• China demands local solutions for grievances

    China wants citizens' complaints solved locally, bans direct petitioning of central government

    BEIJING (AP) -- For decades, members of the Chinese public with grievances against local governments have been traveling to Beijing in the time-honored tradition of appealing to the country's highest authorities.

    The practice will be banned after May 1 in most cases.

    The central government on Wednesday issued a new set of rules, demanding local governments resolve complaints within 60 days, but also banning petitioners from bypassing local authorities, according to state media reports.

    Beijing officials say the new regulations would improve the system's efficiency by laying out clear rules for both local mediating officials and petitioners. Critics say the reform — without building an effective, fair way to address grievances at the local level — would be futile or even exacerbate the tensions.

    They say petitioners turn to Beijing because they bump into walls locally, where courts and mediation offices lack independence but are controlled by local governments.

    "The absence of

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  • Maharashtra records 57 percent polling, Mumbai 54 percent

    Mumbai, April 24 (IANS) Maharashtra recorded an average of 57 percent voting in the 13 Lok Sabha constituencies while Mumbai notched 54 percent in its six constituencies as the third and final phase of polling Thursday, officials here said.

    After noon, the voting figures shot up considerably in Mumbai and other parts of the state till the closing hours.

    In most constituencies, notably in Mumbai, Dhule, Aurangabad and Raigad, minorities came out in large numbers to exercise their franchise.

    According to tentative estimates till 6 p.m., Raigad and Dindori topped with 64 percent voting, while Jalna followed with 63, Nandurbar was 62 and Dhule 61 percent vote cast.

    With the presence of top industrialists, businessmen, film stars and celebrities, voting in Mumbai's six Lok Sabha constituencies went up late afternoon.

    Mumbai North-Central led with 56 percent, Mumbai South-Central followed with 55, Mumbai South 54, Mumbai North-East 53, Mumbai North 52, and Mumbai North-West lowest at 50

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  • PetSmart recalling about 10,200 glass fish bowls

    PetSmart recalls 1.75 gallon glass fish bowls due to a laceration hazard

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- PetSmart is recalling about 10,200 of its 1.75 gallon glass fish bowls because of a laceration hazard.

    The Consumer Product Safety Commission said Thursday that it has received 10 reports of the fish bowl breaking during normal use. Five of the reports were of cuts to fingers and a knee. Four of the cuts required stitches. One required surgery for a lacerated tendon in a consumer's finger.

    The agency said that the fish bowls can crack, shatter or break during normal handling.

    The bowls, shaped like brandy snifters, were sold under the Great Choice or Top Fin brands. The SKU number is 5140161 and the UPC code is 737257187092. The SKU and UPC codes are printed on a white sticker on the bottom of the bowl.

    The fish bowls were sold for about $20 exclusively at PetSmart stores nationwide from February to September last year.

    Consumers should immediately stop using the fish bowl and return it to a PetSmart store for a full refund.

    PetSmart can be reached toll-free

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  • Jokes are out as South Korea mourns ferry victims

    'Not the right time to sell joy.' Entertainment dims as South Korea mourns ferry victims

    SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Jokes and concerts are out. So are school field trips and boisterous cheering at baseball games.

    As South Korea mourns one of its worst-ever disasters, a ferry sinking on April 16 that likely killed more than 300 people, most of them high school students, anything deemed frivolous or fun is frowned upon, and the backlash for breaking this collective somber mood can be harsh.

    A politician has been warned by his party for attending a party where alcohol was served, another was criticized for running in a marathon. A popular singer has been lambasted online for going ahead with a concert as bodies recovered from the sinking mount.

    "It's not the right time to sell joy and laughter," Maxim Korea, a popular lifestyle magazine, said in an online message announcing it would withhold publishing its May issue.

    Most of the jocular, wildly popular comedy, reality and talk shows that usually fill the airwaves aren't even filming, much less appearing on TV, replaced

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  • China splurging on military as US pulls back

    China splurging on armed forces as US begins defense cuts, raising uncertainty in Asia-Pacific

    QINGDAO, China (AP) -- China's navy commissioned 17 new warships last year, the most of any nation. In a little more than a decade, it's expected to have three aircraft carriers, giving it more clout than ever in a region of contested seas and festering territorial disputes.

    Those numbers testify to huge increases in defense spending that have endowed China with the largest military budget behind the United States and fueled an increasingly large and sophisticated defense industry. While Beijing still lags far behind the U.S. in both funding and technology, its spending boom is attracting new scrutiny at a time of severe cuts in U.S. defense budgets that have some questioning Washington's commitments to its Asian allies, including some who have lingering disputes with China.

    Beijing's newfound military clout is one of many issues confronting President Barack Obama as he visits the region this week. Washington is faced with the daunting task of fulfilling its treaty obligations to

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  • 4,000 officers to police Greek Cup final

    ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Police say they will ban mass gatherings in central Athens amid heavy security measures planned for Saturday's Greek Cup final between Panathinaikos and PAOK at the Olympic Stadium.

    More than 4,000 officers will be on duty for the event, escorting PAOK from the northern city of Thessaloniki and enforcing the ban in Athens that will be in effect for 14 hours.

    Security was heightened after a rowdy semifinal match on April 16 when PAOK eliminated Greek champion Olympiakos in a match repeatedly halted by brawls on the field with three players sent off. PAOK fans in the stands lit thousands of flares, and several were thrown on the field.

  • Qatar, FIFA look at scrapping 4 of 12 WC stadiums

    DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Qatar World Cup organizers are discussing with FIFA whether to scrap plans to build four of its 12 stadiums for the 2022 tournament.

    The Qataris say the decision to explore if the competition can be staged with just eight venues is due to the "size of our country."

    The organizing committee will submit a proposal to FIFA by December that still ensures "a suitable legacy for the country." FIFA's executive committee will wait until March before telling Qatar how many stadiums are required.

    Reducing the number of stadiums would provide fewer construction sites to be scrutinized by rights group, who have raised concerns over conditions for migrant workers in Qatar.

    Opting for 12 stadiums in Brazil has stretched organizers to their limits to be ready for the World Cup kickoff in June.

  • Army: Airstrikes in Pakistan tribal region kill 37

    KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani warplanes attacked insurgent hideouts in the tribal region near the Afghan border, killing 37 suspected militants and wounding 18, army officials said Thursday, as authorities hold peace negotiations with the Taliban.

    The airstrikes pounded two suspected hideouts in a remote area of Tirah Valley in the Khyber tribal region, three military officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.

    There was no way to independently confirm the report as the tribal area is off limits to journalists.

    Two officials said the military acted on intelligence that militants responsible for some of the latest terror attacks in Islamabad and elsewhere hid there. They said that apart from the airstrikes, ground troops also took part in the operation, which was still underway Thursday night in Tirah Valley.

    An army officer said officials suspected the militants for being responsible for a bombing at an outdoor fruit and

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  • Marlboro maker Altria 1Q profit falls

    Marlboro maker Altria's 1Q profit falls on lower cigarette sales, year-ago comparison

    RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Altria Group Inc.'s first-quarter profit dropped 15 percent as the Marlboro maker sold fewer cigarettes and its year-ago results benefited from lower expenses from a longstanding legal settlement.

    The owner of the nation's biggest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, said Thursday that its cigarette shipments fell 2.5 percent to 29 billion cigarettes during the quarter. Adjusting for trade inventory changes, cigarette volumes fell 3.5 percent, compared with the total industry decline of about 4 percent.

    Volumes of its premium Marlboro brand fell more than 2 percent but its share of the retail U.S. market rose 0.2 percentage points to 43.8 percent. The company's share of the U.S. retail market rose 0.2 percentage points to 50.7 percent.

    The Marlboro brand has been under pressure from competitors and lower-priced cigarette brands amid economic uncertainty and high unemployment. The brand sold for an average of $5.91 per pack during the first quarter, compared

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  • Kiev: Moscow is backing eastern separatists

    SLOVYANSK, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's acting president has accused Russia of backing separatists in the country's restive east and demanded that Moscow stop its intimidation campaign and leave his country alone.

    Oleksandr Turchynov said in an address to the nation Thursday that Russia was "coordinating and openly supporting terrorist killers" in eastern Ukraine, where government buildings in at least 10 cities have been seized by pro-Russian gunmen.

    Turchynov said Russia must pull back its troops from the Ukrainian border and "stop the constant threats and blackmail."

    The statement comes hours after the Russian defense minister announced new military exercises near the border with Ukraine and clashes between Kiev troops and pro-Russian insurgents killed at least two people.

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