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Mexican reporters fear they'll be killed

REYNOSA, Mexico, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Reporters, fearing they will be killed, often fail to report Mexico's drug cartel violence, or report only what they are forced to write, some journalists said.


As the drug war in Mexico grows, one byproduct is the traffickers' ability to turn underpaid and under-protected journalists against their mission of informing the public, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"You love journalism, you love the pursuit of truth, you love to perform a civic service and inform your community. But you love your life more," said an editor in Reynosa, in Tamaulipas state, who spoke to the Times anonymously. "We don't like the silence. But it's survival."

So-called narco-censorship means reporters and editors, because of fear or caution, are forced to write what the traffickers want them to write, or to simply not publish the whole story.


An estimated 30 reporters have been killed or disappeared since Mexican President Felipe Calderon began a military-led offensive against the drug cartels in December 2006.

The United Nations sent a mission to Mexico last week to examine dangers to freedom of expression.

On Aug. 7, hundreds of Mexican reporters conducted demonstrations throughout the country, demanding an end to the killings and more secure working conditions.

A report from the Committee to Protect Journalists said few killings are ever investigated and a climate in which the cartels operate with seeming impunity results in more bloodshed, the Times said.

"It is not a lack of valor on the part of the journalists. It is a lack of backing," Mexican broadcaster Jaime Aguirre said. "If they kill me, nothing happens."

Social media networks, such as Twitter, fill some of the void, with residents frantically sending danger alerts, the Times said. And a "narco blog" began posting videos of cartel members and their victims, no matter how gruesome the footage.

Gates mulling 2011 retirement

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates would like to retire sometime in 2011, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman confirmed to CNN comments attributed to Gates in a Foreign Policy article saying he wanted to step down before the end of next year.


Whitman said reference in the article to Gates's desire to retire next year "accurately reflect the secretary's thoughts."

Finger-pointing starts in off-road tragedy

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Off-road derby supporters and opponents criticized a lack of safety precautions after a crash in California's Mojave Desert killed eight spectators.

Some critics blamed the promoter of the 200-mile nighttime race for allowing spectators to get close to the track. Others blamed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for sanctioning the events and fostering an environment that would eventually lead to tragedy, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.

A racer at the California 200 lost control of his vehicle at a jump, plowing into spectators hugging the raceway. Eight people died when the vehicle rolled on top of them, and five others were injured.

"Tons of people were there, and you always want to get close," 19-year-old Niky Carmikle, whose boyfriend died, told the Times. "That's part of the rush, part of the excitement. They should have had fences up, though."

The race on federal land near the San Bernardino Mountains was organized by Mojave Desert Racing of South El Monte and was part of a seven-race circuit.

Environmental groups said they have complained that the BLM, which issued permits for Saturday's race, doesn't have the resources to regulate off-road events that attract large crowds.


"The feds have allowed a 'Mad Max' (a futuristic, nihilistic movie series) to develop with too many people and too many machines crammed into too little space," said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit environmental protection group that has clashed with off-road enthusiasts.

The bureau said in a statement the permit issued for the race listed Mojave Desert Racing as responsible for the safety of up to 300 spectators and up to 80 drivers in the race. Several spectators told the Times that more than 1,000 people were at the race.

Batteries a threat to airline safety?

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Some batteries used in cellphones and laptop computers can catch fire or explode and may present a hazard to air travel, officials say.

Concern about a possible terrorist strike caused flight attendants to confiscate 58 batteries from a passenger aboard an American Airlines flight leaving New York, USA Today said Monday.

The lithium-ion batteries are generally safe for consumer use but could be rigged to make a bomb, Indiana University engineer Jian Xie said.

Officials are concerned about lithium-battery safety after a number of incidents, and earlier this year the Transportation Department proposed more stringent rules for their shipment on aircraft, the report said.


"The frequency of incidents, combined with the difficulty in extinguishing lithium-battery fires, warrants taking strong action," said Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., chairman of the House aviation subcommittee.

There are now no limits to the number of lithium-ion batteries airline passengers can bring aboard, and Transportation Security Administration officials don't perceive a security threat in carry-on quantities, the newspaper said.

British boxer suspect in American's death

BANGKOK, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- A manhunt is under way in Thailand for a British boxer suspected of killing a former U.S. Marine following a bar fight, authorities say.

Officials suspect Lee Aldhouse, 28, stabbed Dashawn Longfellow in his apartment after the two fought in a bar on the holiday island of Phuket, the BBC said Monday.

Aldhouse, told friends he was from Birmingham, England, and had been living in Phuket to learn Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, the report said.

Investigators said they believe Aldhouse followed Longfellow to his home following the fight and stabbed him in the chest with a knife he had stolen from a convenience store.

Longfellow was a veteran of wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the report said.

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