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BP cautious despite new cap's success

NEW ORLEANS, July 18 (UPI) -- BP officials Sunday looked for signs of leaks after a new cap appeared to have finally stopped oil gushing from a Gulf of Mexico well.

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Company officials were cautious, even after saying the tests of the cap seemed to be going well, the (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported.

BP Vice President Kent Wells said: "The best way to say it is that there's no evidence that we don't have integrity. The pressure's building as one would expect. All the negative indicators that we're looking for, none of them have indicated we have a lack of integrity."

The announced 48 hours of "integrity testing" ended Saturday afternoon. Drilling has resumed on a side relief well.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration's point man, former Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, said well intensity tests continued but with additional tests extensions are possible in 24-hour increments.

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"As a condition of the extension, the U.S. government has required significant new monitoring and periodic evaluation and approval by our science team," Allen said in a statement. "Work must continue to better understand the lower than expected pressure readings. This work centers on two plausible scenarios, depletion of oil from the reservoir and potential leakage caused by damage to the well bore or casing."

Allen said while officials "are pleased that no oil is currently being released into the Gulf of Mexico and want to take all appropriate action to keep it that way, it is important that all decisions are driven by the science. Ultimately, we must ensure no irreversible damage is done which could cause uncontrolled leakage from numerous points on the sea floor."

The Times-Picayune said even the news that no new crude was gushing from the crippled well to join millions of barrels already released into the gulf was met with skepticism.

"I don't think it's going to work," retired oil worker Pete Ronquille of Lafitte, La., said. "I think it's going to blow a leak somewhere else and we're going to have more trouble."

The new cap is a temporary fix. BP and government officials are relying on two relief wells dug nearby to permanently stop the leak. The Times-Picayune said they expect the primary relief well will intersect with the ruptured one at the end of the month.

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But when the new cap was installed on Deepwater Horizon Thursday it was the first time the oil leak stopped since the rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers, and sank two days later.


Obamas back in Washington after vacation

WASHINGTON, July 18 (UPI) -- The U.S. first family was back in Washington after a weekend vacation in Maine that included hiking, bicycling and a tour of a historic light house.

At 10:23 a.m. the president, first lady, daughters Malia and Sasha boarded Air Force One, a Gulfstream Jet, at Bar Harbor Airport, Maine, and were wheels up at 10:31 a.m. en route to the White House.

First dog Bo, along with staff members, boarded a second jet which took off two minutes later.

At 12:21 p.m. Marine One touched down on the South Lawn in hot and humid Washington weather with President Barack Obama waving to the crowd as he and the first family entered the White House after landing.

The whirlwind weekend trip included a 10 minute stop at the top of Bass Head Harbor Light and a swift tour through Acadia National Park and Mt. Desert Island, The New York Times said.

The president, saddled with low poll numbers, is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, when ostensibly he will discuss the BP oil spill in the gulf, the newspaper said.

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Clinton aims to improve U.S.-Pakistan ties

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 18 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Pakistan Sunday, pledging to strengthen strained relations between the two countries.

In meetings with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, Clinton stressed the importance of Pakistan's support in defeating the Taliban in the 9-year-old Afghanistan war, The New York Times reported.

The United States, which calls on the Pakistani military to fight harder against Taliban militants in tribal regions on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, faces widespread anti-American sentiment among Pakistanis.

But relations between the two governments have improved since Clinton's last visit in October when she faced hostile audiences and suggested Pakistani officials knew the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and a deputy.

"We needed to change the core of the relationship with Pakistan," Richard Holbrooke, the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said. "The evolution of the strategic dialogue, and the fact that we are delivering, is producing a change in Pakistani attitudes."

Dawn reported opinion polls indicate widespread doubts among Pakistanis about long-term U.S. intentions. Many cite being abandoned after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Pakistan-based news network reported.

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U.S. officials have also urged Pakistan to do more to battle home-grown militants, among them, the suspect who pleaded guilty in the failed Times Square car bombing.

"When this administration came in there was a huge trust gap between Pakistan and the U.S.," Holbrooke adviser Vali Nasr told Dawn. "Pakistanis are beginning to develop much more knowledge about what our intentions are and with that comes trust."

During the visit, Clinton is to pledge $500 million in American aid to Pakistan to go toward public health, water distribution, agriculture and a 60-bed hospital in Karachi.

Obama administration officials told the Times they did not know if Clinton would bring up Pakistan's plans to buy two nuclear reactors from China.

After more talks in Pakistan Monday, Clinton is to head to Afghanistan for an international conference Tuesday bringing together diplomats from dozens of countries along with the United Nations and NATO leaders. The secretary is expected to urge Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together to root out Taliban militants.


Hundreds trapped in Chinese floods

CHONGQING, China, July 18 (UPI) -- Emergency workers Sunday were trying to rescue more than 300 people trapped by floodwaters that inundated southwest China, authorities said.

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No injuries were reported.

About 250 people who had been trapped were rescued by Sunday morning from the fast-rising waters that forced the evacuation of 12,300 others, destroyed 128 houses and caused $2 million in property damage in Chongqing Municipality's Tongnan County, Xinhua reported.

As the search continued for those still trapped, authorities were continuing to look for shelter for people displaced by the flooding.

Tongnan County officials said villages including townships Chongkan, Tai'an and Baizi had been flooded since Saturday night. The floods knocked out communications and roads in Chongkan Township.

Heavy rains raised the level of the Qiongjiang River Tongnan 19 feet in four hours, officials said.

The municipal flood control office reported 2.2 inches of rain in Chongkan township 8 a.m. Friday-10 p.m. Saturday.

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