Car Bomb Leaves Dozens Dead, Injured in Pakistan

USGS [dot] gov(FAISALABAD, Pakistan) -- At least 22 people were killed and dozens more injured when a car bomb went off in Pakistan Tuesday, according to officials.

The bomb detonated close to a gas station in Faisalabad, triggering a large blast as several gas cylinders at the station exploded.  Police offices, as well as an intelligence agency’s office, were also in the vicinity of the blast, which wounded scores of passersby and many working in the area.

Of note, Faisalabad was also the home town of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani minister for minorities affairs who was assassinated in Islamabad last week.

The government of Punjab, the province where Faisalabad is situated, has always looked the other way when it comes to the presence of militants and a possible action against them.  But recently, Pakistan's interior minister called it the "hub of militants."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Royal Couple in Northern Ireland for One-Day Visit

Niall Carson - WPA Pool / Getty Images(BELFAST, Northern Ireland) -- Prince William and Kate Middleton arrived in Northern Ireland on Tuesday for a one-day visit to Belfast.

Armed police kept watch from the rooftops as the prince and his bride-to-be arrived in the city center.

A crowd gathered around City Hall in the hope of a royal walkabout,  and they were not disappointed: Kate and Will made their way around the crowds, greeting one and all.

Streets were sealed off and traffic diverted as part of a huge security operation for the couple's first visit to Northern Ireland.

The visit was not publicized ahead of time, which is standard procedure for trips to Northern Ireland because of the security risks.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NATO Increases Air Surveillance Over Libya to 24 Hours

File photo of a NATO E-3A Sentry AWACS aircraft. USAF(BRUSSELS, Belgium) -- NATO has increased its airborne surveillance of Libya to 24 hours, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO told reporters on a conference call Monday.

"The decision was made to indeed increase the surveillance of the NATO-AWACS capability to make it 24/7, to have a better picture of what's really going on in this part of the world," Ambassador Ivo Daalder said speaking from Brussels, Belgium.

NATO's Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft had previously been providing surveillance about 10 hours a day.

Daalder said the planes will be used to look "for aircraft and ground traffic, both in Libya but also on -- at sea, so that's what it's looking for.  It really is a way to find out what's going on in terms of traffic is not looking for individuals."

The extended surveillance "was an agreement that we would look at these issues a little closer over the next few days so that when defense ministers meet on Thursday here in Brussels, they may be in a position to make a decision," Daalder added.

NATO officials could vote by Thursday on whether to ban all air traffic over Libya while considering the requirements of establishing a no-fly zone.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Report: US Raids Have Removed 900 Taliban Leaders in Afghanistan

Majid Saeedi/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The White House and Defense Department have been careful not to raise expectations about the progress of the war in Afghanistan, even after nearly ten years of fighting.

But a new report by U.S. military leaders indicates that the Taliban has suffered significant losses in the past ten months that have hampered the group's ability to take the offensive.

Maj. Sunset Belinsky of the International Stability Assistance Force said Monday that as many as 900 Taliban leaders have either been killed or captured since the spring of 2010 and this has resulted in the insurgency struggling to find replacements.

Belinsky, whose force oversees coalition military operations in Afghanistan, explained that "insurgents have actually refused to take over the leadership positions, have had difficulty finding technical experts, such as IED facilitators, gun runners and bomb trainers."

An increase in U.S. Special Operations units conducting raids has been a major factor in contributing to the leadership vacuum.

Still, the real proof in how well these attacks on Taliban's leaders have worked will come during the spring and summer months, when the insurgency is traditionally its most aggressive.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Still Hesitant to Declare No-Fly Zone over Libya

US State Department(WASHINGTON) -- As forces loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi continue using air power to pound rebel strongholds in Libya, President Obama said Monday that "all options are on the table ... including military options" to assist anti-government fighters.

Still, the White House is resisting calls from some Republican lawmakers to establish a no-fly zone over Libya.  Senior administration officials are questioning the cost of such an operation and exactly how effective it would be.  Also, the military would first have to take out the Libyan air force before a no-fly zone could be created.

However, Wayne White, former deputy director of the State Department's Middle East intelligence office, contends that blocking Gadhafi's war planes over eastern Libya would "protect 95 percent of the rebel holdings and vulnerable population and avoid 99 percent of Gadhafi's surface-to-surface missile holdings."

While the White House mulls over its options, NATO officials could vote by Thursday on whether to ban all air traffic over Libya while considering the requirements of establishing a no-fly zone.

Some critics believe that the longer the U.S. and its allies vacillate over the issue, the less chance it will make much of a difference if Gadhafi makes significant gains against his enemies.

While it's difficult to ascertain just how successful Gadhafi has been in retaking control of Ras Lanuf, Misrata and Zawiyah from the rebels, civilian fatalities are growing as the Libyan leader remains determined to hold onto power.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Report: Joran van der Sloot to Plead Guilty to Manslaughter

Darrin Klimek/Thinkstock(LIMA, Peru) -- Joran van der Sloot, a 23-year-old Dutch playboy accused of murdering a Peruvian woman following a night of drinking and gambling, will plead guilty of involuntary manslaughter, his lawyer said Monday.

Van der Sloot, the primary suspect in the 2005 disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba, plans to use a "fit of rage" defense in his upcoming trial for the murder of Peruvian Stephany Flores, his lawyer Maximo Altez said Monday.

Altez, speaking on the Peruvian television show Domingo Al Día, said van der Sloot had no premeditated plan to kill Flores. The two got into an argument after Flores had looked at his laptop, the lawyer said.

"They started pushing each other and that is why it happened," Altez said.

Under Peruvian law, manslaughter in a fit of rage carries a prison sentence of between three and five years, and Altez said his client could be free in 20 months. Van der Sloot could face a sentence of 15 to 35 years if he is convicted of murder.

Soon after his June 2010 arrest, van der Sloot confessed to killing Flores in his hotel room, telling authorities that he became enraged when the woman looked him up online and learned of his alleged involvement in the Holloway affair.

"She hit me in the head. I lost control of my actions. I didn't know what I was doing. I remember what I was doing, but not the motive. It was an impulsive act after receiving a blow to the head," van der Sloot said in a signed confession to police last year.

The "fit of rage" defense is typically reserved for crimes of passion, such as when a husband catches his wife in the act of committing adultery.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Actor Ben Affleck, Republican Cindy McCain Team Up to Help Congo

ABC News (WASHINGTON) -- When Ben Affleck first called up Cindy McCain to ask for her help in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she thought it was a joke.

"She thought it was a prank call," Affleck said.

But last month, the political odd couple of a Hollywood actor and wife of a former Republican presidential nominee traveled to Africa together, and now they're teaming up to bring attention to the intense suffering of the Congolese people and how Americans can make a difference.

On Tuesday, McCain and Affleck will testify together about the issue on Capitol Hill, but ahead of their testimony, the pair sat down together Monday with ABC's Jake Tapper to discuss their recent trip to Congo and the simple steps that could change lives there.

"Politics doesn't have anything to do with this. This is about human lives," McCain said.

Affleck, who first traveled to Congo five years ago, said there's a moral responsibility to pay attention to the suffering there and to get involved.

"People are dying, really dying and have been for a long time," Affleck said. "Fifteen years, three-plus million people have died. I don't know that I can make any more argument about why you should pay attention to this."

Affleck and McCain said there's a need for a special advisor to the region who can coordinate the efforts of governments and western aid organizations.

McCain herself got involved in Congo in 1994, and at first, she said, she was skeptical about Affleck, fearing that he was like other celebrities that she'd seen who drop in to Africa for what she called a "parachute photo op."

"My past experiences with other folks in the same, perhaps, arena have not been good. It hadn't been heartfelt. It hadn't been, what I believe, truly committed to the issue and the people," McCain said.

But Affleck, she said, has done the hard work of learning the issues on the ground in detail.

"This has been not only a wonderful opportunity but a wonderful treat," she said. "Ben has a working knowledge of this region. He not only understands the issues, but he understands what we need to be doing."

And Affleck added that while the Democratic actor and the Republican political wife may be separated by a partisan divide, the two have found plenty of common ground on Congo, family and even politics.

"I'd say we have, actually, frankly, quite a bit in common. I don't know if, maybe she doesn't want me to say that out loud," Affleck joked.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Female Mexican Police Chief Fired

HECTOR GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images(PRAXEDIS G. GUERRERO, Mexico) -- Marisol Valles Garcia, the 20-year-old who became police chief of Praxedis G. Guerrero, one of the most violent towns in Mexico, was fired after failing to show up for work Monday. 

It had been reported previously that Valles Garcia was seeking political asylum in the United States because of death threats; however, Andres Morales, secretary of the county in Mexico and second in charge after the mayor, told ABC News that he couldn't confirm that report.

Valles Garcia did request a few days off to care for her sick son, he said.

An unnamed relative of Valles Garcia told The New York Post that the chief had left Mexico with her young son.

Valles Garcia, called "the bravest woman in Mexico," was sworn in in November 2010 as the head of a new program of crime prevention in a farming town located in one of the bloodiest regions in Mexico. Since her predecessor's head was left outside the police station over a year ago, no one wanted to fill the vacancy. Valles Garcia took the position.

"I'm doing this for my people," she said then. "This is not for me. I'm tired of all the drug violence."

ABC News tried to talk to Valles Garcia about her job in December, but was unable to. A person who answered the phone said her presence in the office is unpredictable, for obvious reasons.

The downward spiral of drug violence in Mexico has touched nearly every community.

"[Drug-related violence] could deter leaders from taking government positions, a very pernicious development," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. "We have seen more than 20 mayors in Mexico killed over the past three years."

President Barack Obama met with Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Thursday to extend their collaboration on combatting drug violence. During the joint news conference at the White House, Obama said that he would speed up aid from the U.S. meant to train and equip Mexican forces, but he also acknowledged that the countries should make a greater effort to keep that aid out of the hands of the drug cartels.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


POTUS Announces New Actions for Guantanamo Detainees

John Moore/ Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama remains committed, his advisors say, to closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, just as he pledged as a candidate and found impossible to accomplish in his first two years in office. In the earliest weeks of his presidency, Mr. Obama made his case.

"Rather than keeping us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security.  It is a rallying cry for our enemies," the president once said.

The President announced Monday that new steps would be taken to "broaden our ability to bring terrorists to justice, provide oversight for our actions, and ensure the humane treatment of detainees."

Some at Guantanamo were headed for military tribunals but President Obama suspended those and he has now put out new rules for military trials. That includes no evidence obtained during torture.

President Obama has said the most difficult cases are detainees impossible to put on trial but too dangerous to release. Now there will be mandatory, periodic reviews allowing each suspect full legal representation before a legal panel every three years.

The president said that he will not authorize the release of "individuals who endanger the American people."

President Obama says the U.S. is still at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Karzai Accepts Gates' Apology on Boys' Deaths

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Visiting Afghanistan on an unannounced trip, Defense Secretary Robert Gates personally apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday for the recent deaths of nine Afghan children during a helicopter strike targeting Taliban fighters.

Karzai accepted the apology, though he had rejected a similar apology Sunday from NATO commander Gen. David Petraeus.

At a news conference in Kabul, Gates told Karzai, "I would also like to offer President Karzai my personal apology because I know these tragedies weigh heavily on his heart and create problems for him as the leader and protector of the Afghan people." Gates acknowledged that civilian casualties also break his heart and that they are not only a tragedy for the families, but also a setback for the Afghan people.

The Taliban is responsible for over 80 percent of all civilian casualties in Afghanistan. But civilian casualties during U.S. and NATO military operations have often been seen negatively by the Afghan population, though the number of civilian deaths has been reduced in recent years.

Gates added, "It is ultimately our duty along with our Afghan partners, to protect the Afghan people -- all of the Afghan people. And to do that we must continue building on the significant security gains achieved by Afghan coalition forces in the last year."

Karzai accepted Gates' apology saying, "I take this apology with respect and agree with it and accept it, and I will say that Secretary Gates from the tip of his heart apologized."

Though he accepted the apology, Karzai added, "With a lot of respect, I will request Secretary Gates to take the plea of the Afghan people to Washington that these civilian casualties stop, and make the utmost effort so we don't have them anymore."

The mistaken civilian deaths in the remote eastern Kunar Province in Afghanistan have been a divisive issue between NATO and Afghan government officials since it occurred in late February.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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