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Friday, March 9

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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 Standard.

Bush taps wounded veteran, others to Walter Reed commission

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush Friday named seven people to the commission he established to review of health care for recovering Iraq and Afghan war veterans, focusing primarily at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The commission is chaired by former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and former Sen. Bob Dole, who was wounded in World War II.

The new commissioners include:

-- Marc A. Giammatteo, a wounded veteran from Connecticut who lost most of his lower right leg to a grenade in Iraq;

-- Dr. C. Martin Harris, chief information officer for the Cleveland (Ohio) Clinic Foundation and a staff physician at Cleveland Clinic Hospital;

-- Edward A. Eckenhoff, founder, president and CEO of the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C.; and

-- Dr. Gail R. Wilensky, a senior fellow at Project HOPE, an international health-care foundation. (Posted 10:23 p.m.)

Appeals court strikes down D.C.'s ban on handguns in homes

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a landmark legal victory for opponents of gun control, a federal appeals court Friday struck down a law barring residents of the District of Columbia from keeping handguns in their homes as a violation of the Second Amendment's right to keep and bear arms.

In its 2-to-1 decision, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that the amendment's guarantee belongs to individuals and was not a collective right limited to members of militias -- something gun-control proponents have long contended.

Friday's decision marks the first time a federal appeals court has ever struck down a gun law on Second Amendment grounds, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence, a gun-control group which blasted the ruling as "judicial activism at its worst." (Posted 8 p.m.)

Bush defends U.S. policy, signs ethanol pact during stop in Brazil

SAO PAULO, Brazil (CNN) -- Making his first stop on a seven-day, five-country sojourn across Latin America, President Bush Friday offered a robust defense of American policy in the region, saying the United States doesn't get "enough credit for trying to help improve people's lives."

Bush's remarks came in response to a question about whether he was trying to counter the influence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a strident Bush critic who is contemporaneously making his own tour of the region. The president answered the question without referring to the Venezuelan leader by name.

Privately, U.S. officials charge that protests over Bush's visit now spreading across the region -- which include battles between demonstrators and police that have broken out in Brazil and Colombia -- are being fomented and financed by Chavez.

After his meeting with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva, Bush late Friday flew to Montevideo, Uruguay, where he is to meet Saturday with Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez -- the same day Chavez is to address an anti-Bush rally across the River Plate in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Posted 6:54 p.m.)

L.A. hospital: Tests confirm American women suffering from thallium poisoning

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Results of toxicology tests confirmed Friday that two American women hospitalized in Moscow and later Los Angeles are suffering from thallium poisoning, as suspected, according to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Marina Kovalevsky, 42, and her daughter Yanna, 26, were released from the Sklifosovsky Clinic in Moscow and arrived at Cedars-Sinai on Wednesday. They were admitted after evaluations from emergency doctors.

"Results of their toxicology tests confirm that thallium poisoning occurred," the hospital said Friday in a statement. "The two women continue to receive appropriate treatment for thallium poisoning."

The women's date of discharge has not been determined; they are expected to remain in the hospital over the weekend, Cedars-Sinai said. On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow told CNN that Russian authorities were investigating how the women may have been poisoned. (Posted 6:17 p.m.)

After election gains, N. Ireland hard-liners face deadline to form government

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- The clock began ticking Friday for Catholic and Protestant hard-liners who won the lion's share of seats in Northern Ireland's legislative assembly, with just a little more than two weeks for them to reach across the sectarian divide and come to an agreement on how to share power.

Final results of the ballot counting, completed Friday, showed that the Democratic Unionist Party, led by Protestant hard-liner Ian Paisley, won the largest number of seats in the 108-member assembly, 36, while Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, came in second with 28.

Together, the two parties picked up 10 seats from the last assembly election in 2003, largely at the expense of two more moderate parties, the Protestant Ulster Unionist Party, which lost nine seats, and the mostly Catholic Social Democratic and Labor Party, which lost two.

The results would make Paisley the first minister of Northern Ireland's governing executive and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness his deputy -- that is, if the two implacable foes can reach an agreement on how to share power. (Posted 5:43 p.m.)

Democratic Rep. Obey's outburst against 'idiot liberals' posted online

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., apologized Friday for a tirade against anti-war activists on Capitol Hill Monday that was secretly recorded on video and then posted on the Internet site YouTube.

In the testy exchange, Obey -- who is himself an anti-war liberal -- called the activists "idiot liberals" for encouraging him to vote against the supplemental funding bill for the Iraq war even though for the first time the bill places a binding timeline for the redeployment of U.S. forces out of Iraq.

"We're trying to use the supplemental to end the war," Obey told the unidentified woman who described herself as the mother of an injured Iraq war veteran as she approached him in the hallway near his office. "You can't end the war if you're going against the supplemental. It's time these idiot liberals understand that."

In a statement issued Friday afternoon, after the Internet posting and after congressional Republicans e-mailed news of the outburst to reporters, Obey said, "I am sorry I yelled at them. ... We both want to see an end to U.S. involvement in that war. What divided us was the question of how." --From CNN Congressional Producer Ted Barrett (Posted 5:13 p.m.)

Report: Militant leader arrested in Baghdad

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant group Islamic State of Iraq, was arrested Friday afternoon in western Baghdad's Abu Ghraib district, the Iraqi Interior Ministry told CNN.

U.S. military officials said they have not been told of the arrest and U.S. forces in Baghdad do not have him in custody.

A high-ranking Interior Ministry official told CNN al-Baghdadi was arrested about 3 p.m. (7 a.m. ET) a few hours after the Iraqi army initiated an operation in a village in the Abu Ghraib district.

A number of al-Baghdadi's aides were also arrested, the official said. Neither the Iraqi police nor multinational forces were involved in the operation.

The Islamic State of Iraq is a Sunni insurgency group formerly known as the Mujahedeen Shura Council, which was formed in December 2005 when al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi called on insurgency groups to unite in the fight against "the infidels." (Posted 4:59 p.m.)

Police: Court order may be needed to get information in Smith case

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CNN) -- Police continuing their investigation into the Feb. 8 death of centerfold Anna Nicole Smith said Friday they are seeking additional information in the case and may need a court order to obtain it.

"There is some information they don't have and would like to get, but it might need a court order," Gary Bitner, spokesman for the Seminole tribal police, told CNN.

Broward County Medical Examiner Joshua Perper, whose ruling on the cause of Smith's death is pending, said Thursday a new piece of evidence that "might change some of my conclusions" needs to be obtained and evaluated. Perper said he is waiting a week or two to release his findings, until the evidence is available.

Bitner would not elaborate on the possible new evidence or on what information police are attempting to obtain. --From CNN's Susan Candiotti and Rich Phillips (Posted 2:35 p.m)

Despite record loss, Ford paying bonuses to all employees

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Embattled Ford Motor Co. will give bonuses to most of its workers despite posting a record $12.7 billion loss last year as it tries to improve employee morale in the middle of a downsizing.

The bonuses will to be paid to all eligible employees in the United States and Canada, according to an e-mail that Ford CEO Alan Mulally sent to employees Thursday. The bonuses will be paid March 15.

Most salaried workers and supervisors will get $300 to $800, depending on their location and rank in the company. Most union members will receive about $500. Higher-ranking executives will receive what the e-mail described as "higher, but still modest, awards."

The bonuses will go to about 125,000 employees, including 38,000 Ford hourly employees who have accepted buyout and retirement packages from Ford recently and have left or will be leaving the company. --By CNNMoney.com's Chris Isidore (Posted 2:08 p.m.)

Former Washington madam pleads not guilty to 5 counts

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The former owner of an escort service in the nation's capital, who has threatened to release phone records on more than 10,000 of her past clients, pleaded not guilty Friday to five charges related to her defunct business.

The judge has yet to act on a gag order requested by prosecutors Monday that would prevent Deborah Palfrey from releasing customer details contained in discovery documents to be given to her and her defense attorney for her criminal trial.

A grand jury indicted Palfrey March 1 on the charges, which stem from her operation of the Pamela Martin & Associates escort service, which closed last summer after 13 years in business.

Palfrey has argued that she needs the money to pay her legal bills. The woman has argued that she needs money to pay her legal bills. A status hearing on the discovery issue is scheduled April 12. (Posted 12:30 p.m.)

Govt. audit finds 'serious misuse' of Patriot Act probes by FBI

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI is guilty of "serious misuse" of the power to secretly obtain private information under the Patriot Act, a government audit said Friday.

The Justice Department's inspector general looked at the FBI's use of national security letters (NSLs), which agents send to third parties demanding personal and business information about individuals -- such as financial, phone, and Internet records -- without court orders. Civil libertarians have slammed the practice.

"While national security letters are an important investigative tool, the FBI needs to ensure that it uses this authority in full accord with the national security letter statutes, attorney general guidelines, and FBI policies," said Inspector General Glenn A. Fine in the report.

"We concluded that many of the problems we identified constituted serious misuse of the FBI's national security letter authorities."

The review examined whether there were "improper" or "illegal" uses of NSLs, and identified "26 possible intelligence violations" that occurred between 2003 and 2005, 19 of which the FBI reported to the president's Intelligence Oversight Board, the audit says. Of the 26, "22 were the result of FBI errors, while four were caused by mistakes made by recipients of the NSLs," it said. (Posted 11:03 a.m.)

Medical examiner wants to look at Anna Nicole Smith's computer

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CNN) -- Broward County's medical examiner wants to examine a computer belonging to Anna Nicole Smith before announcing her cause of death, according to a spokesman for the Broward State Attorney's office.

On Thursday, Perper announced that he would need additional time -- up to two more weeks -- before he could issue a final declaration regarding Smith's cause of death. He said that he was still waiting to get possession of the items.

"(There is a) new piece of evidence which has to be obtained and evaluated, and it might change some of my conclusions," said Perper. "And therefore I decided to wait another week or two, until this evidence is going to be available and is going to be evaluated and eventually submitted to us."

Perper also said that he felt it necessary to examine the new materials because it might change his view of the circumstances surrounding her death.

"There are things in which our determination is based on circumstances as we know them. If there is a change in circumstances or if there is new evidence that surfaces, then it might change our final conclusions," he said. --From CNN's Susan Candiotti and Rich Phillips (Posted 9:54 a.m.)

Injured baseball player dies, bringing toll in bus crash to seven

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Bluffton University baseball player Zach Arend -- critically injured when a bus crashed onto an expressway here last week -- died Friday, said Grady Memorial Hospital representative Denise Simpson.

Arend, 18, had been in critical condition since the accident on Friday of last week, she said. He died around 6 a.m. ET. He was from Oakwood, Ohio, had been a freshman at Bluffton University south of Toledo.

Authorities say the accident occurred when the chartered bus, carrying the Bluffton baseball team to Florida, went up the HOV exit ramp on the left side of I-75 just north of downtown, hit a retaining wall and fell onto the expressway.

Among the others killed were four players, the bus driver and his wife. (Posted 9:01 a.m.)

British officials hear kidnapped Brits in Ethiopia are 'okay'

BRUSSELS (CNN) -- British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett on Friday said the foreign ministry has received indications that the five British tourists who went missing last week in Ethiopia are "okay."

Neither the Ethiopian Embassy in London nor the British could confirm reports that some of the nationals, who were with other Westerners, might be held at a military camp across the border in Eritrea but Beckett said the ministry is looking into those reports.

"We have had indications that people are saying the hostages are okay -- where they are is still something that has to be looked at," Beckett said during a European Union meeting in Brussels. (Posted 7:56 a.m.)

Indonesian airline official: plane crash not caused by bad weather and runway conditions

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- An Indonesian airline official told CNN Friday the weather and runway conditions at Yogyakarta airport were safe for landing when a Garuda Airlines plane overshot the runway, careened into a rice patty field and burst into flames earlier this week.

Twenty-two people perished in the crash and eight are still missing, according to Garuda. There were 140 passengers and crew on board.

Garuda Airlines Pilot Association President Stephanus Geralduf Getitit told CNN the weather condition was clear on Wednesday and the runway was "ok for landing."

The pilot did say there were problems during the plane's touch down, however. (Posted 7:16 a.m.)

Moroccan police arrest man allegedly involved in Casablanca and Madrid bombings

RABAT, Morocco (CNN) -- Moroccan police arrested a man they allege was involved in the Casablanca bombings in 2003 and the Madrid train bombings in 2004, Morocco's state-run Maghreb Arab Presse news agency reported Friday, citing a security source

Thirty-eight year old Saad al-Houssaini, nicknamed "Mostafa," is suspected of leading the militant wing of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, an Islamic fundamentalist group which operates in North Africa and Europe and is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

But Spain's National Court, which is in charge of the train bombing investigation, has not charged al-Houssaini nor issued an arrest for him, a court spokeswoman told CNN.

Spanish police, however, might now request his DNA sample and fingerprints to determine if they match with yet unidentified DNA and fingerprint samples collected at sites associated with the train bombings, the spokeswoman said. (Posted 7:11 a.m.)

FEMA to provide temporary housing for Arkansas tornado victims

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency said late Thursday it had reached an agreement to transfer 30 mobile homes and travel trailers to Desha County, Ark., to provide temporary housing for victims of a February 24 tornado.

"As far as we're concerned we've got an agreement," said FEMA spokesman Aaron Walker. "This is a good night for FEMA and Arkansas." The mobile housing would be moved 165 miles from Hope, Ark. -- where FEMA has had about 8,000 stored since shortly after Hurricane Katrina raked the Gulf Coast -- to Dumas, Ark.

Federal regulations prevented FEMA from moving the homes into coastal flood plains.

According to Walker, the state will have to pick up the tab -- $7 to $12 per mile -- to move the mobile homes and travel trailers.

The agreement came on the same day the White House denied Desha County status as a federal disaster area -- a declaration that would have made the county eligible for more wide-ranging assistance from Washington.

"While I strongly disagree with FEMA's decision to deny Arkansas a federal disaster declaration, the news of temporary homes is an important first step in making the people of Desha County whole again," said Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. (Posted 5:25 a.m.)

Moroccan police arrest man allegedly involved in Madrid train bombings

RABAT, Morocco (CNN) -- Moroccan police arrested a man they allege was involved in the Madrid train bombings and heads a militant Islamic fundamentalist group associated with al Qaeda, Morocco's state-run Maghreb Arab Presse news agency reported Friday, citing a security source.

Thirty-eight year old Saad al-Houssaini, nicknamed "Mostafa," is suspected of leading the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, which operates in North Africa and is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

There are currently 29 defendants on trial in Madrid -- including eight who are considered prime defendants -- who are charged in the murders of 191 people who died in the train bombings three years ago. (Posted 5:20 a.m.)

Hawaiian tour helicopter crashes, 4 dead, 3 injured

PRINCEVILLE, Hawaii (CNN) -- Four passengers were killed and three were injured when a tour helicopter they were riding in crashed Thursday afternoon in Hawaii, a Kauai County spokeswoman said.

The company operating the craft, Heli-USA said it was "working with the investigative authorities in charge" to determine what caused the chopper to go down at Princeville Airport, located on the island of Kauai.

The names of those involved will be released after their families are contacted, the company said. (Posted 5:20 a.m.)

Report: FBI requests for information under Patriot Act were underreported

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In an audit to be released Friday, the Justice Department's Inspector General accuses the FBI of underreporting its requests for information under the Patriot Act and being sloppy in its implementation, officials with knowledge of the report told CNN.

According to one official who has seen the report, it will show that the FBI underreported the use of National Security Letters by 20 percent.

The National Security Letters, which the FBI uses to request a variety of personal and business information, including financial, phone and Internet records without a court order, have been criticized by civil libertarians because of the secrecy surrounding them.

The Washington Post reported that in 2005 alone, the FBI issued more than 19,000 national security letters, amounting to 47,000 individual requests for information, according to the congressionally mandated audit.

According to the official, the audit describes "errors in the process, not gross violations of the law." He said it seemed to him to be a "failure in the oversight process to keep up with an increase in the volume of NSLs." (Posted 3 a.m.)

Hard-line parties capturing bulk of N. Ireland seats

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- Hard-line Catholic and Protestant parties have won the bulk of seats decided so far in the election for a new legislative assembly in Northern Ireland, a vote designed to clear the way for creation of a new power-sharing local executive that can pull support from across the sectarian divide.

Results for 72 of 108 assembly seats showed the Democratic Unionist Party, led by Protestant hard-liner Ian Paisley, had captured 25 seats, compared to 24 for Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, according to results from Britain's Press Association news agency.

A moderate Catholic party, the Social Democratic and Labor Party, had won 10 seats and the Ulster Unionists, a Protestant party which helped broker the 1998 Good Friday peace accords, had 9, with two smaller parties taking the remaining four seats.

Winners in the remaining 36 seats contested in Wednesday's election were expected to be determined Friday under Northern Ireland's complex system of preferential voting. (Posted 11:15 p.m.)


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