Thursday, June 4, 2009

Transit officer: fellow cop thought man had gun

A Bay Area transit police officer who was on a train station platform when his colleague fatally shot a man says his fellow officer thought the civilian was going for a gun.

Officer Tony Pirone testified Wednesday that Johannes Mehserle (yoh-HAH'-nes MEZ'-ur-lee) looked shocked after shooting 22-year-old Oscar Grant.

Pirone says he heard Mehserle shout that he was going to use his Taser.

Pirone also says he told Mehserle to handcuff Grant after he shot him because he thought Grant had a weapon.

Grant was unarmed.

Mehserle is accused of shooting Grant in the back as he lay face down on a platform early New Year's Day. He has pleaded not guilty, and the court hearing will determine whether he will stand trial for murder.

Big Unit's big number: Randy Johnson wins 300th

) — Randy Johnson had to wait a while for his shot at 300 wins. The crowd was small and the weather was wet. His performance, however, was more than worthy of the occasion.

The Big Unit hit the big number on Thursday, becoming the 24th pitcher to reach one of baseball's most revered milestones. Johnson tossed two-hit ball over six innings, leading the San Francisco Giants to a 5-1 victory over the Washington Nationals in the first game of a doubleheader.

"It's been a long road," Johnson said. "I guess the one word that would sum it all up is that I've persevered."

Johnson allowed only an unearned run and threw 50 of his 78 pitches for strikes. He faced four batters above the minimum and got spotless relief from his bullpen.

He left leading 2-1, but nearly wound up with a no-decision. The Nationals loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth before Adam Dunn was called out on strikes with a full count on a knee-high fastball from reliever Brian Wilson.

San Francisco added three runs in the ninth.

Some of the few thousand fans who witnessed Johnson's 300th victory — the Nationals have trouble drawing a crowd for anything these days — chanted "Randy! Randy!" in the bottom of the ninth. When the game was over, he gave hugs to teenage son Tanner, who served as a Giants batboy, as well as his teammates. Johnson then tipped his hat to the cheering crowd before disappearing into the dugout.

"It's nice to have this moment with my family and friends that came," Johnson said. "It's the coolest moment to be able to share something with my son. I'm just sad my dad wasn't here. He wasn't able to see my games the last 17 years, but he's up there watching."

Johnson (5-4) became the sixth left-hander to win 300 games, and the first pitcher to do it on his first try since Tom Seaver in 1985.

The 45-year-old Johnson is the second-oldest pitcher to reach the milestone. Knuckleballer Phil Niekro was 46 when he won his 300th with the New York Yankees in 1985.

Afterward, Johnson said he was "exhausted."

"But I don't think my work's done here yet. I didn't come here to just win five games," he added.

As long as it took to get to 300, the final step for Johnson required quite a bit of patience. Two off days in the Giants' schedule and a rainout Wednesday night gave him seven days of rest since winning No. 299 last week against Atlanta. In addition, Thursday's game was delayed 36 minutes by bad weather and was played in a light rain.

Once he finally got on the mound, Johnson had an efficient outing — but not flashy. He didn't allow a baserunner until a walk in the fourth inning and didn't give up a hit until Elijah Dukes' broken-bat single up the middle in the fifth.

Johnson then walked Austin Kearns, putting runners on first and second with none out. But second baseman Emmanuel Burriss thwarted a rally with the defensive play of the game. On a one-hopper that hit the mound, Burriss dived to his right to stab the ball backhanded, then flipped it out of his glove to shortstop Edgar Renteria to start a dazzling double play.

"That could have turned the game around for them, easily," Johnson said.

The 6-foot-10 Johnson hit the turf himself after a comebacker that he knocked down in the sixth, barehanding the ball while falling forward to throw out pinch-hitter Anderson Hernandez. The Nationals scored their only run later in the inning, after Renteria's throwing error allowed Alberto Gonzalez to reach. Gonzalez was doubled home by Nick Johnson.

Randy Johnson got the run support he needed early, when Juan Uribe's RBI grounder and Burriss' RBI single off Jordan Zimmermann (2-3) gave the Giants a 2-0 lead in the second.

After Johnson was pulled, relievers Brandon Medders, Jeremy Affeldt and Wilson took care of the rest, although Wilson's strikeout of Dunn was a borderline call disputed by the Nationals slugger. Wilson also worked the ninth for his 13th save.

Several hundred were in the ballpark when the national anthem was sung at 5:03 p.m., with the biggest cluster surrounding the Giants bullpen in left field, where Johnson had been warming up.

Johnson joined Steve Carlton as the only pitchers to win No. 300 against the organization with whom they made their major league debut. Carlton started with St. Louis on April 12, 1965, then beat the Cardinals on Sept. 23, 1983, at age 38 while with the Phillies.

Johnson's first three wins — exactly 1 percent of his total — came with the Montreal Expos, long before the franchise moved to Washington. His first victory was Sept. 15, 1988, five days after his 25th birthday, but most people noticed him only because he was the tallest player in the majors.

Notes:@ Johnson is the fourth pitcher to win his 300th with the Giants, joining Christy Mathewson in 1912 and Tim Keefe and Mickey Welch, both in 1890. ... The Nationals have lost seven of eight. ... Washington OF Josh Willingham remained sidelined with a stomach virus.

Brazil: Crash investigation looks at sensors

Investigators trying to determine why Air France Flight 447 broke apart in a violent storm over the Atlantic are looking at the possibility that speed sensors — or an external instrument key to collecting speed data — failed in unusual weather, two aviation industry officials said Thursday.

Meanwhile, Brazil's Navy issued a statement saying that wreckage recovered by a helicopter crew earlier in the day was not from the plane. The military earlier said it had pulled a cargo pallet from the water where the Airbus A330 went down off the country's northeastern coast, killing all 228 people aboard — the world's worst aviation disaster since 2001.

Officials with knowledge of the investigation and independent analysts all stressed they don't know why a plane that seemed to be flying normally crashed just minutes after the pilot messaged that he was entering an area of extremely dangerous storms.

They will have little to go on until they recover the plane's "black box" flight data and voice recorders, now likely on the ocean floor miles beneath the surface.

Other hypotheses — even terrorism — haven't been ruled out, though there are no signs of a bomb. Officials have said a jet fuel slick on the ocean's surface suggests there was no explosion.

Two officials with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press they are looking at the possibility an external probe that measures air pressure may have iced over. The probe feeds data used to calculate air speed and altitude to onboard computers. Another possibility is that sensors inside the aircraft that read the data malfunctioned.

If the instruments were not accurately reporting information, it is possible the jet would have been traveling too fast or too slow as it entered turbulence from towering bands of thunderstorms, according to the officials.

"There is increasing attention being paid to the external probes and the possibility they iced over in the unusual atmospheric conditions experienced by the Air France flight," one of the industry officials explained to the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because he isn't authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

Meteorologists said the Air France jet entered an unusual storm with 100 mph updrafts that acted as a vacuum, sucking water up from the ocean. The incredibly moist air rushed up to the plane's high altitude, where it quickly froze where it quickly froze in minus-40 degree temperatures. The updrafts also would have created dangerous turbulence.

The jetliner's computer systems ultimately failed, and the plane broke apart as it crashed into the Atlantic on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris Sunday night.

Independent aviation experts said it is plausible that a problem with the external probe — called a "pitot tube" — or sensors that analyze data collected by the tube could have contributed to the disaster.

The tubes have heating systems to prevent icing, but if those systems somehow malfunctioned, the tubes could quickly freeze at high altitude in storm conditions, said the other industry official, who also was not authorized to discuss the investigation.

Other experts outside the investigation said it is more likely that the sensors reading information from the tubes failed.

"When you have multiple system failures, sensors are one of the first things you want to look at," said John Cox, a Washington-based aviation safety consultant and former crash investigator for the Air Line Pilots Association.

Jetliners need to be flying at just the right speed when encountering violent weather, experts say — too fast and they run the risk of breaking apart. Too slow, and they could lose control.

"It's critical when dealing with these conditions of turbulence to maintain an appropriate speed to maintain control of the aircraft, while at the same time not over-stressing the aircraft," said Bill Voss, president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation in Alexandria, Va.

Two buoys — standard emergency equipment on planes — were spotted from the Atlantic Ocean about 340 miles (550 kilometers) northeast of Brazil's northern Fernando de Noronha islands by the helicopter crew, which was working off a Brazilian navy ship.

Other debris spotted so far includes a 23-foot (seven-meter) chunk of plane, an airline seat, an oil slick and several large brown and yellow pieces that Cardoso said probably came from inside the plane. But a cargo pallet picked up Thursday that was originally thought to be from the jet turned out not to be from Flight 447, Brazilian officials said.

Brazilian Air Force Gen. Ramon Cardoso said officials know the pallet was not plane wreckage because the plane was not carrying wooden pallets. He said ships searching the area have not yet recovered any plane debris from the sea.

Debris spotted about 340 miles (550 kilometers) northeast of Brazil's northern Fernando de Noronha islands by the helicopter crew so far includes a 23-foot (seven-meter) chunk of plane, an airline seat, an oil slick and several large brown and yellow pieces that Cardoso said probably came from inside the plane.

Air France's CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon told family members at a private meeting that the Airbus A330 disintegrated, either in the air or when it slammed into the ocean and there were no survivors, according to Guillaume Denoix de Saint-Marc, a grief counselor who was asked by Paris prosecutors to help counsel relatives.

More than 500 people packed the historic Candelaria church in the center of Rio de Janeiro Thursday for a Mass for the victims of crash.

With the crucial "black box" voice and data recorders still missing, investigators were relying heavily on the plane's automated messages to help reconstruct what happened as the jet flew through towering thunderstorms.

France's accident investigation agency said only two findings have been established so far: One is that the series of automatic messages sent from Flight 447 gave conflicting signals about the plane's speed; the other is that the flight path went through dangerously stormy weather.

The agency warned against any "hasty interpretation or speculation" after the French newspaper Le Monde reported, without naming sources, that the Air France plane was flying at the wrong speed.

"What is clear is that there was no landing. There's no chance the escape slides came out," said Denoix de Saint-Marc, who heads a victims' association for UTA Flight 772, which Libyan terrorists downed with a suitcase bomb in 1989.

The last message from the pilot was a manual signal at 11 p.m. local time Sunday saying he was flying through an area of black, electrically charged cumulonimbus clouds that come with violent winds and lightning. The automated messages that followed suggest the plane broke apart in the sky, according to the aviation industry official.

At 11:10 p.m., a cascade of problems began: the autopilot had disengaged, a key computer system switched to alternative power, and controls needed to keep the plane stable had been damaged. An alarm sounded indicating the deterioration of flight systems. Then, systems for monitoring air speed, altitude and direction failed. Then controls over the main flight computer and wing spoilers failed as well. At 11:14 p.m., a final automatic message signaled loss of cabin pressure and complete electrical failure as the plane was breaking apart.

The pilot of a Spanish airliner flying nearby at the time reported seeing a bright flash of white light plunging to the ocean, said Angel del Rio, spokesman for the Spanish airline Air Comet.

"Suddenly, off in the distance, we observed a strong and bright flash of white light that took a downward and vertical trajectory and vanished in six seconds," the pilot wrote in his report, del Rio told the AP.

The pilot of the Spanish plane, en route from Lima, Peru to Madrid, said he heard no emergency calls.

France's defense minister and the Pentagon have said there were no signs that terrorism was involved.

"We have no evidence, we have no proof, we don't know," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kochner said after he was asked about the possibility of a bomb. "Is it possible? I mean to look at an explosion? Yes it is. It is one of the hypotheses."

France has invited the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board to help in the accident investigation. The U.S. team also includes General Electric Aviation of Cincinnati, Ohio, which made the plane's engines, and Honeywell International Inc. of Morristown, N.J., which made the black boxes and parts of the communication and navigation systems.

Seas were calm Thursday with periodic rain as ships converged on three debris sites to recover wreckage, but French military spokesman Christophe Prazuck said extreme cloudiness" prevented U.S. satellites from helping.

"The clock is ticking on finding debris before they spread out and before they sink or disappear," Prazuck said. "That's the priority now, the next step will be to look for the black boxes."


Lowy reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Alan Clendenning and Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo; Marco Sibaja in Brasilia; Slobodan Lekic in Brussels; Daniel Woolls in Madrid; and Greg Keller, Angela Charlton and Emma Vandore in Paris also contributed to this report.

Mandelson remains resolute in his support of Gordon Brown

Lord Mandelson could not have been more measured or more certain as he made a direct plea to Labour MPs: "Don't please, through your actions, make it any worse for the party."

The biggest of the cabinet beasts to support Gordon Brown and urge caution among panicking MPs, the business secretary put the talk of a plot to unseat the prime minister down to the "grumbly mood" of some backbench colleagues.

Over the last 24 hours, Mandelson has been plotting himself – behind the scenes, and in front of TV cameras – to defuse the rebellion against Brown, a position barely conceivable even a year ago.

In the last few weeks, he has emerged as the figure at the heart of the operation to save the prime minister: this, from a man whose views of Brown have often not been printable in a family newspaper.

There has not been a whisper in private or public, not even a trademark quizzical raising of the eyebrow, to suggest that he has any doubt Brown must be kept in office. He has been resolute, urging MPs to hold their nerve.

Once seen as one of the most divisive figures in Labour, he has been turned arch-peacemaker, urging MPs to remember Brown's qualities, and giving testimony that his admiration for Brown, as prime minister, has grown over the months. As one minister close to Brown put it: "One of the great things about politics is that you learn to live with irony."

It underlines the extraordinary ­reconciliation since 1994, when Mandelson publicly chose Tony Blair rather than Brown to back for the leadership on the death of John Smith, opening up a rift with Brown which deepened over more than decade, and one which many thought could never heal.

Yet since his phenomenal return to government in October's game changing reshuffle, Mandelson's influence in the cabinet , Whitehall and in Number 10 has grown exponentially.

There is probably only one other figure, Ed Balls, the children's secretary and putative chancellor, who now can rival Mandelson for influence in Brown's ear.

His total loyalty leaves some other ministers privately exasperated, since they know that Brown would be fatally weakened if Mandelson only breathed one Iago-like hint that he should step aside for the good of the party.

Indeed his loyalty leaves some Blairites reaching for psychoanalysis to try to understand what is going on, including a posited need to assuage past guilt.

Brown, in turn, has supported Mandelson over his highly contested plans for the partial privatisation of Royal Mail, in the face of a huge backbench revolt.

After being ejected from Cabinet twice over personal errors, this crisis also gives Mandelson the opportunity to reinstate himself and prove he can be a steady hand in the midst of a perfect storm.

One Brownite strategist at the heart of No 10 praises him to the skies. "When the hand grenades are being thrown in and the explosions are going off, he always has had the calmest clear assessment of the situation. He can predict where an issue will be three or four days ahead.

"I think it is just that he has been there so many times before. There is an air of authority to him. And, to be honest, it was something that No 10 lacked". Asked why Mandelson is so intent on saving Brown, he said: "My view is that his assessment is that 'if you think it is bad now and getting rid of Gordon won't make it any worse, he says 'think again'."

Mandelson believes Brown has an intellectual grasp of the issues, a resilience and seriousness no other cabinet politician can match. And if he were removed, there is very little chance a successor could withstand the media pressure for an immediate election, something the party is not yet equipped to withstand.

But there have been reports of tensions between him and Balls as the courtiers jostling for Brown's ear; in particular, suggestions Mandelson was excluded from the Wednesday afternoon ''shoot the breeze'' forward looking sessions chaired jointly by Balls and the Cabinet Office minister, Liam Byrne.In reality Mandelson can attend what he wants, and is always present at the more ad-hoc long term strategic sessions at which he excels. Balls was suspicious at first of Mandelson, one Brownite says, but on the major economic issues there have not been disagreements.

A Blairite former cabinet minister thinks Mandelson sees his role in ensuring Brown gets what he wants; as such, he would not stand in the way of Balls being made chancellor.

The alliance between Mandelson and Brown has proved strong. There is, perhaps, only one issue that could break this – the Royal Mail. Mandelson insists it is an issue he inherited and not of his making, and trusts Brown will not back down even though he faces a rebellion .

Should the prime minister start to ­wobble, Mandleson would feel aggrieved. And that is not something that Brown needs right now.

Blues legend Koko Taylor dies aged 80

Grammy award winning blues legend Koko Taylor has died in her native Chicago at the age of 80.

Born Cara Walton, Koko had a career spanning over 40 years. First spotted in 1962, Koko landed a recording contract and recorded her best known song, “Wang Dang Doodle” in 1965. Wang Dang Doodle reached number four on the R&B charts in 1966, and sold a million copies.

Koko Taylor built a widespread fan base while touring in the 60’s and 70’s, leading to a contract with Alligator Records in 1975 that spanned over a dozen albums. Her work with Alligator saw her receive numerous Grammy Awards nominations (winning eventually in 1985), and taking out an unmatched twenty five W. C. Handy Awards (more than any other artist).

Koko toured without breaking, performing 200 shows a year until a heart attack slowed her down in 2003. Her last appearance on stage was on May 7, 2009 at the Memphis at the Blues Music Awards, where she fittingly sang Wang Dang Doodle one last time.

Koko Talyor is survived by her husband Hays Harris, her daughter Joyce Threatt, and several grand and great-grand children.

Here’s Koko Talyor performing Wang Dang Doodle in 1967:

Palestinian police, Hamas clash in West Bank

QALQILIYA, West Bank (AP) — Palestinian police killed two Hamas militants on Thursday after the men opened fire at security forces who had surrounded their underground hideout, officials said.

One officer was also killed in the operation, part of an intensifying crackdown on Islamic militants in this West Bank town.

Three gunmen had huddled in a hole dug in the courtyard of a home in this northern West Bank town, and two were killed after rejecting pleas by relatives to surrender. Police initially reported that they spotted three bodies in the underground hideout, but it turned out later that one of them — Alaa Abu Diab — was only unconscious.

Palestinian security forces surrounded the home early Thursday and discovered the hideout under a vase placed on top of a large metal tray in the courtyard, said an officer with the Preventive Security Service, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the media. The fugitives opened fire from below, killing one policeman and wounding a second.

The Hamas gunmen — Abu Diab, Iyad Abitli and Mohammed Attiyeh — are well-trained fighters and have been wanted by Israel for several years, the Preventive Security Service officer said.

Abu Diab's mother, other family members and the town's mayor urged him to surrender, but he refused and even shot toward his relatives, police said. Police fired tear gas and water hoses into the hideout before two of the men, officials said. One of the dead men was wearing an explosives vest, they said.

Thursday's raid marked the second attack on a Hamas hideout in Qalqiliya by security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this week. On Sunday, six people were killed in a fierce gunbattle — the worst violence since the factions fought a pitched battle over Gaza two years ago and Hamas overran the territory.

Abbas' security forces have been cracking down on Hamas in the West Bank for the past two years, arresting hundreds of activists and closing down charities and other institutions.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused Abbas of waging war on those resisting occupation. "Our fighters have the right to defend themselves and to confront this conspiracy," he said.

Abbas' Fatah movement and Hamas have made intermittent unsuccessful attempts to reconcile since the Hamas takeover of Gaza. The split has complicated Mideast peace efforts because the Palestinians cannot negotiate with Israel in a single voice and Hamas refuses to recognize the Jewish state.

Abbas has backed Washington's peace efforts, and Thursday's raid underscored his determination to rein in militants as part of his obligations under the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan. Last week, Abbas met at the White House with President Barack Obama and renewed a pledge to crack down on militants.

The U.S. has been training Abbas' elite forces to help him solidify his control of the West Bank and prepare for eventual statehood.

Actor David Carradine found dead in Bangkok

BANGKOK – Actor David Carradine, star of the 1970s TV series "Kung Fu" who also had a wide-ranging career in the movies, has been found dead in the Thai capital, Bangkok. A news report said he was found hanged in his hotel room and was believed to have committed suicide.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, Michael Turner, confirmed the death of the 72-year-old actor. He said the embassy was informed by Thai authorities that Carradine died either late Wednesday or early Thursday, but he could not provide further details out of consideration for his family.

The Web site of the Thai newspaper The Nation cited unidentified police sources as saying Carradine was found Thursday hanged in his luxury hotel room.

It said Carradine was in Bangkok to shoot a movie and had been staying at the hotel since Tuesday.

The newspaper said Carradine could not be contacted after he failed to appear for a meal with the rest of the film crew on Wednesday, and that his body was found by a hotel maid at 10 a.m. Thursday morning. The name of the movie was not immediately available.

It said a preliminary police investigation found that he had hanged himself with a cord used with the room's curtains. It cited police as saying he had been dead at least 12 hours and there was no sign that he had been assaulted.

A police officer at Bangkok's Lumpini precinct station would not confirm the identity of the dead man to The Associated Press, but said the luxury Swissotel Nai Lert Park hotel had reported that a male guest killed himself there.

Carradine was a leading member of a venerable Hollywood acting family that included his father, character actor John Carradine, and brother Keith.

In all, he appeared in more than 100 feature films with such directors as Martin Scorsese, Ingmar Bergman and Hal Ashby.

But he was best known for his role as Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin priest traveling the 1800s American frontier West in the TV series "Kung Fu," which aired in 1972-75.

He reprised the role in a mid-1980s TV movie and played Caine's grandson in the 1990s syndicated series "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues."

He returned to the top in recent years as the title character in Quentin Tarantino's two-part saga "Kill Bill."

Lincoln-Douglas debates, Iranian style

Supporters of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hold up campaign posters during a rally in front of the University of Tehran, June 3.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faced off against one of his three opponents, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Wednesday night in the second of six debates leading up to June 12 elections.
Tehran, Iran - During 90 minutes of bruising debate, Iran's top two presidential candidates on Wednesday sought to denigrate each other's past records, and portray their opponent as dangerous for the future of the Islamic Republic.

Former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi accused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of causing instability in Iran with "adventurism, heroics, and extremism." The hard-line president had "undermined the dignity of our nation" with his caustic anti-West, anti-Israel and Holocaust-denying remarks, he added.

The result of the June 12 election – a four-way contest that could go to a second round – will shape Iran's foreign and domestic policy for years to come. Ahmadinejad has touted his steadfast support of Iran's nuclear program and launching a satellite earlier this year, but he has been hobbled by soaring inflation and an economy weakened by sanctions.

Iran's next president will mold the political climate, as the Islamic system – ultimately led by Iran's supreme religious leader Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei – decides how far it will go in meeting President Barack Obama's overtures for dialogue.

A new electricity seems to have taken hold of the campaigns, as many reformists set aside years of disillusion with politics and say they will vote for Mousavi or moderate cleric Mehdi Karroubi. So the stakes are high, and the incumbent so polarizing a figure that he argued it was "three against one." And this first-ever use of Lincoln-Douglas-style debates in Iran has also fostered very personal attacks.

'Who endangered the regime?'

In Wednesday's nationally televised debate – the second of six, but the first one featuring Ahmadinejad – the president belittled the credentials of Mousavi's wife, who is dean of a university. Mousavi charged that hundreds of books could no longer be republished; Ahmadinejad countered that he censored less than his predecessors. Mousavi said Ahmadinejad's "method is leading to dictatorship."

The president complained that his record had been subject to unprecedented "lies and defamation," claimed that his administration had done the work of several, and that Iranians are now "among the most beloved people on the planet" because of his government's ethical stands.

Ahmadinejad said he had rescued Iran from the denigrations caused by the corruption and foolhardy policies of his predecessors. He asked about the wealth of two-term president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his sons, and the numbers of billionaires created during that time – and noted that his ministers were humble and pious.

He charged that reformist Mohamad Khatami's two terms had been ones of capitulation to the West on the nuclear file, during which Iran had agreed to suspend uranium enrichment activities and permit intrusive inspections.

Mr. Khatami had helped Washington during the war and making peace in Afghanistan in 2001, but was nevertheless branded by Mr. Bush part of the "axis of evil." By contrast, Ahmadinejad claimed, his own uncompromising stance meant that even Bush eventually gave up thoughts of regime change – and that now Mr. Obama was willing to talk.

"So who endangered the regime?" he asked.

Mousavi sat poker-faced through each sarcastic onslaught. Then he derided Ahmadinejad's foreign policy, asking why, for example, the president kept saying the US was weak and "about to fall," yet made four visits to New York and wrote two letters to President George Bush and the American people.

Mousavi said that the incendiary nature of Ahmadinejad's various Holocaust remarks had yielded fierce international reaction, yet "he comes back and this was like a heroic epic. How was this an epic?"

Instead, Mousavi said, Ahmadinejad's ferocity against Israel – most recently at a UN conference in a speech that caused Western delegates to walk out – had been called a "blessing" for Israel by increasing global support for the Jewish state.

Iranians fed up with economy; face-off in streets

Some Iranians watching the debate were shocked at the candid references to past misdeeds, failed or contentious policies, and sheer vindictiveness shown by the candidates.

"They are destroying the entire Islamic Republic!" said one Mousavi supporter, as she watched the verbal firefight on television. "All this [dirty laundry] is coming out. People talk about this, but never leaders."

"It's a battle," said a friend of hers, when Mousavi said again expressed his disgust at how Ahmadinejad acted "above the law."

"Everyone's upset, productivity is down, inflation is up, and [there is] unlawful expenditure from the public purse," Mousavi said, noting that he had been dipping into the treasury for his programs – and dissolved the organization meant to provide checks and balances. "It's in the interest of everyone in the country, including yourself, for you not to do these things."

The face-off in the debate mirrored one earlier in the day on the streets of Tehran. Banners in the capital show Ahmadinejad beside Iran's rocket, which in February launched the Omid satellite into earth's orbit.

On the 30th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution, just days after that launch, Ahmadinejad told a sea of flag-waving Iranians that their ancient nation had become a "superpower" that could not be threatened.

But Mousavi supporters have been out in force on the streets, handing out strips of green ribbon – the campaign color – to motorists and pedestrians, and plastering cards with Mousavi posters.

The two sides came to a head in front of Tehran University.

"We love Ahmadinejad!" shouted one rose-carrying student who gave her name as Fatemah.

"Just Ahmadinejad!" added Yusef, an accounting student. "He is very loved, very loved across the country."

Mousavi fan Sanaz, an English student, was voting "just to stop Ahmadinejad being president again," she said.

"We don't want such an impolite, unpleasant president," added Morobati, another student. "Our president has put us down in the eyes of the world. People want democracy instead of dictatorship."

Obama plan would provide health care for all

President Barack Obama says he's open to requiring all Americans to buy health insurance, as long as the plan provides a "hardship waiver" to exempt poor people from having to pay.

Obama opposed such an individual mandate during his campaign, but Congress increasingly is moving to embrace the idea.

In providing the first real details on how he wants to reshape the nation's health care system, the president urged Congress on Wednesday toward a sweeping overhaul that would allow Americans to buy into a government insurance plan.

Obama outlined his goals in a letter to Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairmen of the two committees writing health care bills. It followed a meeting he held Tuesday with members of their committees, and amounted to a road map to keep Congress aligned with his goals.

"The plans you are discussing embody my core belief that Americans should have better choices for health insurance, building on the principle that if they like the coverage they have now, they can keep it, while seeing their costs lowered as our reforms take hold," Obama wrote.

Obama has asked the House and Senate each to finish legislation by early August, so that the two chambers can combine their bills in time for him to sign a single, sweeping measure in October. In a statement Baucus welcomed the assignment.

"I will stop at nothing to deliver a health reform bill that works for families and businesses to the president this year," Baucus said.

Covering 50 million uninsured Americans could cost as much as $1.5 trillion over a decade, and cost is emerging as a major sticking point. Obama didn't offer new solutions to that problem in his letter Wednesday but did say he'd like to squeeze an additional $200 billion to $300 billion over 10 years from the Medicare and Medicaid government insurance programs for the elderly, disabled and poor.

He said he'd do it through such measures as better managing chronic diseases and avoiding unnecessary tests and hospital readmissions. Savings from such measures are uncertain.

Medicare benefits cost the federal government about $450 billion a year and Medicaid about $200 billion. Obama already has targeted the programs for some $300 billion in cuts over 10 years in the 2010 budget he released in February.

He also said he's open to congressional proposals to let an independent commission identify cuts to Medicare which would take effect unless Congress rejected them all at once, similar to how military base closures are handled.

The president said he supports a new health insurance exchange that Congress is crafting, a sort of marketplace that would allow Americans to shop for different plans and compare prices.

All of the plans should offer a basic affordable package, and none should be allowed to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, Obama said — big changes from how private insurance companies operate today.

"I strongly believe that Americans should have the choice of a public health insurance option operating alongside private plans," Obama wrote, weighing in firmly on one of the most controversial issues in the debate. "This will give them a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive and keep insurance companies honest."

Republicans strongly oppose a public plan, as do private insurers, who contend it would drive them out of business.

"A government-run plan would set artificially low prices that private insurers would have no way of competing with," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday on the Senate floor.

The idea of what Obama called a "hardship waiver" for individual Americans too poor to buy care splits the difference between where he was during the presidential campaign and where Congress appears to be heading.

In the campaign, Obama did not support requiring everyone to buy insurance, putting him at odds with then Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton. Congress is looking at doing so. The hardship waiver idea is under consideration by the Senate Finance Committee, which also is considering giving tax credits to certain individuals so they can afford health care. Kennedy and House Democrats are looking at giving subsidies to the poor to help them buy coverage.

The letter didn't address the issue of taxing health care benefits. Obama opposed that during his campaign but Congress is now considering it, and Obama hasn't shut the door on it.

Air France says no hope of survivors in Atlantic

Air France has told families of passengers on Flight 447 that the jetliner broke apart and they must abandon hope that anyone survived, a grief counselor said Thursday as military aircraft tried to narrow their search for the remains of the plane.

Air France CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon told the families in a private meeting that the plane broke apart either in the air or when it slammed into the ocean, according to Guillaume Denoix de Saint-Marc, who was asked by Paris prosecutors to help counsel family members and was at the Wednesday meeting. The plane, carrying 228 people, disappeared after leaving Rio de Janeiro for Paris on Sunday night.

Investigators were relying heavily on the plane's automated messages to help reconstruct what happened to the jet as it flew through towering thunderstorms. They detail a series of failures that end with its systems shutting down, suggesting the plane broke apart in the sky, according to an aviation industry official with knowledge of the investigation. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the crash.

"What is clear is that there was no landing. There's no chance the escape slides came out," said Denoix de Saint-Marc, who heads a victims' association for UTA flight 772, shot down in 1989 by Libyan terrorists.

Gourgeon told families there were no survivors, according to Denoix de Saint-Marc. That makes this Air France's deadliest plane crash and the world's worst commercial air accident since 2001.

Military rescue planes were trying to narrow the search zone Thursday as ships headed to the site to recover wreckage. Brazilian military planes located new debris from Air France Flight 447 Wednesday, after spotting an airline seat and oil slick a day earlier.

The accident investigation is being done by France, while Brazil is leading the recovery effort.

But French military spokesman Christophe Prazuck said Thursday that French planes had made six missions over the area and have yet to spot any wreckage.

"As of today, French planes have not found any debris that could have come from the Air France Airbus that disappeared. There have been radar detections made by the AWACS (radar plane) ... and each time these signals have not corresponded to debris," Prazuck said.

He said French teams have been searching in different places and at different times from Brazilian search teams, which may be why they have not been able to identify the debris seen by the Brazilians.

Three more French overflights were planned for Thursday, Prazuck said. A U.S. Navy P-3C Orion surveillance plane has also joined Brazil's Air Force in trying to spot debris.

Brazil's Defense Minister Nelson Jobim said debris discovered so far was spread over a wide area, with some 140 miles (230 kilometers) separating pieces of wreckage they have spotted. The overall zone is roughly 400 miles (640 kilometers) northeast of the Fernando de Noronha islands off Brazil's northern coast, where the ocean floor drops as low as 22,950 feet (7,000 meters) below sea level.

The floating debris includes a 23-foot (seven-meter) chunk of plane, but pilots have spotted no signs of survivors, Brazilian Air Force spokesman Col. Jorge Amaral said.

Heavy weather delayed until next week the arrival of deep-water submersibles considered key to finding the black box voice and data recorders that will help answer the question of what happened to the airliner.

But even with the equipment, the lead French investigator questioned whether the recorders would ever be found in such a deep and rugged part of the ocean.

The plane's last automated messages detail a series of failures that end with its systems shutting down, suggesting the plane broke apart in the sky, according to the aviation industry official.

The pilot sent a manual signal at 11 p.m. local time Sunday saying he was flying through an area of black, electrically charged cumulonimbus clouds that come with violent winds and lightning.

Ten minutes later, a cascade of problems began: Automatic messages indicate the autopilot had disengaged, a key computer system switched to alternative power, and controls needed to keep the plane stable had been damaged. An alarm sounded indicating the deterioration of flight systems.

Three minutes after that, more automatic messages reported the failure of systems to monitor air speed, altitude and direction. Control of the main flight computer and wing spoilers failed as well.

The last automatic message, at 11:14 p.m., signaled loss of cabin pressure and complete electrical failure — catastrophic events in a plane that was likely already plunging toward the ocean.

Air France spokesman Nicolas Petteau referred questions about the messages to the French accident investigation agency, BEA, whose spokesman Martine Del Bono said the agency declined to comment. Brazil's defense minister Nelson Jobim also declined to comment.

Other experts agreed that the automatic reports of system failures on the plane strongly suggest it broke up in the air, perhaps due to fierce thunderstorms, turbulence, lightning or a catastrophic combination of events.

"These are telling us the story of the crash. They are not explaining what happened to cause the crash," said Bill Voss, president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation in Alexandria, Va.

President Obama Speaks to the Muslim World from Cairo, Egypt

"A New Beginning"
The President gives a speech in Cairo, Egypt, outlining his personal commitment to engagement with the Muslim world, based upon mutual interests and mutual respect, and discusses how the United States and Muslim communities around the world can bridge some of the differences that have divided them. June 4, 2009.

Obama reaches out to Muslim world

US President Barack Obama has said the "cycle of suspicion and discord" between the United States and the Muslim world must end.

In a keynote speech in Cairo, Mr Obama called for a "new beginning" in ties.

He admitted there had been "years of distrust" and said both sides needed to make a "sustained effort... to respect one another and seek common ground".

Mr Obama made a number of references to the Koran and called on all faiths to live together in peace.

He received a standing ovation at the end of his speech at Cairo University.

The BBC's Christian Fraser in Cairo says Barack Obama wants to give a message of respect to a region which has often felt ignored, misunderstood or patronised by the US.

White House officials said the speech was intended to start a process to "re-energise the dialogue with the Muslim world".

'Not so unique'

Mr Obama said: "I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect."

Tim Franks
Tim Franks, BBC Middle East correspondent

President Obama's language towards Israel is strong but also, maybe deliberately, imprecise.

Takes these two sentences: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements" and "It is time for these settlements to stop". It is the same language that Hillary Clinton has recently used. But what does it actually mean?

Does it mean that settlement expansion should stop? Or, in fact, for existing settlements to be disbanded? Could the first sentence even mean that the USA is beginning to revisit its studied ambiguity, for the last 30 years, over whether it views all Israeli settlements on occupied territory as illegal?

Given the amount of time and effort that goes into working and re-working the text of a presidential speech, the apparent veiling of these two sentences is fascinating.

He said "violent extremists" had bred fear and that this "cycle of suspicion and discord must end".

Mr Obama accepted that "no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust" but urged both sides to "say openly the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors".

He cited the Koran as saying: "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth."

Mr Obama said Islam had "always been a part of America's story".

He added that much had been made of the fact an African-American named Barack Hussein Obama had become US president, but he insisted his personal story was "not so unique".

"The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores - that includes nearly seven million American Muslims."


The president also said Muslim perceptions of the US must change.

"Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire."

Mr Obama said Islam had an important role in promoting peace and tackling extremism.

On the key issues of Iraq and Afghanistan, the president said the US sought no permanent bases in either country.

He said: "We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case."

On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Mr Obama said the bond with Israel was "unbreakable".

He said: "Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong."

But he also said the "situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable".

"Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's," Mr Obama said.

On the key issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Mr Obama said "there can be no progress towards peace without a halt to such construction".

Israel is resisting calls to freeze building activity but Palestinian leaders have said there can be no progress towards peace without a halt.

On the Iranian nuclear issue, Mr Obama said: "No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons" and said Iran had the right to peaceful nuclear power.

But he said there should be no nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Before Mr Obama spoke, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had delivered his own speech, saying the US was still "deeply hated" in the Middle East.

On democracy, Mr Obama said that "America does not presume to know what is best for everyone".

"No system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other."

The president also touched on women's rights, saying: "Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons."

Mr Obama arrived in Egypt from a visit to Saudi Arabia.

Later on Thursday he will visit the pyramids before heading to Germany and France.