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 


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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