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May 3, 2012 at 1:20 PM   |   Comments

Activists: Syrian troops storm university

DAMASCUS, Syria, May 3 (UPI) -- Syrian government forces stormed Aleppo University Thursday, killing at least four people and wounding another 28, an opposition group said.

A university student said troops also shot at the hospital where the wounded were taken, causing an unknown number of casualties, CNN reported.

The activists said another 200 students were arrested.

The reported attacks came despite presence of U.N. monitors, who have reported cease-fire violations by the government and the opposition since the shaky truce was implemented three weeks ago.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said 24 unarmed military observers are in Syria. The number is expected to increase to 300 by the end of the month.

The cease-fire, in effect since April 12, is part of a six-point peace plan negotiated by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. His plan includes allowing humanitarian organizations access to the population, releasing detainees, initiating a political dialogue, and withdrawal of government troops from city centers, which the United Nations says the government hasn't met.

"So far, the Syrian regime has taken, really, almost no steps toward fulfilling the core commitments of the Annan proposal," U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

Syrian officials said Wednesday they were committed to the peace plan.

"We are waiting for Mr. Annan to take tangible steps toward the armed terrorist groups and take commitments from the states which support and sponsor them to halt violence in Syria," the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency quoted Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud as saying.

Syria's protests began in March 2011 as peaceful demonstrations against the regime of President Bashar Assad, who responded with a brutal crackdown that has left thousands dead and prompted some military defectors to fight against regime troops.

The United Nations estimates that at least 9,000 people have died. Opposition groups said the death toll is greater than 11,000.


Observers see Romney shift to center

WASHINGTON, May 3 (UPI) -- Mitt Romney, his nomination as the Republican U.S. presidential candidate all but assured, has started to woo voting blocs he may have alienated.

Political observers say he has begun moving more toward the center to make the appeal, but campaign aides have denied he's softened any of his positions, The Hill reported.

Romney's campaign said President Obama has followed the former Massachusetts governor's plan to bail out the auto industry and said Romney didn't move from his hard stance on student loans when he said he agreed to support a temporary extension of the current rate to prevent it from nearly doubling in July if Congress fails to act.

Still, others told The Hill, Romney knows he needs to reach out to women, independents, students and minority groups if he wants to win in November.

"Romney is starting to shift to the center. He knows he needs to get independent voters in November and if he doesn't he's going to lose," Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said.


Two Calif. farms quarantined over mad cow

WASHINGTON, May 3 (UPI) -- Two California dairy farms are under quarantine as state and federal officials investigate a recent case of mad cow disease, officials said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is also investigating a cattle ranch where the infected cow was raised 10 years ago.

The fourth case of the brain wasting disease Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy ever in the United States was discovered last week at a rendering plant in central California, USDA said. It is the first U.S. case discovered since 2006.

The farm in Tulare County where the cow came from has been under quarantine since the illness was discovered at a rendering plant. The second quarantine involves a farm closely associated with the dairy farm, USDA said Wednesday in a release.

Eating contaminated meat or other animal products from cattle that have BSE is thought to be the cause of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. The disease is a degenerative neurological disorder and almost always fatal.

The agency said the infected cow gave birth to two calves. One was stillborn and the other was located in another state, where it tested negative for BSE.


Pastor apologizes for comments about gays

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C., May 3 (UPI) -- A Fayetteville, N.C., pastor has apologized after urging parents during a sermon to hit children who showed signs of homosexuality.

Pastor Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church made the comments, widely circulated on the Internet, in a sermon Sunday, WXII-TV, Winston-Salem, N.C., reported.

"Dads, the second you see that son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give them a good punch. OK?" Harris said in the sermon.

Harris' comments came a week before North Carolina voters were to consider an amendment to the state's constitution limiting legal unions to marriage between a man and a woman.

In an apology on the church's Web site, CNN reported, Harris wrote: "I did not say anything to intentionally offend anyone in the LGBT community. My intent was to communicate the truth of the Word of God concerning marriage. My words were not scripted. It is unfortunate I was not more careful and deliberate."

In the sermon, Harris also said parents who see boys dressing like girls should be "squashing that like a cockroach."

He said he had received e-mails from more than 300 people upset by his comments.

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