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Thursday
Mar312011

Miss Dominican Republic Loser Says Title Winner Paid for Crown

Ethan Miller/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The president of the Miss Universe organization defended the group's handling of this year's Miss Dominican Republic competition amid accusations that the title winner paid for her crown.

Paula Shugart, head of the Miss Universe organization, which runs the Miss Dominican Republic event, said she has seen no evidence of improper behavior at the March 8 event.

"We pride ourselves on running a proper pageant," Shugart told ABC News. "We obviously take these kinds of claims seriously but we have heard nothing but great things about how the pageant was run."

Evi Siskos, a finalist for Miss Dominican Republic, claimed Wednesday that the winner, Dalia Fernandez, paid more than $100,000 to win the beauty competition. Siskos says she made the claims after reading tabloid stories in the Spanish-language press in the Dominican Republic.

"We started reading stories in the press that the crown was bought," she said at a press conference in New York. "We deserve an explanation."

Siskos' attorney, Jacob Oresky, pleaded with Donald Trump to investigate the claims. Trump is part owner, along with NBC, of the Miss Universe organization.

"Donald Trump is a fair man. He's very powerful. He should look into it," Oresky said at the press conference. "There are allegations that the crown was bought."

Shugart, the Miss Universe president, says she hasn't heard directly from Siskos or her attorney and has yet to see concrete details of the claims.

Oresky did not return calls seeking comment Thursday. Dalia Fernandez, who will compete in the Miss Universe pageant in August, has yet to weigh in on the payment accusations.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar312011

Libya Price Tag for US: $550 Million and Counting

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Sunderman/Released(TRIPOLI, Libya) -- The intervention in Libya has cost the United States $550 million through Monday, and, going forward, it will cost an estimated $40 million a month as the United States reduces its role, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.

The expense will likely come out of the Defense budget, Gates said, but there may be need for a supplemental budget, given U.S. military and humanitarian commitments in Japan.

The number is slightly lower than the $600 million figure provided by the Pentagon earlier this week.

Obama administration officials Thursday continued to tout coalition efforts and the need for intervention, saying they have successfully degraded Col. Moammar Gadhafi's defense capabilities but not to the point where he can be broken.

With millions of dollars being poured into the conflict, members of Congress on both sides of the political aisle have grown increasingly agitated about the mission and endgame in Libya, which has cost the United States millions of dollars.

NATO has taken over the day-to-day operations, and the United States will continue to provide some capabilities, such as "electronic attack, aerial refueling, lift, search and rescue, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support," Gates said.

But the endgame is unclear, and rebels in Libya seem to be losing the momentum they have gained over the past week. Opposition forces have expressed frustration at the lack of airstrikes in cities where Gadhafi's forces quickly outnumber opposition forces.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar312011

10,000 Times: Radiation in Water Near Japan Nuke Plant Skyrockets

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Japanese officials are testing the soil contaminated by radiation from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to try to determine whether spring farming can begin as alarmingly high radiation levels were detected outside the evacuation zone Thursday.

"As a ratio, it was about two times higher" than levels at which the agency recommends evacuations," International Atomic Energy Agency official Elena Buglova said at a news conference.

Meanwhile, radioactivity in the water underneath the Fukushima plant measured 10,000 times the government standard. A spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co. said the company does not believe that any drinking water is affected.

Officials said earlier this week that dangerous plutonium was found in soil near the reactors.

Residents within 12 miles of the nuclear plant were evacuated after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami knocked out the reactor's cooling system March 11.

Radiation has also been detected in tap water, milk and vegetables, prompting the government to release a long list of banned food products from the region closest to the reactors.

Ninety-nine individually tested foods, including spinach, milk, cabbage and celery, have turned up with some radioactivity.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar312011

Exclusive: Prince Harry on Kate Middleton, Royal Bachelor Party

ABC News(SVALBARD, Norway) -- Prince Harry has plenty of nice things to say about the upcoming wedding of his brother and Kate Middleton, but he won't say a word about that bachelor party.

"I'm not going to talk about that," the prince told ABC’s Bob Woodruff in an exclusive interview in Svalbard, Norway. The prince is there on a partial trek to the North Pole with wounded veterans.

The two went on to talk about the wedding, Prince Charles' involvement in the selection of the music for the wedding and Prince Harry's upcoming training to pilot Apache attack helicopters. As the interview concluded, however, the prince said with a laugh to Woodruff, "Nice, try getting me to talk about the stag weekend. That was never going to happen."

The young prince marveled, however, about the upcoming nuptials.

"It's a big deal. It's not just a normal wedding," said Prince Harry. "It's a really big decision for him to bring Kate into the family."

Harry, who will be William's best man at the April 29 wedding, said he hasn't started working on his speech yet. He would not say who he was taking to the wedding.

The prince said he is looking forward to having Middleton in the family, noting he had always wanted another sibling. "A younger brother or sister wouldn't have been nicer, but to have a big sister is very, very nice," he said.

"She's a fantastic girl, she really is, my brother is very lucky," said Harry. "She's very lucky to find my brother. The two of them are a classic match."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar312011

10 Dead, More Injured in Second Attack on Pakistani Islamic Party Head

U.S. Geological Survey(CHARSADDA, Pakistan) -- A roadside bomb intended to target a hardline Islamic party chief killed 10 people and wounded more than 15 others in northwestern Pakistan Thursday, according to a police official.

The attack in the town of Charsadda was the second in as many days on Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the president of the Jamiat Ulema Islam party.  On Tuesday, Rehman was targeted in a suicide attack not far from the latest bombing.

Rehman, who survived both attacks, told reporters, "I am fine.  There was a powerful explosion near my car and the windscreen was shattered.  Another car in my motorcade was damaged."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar312011

Libyan Rebels in Retreat as Country's Foreign Minister Resigns

ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images(TRIPOLI, Libya) -- Libyan rebels have retreated, despite support from NATO airstrikes, days after seeming to turn the tide against leader Moammar Gadhafi. The ongoing battle has shown no signs of abating as President Obama Wednesday signed a presidential finding authorizing covert operations to assist the anti-Gadhafi forces.

Rebels were met overnight with heavy fire from Gadhafi forces as cars fled the eastern city of Ajdabiya, erasing almost all of the rebels' gains. Gadhafi's troops have been using pickup trucks armed with heavy weapons, making them hard to distinguish from the rebels in the air.

After a fast advance to the doorstep of Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, the rebels have lost town after town. But with every major advance for Gadhafi, comes a major setback.

One of his closest allies made his own full retreat Wednesday night, all the way to London. Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa resigned from the regime in protest against Gadhafi's attacks against civilians. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Koussa's departure is a sign that Gadhafi's regime is "crumbling." Hague also said Koussa is "not being offered any immunity from British or international justice."

But as one member of Gadhafi's inner circle exits, another has newly emerged. Once rarely seen in the media, Gadhafi's only daughter, Aisha, has now taken to Libyan TV and to the frontline, echoing her father's message that they will not back down.

Meanwhile, NATO officials said Thursday morning that they have taken control over air operations in Libya, which include enforcing the no-fly zone.

As the presidential finding discusses a number of ways to help the opposition to Gadhafi, including authorizing some help now and setting up a legal framework for more activities in the future, it does not direct covert operatives to provide arms to the rebels immediately, although it does prepare for such a contingency.

President Obama said in a speech Monday that protecting civilians from near certain genocide and not ousting Gadhafi was the intended purpose of the U.S. air strikes that started two weeks ago.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar312011

Syrian President Talks Changes But Makes None

Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- Syria's president made it crystal clear in a speech Wednesday that he's not about to be swamped by the wave of calls for democratic reform rolling through the Middle East.

Bashar al-Assad only spoke vaguely of political reform to members of parliament, using his speech to mainly blast foreign conspirators he claimed were tricking people "into heading to the streets."

There was some anticipation that Assad might lift the emergency rule that has been in effect in Syria for the past 48 years, but that didn't happen.

Basically, the Syrian government used the possibility of ending emergency rule, which allows for unrestricted arrests and prohibits gatherings, to calm demonstrators who've shown up in cities by the thousands over the past two weeks to demand changes. 

In some cases, Syrian security forces have intervened, leading to violent and sometimes deadly crackdowns.  Assad said that the ensuing unrest is a "test of unity" and that Syria's enemies are exploiting people's needs in order to create divisions.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the Syrian people would be disappointed by Assad's inaction and charged that his speech had little substance to it.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar312011

Japan Nuclear Crisis: Radiation Spike Detected Outside Evacuation Zone

KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Japanese officials are testing the soil contaminated by radiation from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to try to determine whether spring farming can begin as alarmingly high radiation levels were detected outside the evacuation zone Thursday.

"As a ratio, it was about two times higher than levels at which the agency recommends evacuations," International Atomic Energy Agency Official Elena Buglova said at a news conference.

Separately, the amount of iodine found in seawater near the plant has reached a new high; 4,385 times the legal limit.  Officials said earlier this week that dangerous plutonium was found in soil near the reactors.

Residents within 12 miles of the nuclear plant were evacuated after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami knocked out the reactor's cooling system March 11.  The company that operates the plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Co., has been trying to contain the radiation since the twin disasters.

Emergency crews are hoping to put an underwater camera into highly radioactive water found at the crippled plant to try to get a better look at the source of the leak and possibly at the spent fuel rods inside.

Radiation has also been detected in tap water, milk and vegetables, prompting the government to release a long list of banned food products from the region closest to the reactors.  Ninety-nine individually tested foods, including spinach, milk, cabbage and celery, have turned up with some radioactivity.

The news has left tens of thousands of farmers at risk of losing their livelihoods, and shoppers confused about which products are safe to eat.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar302011

US Nuclear Emergency Response Marines Being Sent to Japan

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(CHARLES COUNTY, Md.) -- The ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan has prompted the U.S. military to send a marine unit specializing in nuclear emergency response to be on hand if needed, ABC News has learned.

Trained in personnel decontamination and monitoring of radiation levels, the team would not be involved in the efforts to stabilize the reactors at the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Approximately 155 Marines from the Marines' Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF) received their deployment orders for Japan early Wednesday and are scheduled to arrive on Friday.

The team is being sent as what a Defense Department official calls "an initial response force" because they are only a portion of the much larger CBIRF unit.

Based at the Indian Head Naval Surface Warfare Center in Maryland, CBIRF is a Marine unit specially trained to counter the effects of a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive (CBRNE) incident. Usually, that entails being available to assist local, state and federal agencies with domestic emergency responses to CBRNE incidents.

The unit's deployment to Japan "will provide the U.S. on-scene commander a rapid response capability and, if requested, [allow the commander to] assist Japanese authorities by providing advice and expertise in the areas of agent detection and identification, casualty search, rescue, personnel decontamination and emergency medical care," a defense official said.

The deployment of the initial response force is not of an emergency nature, but more as a precautionary move in case they are needed, another defense official said.

The U.S. military has barred its personnel in Japan from entering a 50-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, though exceptions are made for certain relief missions.

The new Marine unit will not be allowed within that 50-mile exclusion area and, if needed, will provide personnel decontamination and monitoring support from Yokota Air Base outside of Tokyo, a defense official said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Wednesday
Mar302011

India Wins: Beats Pakistan in World Cup Cricket Collision

Daniel Berehulak/Getty ImagesREPORTER'S NOTEBOOK BY Nicholas S. Schifrin

(MOHALI, India) -- India has beaten Pakistan in the "thrilla in Mohali," the 2011 semifinal of the Cricket World Cup.

About 1.4 billion people live in the two countries, and hundreds of millions outside of South Asia were watching.

The match, as everyone in this part of the world has been tweeting and Facebooking about for nearly a week, is much more than an eight-hour sporting event. Serious sport, George Orwell once said, is "war without the shooting," as Time magazine's Omar Waraich noted -- and that is never more true than when India and Pakistan meet on the playing field.

The two countries that have fought three wars share culture, religion, history, even families -- and the love of the sport that the British left behind.

To help American readers understand what I'm talking about, consider this thought experiment:

Take baseball, the "national pastime," and everything it represents to U.S. culture -- read the prologue of Underworld, watch Field of Dreams, consider Lou Gehrig's story. Then, take the pre-steroid-era worship of the baseball player: the families around their TVs watching New York's teams (back when they included the Dodgers and the Giants), the four million kids playing Little League today, the image of a father and son sitting behind home plate. And then expand it out. Give every American kid -- rich and poor -- in every small park in every part of the United States a cheap baseball, bat, makeshift bases and a glove, because cricket doesn't need all that equipment. Eliminate basketball and soccer. Replace Babe with Sachin, Cy with Muttiah. Then, you will begin to understand what cricket means to South Asia.

Of course, this match wasn't even only about sport.

"Cricket diplomacy" is a 30-year-old phrase, but it is being practiced again. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited his counterpart, Pakistani Prime Minster Yusuf Raza Gilani, to watch the match together.

They undoubtedly talked a lot about Pakistan's low run rate and a little bit about the major issues that still separate the two countries politically: Kashmir, water, terrorism.

But still, even if there will be no major breakthroughs, South Asians can look back on Wednesday as continuing a legacy that has helped thaw enmities.

In 2004, the Indian national team toured Pakistan, helping reignite the peace process for the first time in 15 years. In 2005, then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf tried to diffuse tensions over Kashmir during meetings with Singh that took place around an India-Pakistan cricket match in New Delhi. In 1987, then-dictator Gen. Zia ul Haq went to Jaipur, India to watch Pakistan play India at a time when both countries massed additional troops at their shared border. And then the opposite: In 2008, after Pakistani militants committed the worst act of terrorism in India's history, India's cricket team cancelled a highly anticipated tour of Pakistan.

As the Indian sports minister asked undiplomatically at the time, "Is it possible for one team to arrive in Mumbai and indulge in mass murder, and have another team go and play cricket in the winter afternoon sun at Lahore immediately after?"

Today, the relationship remains tense but has improved dramatically, and the Pakistan team was as gracious in defeat as the Indian team was gracious in victory. The same went for their fans.

"Congratulations India.... you outbatted and outfielded us..... Well done," wrote a Pakistani on Twitter.

"We won the match, you won our hearts!!" wrote one particularly generous Indian.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 







ABC News Radio