Nation & World briefly

5 US troops among 50 killed in spate of Afghan violence; 20 civilians killed by roadside bombs

KABUL (AP) - About 50 civilians, security forces and militants were killed in a wave of violence around Afghanistan, including a bomb that left 14 Afghan travelers dead in one of the country's most dangerous regions. Five American soldiers died in two attacks using roadside bombs.

The attacks Friday and Saturday reached a broad swath of the country, demonstrating the spread of the Taliban insurgency, which had been largely confined to the country's south and east in the years after the 2001 U.S. invasion. Half of those killed in the most recent attacks were civilians, who often find themselves caught in the grinding war between the Taliban and U.S. and NATO forces.

Bombs caused most of the casualties - including homemade blasts in the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar and a neighboring province that together killed 20 civilians.

A roadside bomb and gunfire attack in western Afghanistan killed three Americans, while another roadside bomb killed two Americans in the east, said Chief Petty Officer Brian Naranjo, a spokesman for the U.S. military command in Kabul. No other details were available.

Taliban militants also staged suicide attacks - and came under attack themselves.

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Obama tries to boost momentum on health care, will not accept 'the status quo as a solution

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - President Barack Obama assailed critics of his health care initiative Saturday, seeking to grab the megaphone from his opponents and boost momentum in his drive for congressional passage of his chief domestic priority.

"I will not accept the status quo. Not this time. Not now," the president told an estimated 15,000 people during a rally that had every feel of a campaign event, right down to chants of "Fired up, ready to go!" and "Yes, we can!"

Days after urging Democrats and Republicans in Congress to come together, an invigorated Obama said his plan incorporates ideas from those on both sides and he promised to continue to seek common ground.

"If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open," the president said.

But he warned that he wouldn't waste time with people who have decided "that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it." He also said he wouldn't stand by while special interests "use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are." And he warned, "If you misrepresent what's in the plan, we will call you out."

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Thousands of downtown DC protesters blast 'Obamacare,' government spending outside Capitol

WASHINGTON (AP) - Tens of thousands of protesters fed up with government spending marched to the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, showing their disdain for the president's health care plan with slogans such as "Obamacare makes me sick" and "I'm not your ATM."

The line of protesters clogged several blocks near capitol, according to the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. Demonstrators chanted "enough, enough" and "We the People." Others yelled "You lie, you lie!" and "Pelosi has to go," referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Throngs of people waved U.S. flags and held signs reading "Go Green Recycle Congress" and "I'm Not Your ATM." Men wore colonial costumes as they listened to speakers who warned of "judgment day" - Election Day 2010.

Other signs - reflecting the growing intensity of the health care debate - depicted President Barack Obama with the signature mustache of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. Many made reference to Obama as a socialist or communist, and another imposed his face on that of the villainous Joker from "Batman."

Richard Brigle, 57, a Vietnam War veteran and former Teamster, came from Paw Paw, Mich. He said health care needs to be reformed - but not according to Obama's plan.

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Back-to-back bombs at Shiite Shrine in central Baghdad kill 4 worshippers

BAGHDAD (AP) - Two bombs exploded back to back near a Shiite shrine in central Baghdad where worshippers had gathered in prayer Saturday, killing four people and injuring 24, police and hospital officials said.

The first bomb went off next to the tomb of a revered ninth century religious figure, Sheik Othman al-Omari. Then a car bomb exploded in a nearby parking lot as crowds were gathering. The blasts damaged the shrine and blew out the windows of neighboring buildings.

Attacks blamed on al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni extremists are again targeting Shiite civilians. Violence between Shiites and Sunnis drove the country to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007, though it has ebbed since.

Iraqi and U.S. officials say the attacks are aimed at rekindling that violence, but so far Shiite groups have reacted with restraint.

The police and hospital officials who gave details of the shrine attack and the casualty toll spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to speak to journalists.

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Mich. real estate agent flees town after cops say he was target of gunman charged in 2 deaths

OWOSSO, Mich. (AP) - A real estate agent told he was the third target of a shooting spree that left an abortion protester and a business owner dead said Saturday he fled his home after the violence that claimed two lives in their small Michigan city.

The man charged with the killings, meanwhile, was taken from jail to a hospital to undergo surgery for a self-inflicted wound to his arm, according to a county prosecutor.

James Howe of Owosso said his family was upset after police told him he was an intended target of the Friday shooting spree. He hesitated when asked how he was dealing with allegations.

"How would you hold up if someone was told you were going to be killed?" said Howe, who spoke to The Associated Press by cell phone. He declined to say where he and his family were staying.

Howe also declined to discuss or say whether he knew Harlan James Drake, 33, who is accused of shooting to death anti-abortion activist James Pouillon and gravel pit owner Mike Fuoss. Authorities said when he was arrested Drake told police he also intended to kill Howe.

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Moderate earthquake rattles Venezuela's capital; no injuries or damage immediately reported

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - An earthquake rattled Venezuela's capital Saturday, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported a preliminary magnitude of 6.4 for the quake, saying the epicenter was off Venezuela's Caribbean coast 65 miles (110 kilometers) west of Caracas.

Buildings swayed slightly as the quake jolted the capital about 3:40 p.m. local time (4:10 p.m. EDT, 20:10GMT).

Infrastructure Minister Diosdado Cabello said there had been no immediate reports of damage. There also was no immediate indication of injuries or problems in Venezuela's key oil industry.

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Iranian FM says talks with world powers over Iran's nuclear program are a 'possibility'

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran is not ruling out talks about its nuclear program with world powers but conditions for that have to be right, the country's top diplomat said Saturday, in a statement that appeared to soften Tehran's persistent refusal to discuss the controversial issue.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said he welcomed talks with the U.S. and its partners, adding that "should conditions be ripe, there is a possibility of talks about the nuclear issue."

The remarks came as the United States and its partner nations accepted a proposal made earlier this week from Iran for broad talks - even though Tehran had said the nuclear issue was not on the table - and indicated Iran's eagerness to open a dialogue.

Iran on Wednesday presented the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - U.S., Russia, France, Britain and China - plus Germany with a proposal to hold "comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive" talks on a range of security issues, including global nuclear disarmament.

The five-page document made no mention of Tehran's suspected nuclear program, which the West fears masks a nuclear arms pursuit but which Tehran asserts is only for electricity production.

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Government succeeded in avoiding a financial catastrophe, but there's little glory for Obama

WASHINGTON (AP) - Halting the financial sector's death plunge is arguably the government's most measurable achievement this year. Yet as President Barack Obama observes the one-year anniversary of Lehman Brothers' collapse, his administration's increasingly sunny assessment of Wall Street's rebound faces a hard sell.

The rescue effort, initiated by his predecessor, was expensive, and it bailed out the very institutions that the public blames for the crisis. Small banks are still failing, the institutions once considered too big to fail are putting on weight once again, and Obama's main pledge - a more watchful eye on Wall Street - hasn't taken hold in Congress.

What's more, it's hard to cheer for Wall Street when unemployment is rising, foreclosures have not abated and bankers lobby for bigger paychecks.

Obama on Monday plans a speech in New York assessing the condition of the financial markets. His treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, previewed the administration's upbeat line this past week.

"The emerging confidence and stability of September 2009 is a far cry from the crippling fear and panic of September 2008," Geithner told a congressional watchdog panel Thursday.

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Israeli film 'Lebanon' about 1982 war wins Golden Lion award at Venice Film Festival

VENICE, Italy (AP) - "Lebanon," an Israeli film that recounts Israel's 1982 invasion of the Middle East country through the eyes of four soldiers in a tank, won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday.

The festival jury announced the Golden Lion and other prizes on the last day of the 11-day screening of films from around the world. An Iranian film about women and repression took the No. 2 prize, the Silver Lion.

"Lebanon," directed by Samuel Maoz, tells the story of Israeli paratroopers searching a hostile town. The conflict is seen through the binocular-aided eyes of those inside a tank, with their cramped quarters lending an anxious sense of claustrophobia to their viewpoint.

"I dedicate this work to people all over the world that come back from the war safe and sound," the director told the audience at the award ceremony. "They work, get married, have children," but the memories get "stuck in their souls."

Maoz was a young man when he served in the Israeli military during the invasion, which led to a long occupation of southern Lebanon.

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Play resumes, Nadal rolls: Spaniard routs Gonzalez after day of rain to reach US Open semis

NEW YORK (AP) - After a day of waiting around, Rafael Nadal finally got back on the court. About half an hour later, he was still looking for some action.

The third-seeded Nadal took advantage of an embarrassing collapse by No. 11 Fernando Gonzalez at the U.S. Open on Saturday to put away his quarterfinal, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2), 6-0.

"I can't tell you, because I don't have the answer," Gonzalez said when asked to explain his quick disintegration.

Next up for Nadal is a semifinal Sunday against No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro. The other men's semifinal pits No. 4 Novak Djokovic against No. 1 Roger Federer, who is seeking his sixth straight U.S. Open title.

Though Nadal's sore abdominals are still a concern, he certainly wasn't overtaxed in this match, as he headed into what could be a very long weekend.

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