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NATO to take over Libya no-fly zone

TRIPOLI, Libya, March 24 (UPI) -- NATO member nations Thursday adopted a plan for the alliance to assume command of the no-fly zone over Libya and perhaps assume more authority in a few days.

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NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced the development, saying for now "there will still be a coalition operation and a NATO operation." He said a decision could come within days on NATO assuming wider responsibility for the operations, The New York Times reported.

The announcement came as the advantage in fighting appeared to shift away from forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi toward rebels, after allied airstrikes on Libyan ground forces, the newspaper said.

At the White House Thursday, press secretary Jay Carney, responding to congressional criticism that President Barack Obama left Congress out of the loop before deciding to participate in the no-fly zone enforcement, said the United States had to act quickly in the multinational military operation in Libya to save lives.

"American military action, international military action has saved an enormous number of lives in the past five days, and that is something that Americans should be very proud of," Carney said during a press briefing, listing a series of dates when administration officials briefed congressional members or testified at the Capitol.

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As commander in chief, Obama said leadership "requires him to take action when action will save lives and delaying action will cost lives," Carney said. "And in this case, had we waited for Congress to get back, there is no question I think in anybody's minds … that Gadhafi's forces would control Benghazi and there would have been a great deal of people killed in the process."

Benghazi is considered the de facto headquarters for opponents to Gadhafi's rule.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and National Intelligence Director James Clapper will brief congressional members Wednesday, a Republican official told CNN. The briefing will be classified.

Disapproval from Republican lawmakers has intensified during the last few days, with Speaker John Boehner of Ohio criticizing Obama in a Wednesday letter to the White House for not clearly stating the goals of the mission and offering a "sometimes contradictory" case for the war.

Carney said Thursday Obama has answered Boehner's questions, "especially the ones about what the mission is and what it isn't."

"It is a time-limited, scope-limited military action, in concert with our international partners, with the objective of protecting civilian life in Libya from Moammar Gadhafi and his forces," Carney said.

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Speaking of reports about NATO assuming control of the no-fly zone, Carney said Obama has been saying the United States would hand off running the operation "in days, not weeks," Carney said.

"We are at less than a week at the moment and we have been in consultations with our allies and partners on the issue of making that transition and we're confident that it will happen relatively soon," Carney said.

The first Libyan warplane to violate the no-fly zone was shot down Thursday over Misurata by French fighter jets, ABC News said.

Asked for a comment, Carney observed, "I would simply say that it proves that it's a bad idea to violate the no-fly zone."

In Misurata, rebels told The New York Times they felt rejuvenated by a second night of U.S. and European airstrikes against pro-Gadhafi forces that have been bombarding the city. Rebels said armored units and artillery surrounding the city apparently have pulled back after airstrikes cut supply and communication lines.

Government warships that had closed the Misurata port also left, allowing rebels to work with Doctors Without Borders to evacuate 50 wounded people to Malta, the Times said.

In Tripoli, Libyan officials acknowledged for the first time Thursday Misurata residents had been living for days without water, electricity or telecommunications. But the officials, speaking during a news conference, blamed rebels for blocking the government's ability to enter the town center to make repairs.

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Ind. prosecutor urged fake attack, resigns

MADISON, Wis., March 24 (UPI) -- An Indiana prosecutor resigned Thursday after admitting he had advised staging a fake attack on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to "discredit the unions."

Carlos F. Lam, who is active in Indiana Republican Party politics, initially denied he was the author of an e-mail uncovered by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Johnson County, Ind., Prosecutor Brad Cooper told the (Franklin, Ind.) Daily Journal Lam submitted his resignation verbally Thursday.

Cooper said he got a phone call from Lam around 5 a.m. Thursday in which the deputy prosecutor "wanted to come clean, I guess, and said he is the one who sent that e-mail," the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Lam had already turned in his resignation by the time the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism published its story on his Feb. 19 e-mail to Walker, calling the turmoil in the state capital over anti-union legislation "a good opportunity for what's called a 'false flag' operation."

"If you could employ an associate who pretends to be sympathetic to the unions' cause to physically attack you (or even use a firearm against you), you could discredit the unions," Lam said in the e-mail.

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When first contacted about the e-mail, Lam said he did not send it. He acknowledged his e-mail address matched the one appearing on the e-mail to Walker but said he had been car shopping with his family at the time it was sent.

"I am flabbergasted and would never advocate for something like this, and would like everyone to be sure that that's just not me," he said.

The e-mail was sent the same day another Indiana law enforcement official tweeted a suggestion that police "use live ammunition" against protesters in the Wisconsin Capitol. That official, Jeffrey Cox, was fired from his position as deputy state attorney general.


Hispanic and Asian population up 43 pct.

WASHINGTON, March 24 (UPI) -- The Hispanic population in the United States grew rapidly between 2000 and 2010, to 50.5 million or 16 percent of the total, the Census Bureau said Thursday.

The number of people identifying themselves as Hispanic or as Asian grew by 43 percent during the decade, making them the fastest-growing groups.

There were 35.3 million Hispanics in 2000, almost one-sixth of the total population of 308.7 million.

In 2010, Asians were about 5 percent of the total, up from 4 percent in 2000. There were 10.2 million in 2000 and 14.7 million a decade later, an increase of 4.4 million.

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Immigration was a major factor in the growth of both groups, Census statisticians said.

The slowest growth was among non-Hispanic whites, with the number increasing by 1 percent. Their share of the population dropped from 69 percent to 64 percent.

In 2010, 38.9 million people identified themselves as black, about 13 percent of the population. Those identifying themselves as American Indian or Alaska Native were .9 percent of the total, while Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders were .2 percent.

While the Census gives residents the option of identifying themselves as mixed-race, 97 percent picked only one.


Tornadoes touch down in Pa., Tenn.

HEMPFIELD, Pa., March 24 (UPI) -- Tornadoes severely damaged dozens of western Pennsylvania homes and did minor damage to several in north-central Tennessee, the National Weather Service said.

A tornado the weather service brought 111 mph to 135 mph winds damaged or destroyed 30 to 35 homes in Pennsylvania's Hempfield Township in Westmoreland County, about 35 miles southeast of Harrisburg, Mayor Kurt Ferguson said Thursday. Another 90 or more homes received some storm damage, he said.

Schools were closed for a second day because of heavy damage from Wednesday afternoon's storms.

Resident Greg Kurtiak told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he was in a detached garage with his daughter Taylor when he saw a funnel cloud develop above a ridge.

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He grabbed Taylor and headed into the house, he said. They rode out the storm huddled near their brick fireplace.

"It sounded like a freight train," he said, describing a sound people often say they hear during a tornado.

The storm turned his garage into a pile of rubble, the newspaper said. A tree in the front yard was ripped up at the roots and blown through the roof of his house.

Heavy hail damage was reported in Allegheny County near Pittsburgh, a county 911 supervisor said. Electricity was knocked out throughout the region.

Tennessee's tornado was less severe and struck a less-populated area, the weather service said.

It touched down in Wilson County's Watertown, about 40 miles east of Nashville. Watertown's population is listed as 1,358.

Initial damage reports included a barn blown down and homes moved off their foundations, The (Nashville) Tennessean reported.

Hail and funnel clouds were reported in several other counties, the newspaper quoted weather service forecaster Jason Wright as saying. No one was reported injured in either tornado.

A series of strong Pacific storms pummeled Northern California with torrential rain and thunderstorms, and much of the Sierra Nevada mountain range was expected to receive as much as 4 feet of snow from the third powerful winter storm in the region since spring arrived.

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