World Briefly July 5 |

World Briefly July 5

Chavez returns to Venezuela and uncertain future after cancer surgery in Cuba

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Hugo Chavez’s surprise return from Cuba after cancer treatment was a classic maneuver for a president who excels at showmanship. It’s also likely to give him a political boost as supporters rally around their ailing leader.

The 56-year-old president projected a strong, vibrant image as he stepped off a plane early Monday. Smiling, he hugged his vice president, broke into song and later raised a fist in triumph.

“It’s the beginning of my return!” he declared.

Despite the confident image, doubts about his future re-emerged as he suggested later in the day that he still isn’t ready for a full comeback.

He told state television by telephone that he doesn’t expect to attend celebrations Tuesday marking the 200th anniversary of Venezuela’s independence from Spain. Normally, Chavez would be front and center at the patriotic event.

Americans to celebrate 235th Independence Day with parades, fireworks, barbecues, hot dogs

NEW YORK (AP) – The U.S. marked the 235th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence with parades, fireworks, barbecues – plus presidential campaigning, a White House birthday and competitive eating.

Thousands were showing up near the Washington Monument to eagerly await the annual fireworks show on the National Mall, while others were throwing on Hawaiian shirts and shorts to ski the still-snowy slopes at resorts from California to Colorado.

In Boston, the annual Boston Pops concert was a must. In Akron, Ohio, the Rib, White & Blue Food Festival was enticing. And then, there were Nevada’s casinos, which promised a pyrotechnics extravaganza that could be a gambler’s best bet.

On New York’s Coney Island, the annual Nathan’s Famous July Fourth hot dog-eating contest brought out the biggest names in competitive eating for a clash that was short in timespan but high in calories.

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, of San Jose, Calif., wolfed down 62 hot dogs and buns during the 10-minute contest, winning his fifth straight title. Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas chowed her way to victory in the first-ever women-only contest, eating 40 hot dogs, one shy of her 2009 total.

Petraeus: Focus of Afghan fight will shift from Taliban strongholds in south to eastern border

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The outgoing commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan said Monday that the focus of the war will shift in coming months from Taliban strongholds in the south to the eastern border with Pakistan where insurgents closest to al-Qaida and other militants hold sway.

On his last Fourth of July in uniform before becoming the new CIA director, Gen. David Petraeus said that come fall, more special forces, intelligence, surveillance, air power will be concentrated in areas along Afghanistan’s rugged eastern border with Pakistan. There will be substantially more Afghan boots on the ground in the east and perhaps a small number of extra coalition forces too.

“There could be some small (coalition) forces that will move, but this is about shifting helicopters – lift and attack. It’s about shifting close-air support. It’s about shifting, above all, intelligence, surveillance and recognizance assets,” he said in interviews with The Associated Press and three other news outlets.

The U.S.-led coalition has concentrated most of its troops and attention in Helmand and Kandahar provinces in southern Afghanistan. That’s where the majority of the more than 30,000 U.S. reinforcements were deployed last year. They have made gains in clearing the territory and now are trying to hold it as the Afghan authorities and international donors rush in with plans for development and better governance.

However, the civilian effort in the south has lagged behind the progress on the battlefield and the fight continues.

Riots erupt in Egypt after court releases police charged with killing protesters in uprising

CAIRO (AP) – Hundreds of Egyptians attacked a courtroom in Cairo on Monday, scuffled with security guards, and blocked a major highway for hours after the court ordered the release of 10 policemen charged with killing protesters during the country’s uprising.

The unrest added to tensions already running high in Egypt over the ruling military council’s failure to hold accountable security forces involved in killing protesters during the uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak. Nearly five months later, only one policeman has been convicted in the deaths of more than 846 people killed in a government crackdown on protesters. He was tried in absentia.

In Monday’s court proceedings, guards had to separate between the relatives of the victims and the families of the defendants even before the decision was read. In his initial statement, the judge seemed to suggest he would impose harsh sentences, saying that “the blood of those killed will not be spilled in vain,” according to the Egyptian news agency MENA.

However, he then ordered the release of the defendants, setting off a riot. The victims’ families scuffled with the guards and tried to rush toward the defendants who were whisked out of the courtroom. A number of famiy members of the slain protesters tried to storm the judge’s office in the courthouse, but were blocked by soldiers guarding the building.

After the riots broke out, Egypt’s Prosecutor-General Mahmoud Abdel-Meguid ordered the court’s decision overturned in a clear attempt to defuse anger. However, a lawyer for the victims’ families said that such a decision is “illegal” because the prosecutor general has no authority over the court.

Jurors begin deliberating over whether Casey Anthony is guilty of killing 2-year-old daughter

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Jurors began deliberating Monday in the Casey Anthony murder trial after hearing prosecutors argue the woman killed her 2-year-old daughter Caylee because the toddler interrupted her carefree partying and love life.

Prosecutors in their rebuttal closing argument earlier Monday said the defense’s assertion that Caylee’s death was an accident made no sense.

Anthony’s attorneys say the girl drowned in the family’s pool. They have said Anthony panicked and that her father, a former police officer, decided to make the death look like a homicide by placing duct tape over the child’s mouth and dumping the body in some nearby woods. George Anthony has denied that.

Prosecutor Jeff Ashton told the jurors no one makes an innocent accident look like murder.

“That’s absurd. Nothing has been presented to you to make that any less absurd,” Ashton said. He also spent significant time reminding jurors about forensic evidence that he said links Anthony to her daughter’s death, including the smell and chemical signature of decomposition in her car.

Libyan official: Talks with rebels stretch back 2 months, sees signs of progress

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) – A senior Libyan official said Monday that progress has been made in talks with rebels on ending more than four months of fighting, but a top rebel leader denied that any negotiations are taking place.

The rebel leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, also distanced himself from earlier comments attributed to him that Libya’s opposition might consider allowing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to stay in the country as part of a transition deal, provided he resigns and orders a cease-fire.

“The Libyans do not want Gadhafi to stay even if he’s dead … after what he’s done while in power and during the revolt against him,” Abdul-Jalil said Monday.

In the Gadhafi-controlled capital of Tripoli, Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told reporters that talks with various rebel officials have been going on for two months.

He said the negotiations have included some members of a transitional council based in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi, though he acknowledged that “of course there are elements within the rebellion who are not in favor in talks.”

War crimes judges enter not-guilty pleas for a disruptive Ratko Mladic, order him out of court

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – He put on a cap, defying the rules of the courtroom. He gestured to the packed public gallery despite a judge ordering him not to. He threatened a boycott because his chosen lawyers weren’t there.

A belligerent Ratko Mladic repeatedly disobeyed and shouted at judges Monday during an arraignment at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal. Finally, the former Serb general was thrown out of the hearing and the court entered not guilty pleas on his behalf to 11 charges of masterminding the worst atrocities of the Bosnian war.

The 69-year-old’s courtroom theatrics came at the start of a solemn week for survivors of the massacre he is accused of orchestrating – the killing of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995 in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

Officials are preparing to rebury 600 people whose remains were dug out of mass graves in the past year and identified using DNA tests. The bodies unearthed in the hills surrounding Srebrenica will be laid to rest July 11 at a cemetery for victims of the mass killings.

Mladic’s actions in court drew anger from survivors of the 1992-95 Bosnian war and raised the prospect of another turbulent trial at the U.N. court that may offer victims more heartache than justice.