain leader Rafik Hariri, whose family owns the station, burns Friday in Beirut, Lebanon.

Walid Jumblatt, a Druze leader and part of the March 14 pro-government coalition, described it as a "coup."

Jumblatt's coalition called the takeover an effort to "bring Syria back to Lebanon" and extend Iran's reach to the Mediterranean.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Hezbollah leaders of trying to "protect their state within a state."

Hezbollah leaders did not make public statements Friday.

Two pro-government TV stations were shut down -- and the building of one, Future TV, was soon on fire.

Nadim Mounla, the head of Future TV, said Hezbollah had sent a "clear message" that it would destroy the stations.

The building housing offices of a newspaper was set on fire as well. It and the two TV stations are owned by the prominent Hariri family, leading supporters of the government.

Hezbollah "turned their weapons ... toward the hearts of the innocent civilians of Beirut," said Samir Geagea, executive director of the Lebanese forces, reading a statement after a meeting of the pro-government March 14 coalition.

"They invaded their neighborhoods and shelled their homes with a hail of bombs that were sent from Tehran through the Damascus gateway," he said.

"The purpose behind this coup is to bring Syria back to Lebanon and allow Iran to reach the Mediterranean," he said.

Syria and Iran support Hezbollah, and Syrian troops occupied Lebanon from 1990 until 2006.

Iran on Friday said "U.S.-Israel adventurism" is the "main cause for lingering crisis and instability" in Lebanon.

State-run news agency IRNA, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini, added that "Iran's stand on Lebanon has always been based on non-interference in a matter that is entirely related to the Lebanese nation, alone."

And Syria's state-run news agency SANA said President Bashar al-Assad discussed Lebanon during a meeting with Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

"The two sides hoped that the brothers in Lebanon would be able to find a solution to this situation through dialogue among themselves in a way that preserves the security and stability of Lebanon," al-Assad said.

The country's elected, pro-Western government has long been locked in a power struggle with Hezbollah, which fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called that conflict "a strategic and historic victory" but acknowledged underestimating the cost in lives and destruction.

In public statements and demonstrations in recent years, the Shiite militant group backed by Iran and Syria threatened to use its power and popularity to oust the Sunni-led government, triggering fears of a new civil war that could further destabilize the volatile region.

Lebanon was crippled by a 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

Government troops and another militia group, Fatah al-Islam, fought a series of bloody battles last year over control of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. More than 150 people were reported killed in those clashes.

In a written statement, the U.S. secretary of state said the United States is "deeply concerned" about the violence.

"Backed by Syria and Iran, Hezbollah and its allies are killing and injuring fellow citizens, undermining the legitimate authority of the Lebanese government and the institutions of the Lebanese state," Rice wrote.

"Seeking to protect their state within a state, Hezbollah has exploited its allies and demonstrated its contempt for its fellow Lebanese. No one has the right to deprive Lebanese citizens of their political and economic freedom, their right to move freely within their country or their sense of safety and security."

The White House said Rice is reaching out to the Lebanese government. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said she also discussed Lebanon with officials from Saudi Arabia, France and the United Nations.

National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, at a White House press briefing, said, "We are very troubled by the recent actions of Hezbollah. We urge Hezbollah to stop their attempt to defy the lawful decisions taken by the democratically elected Lebanese government."

The Lebanese army did not join the battles that erupted this week. Taking sides could throw the military -- with its own political factions -- into disarray.

Soldiers instead effectively negotiated a surrender of pro-government positions, Lebanese Internal Security Forces and Western military observers said.

Jumblatt said the government is "now at the end of a gun barrel" and expects the "conditions for surrender will be offered sooner or later."

"I think ... it's a coup," he said in a phone interview. "The Lebanese army is in total paralysis."

With pro-government gunmen out of the way, fighting in the capital eased a bit Friday after two days of intense gunbattles echoing through Beirut's streets.

At least 11 people have been killed and 44 wounded in the clashes since Wednesday, according to Lebanese Internal Security Forces.

Earlier this week, the government demanded Hezbollah shutter its telecommunications operations, which Hezbollah called an act of war. The government also fired the chief of security at the Beirut airport amid a probe of allegations that Hezbollah had installed cameras and other monitoring equipment there to spy on political opponents.

Obama: World wants to see U.S. lead

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Written on 4:18 PM by yahoo

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Barack Obama said Thursday that the most important thing he could achieve as president would be to deal with Iraq and the threat of al Qaeda in Afghanistan while improving "our influence around the world."

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Sen. Barack Obama, in his first interview since the North Carolina and Indiana primaries, speaks with Wolf Blitzer.

In his first interview since the North Carolina and Indiana primaries, Obama said he thinks the United States' influence around the world has been diminishing.

"The world wants to see the United States lead. They've been disappointed and disillusioned over the last seven, eight years," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in an interview on "The Situation Room."

"I think there is still a sense everywhere I go that if the United States regains its sense of who it is and our values and our ideals, that we will continue to set the tone for a more peaceful and prosperous world."

Obama said he thinks the way the war in Iraq has been handled has kept the United States from focusing on key issues like energy policy, global warming and the economy.

Americans want to succeed, he said, "but we're going to have to make some investments and ensure that the dynamism and the innovation of the American people is released."

"It's very hard for us to do that when we're spending close to $200 billion a year in other countries, rebuilding those countries instead of focusing on making ourselves strong," he said.

Obama downplayed headlines and stories, such as the cover of Time magazine, that have declared him the Democratic presidential nominee.

"I don't want to be jinxed. We've still got some work to do," he said.

Obama predicted that he and Sen. Hillary Clinton would probably split the remaining contests and said Clinton would win the upcoming primary in West Virginia by a "big margin."

Obama won North Carolina by a 14-point margin Tuesday. Clinton squeaked out a win in Indiana by 2 points.

In the days after those contests, some top Democrats have called on Clinton to step aside.

Obama deflected a question about a potential joint ticket with the New York senator, saying it's too early to start thinking about running mates.

"Sen. Clinton has shown herself to be an extraordinary candidate. She's tireless, she's smart, she's capable, and so obviously she'd be on anybody's short list to be a potential vice presidential candidate," he said. "But it would be presumptuous of me at this point ... to somehow suggest that she should be my running mate."

Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and a co-chairman of Clinton's campaign, commented Thursday on the possibility of a joint ticket.

"I think what she's interested in being the nominee of the party. ... We're fighting hard for it. This woman has been working tirelessly through this campaign. ... Hillary has earned the right to do whatever she wants to do."

Obama said he's ready for what would be the next phase if he becomes the nominee: a matchup against Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP candidate.

Obama said he was offended when McCain said last month, "It's very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president."

"I think it's disappointing because John McCain always says, 'Well, I'm not going to run that kind of politics,' and then to engage in that kind of smear I think is unfortunate, particularly since my policy on Hamas has been no different than his," Obama said.

"And so for him to toss out comments like that, I think, is an example of him losing his bearings as he pursues this nomination."

When asked to respond to McCain supporters -- such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- who have said Obama is not ready to be commander in chief, the senator from Illinois said he thinks what people are looking for is "good judgment."

"I think I've consistently displayed the kind of judgment that the American people are looking for in the next president," he said.

cnn

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PETA Weekly E-News: Fighting Animal Abuse Around the World

May 8, 2008

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Thoroughbreds: Drugged, Whipped, and Run to DeathThoroughbreds: Drugged, Whipped, and Run to Death
Eight Belles' breakdown and euthanasia at the Kentucky Derby on May 3 has put the spotlight back on an industry that puts speed and profit first and leaves the horses in last place. Please ask your member of Congress to take action to investigate the horse racing industry's dark side by calling for hearings right now.

Get Bikini-Ready With a FREE Vegetarian Weight-Loss KitGet Bikini-Ready With a FREE Vegetarian Weight-Loss Kit
Slim down for swimsuit season with a vegetarian weight-loss kit! The kit is loaded with Yoga Fit DVDs, including "Pilates Fit," "Yoga Fit Basics," "Yoga Butt," and a core ball. It also includes a DVD on eating and a GoVeg.com yoga mat. Enter to win now!

Johnny Rockets Veggie Burger—Yours Free! Johnny Rockets Veggie Burger—Yours Free!
Johnny Rockets has teamed up with PETA to celebrate World Vegetarian Week, and during May, the restaurant is giving you its famous Streamliner® for free*! Check out this awesome deal and claim your free burger today.

Go Away, Speed Racer! Put the Brakes on Chimpanzee Cruelty Go Away, Speed Racer! Put the Brakes on Chimpanzee Cruelty
In spite of PETA's request to leave real animals out of Speed Racer, the film's producers chose to use a live chimpanzee to play the role of Chim Chim. A whistleblower reported to PETA that a chimpanzee was beaten while on the set. Read more and take action today!

Win a Gift Certificate From Manic Panic! Win a Gift Certificate From Manic Panic!
The seasons have changed, so why not change your hair color? Add some flair to your locks and look with intriguing cruelty-free color from Manic Panic. Enter for your chance to win a $50 gift certificate.

Pledge to Be Veg for Seven Days! Pledge to Be Veg for Seven Days!
World Vegetarian Week, the annual celebration of meat-free meals, is rapidly approaching (May 19 to 25), and you can celebrate by taking the Pledge to Be Veg for Seven Days—the beginning of a healthier and happier you!

PETA Salutes Animal Moms on Mother's Day PETA Salutes Animal Moms on Mother's Day
Many animal moms show the same tireless dedication to their children that moms of the human variety do. While you're praising your mom this Mother's Day, also take time to remember that some of the best moms in the world are found in the animal kingdom. Celebrate all moms this Mother's Day!

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