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Associated Press

Posted on March 25, 2013 at 7:30 AM

Obama ending Mideast trip with walking tour of Petra, Jordan's fabled ancient city

PETRA, Jordan (AP) — Barack Obama is closing his first Mideast trip as president with a visit to Petra, Jordan's fabled ancient city.

An unexpected sandstorm that forced Obama to change some travel plans on Friday had led him to cautiously state that the tour of Petra would happen "weather permitting."

The weather cooperated on Saturday, allowing Marine One to touch down near Petra after an hour-long flight from Amman, Jordan's capital. Overcast skies in Amman threatened to upend Obama's travel plans but the weather improved during the flight across Jordan's rugged countryside.

Petra was carved into the rose-red stone by the Nabataeans more than 2,000 years ago. The ancient Arabs turned the city into a critical junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.

Petra is Jordan's most popular tourist attraction, drawing more than a half million visitors each year since 2007.

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Israel, Turkey agree to restore full diplomatic ties after apology over Gaza flotilla deaths

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel and Turkey agreed to restore full diplomatic relations on Friday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized in a phone call for a deadly naval raid against a Gaza-bound international flotilla in a dramatic turnaround partly brokered by President Barack Obama.

Joint interests between the two countries, including fears that the Syrian civil war could spill over their respective borders, and some cajoling by Obama made the time ripe to repair the frayed relations after nearly three years of acrimony over the deaths.

It was a surprising turnaround for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who had long rejected calls to apologize. He announced the breakthrough after a 20-minute phone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Obama helped broker the fence-mending while visiting Israel, but the sides had been reaching out to each other before.

"They agreed to restore normalization between Israel and Turkey, including the dispatch of ambassadors and the cancellation of legal steps against Israeli soldiers," a statement from Netanyahu's office said. Netanyahu "regretted the recent deterioration of relations between Israel and Turkey and expressed his commitment to overcoming their differences in order to advance peace and stability in the region," it said.

The statement stressed that the bloodshed was not intentional and suggested that relatives of those killed would get compensation. In light of an Israeli investigation into the shootings that pointed to a number of operational missteps, Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people for "any mistakes that might have led to the loss of life or injury and agreed to conclude an agreement on compensation (and) non-liability," the statement said.

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Police arrest 2 Ga. teens, ages 17 and 14, in slaying of baby in stroller, wounding of mother

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — In five years, Sherry West has lost two sons to unspeakable violence.

The Georgia mother was grieving from Thursday's shooting death of her 13-month-old son in his stroller during an attempted robbery while they took a morning stroll. In 2008, her 18-year-old son was stabbed in an altercation in New Jersey.

A pair of teenagers was arrested Friday in the most recent shooting. West had just been to the post office a few blocks from her apartment Thursday morning and was pushing her son, Antonio, in his stroller while they walked past gnarled oak trees and blooming azaleas in the coastal city of Brunswick.

West said a tall, skinny teenager, accompanied by a smaller boy, asked her for money.

"He asked me for money and I said I didn't have it," she told The Associated Press Friday from her apartment, which was scattered with her son's toys and movies.

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Federal Aviation Administration to close 149 air traffic control towers because of budget cuts

CHICAGO (AP) — Under orders to trim hundreds of millions of dollars from its budget, the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday released a final list of 149 air traffic control towers that it will close at small airports around the country starting early next month.

The closures will not force any of those airports to shut down, but pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers. Those procedures are familiar to all pilots.

Since a preliminary list of facilities was released a month ago, the FAA plan has raised wide-ranging concerns, including worries about the effect on safety and the potential financial consequences for communities that rely on airports to help attract businesses and tourists.

"We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement.

Airlines have yet to say whether they will continue offering service to airports that lose tower staff. The trade group Airlines for America said its member carriers have no plans to cancel or suspend flights as a result of the closures.

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Senate nears OK of budget that would give Dems win but leave debt battle with GOP unresolved

WASHINGTON (AP) — An exhausted Senate neared approval early Saturday of a $3.7 trillion budget for next year that will let majority Democrats highlight their fiscal priorities, but won't resolve the deep differences the two parties have over deficits and the size of government.

Senators sorted through a final batch of amendments and were on course to approve the measure in the pre-dawn hours and leave town for a two-week spring recess. The non-binding plan would shrink annual federal shortfalls over the next decade to nearly $400 billion, raise taxes by nearly $1 trillion and cull modest savings from domestic programs.

In contrast, a rival budget approved by the GOP-run House balances the budget within 10 years without boosting taxes.

That plan — by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., his party's vice presidential candidate last year — claims $4 trillion more in savings over the period than Senate Democrats by imposing major cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and other safety net programs for the needy. It would also transform the Medicare health care program for seniors into a voucher-like system for future recipients.

"We have presented very different visions for how our country should work and who it should work for," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the Senate Budget Committee. "But I am hopeful that we can bridge this divide."

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Colorado governor knows father of former inmate who may be linked to prison chief's death

DENVER (AP) — Attorney Jack Ebel testified before the Colorado Legislature two years ago that solitary confinement in a Colorado prison was destroying the psyche of his son, Evan.

When Jack Ebel's longtime friend, Gov. John Hickenlooper, was interviewing a Missouri corrections official for the top prisons job in Colorado, he mentioned the case as an example of why the prison system needed reform. And once Tom Clements came to Colorado, he eased the use of solitary confinement and tried to make it easier for people housed there to re-enter society.

Now authorities are investigating whether Evan Spencer Ebel, who was paroled in January, is linked to the assassination of Clements, who was shot and killed Tuesday night when he answered the front door of his house in a rural neighborhood.

The bullet casings from that shooting are the same type as those found at the site of a bloody gun battle Thursday between Evan Ebel and Texas law enforcement officers that ended with Ebel being shot and killed, according to court records.

The car Ebel drove matched the description of the one spotted outside Clements' house on the night of the prison director's death. Authorities also found a Domino's pizza delivery box in the trunk and a jacket or shirt from the pizza chain. Denver police say Ebel is now a suspect in the Sunday slaying of pizza delivery man Nathan Leon.

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Myanmar's army takes control of central city, imposing tense calm after violence kills dozens

MEIKHTILA, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's army took control of a ruined central city on Saturday, imposing a tense calm after several days of clashes between Buddhists and Muslims left piles of corpses in the streets and buildings ablaze in the worst sectarian bloodshed to hit the Southeast Asian nation this year.

Truckloads of soldiers could be seen patrolling Meikhtila and taking up positions at intersections and banks as authorities delivered food and water to thousands of displaced Muslims. Some residents, who had cowered indoors since the mayhem began Wednesday, emerged from their homes to take in the destruction.

President Thein Sein, a former general who vowed to bring democracy to Myanmar after half a century of military rule, imposed a state of emergency in the region Friday to stop violence from spreading. The unrest was the first of its kind in Myanmar since two similar bouts of bloodshed shook western Rakhine state last year, and its spread highlights the government's failure to rein in anti-Muslim sentiment in a predominantly Buddhist country, where even monks have staged anti-Muslim rallies and called on their supporters to drive out opponents with arms.

It was not immediately clear which side bore the brunt of the latest unrest, but terrified Muslims, who make up about 30 percent of Meikhtila's 100,000 inhabitants, stayed off the streets Friday as their shops and homes burned as angry Buddhist residents and monks tried to stop firefighters from dousing the blazes. Riot police crisscrossed the town seizing machetes and hammers from anxious Buddhist mobs.

At least five mosques were torched and thousands of Muslims have fled their homes, escorted away by police to two makeshift camps. Some Buddhists, meanwhile, have sought shelter at local monasteries.

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Highly illogical: IRS training video that parodies 'Star Trek' apparently lacks training value

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nobody's going to win an Emmy for a parody of the TV show "Star Trek" filmed by Internal Revenue Service employees at an agency studio in Maryland.

Instead, the IRS got a rebuke from Congress for wasting taxpayer dollars.

The agency says the video, along with a training video that parodied the TV show "Gilligan's Island," cost about $60,000. The "Star Trek" video accounted for most of the money, the agency said.

The IRS said Friday it was a mistake for employees to make the six-minute video. It was shown at the opening of a 2010 training and leadership conference but does not appear to have any training value.

The video features an elaborate set depicting the control room, or bridge, of the spaceship featured in the hit TV show. IRS workers portray the characters, including one who plays Mr. Spock, complete with fake hair and pointed ears.

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NASA official says flash of light reported across East Coast sky likely a 'meteor event'

NEW YORK (AP) — East Coast residents were buzzing on social media sites and elsewhere Friday night after a brief but bright flash of light streaked across the early-evening sky —in what experts say was almost certainly a meteor coming down.

Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environmental Office said the flash appears to be "a single meteor event." He said it "looks to be a fireball that moved roughly toward the southeast, going on visual reports."

"Judging from the brightness, we're dealing with something as bright as the full moon," Cooke said. "The thing is probably a yard across. We basically have (had) a boulder enter the atmosphere over the northeast."

He noted that the meteor was widely seen, with more than 350 reports on the website of the American Meteor Society alone.

"If you have something this bright carry over that heavily populated area, a lot of people are going to see it," he said. "It occurred around 8 tonight, there were a lot of people out, and you've got all those big cities out there."

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BracketRacket: Keeping hope alive in the NCAAs, even on the occasional bad hair day

Welcome back to BracketRacket, the one-stop shopping place for all your NCAA tournament needs.

Today, we throw down, challenge follicles, solve a Rubik's Cube and kiss the rim, all without breaking a sweat, even after batting the ball around with tennis star and Harvard dropout James Blake. We also refer you to a chilling list of celebrity alumni evil twins.

But before any of it, we defy long odds.

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