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Wednesday, May 31

Editor's Note: The CNN Wire is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents and producers, and The CNN Wire editors. "Posted" times are Eastern Daylight.

Chemical plant blast rattles British industrial region

(CNN) -- An explosion at a chemical plant in northeast England early Thursday prompted police to order residents to stay indoors, but firefighters later controlled the resulting blaze and authorities stood down from their earlier alert status.

The Cleveland ambulance service reported only minor injuries from the explosion, including one person who was treated for shock.

Police said the blast took place at the Imperial Chemical Industries ammonia plant in Billingham, about 350 miles north of London in England's industrial heartland. (Posted 9:22 p.m.)

Indonesian quake death toll exceeds 6,000

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States has provided $5 million to help Indonesia recover from last week's earthquake, which had killed at least 6,234 people and left tens of thousands homeless by Thursday morning.

The Indonesian Social Affairs Ministry provided the new numbers which, in addition to those killed, included: 33,321 people severely injured; 12,917 slightly injured; and 67,505 homes destroyed.

About $1 million of the U.S. contribution is in response to the May 28 emergency appeal by the International Red Cross. Additional aid has poured in from other countries.

Before the earthquake hit, U.S. government personnel already had traveled to central Java, prepared to provide relief from eruptions of the Mount Merapi volcano. (Posted 8:41 p.m.)

Bush 'Pioneer' admits to $45k in illegal contributions

(CNN) -- An Ohio coin dealer at the center of a state investment scandal pleaded guilty Wednesday to steering more than $45,000 in illegal contributions to President Bush's re-election campaign, federal prosecutors announced.

Appearing before a federal judge in Toledo, Tom Noe admitted to enlisting two dozen associates to disguise the source of $45,500 he gave to the Bush campaign, providing them the money to donate in their own names in order to evade the $2,000 federal limit on campaign funds.

"To avoid suspicion, he gave several conduits checks in amounts slightly less than the maximum allowable amount and instructed several conduits to falsely characterize his payments to them as loans," the Justice Department said in a statement announcing the plea.

Noe, 51, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make illegal campaign contributions, knowingly overstepping contribution limits set by federal law and causing the Bush campaign to make a false statement to the Federal Election Commission.

The charges date to October 2003, prosecutors said. Bush campaign officials cooperated with the investigation, they said. (Posted 7:43 p.m.)

Attorneys argue for same-sex marriage in New York

NEW YORK (CNN) -- New York state's highest court heard arguments Wednesday on behalf of same-sex couples who want New York City to grant them marriage licenses.

Lawyers for the couples told the New York Court of Appeals that state health regulations defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman violate the state constitution's guarantee of "equality, liberty and privacy for all New Yorkers." The New York Attorney General's office has told the court the state's policy reflects a long standing cultural tradition of heterosexual marriages as an avenue for procreation.

The argument sets the stage for the court to decide whether New York should become only the second state in the United States to allow gay men and lesbians to marry. Massachusetts already allows marriages and Vermont allows same-sex couples to form civil unions that are the equivalent of marriage in all but name. Thirty-nine states have some type of law forbidding same-sex marriage. (Posted 6:59 p.m.)

Birmingham kidnapping suspect caught, attorney victim released

(CNN) -- A day long abduction drama ended late Wednesday afternoon when Birmingham, Ala., police found the kidnapping suspect and his victim at a local motel.

The suspect, who had no identification, was in custody, police said. He is expected to be charged with three counts of robbery and kidnapping, and other charges may be brought at a later time.

The incident began shortly after 8:30 a.m. CT when a gunman approached Sandra Eubank Gregory, a 34-year-old Birmingham attorney, just after she had parked her vehicle near her downtown Birmingham apartment.

Surveillance video taken from the scene showed the forced kidnapping: The gunman forced Gregory back into the passenger door and climbed in behind her. Seconds later, the 2000 four-door, silver Lexus SUV drives away. (Posted 6:55 p.m.)

NASA moves one step closer to July launch of space shuttle

(CNN) -- NASA has cleared yet another hurdle in its effort to return the space shuttle fleet to service with a launch of the shuttle Discovery in July.

Program managers and space agency engineers wrapped a two-day debris verification review at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday. The purpose of the meeting was to essentially issue themselves a report card on how well they've done in eliminating the potential for hazardous debris to fly off the shuttle's external tank during lift-off, possibly damaging the shuttle.

"There are no show-stoppers; we've made significant improvements since last year," said Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale during a news conference held after the meeting. "Today, in our review, we did come to the conclusion that we have an acceptable risk posture to go fly, from the debris standpoint. That is a major milestone."

Discovery is currently on launch pad 39B at the space center, undergoing final preparations for launch. (Posted 5:25 p.m.)

Hillary Clinton accepts New York party convention's nod for second Senate term

BUFFALO, N.Y. (CNN) -- Cheers erupted as Hillary Clinton accepted her second Senate nomination and outlined her goals at New York's Democratic Convention Wednesday.

"I pledge I will continue to stand up for you and I'm asking you to stand with me," Clinton said. "We all need to stand up and demand new leadership that will once again put our country back on the right track."

If granted another six years to serve the empire state, Clinton said, she would focus on increasing the minimum wage, improving foreign policy and national health care, restoring the Federal Emergency Management Agency and creating a plan that would lead to energy independence.

Regarding energy independence, she said, "We cannot do this without federal policy. We need federal policy that creates a framework so we can make investments in alternative energy and combat the dangers of global climate change. It's time for oil companies to put a share of their profits into alternative energy research investments." (Posted 5:06 p.m.)

Consortium set up in effort to halt North Korea nuclear efforts formally ended

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- An international venture set up more than a decade ago to build two light water nuclear power plants in North Korea was formally terminated Wednesday by the four countries behind the venture -- the United States, Japan, South Korea and the European Union -- citing lack of cooperation.

A statement from the consortium known as KEDO (Korean Energy Development Organization) said, "This decision was taken based on the continued and extended failure of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to perform the steps that were required" in the agreements setting up the light water reactor project -- namely, to freeze its nuclear programs.

The statement also says North Korea must compensate KEDO for "financial losses." South Korea was the main financial backer for the light water reactor construction project, with Japan putting up a lesser stake.

A KEDO source said about $1.5 billion had been spent on the project. --From CNN's Liz Neisloss (Posted 4:56 p.m.)

Rice dismisses 2008 presidential bid

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed Wednesday the possibility of running for president in the 2008 campaign.

"I have no desire to be president of the United States. It's not what I want to do with my life," she said on CNN's "The Situation Room."

Asked what she does want to do, the former provost of Stanford University said, "I love being an academic. I love the world of ideas. I love teaching. I think that, when I'm done with this work, I'd love to go back and resume my life in the world of ideas." (Posted 3:51 p.m.)

Homeland Security Dept. announces grants; New York, Washington get less

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The cities of New York and Washington are getting less money in this year's allocation of grants from the Homeland Security Department.

The department Wednesday announced the recipients of $1.7 billion distributed through various programs to help states and cities help prepare for terror attacks and natural disasters.

DHS officials have changed the criteria used to award money under their programs, saying that instead of looking at population, they are trying to focus more on where there are risks and are taking into account how well municipalities have used past grants.

The department said there is risk throughout the nation and preparedness dollars therefore need to be spread out. In addition, it said, Congress allocated less money for all of the grant programs this year. --From CNN Senior Producer Kevin Bohn (Posted 3:38 p.m.)

Rice says U.S. conditionally willing to join EU3 in direct talks with Iran

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday the United States would join its European colleagues in talks with Iran over its nuclear program if Iran "fully and verifiably suspends" its disputed activities.

"As soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table with our EU3 colleagues and meet with Iran's representatives," Rice told reporters at the State Department.

Iran must also resume cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, she said.

Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif, said only that he had received the statement but, given the late hour in Tehran, would have no immediate comment. (Posted 1:44 p.m.)

Study finds racial discrimination plagues mortgage market

NEW YORK ( -- African-Americans and Latinos are 30 percent more likely to receive higher rates for home loans than white borrowers despite similar credit scores and risk factors, according to a study published Wednesday by The Center for Responsible Lending.

The center's study found that African-Americans and Latinos face different levels of pricing disparities when compared with white borrowers.

African-Americans are more at risk when the subprime mortgages included a prepayment penalty, the study found, and they are 31 percent more likely to receive a higher rate on a subprime fixed home mortgage. They also are 15 percent to 16 percent more likely to pay more to take out an adjustable rate mortgage, it found.

Similarly, Latinos are 45 percent more likely to receive a higher fixed loan rate if they are seeking a subprime loan, and between 29 percent and 37 percent are more likely to pay more for an ARM, the study found. --By's Shaheen Pasha (Posted 112:42 p.m.)

Bush 'troubled' by reports of civilian massacre in Iraq; vows punishment if laws were broken

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Wednesday he is "troubled" by news reports that allege U.S. Marines intentionally killed civilians in Haditha, Iraq, in November.

"If in fact the laws were broken, there will be punishment," Bush said, noting that he is "mindful that there's a thorough investigation going on."

Military investigators strongly suspect that a small number of Marines snapped after one of their own was killed by a roadside bomb Nov. 19 in Haditha, a city on the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad, and went on a rampage, sources told CNN.

Addressing reporters after meeting with the president of Rwanda, Bush said he has spoken to Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about the Haditha investigation. (Posted 12:18 p.m.)

Delta pilots agree to 14 percent pay cut

NEW YORK ( -- Pilots at Delta Air Lines have ratified a new round of concessions, the union said Wednesday.

The vote was 61 percent in favor and 39 percent opposed to the tentative agreement, reached April 14, which will save the airline $280 million annually. Pilots will be paid 14 percent less than they were before the airline's September bankruptcy filing.

The ratification probably ends the threat of a crippling strike at the nation's No. 2 air carrier, which analysts had warned could have led to the permanent closure of the Atlanta-based airline. That in turn could have caused a crisis for airline passengers, who are already looking at airlines filling an unprecedented number of seats during the summer travel season, even with Delta staying in operation.

The agreement still needs the approval of the judge overseeing the bankruptcy of the nation's No. 2 airline. A hearing on the contract is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. (Posted 12:03 p.m.)

Hurricane researcher sticks to prediction: 17 named storms in 2006

(CNN) -- On the brink of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season, a noted hurricane researcher stuck to his earlier prediction -- that this year will bring fewer storms than last year's record-breaking season, but will continue the trend of above-average tropical activity.

In addition, there is more than an 8 in 10 chance another major hurricane will make landfall somewhere in the United States this year, and a 69 percent probability a major hurricane will strike the U.S. East Coast, including Florida, according to the updated prediction issued Wednesday by William Gray, a professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University.

Gray and his CSU Tropical Meteorology Project stood by their April prediction of 17 named storms in 2006, with nine becoming hurricanes. Five of those, Gray estimated, will become major hurricanes -- a Category 3 or above, with sustained winds stronger than 110 mph and storm surges at least 9 feet above normal tides.

Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted 13 to 16 named storms for the North Atlantic, with eight to 10 of them becoming hurricanes and four to six becoming major hurricanes. (Posted 11:34 a.m.)

U.S. military investigates whether its troops killed 2 women, unborn baby

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- The U.S. military is investigating reports that its soldiers shot and killed two women, one pregnant, Tuesday after the women's vehicle apparently sped through a military checkpoint in Samarra, according to the U.S. military and an official with the Joint Coordination Center in Salaheddin Province.

According to the JCC official, Nahiba Husayif Jassim, 35, and Faliha Mohammed Hassan, 55, were being driven to the hospital for the delivery of Nahiba's baby.

Witnesses said the shooting happened as the vehicle drove through a checkpoint in the Moatasam neighborhood in Samarra around 3 p.m., but that information has not yet been verified, the official said.

The driver of the vehicle was unharmed. (Posted 11:21 a.m.)

New York court to hear final arguments on same-sex marriages

NEW YORK (CNN) -- New York's highest court is scheduled to consider Wednesday whether New York City can grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Attorneys for five New York City couples plan to argue that the state Court of Appeals should allow the city to let same-sex couples marry because of the state constitution's guarantee of "equality, liberty and privacy for all New Yorkers."

Only the state of Massachusetts now allows couples of the same sex to marry, although Vermont allows civil unions that are the equivalent to marriage in all but name. Thirty-nine states have some sort of ban on marrying gays. Federal law denies recognition of all same-sex marriages.

The New York City couples were denied marriage licenses in 2004 and quickly took their case to the courts. Since then, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and city Mayor Michael Bloomberg have expressed support for gay marriage, although both are required to fight the challenges in court because existing law defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. --From CNN's Christopher Browne (Posted 10:30 a.m.)

Family, boyfriend arrive at Dozier's bedside

LANDSTUHL, Germany (CNN) -- Kimberly Dozier's family and boyfriend arrived Wednesday at the U.S. military hospital in Germany where she was flown a day earlier, after the CBS News correspondent was seriously injured in a car bombing in Baghdad.

While remained on sedatives and a ventilator, she was able to acknowledge their presence, said Marie Shaw, spokeswoman for Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Dozier's father, mother, sister and brother were also to discuss with doctors when Dozier should be returned to the United States, Shaw said.

Doctors wanted to make sure she was stabilized for the trip, which may take to the end of the week. Dozier suffered serious head and lower body injuries in Monday's blast that killed her British cameraman and soundman, a U.S. soldier and an Iraqi interpreter. -- From CNN Correspondent Chris Burns (Posted 10:02 a.m.)

At least 20 injured in militant grenade attacks

SRINAGAR, Indian-controlled Kashmir (CNN) -- At least 20 people, many of them tourists, were wounded, three critically, Wednesday after suspected militants lobbed two hand grenades at two passing buses Wednesday, police said.

The grenades exploded inside the tourist buses, a senior police officer told CNN. The injured were taken to the main hospital in Srinagar, where attending doctors said three of them had suffered serious injuries from shrapnel and debris.

Wednesday's attack was the third on Indian tourists in Kashmir within the past two weeks. Last week, five tourists were killed and nine injured in two separate grenade attacks. --From Journalist Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar (Posted 10:02 a.m.)

Pentagon paints a grim picture of insurgency in Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Hard-core Sunni insurgent strength will remain steady through this year, but a union with al Qaeda in Iraq could increase their attack options, according to a Pentagon assessment of security in Iraq released Tuesday.

The mandatory Pentagon report delivered to Congress four times a year looks at Iraq's stability and security through military, political and economic lenses. The report examined Iraq's stability between Feb. 11 and May 15.

It highlighted improvements in Iraq's security forces with significant increases in both military and police strength since the last report in early February.

However, two Pentagon officials who briefed reporters on the report were unable to say how many Iraqi Army units are fully capable of operating independently. -- From CNN Pentagon Producer Mike Mount (Posted 7:51 a.m.)

Iraqi PM declares state of emergency in British-held Basra

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki declared Wednesday a month-long state of emergency in Basra, vowing to confront troublemakers in the oil-rich city with "an iron fist."

Al-Maliki is visiting the southern Iraqi city, which had been relatively calm since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. However, violence blamed on sectarian tensions and fighting over control of the city's oil resources has erupted in recent weeks.

"We are hearing of security breaches which we fear may escalate and worsen," the prime minister said, according to a translation from The Associated Press.

Basra is under the control of the British military, part of the U.S.-led coalition. In the past month, nine British soldiers have died in Basra -- five of them in a May 6 helicopter crash that sparked fighting between Iraqis and British troops. Hospital officials said at least four Iraqis died in the ensuing clashes.

Basra is a mostly Shiite Muslim city about 245 miles (400 km) southeast of Baghdad. (Updated 9:43 a.m.)

High gas prices leading states not to vote for ExxonMobil board nominees

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Three state officials from California, New York and North Carolina who resent what they contend are high executive compensations at ExxonMobil are gearing up for a battle Wednesday with the oil giant.

Soaring gas prices have led the states -- with billions of dollars in retirement funds invested in the company -- to announce they will withhold their votes for five nominees for ExxonMobil's board of directors at the annual shareholders' meeting.

The North Carolina Retirement Systems, the New York State Common Retirement Fund and the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) have said they would withhold votes for the nominees, all of whom have served on ExxonMobil's compensation committee over the past five years. (Updated 9:27 a.m.)

19 wounded in Mosul car bomb

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A car bomb targeting a police patrol in Mosul wounded 19 people -- including five police officers -- in the southern part of the city, police said.

The bomb exploded around noon (4 a.m. ET). Mosul is about 350 miles (563 km) northwest of Baghdad. --From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq (Posted 8:02 a.m.)

In Baghdad, 40 bodies found

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- At least 40 slain bodies were discovered in eastern and western Baghdad, police told CNN.

The bodies -- found over the last 24 hours -- were shot in the head and some of them showed signs of torture.

The victims could not immediately be identified. (Posted 6:45 a.m.)

4 civilians gunned down in Baghdad fighting

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Four people died and seven were wounded during violence in north-central Baghdad.

The bloodshed stemmed from an attack around 11 a.m. on a police patrol station.

At least 15 gunmen attacked the target, touching off fighting between police and the insurgents. (Posted 6:40 a.m.)

Coalition accuses 'agitators' of fanning Kabul riots

KABUL (CNN) -- A coalition military spokesman Wednesday blamed agitators for whipping up crowds after a fatal traffic accident involving a U.S. military truck this week in Afghan capital of Kabul.

"What we saw was a bush fire, where small groups of agitators inflamed crowds." said Brig. Gen. Nick Pope, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force, at a news conference.

ISAF operates under a U.N. mandate to help support the Afghan government as it rebuilds. Investigators are working a theory that the riots were fomented by a group of Afghans from Panshir Valley, followers of the former Northern Alliance that helped the U.S.-led coalition oust the Taliban in 2001.

Members of the alliance have expressed anger toward Afghan President Hamid Karzai because of a perceived loss of power. (Posted 6:10 a.m.)

War crimes tribunal report: Milosevic died of heart attack

(CNN) -- Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian strongman who died in his cell last March while he was on trial at The Hague for war crimes, died of a heart attack and was not the victim of poisoning.

Also, it also said Milosevic received "proper care" during his detention.

These are top conclusions in a report from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on the circumstances of his March 11 death.

It said Milosevic was found "alone in a locked cell" at the U.N. Detention Unit in the Scheveningen Penitentiary Facility."

The inquiry confirmed what Hague officials determined in coroner and police inquiries, including an autopsy with full pathological and toxicological investigations conducted by the Netherlands Forensic Institute -- that Milosevic "died of natural causes from a heart attack."

"No poison was found in his body. No other chemical substance present in his body contributed to his death. No rifampicin was found in his body. There were no indications of external violence.

"Nothing has been found to support allegations reported in some sections of the media that Mr. Milosevic had been murdered, in particular by poisoning. The results of the independent investigation by the Dutch authorities demonstrate that such allegations are entirely false." (Posted 5 a.m.)

U.S. soldier dies in non-combat related incident

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A Multi-National Division - Baghdad soldier died on Wednesday in a non-combat related incident.

The incident occurred at approximately 5:30 a.m. This brings the number of U.S. military deaths to 2,471. (Posted 4:42 a.m.)

Mayor in Diyala town killed in bombing

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A bomb ripped through the office of a Diyala province mayor on Wednesday, killing the mayor and wounding four employees, police in Baquba said.

Elaiwi Farhan -- the mayor of Muqdadiya -- was slain.

Muqdadiya is about 25 miles north of Baquba, the provincial capital. Diyala -- which is northeast of Baghdad -- has been wracked by insurgent violence. (Posted 4:24 a.m.)

Deputy police chief in southern Afghan province killed by rocket-propelled grenade

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Suspect Taliban fighters attacked a police vehicle in southern Afghanistan late Tuesday, killing the deputy police chief of Zabul province and wounding three members of his security detail, government officials said.

Mohammad Rasoul was driving through the province to warn his forces of possible attacks by Taliban fighters when his vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade around 11 p.m. (3 p.m. EDT).

A Taliban spokesman said the group claimed responsibility for the attack. It comes as fighting between Islamic militants and coalition and Afghan troops has escalated this spring. (Posted 3:32 a.m.)

Iraq: Forces arrest 'key terrorist'

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A man described as a "key terrorist" was arrested earlier this week by Iraqi authorities, the Iraqi prime minister's office said in a news release.

Ahmed Hussein Dabash Samir al-Batawi was apprehended by the Terrorist Combat Unit on Monday in central Baghdad.

Forces seized documents that listed potential attack targets. They confiscated cell phones and computers that included names and addresses of other wanted militants. (Posted 3:32 a.m.)

United States provides $5 million to aid quake-stricken Indonesia

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States has provided $5 million to help Indonesia recover from last week's earthquake, which killed at least 5,846 people and left thousands more homeless.

About $1 million of that is in response to the May 28 emergency appeal by the International Red Cross, it said.

Additional aid has poured in from other countries, too.

U.S. government personnel had already been in the area of central Java, prepared to provide relief from eruptions of a nearby volcano.

In addition, a team from the U.S. Agency for International Development arrived Monday in the affected areas and was coordinating relief efforts.

Another eight-person USAID team was slated to arrive Wednesday. (posted 1 a.m.)

Iraqi diplomat says cousin was killed 'intentionally' by Marines in Haditha last year

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Iraq's new ambassador to the United States maintains that U.S. Marines "intentionally" killed his cousin last June when they were conducting a sweep in Haditha, the same volatile Anbar town where Marines allegedly went on a rampage and killed 24 civilians.

Speaking on the same day President Bush welcomed him to his post, Samir al-Sumaidaie reflected on that killing and another assault on civilians in Haditha.

He appeared Tuesday on "The Situation Room" and discussed the incidents in Haditha, one of the many Sunni towns along the Euphrates River valley where Marines and insurgents have fought over the last year.

"I believe he was killed intentionally. I believe that he was killed unnecessarily," said al-Sumaidaie, who denounced the June 25 killing of his cousin after the incident occurred and demanded a probe. Al-Sumadaie at the time was Iraq's U.N. envoy. (posted 1 a.m.)

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