Afghanistan: UN Workers Killed In Response to Fla. Quran Burning

Mario Tama/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Several United Nations staffers were killed Friday after protests broke out over a recent Quran burning by two Florida pastors.

Protesters in northern Afghanistan stormed a U.N. office following Friday prayers, killing a number of workers. This comes after preachers made mention of the Quran burning during their sermons.

Demonstrators began shooting at U.N. guards before making their way inside the compound, which they later burned down.

Four Nepalese guards and three international U.N. staff members -- one Norwegian, a Romanian and a Swede -- were killed in the attack. Afghan police said some were beheaded.

Less than 30 people were on hand last month when the two pastors -- including Terry Jones, who garnered worldwide attention last year when he threatened to burn Qurans on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks -- burned a Quran at Jones' Gainesville Church.

President Obama condemned the attack "in the strongest possible terms" Friday, and offered his condolences to the injured, as well as to the family members of those who were killed.

"The brave men and women of the United Nations, including the Afghan staff, undertake their work in support of the Afghan people," the president said in a statement. "Their work is essential to building a stronger Afghanistan for the benefit of all its citizens. We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to reject violence and resolve differences through dialogue."

Last week, Pakistan's president denounced the actions of the Florida pastors in front of parliament.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Human Rights, Anti-Genocide Groups Protest President's Nominated Ambassador to Kenya

Roger L. Wollenberg-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In a rare move, some human rights and anti-genocide groups are writing to senators urging them to reject President Obama’s nominee to be U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Air Force General Scott Gration (Ret.), accusing him of having done a poor job as President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan.

“As special envoy to Sudan, General Gration has made ongoing errors of judgment, has spoken inaccurately about a range of issues and has alienated many parties in Sudan,” says the letter from human rights and anti-genocide groups. “General Gration’s lack of experience and failures in diplomacy make him unqualified to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Kenya.”

Gration aroused the ire of some human rights groups by pursuing a strategy of engaging with the government of Sudan; the White House has always expressed support for Gration.

“The fact that the President has nominated Gration as his Ambassador to Kenya shows his confidence in General Gration’s work," said White House National Security Staff spokesman Tommy Vietor. "As Special Envoy, General Gration was tireless in his work on Sudan -- including on the successful referendum on southern secession brought about in no small part because of his efforts.”

The groups cite as evidence of Gration’s errors from a statement he made in 2010 saying that the Sudan national elections would be “as free and fair as possible,” despite evidence of fraud, their view that he downplayed “dangerous humanitarian conditions and grossly inadequate levels of aid in Darfur,” accusations that he took positions “favorable to the regime in Khartoum that were sometimes at odds with the established policy of the Obama Administration on Sudan,” and other matters.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Six US Soldiers Killed in Ongoing Afghan Operation

ABC News(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Six American soldiers were killed during an ongoing operation in eastern Afghanistan earlier this week, according to government officials.

The operation, a helicopter-borne assault that is now in its fourth day, occurred in a remote area of Kunar Province.  Its purpose is to show force and make a statement that there will be no safe haven for the enemy in a part of Afghanistan where the U.S. has pulled back from small bases.

ABC News' Mike Boettcher, who was the lone reporter on scene, called the assault "the toughest firefight I’ve ever seen."

Along with the fallen soldiers, the military said at least 10 people have been injured in the assault, although Boettcher, who is said to be fine, reported seeing more wounded.  One Afghan soldier was also killed.

Boettcher was later informed that roughly 50 Taliban fighters from Pakistan and Afghanistan were killed in the operation.  A Taliban radio headquarters was also destroyed.

The Pentagon has identified the six soldiers killed in the engagement as Sgt. 1st Class Ofren Arrechaga, of Hialeah, Florida; Staff Sgt. Frank E. Adamski III, of Moosup, Connecticut; Spc. Jameson L. Lindskog, of Pleasanton, California; Staff Sgt. Bryan A. Burgess, of Cleburne, Texas; Spc. Dustin J. Feldhaus, of Glendale, Arizona; and Pvt. Jeremy P. Faulkner, of Griffin, Georgia.

The men were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Prince William 'Nervous' About Royal Wedding

Ben Stansall - WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Even princes get the wedding day jitters.

With his event-of-the-generation nuptials looming, Britain's Prince William has confessed to feeling a creeping nervousness.

When an interviewer with the BBC asked the 28-year-old prince if there was any aspect of the wedding that gave him sleepless nights, William laughed and replied, "The whole thing."

"I was telling everyone when I did the rehearsals the other day and my knees started going, tapping quite nervously," he said, "so it's quite a daunting prospect but very exciting, and I'm thoroughly looking forward to it. But there's still a lot of planning to be done in the last four weeks."

He laughingly deflected several questions for details of the event.

"You know I can't do that," he told the BBC's interviewer. "You're not going to get anything out of me on that."

William is set to marry Kate Middleton April 29 in London's Westminster Abbey.

After the big day, William told the BBC that he is looking forward to settling down in Anglesey, the island in northern Wales where he and Kate will make their home and where he will continue his service in the Royal Air Force.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan Nuclear Crisis: Worker Speaks Out About Radiation Dangers

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Some Japanese plant workers, including former employees who are now miles away from the damaged nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, say they are concerned about the health of their colleagues and the availability of equipment to keep them safe from the leaked radiation.

International nuclear experts believe that melted fuel in reactor number one has caused a "localized criticality," which is a small, uncontrolled chain reaction that occasionally emits a burst of heat, radiation and a blue flash of light.  It is not a threat to the area at large, officials say, but could be deadly for workers.

One worker from inside the plant spoke anonymously about safety concerns such as not having enough radiation-detection devices available for workers.

"Since the number of monitors is limited, only one or two devices are handed to each group," the worker said.  "But sometimes you have to move away from that person and in that case you'll never know the level of your exposure."

He said workers are worried about their health.

"Some workers called it quits and just left for home," he said.  "My gut feeling is that I want to get it over with and get out of here."

Officials at the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant, said workers have had to work under harsh conditions.  They have since acknowledged the problem and promised more detection devices for their workers.

"They sleep on the floor, inside a conference room, or even in the hallway or in front of a bathroom," Kazuma Yokota, head of the Fukushima local office Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said in a news conference.  "That's where they sleep, with only one blanket each to wrap themselves around."

Former plant workers living in a shelter just outside Tokyo, more than 100 miles away, told ABC News Friday that some people have been offered jobs to go back and help contain the leak.

"They're exchanging money with their lives," one worker said.  "There may be people who will take the offer but it's not worth the risk."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Moammar Gadhafi Could Face Surge of Government Defections

ABC News(LONDON) -- Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa's decision to break from Col. Moammar Gadhafi's ranks and defect to Britain may mean others within the Libyan strongman's circle are ready to jump ship as the fighting with anti-government rebels intensifies.

In fact, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who was Libya's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, predicted as much Thursday, saying that a number of high-ranking officials want to go now but are being blocked by tight security.

Dabbashi said that Kouusa's "defection exposes the lies that the regime are putting out.  Koussa knows that Colonel Gahdafi is finished."

Koussa managed to make his escape by claiming he was in poor health and needed treatment in Tunisia.  From there, he traveled to Britain, although the government there says they'll offer Koussa, who has been tied to the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, no immunity.

Meanwhile, Dabbashi's prediction was coming true as another former Libyan foreign minister said he had left the Gadhafi inner circle.  Ali Abdessalam Treki wrote on several websites, "It is our nation's right to live in freedom and democracy and enjoy a good life."

There was also a report in Britain’s The Independent newspaper Friday that British government officials are talking “with up to 10 senior figures in Col. Gadhafi's creaking regime about possible defection”.

The paper said the defectors include a senior aide to one of Gadhafi’s sons, the head of Libya’s external intelligence service, Libya’s oil minister, and the secretary of the General People's Congress.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Man-Made Clouds to Shield World Cup Soccer Fans in Qatar's Heat?

Pixland/Thinkstock(DOHA, Qatar) -- With temperatures in the summer sometimes reaching 122 degrees Fahrenheit, government scientists in Qatar are working on ways to keep fans cool ahead of the 2022 World Cup, to be hosted in the country.

Some parts of the open-air stadiums will be cooled with solar-powered air-conditioning units, but the bottom line is that it’s still going to get very hot in the arenas as spectators sweat out the tournament, in more ways than one.  So Qatari scientists have come up with an idea for artificial clouds that will shield the fans from direct sunlight.

The plan is to develop zeppelin-like inflated platforms that move easily and are wind-resistant.  Since they’ll be filled with helium and made from ultra-light fabrics, these "clouds" -- at an estimated cost of $500,000 apiece -- will be about as light as the real ones, and can be moved as necessary to block the sun, providing shade to cover the whole stadium if necessary.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen Face Tough Questioning over Libya

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates was put on the defensive when he appeared before the House Armed Services Committee Thursday to explain why the White House moved forward with air strikes to establish a no-fly zone over Libya without consulting congressional lawmakers beforehand.

Gates, who appeared with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told skeptical lawmakers, that the "time and conditions were ripe for international military action" to prevent what President Obama had believed was a humanitarian disaster in the making.

According to Gates, Col. Moammar Gadhafi was ready to wreak havoc on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, which would have also resulted in a massive refugee crisis in Libya's second-most populated city.

Mullen agreed with the assessment that Gadhafi was ready to kill as many of his opponents as necessary to crush the pro-democracy rebellion against him.

Gates reiterated the president's promise not to send U.S. ground forces into Libya, saying he would make sure a deployment of soldiers won't happen on his watch.

Still, Gates and Mullen both took it on the chin from skeptical Republicans and Democrats, who angrily charged the president with spending more time trying to get an international consensus about what to do in Libya rather than consulting them.

They also took umbrage with comments made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said the administration was only required to keep lawmakers informed through reports and consultations, and not necessarily bound to resolutions that might tie the president's hands relative to acting in Libya.

Republican Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina declared Congress "has been left out in the cold on this one.  There has been no consultation at all."

Congressman Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican, added, "This administration has not been honest with the American people that this [mission] is about regime change.  This is just the most muddled definition of an operation probably in U.S. history."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan Delays First Pitch, Players Rally Around Disaster Victims

Junko Kimura/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The professional baseball season has been delayed twice in Japan. This country's national pastime was forced to take a back seat to a national tragedy, despite initial pleas from the league to play on.

Japan's players, including stars who are now playing in America, have rallied to help the victims of the disaster.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka donated $1 million to the Japanese Red Cross. Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki donated about $1.2 million to the Red Cross, as well. The Mariners planned to dedicate the first six games to northern Japan's relief efforts.

The region's struggles are personal for Suzuki, whose former team, the Orix Blue Wave, inspired the city of Kobe by winning the Pacific League in 1995, the year another massive earthquake killed more than 6,000 people and devastated the region.

In the aftermath of Japan's worst natural disaster, the powerful Central League -- home to the dominant Yomiuri Giants, the Yankees of Japan -- lobbied to open the season as scheduled. In exchange, the league offered to scrap night games in areas suffering from power shortages, and dim the lights in other night games.

That push to play was met with criticism and a boycott of the games, especially after the rival Pacific League agreed to push back their opening day.

"I think the games can lift the spirits of victims who were hit hardest," said Giants fan Kiyoshi Yamada. "But we must be mindful those same people are crying and struggling every day."

The government pressured the Central League to reconsider. The league initially postponed the season start to March 29. Last week, the Central League caved in further, postponing the season to mid-April, in line with the Pacific League.

The Central and Pacific Leagues are now scheduled to throw out the first pitch on April 12. The Rakuten Eagles will plan to play their first six home games of the season in the country's southern Hyogo Prefecture. If repairs to the stadium move fast enough, players could be back in their real home by the summer.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Libyan Defector Could Link Gadhafi to Lockerbie Bombing

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- British prosecutors say they hope that defected Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa will provide valuable new information on Moammar Gadhafi's suspected role in the fatal 1988 terror bombing of Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Koussa, a longtime ally of Gadhafi, is the most senior member of the regime to defect. British officials Thursday said the one-time intelligence chief had not been offered immunity for the information he might provide.

"There is no deal. He arrived late last night. There are discussions going on. This is going to take some time. It is early days," said a government spokesman.

"We have notified the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that the Scottish prosecuting and investigating authorities wish to interview Mr. Koussa in connection with the Lockerbie bombing," the spokesman said. "The investigation into the Lockerbie bombing remains open and we will pursue all relevant lines of inquiry."

News of Koussa's arrival in the U.K. quickly spread to Washington, where members of Congress were interested to know if American justice officials would also have access to Koussa for questioning.

"Secretary Clinton has taken a very strong personal interest in the Pan Am 103 victims," Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Thursday morning.

"The Department of Justice has a considerable interest in a number of these issues. Because there are ongoing investigations, I'm not in a position to comment on them," he said, adding, "We, obviously, take this decision by the Libyan foreign minister very seriously."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio