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2 employees, 2 customers killed in shooting at pharmacy in NY

MEDFORD, N.Y. – A gunman fatally shot four people inside a pharmacy in a New York suburb Sunday morning, killing everyone inside the store in what police said looked like a robbery gone wrong.

The massacre happened at about 10:20 a.m. inside a family-owned pharmacy in a small cluster of medical offices in Medford, a middle-class town on Long Island about 60 miles (100 kilometres) east of New York City.

Police rushed to the scene after getting an emergency call from someone in the pharmacy’s parking lot. When they arrived, they found two employees and two customers dead, said Suffolk County Police Department Chief of Detectives, Dominick Varrone. No one inside the shop survived.

The pharmacy, Haven Drugs, had opened for business at 10 a.m., and Varrone said investigators’ initial belief was that a single gunman was responsible for the bloodbath, and that the motive was robbery. Just how the shooting unfolded, and why, were unclear, he said.

The shooter fled the pharmacy, and no suspects were in custody.

Officials weren’t immediately releasing additional details about the shooting, or the names or ages of the victims.

A call left for the man listed in state records as the pharmacy’s owner and chief pharmacist, Vinoda Kudchadkar, wasn’t immediately returned.

Police had the streets around the pharmacy blocked off with crime tape. Officers could be seen scanning the ground for evidence, and as of late afternoon the bodies had yet to be removed.

News of the shootings stunned neighbours, who said they heard the commotion after police arrived, but saw nothing of the crime.

“This is a family business. Everyone goes there. It is our neighbourhood pharmacy,” said neighbour Kathy Culhane. “If you had a problem with prescriptions, he’d go to bat for you,” she said of the owner, who wasn’t at the pharmacy when the shooting happened.

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NDP keep options open on socialism, merger with Liberals

VANCOUVER – New Democrats aren’t sure if they’re still socialists or if they might want to merge with the Liberals one day.

Following heated debates, they kept their options open on both matters Sunday as the NDP wrapped up a three-day convention that marked the party’s 50th anniversary.

A Conservative minister pounced on the apparent indecision, accusing the NDP of suffering an “identity crisis.”

But for many New Democrats, the failure to firmly define themselves was an indication the party is determined to broaden its appeal without alienating its oldtime base.

The roughly 1,500 delegates voted down a resolution which called on the party to reject any discussion of a merger with the Liberal party.

And they avoided a potential schism in their own ranks by deferring a vote on a controversial proposal to excise the word “socialist” from the preamble to the NDP constitution.

NDP Leader Jack Layton – whose leadership was endorsed by an overwhelming 97.9 per cent of delegates -played down the significance of both issues.

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He noted there’s “no proposition in front of us” to join with the Liberals. The refusal to rule out the idea, he added, was more a matter of not wanting to gratuitously insult Liberals, whom the NDP needs to woo if it is to make the leap from official Opposition to government in the next election.

“The idea of encouraging Liberals to come and join with us, we’re wide open to that and I think that was part of the sentiment that underlay the discussion and the vote,” Layton told a news conference moments after closing the convention.

As for punting on whether the NDP constitution should replace the term “democratic socialists” with the more anodyne “social democrats,” Layton effectively shrugged. He called the terms “two sides of the same coin.”

“These aren’t terms that I use. I don’t go around sticking labels on myself,” he said.

“I have found that it’s much more important to focus on the issues that matter to people.”

The proposal to delete references to socialism, put forward by the party, provoked heated debate among the delegates and seemed headed for defeat. Brian Topp, the newly elected party president and close adviser to Layton, moved that the matter be referred back to the party executive for further consultation.

Layton played down the schism that developed over the proposal.

“I think what you saw here was a feeling by the convention that they wanted to have some more discussion about how we describe, how we capture in a number of paragraphs in the preamble to the constitution, what those values are that motivate us and define us,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s disagreement about the values. There seems to be some disagreement about the label.”

Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore, the Conservative observer at the convention, acknowledged that all parties have some divisions in their ranks. But he said few are as fundamental as those on display at the NDP convention.

“This is a party that’s obviously, traditionally an ideological party, that’s proudly called itself socialist. And I think they’re having a bit of an identity crisis here,” Moore said.

Stephane Dion, the Liberal observer, said the failure to drop the socialist label shows the NDP is stuck in the past and is “not ready to be a government.”

As for the merger resolution, Dion said Liberals aren’t interested in joining forces with the NDP. But he added the tone of the resolution and the evident hatred for Liberals that emanated from its supporters, “shows that part of this party does not understand what is a democratic, pluralist party; they’re still in a socialist world.”

There was certainly evidence of gloating from some delegates over the fact that the NDP vaulted past the once-mighty Liberals in the May 2 election, winning a record 103 seats and official Opposition status for the first time in its history.

“I think we need to be clear. We don’t need the Liberals,” said one supporter of the anti-merger resolution.

Another said the resolution was really about “rejecting everything the Liberal party has stood for.”

“We have to stand on our own two feet,” he exhorted.

However, the counter-arguments of two MPs, who argued that the NDP can’t afford to alienate potential Liberal supporters, carried the day.

“To close the door on any discussion with Liberals now or in the future, I think is a tactical, serious mistake,” said Nova Scotia MP Peter Stoffer.

He pointed out that the NDP needs “a lot of Liberals” to switch allegiance in order to win power.

“We don’t get Liberals if we say, ‘Because you’re a Liberal, we no longer have talks with you.’ “

Northern Ontario MP Carol Hughes echoed the sentiments: “Instead of pushing them away, let’s welcome them with open hands and open arms into our party.”

Yet another MP, Winnipeg’s Pat Martin, gave an impassioned defence of the proposal to shed the party’s socialist baggage.

“Friends, I ask you to consider today that we are within striking distance of forming this country’s first stable, progressive, majority, social democratic government,” Martin said.

“We have the wind in our sails … We only have one problem, our anchor is dragging behind us. Our anchor is fouled up on the rusted hull of some old ship that sank in the last century and it’s holding us back.”

But Martin’s fiery rhetoric was greeted with boos. It was Barry Weisleder -chairman of the self-styled socialist caucus, which NDP brass regard as an irritant – who won cheers for his defence of the party’s socialist roots.

“You can take socialism out of the preamble but you can’t take socialism out of the NDP,” Weisleder proclaimed. “This proposal, it’s a bit like trying to take cornflakes out of Kellogg’s.”

Supporters of Morocco’s king attack demonstration by activists opposing constitutional reforms

RABAT, Morocco – Pro-government demonstrators in Morocco on Sunday attacked democracy activists protesting constitutional reforms recently unveiled by the king.

Hundreds of youths pledging their support to King Mohammed VI scattered the pro-reform demonstrations taking place in a lower-income neighbourhood in Rabat, hunting them through the narrow streets.

After pro-democracy protests swept Morocco in February, the monarch unveiled a series of constitutional reforms Friday. Activists have said, however, they are insufficient and pledged to keep up their weekly demonstrations.

An hour before the protest by the “February 20” reform group was set to begin in the neighbourhood of Taqqadum, the streets were filled with hundreds of young men riding in trucks accompanied by musicians calling for support for the king and his constitution.

When they encountered the democracy activists attempting to begin their own protest, they pelted them with stones and eggs and attacked them. They were later joined by youths from the neighbourhood, some of whom hurled glass bottles at cars believed to contain activists.

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“It is the same as the baltigiya of Egypt,” said activist Zineb Belmkaddem, referring to the notorious government-hired thugs that would attack Egypt’s pro-democracy demonstrators during the uprising there months ago.

“They threw eggs and rocks at her and tried to take off her pants,” she said, describing the attack on a fellow colleague.

In some cases, the small numbers of police present attempted to shield the activists and a police van evacuated a group of them, but the attacks on protesters continued after they left the area.

At one point, hundreds of young men chanting “the people say yes to the constitution” could be seen chasing after a single activist through the narrow streets.

Reports by activists indicate that similar pro-government counter protests are taking place in other cities across the country.

While there is widespread dissatisfaction with the government and the economy in Morocco, the king remains popular and his announcement that he had transformed the country into a constitutional monarchy with the new reforms was widely welcomed.

The reforms, which will be put to a referendum on July 1, grant additional powers to the prime minister and the parliament and enshrine respect for human rights, gender equality and judicial independence into the constitution.

Activists, however, maintain that the reforms, which involved little consultation with the rest of society, are superficial and the king still retains his practically absolute powers.

In his speech Friday, the king urged the country to vote yes to the new constitution.

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Paul Schemm reported from Paris.

EU finance ministers, Greece wrangle over immediate loan to avoid default and over 2nd bailout

LUXEMBOURG – The drama over Greece’s imploding finances moved Sunday to Luxembourg, where eurozone ministers must approve an immediate loan to keep Greece from defaulting next month but will wrangle fiercely over lending terms for the billions needed in a second massive bailout.

The meeting of the 17 eurozone nations comes after a tumultuous week that saw rioting on the streets of Athens, a Greek Cabinet reshuffle, days of market turmoil that sent borrowing costs spiking and Germany softening its demand on the extent that banks and other private lenders share the risks of any new loans to Greece.

On only his third day in office, Greece’s new finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, faced his first big test Sunday – negotiating the vital second bailout package with Greece’s frustrated international creditors.

In Athens, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou confirmed that talks were under way over the second bailout, which he said was “roughly equal” to the first €110 billion ($157 billion) rescue the country accepted over a year ago.

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The finance ministers can’t be happy that their previous estimate for solving Greece’s debt problems was so far off-base. And they will press Venizelos on many fronts – to control Greece’s budget overruns, to solve setbacks in cost-cutting reforms, and to push ahead with a €50 billion ($70.5 billion) sell-off of Greek government assets.

The eurozone and the International Monetary Fund have based their approval of new money on Greece passing budget cuts worth some €28 billion ($40 billion) before the end of the month, as well as starting the unpopular privatization program. Those measures have already sparked angry protests and forced Papandreou to reshuffle his government.

The IMF and Germany, the two single biggest contributors to Greece’s existing bailout, have already had to back away from previous demands as panic swelled in markets around the world, giving Europe and Greece more space to sort out their differences.

Venizelos sounded upbeat on the way into the conference centre.

“It is a great opportunity for me to repeat the strong commitment of the Greek government and the strong will of the Greek people for the implementation of the program,” he said.

The IMF has indicated it will sign off on its portion of the next loan installment even if a new, longer-term bailout program has not yet been finalized. That €12 billion ($17 billion) must land in Greece’s account by mid-July to repay billions of euros in maturing bonds and fend off a default.

However, Belgian Finance Minister Didier Reynders on Sunday raised the possibility of only releasing €6 billion ($8.6 billion) for the moment. That would cover a first round of bond redemptions in July, but would leave Greece short of money for a new bond repayment deadline in August.

Germany, meanwhile, softened its stance on the second Greek bailout, with Chancellor Angela Merkel saying any private-sector contribution to the second bailout will be voluntary. That won’t spark a partial Greek default that would slam Greek and European banks, roil financial markets and affect other debt-challenged nations like Portugal, Ireland or Spain.

The exact role of the private sector in the new bailout will feature prominently in talks that will continue Monday morning. Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg who also chairs the eurozone finance meetings, told reporters not to expect a final deal Sunday night.

Just over a year after its first bailout, Greece is trailing its financial goals. Without passing the new austerity measures, its budget deficit will remain above 10 per cent of economic output this year – far from the promised 7.5 per cent. The country’s debt is expected to reach 160 per cent of gross domestic product by the end of 2011, while its economy continues to shrink.

The harsh austerity measures and the bleak outlook for the depressed Greek economy and the resulting street protests are increasingly challenging the survival of Papandreou’s government.

Opening a three-day parliamentary debate that will culminate in a confidence vote Tuesday, Papandreou blamed Greece’s bloated and inefficient state sector for bringing the country to its knees. He vowed deep changes with a fall referendum on the constitution that would make it easier to get rid of inept officials or workers.

Many experts say Greece’s debt load is too great and expect it to eventually default. The European Central Bank, however, has been adamant that a Greek default is unthinkable because it could set off an unpredictable financial chain reaction.

In Germany, skepticism persisted over whether another massive aid package will be sufficient to stabilize Greece, with several lawmakers from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government saying a Greek debt restructuring is all but inevitable.

“We need a haircut on the debt – and that won’t happen voluntarily,” conservative lawmaker Manfred Kolbe told the German news magazine Der Spiegel.

Germany, as Europe’s largest economy, funds much of the bailouts to weaker members, a fact that has angered many ordinary citizens. A poll showed that almost every second German thinks Greece should leave the eurozone and return to its old individual currency.

In the poll published by Focus news magazine, 46 per cent said Greece should return to the drachma, but 47 per cent of the 1,000 people surveyed by pollster TNS Emnid said Greece should remain in the eurozone. No margin of error was provided for the poll.

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Demetris Nellas in Athens and Juergen Baetz in Berlin and David McHugh contributed to this report.

After surgery in Cuba, woes at home weigh on Venezuela’s Chavez, force domestic focus

CARACAS, Venezuela – While President Hugo Chavez has been recovering from pelvic surgery in Cuba, his troubles at home in Venezuela have been accumulating.

On top of 23 per cent inflation and growing government debt, worsening blackouts have emerged as a serious dilemma, forcing Chavez’s government to announce rationing measures including rolling power outages in some parts of the country.

Chavez is increasingly focused on shoring up support ahead of his 2012 re-election bid, and some analysts say his domestic woes seem to be limiting his international reach in Latin America.

“President Chavez is going through a very difficult time,” said Maria Teresa Romero, a professor of international studies at the Central University of Venezuela. “He’s not the same Hugo Chavez he was four, five years ago.”

She said Chavez no longer has the financial ability to promote oil-funded diplomacy the way he did several years ago, and is increasingly consumed with confronting issues such as the blackouts, deadly prison riots and deficiencies in the health care system.

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“If he can’t handle such serious problems that are slipping out of his hands such as electricity … how can it be explained that he’s going to help other countries?” Romero said. She said elsewhere in Latin America, “They see he’s weak.”

The leftist leader has long reinforced his alliances selling oil on credit and offering investments to build refineries in countries such as Ecuador and Brazil. The refinery projects, however, have been delayed for years, and other Chavez ideas such as a natural gas pipeline across South America have yet to get off the ground.

During more than 12 years in office, Chavez has been joined by increasing numbers of left-leaning leaders in Latin America, and has enjoyed close ties with presidents from Bolivia’s Evo Morales to Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez.

Yet Chavez has also increasingly faced unfavourable public opinion in countries such as Peru, where President-elect Ollanta Humala, once an open admirer of Chavez, has since distanced himself and indicated he favours the moderate, business-friendly policies of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

A poll in 18 countries last year by Latinobarometro, an independent Chile-based organization, found that on average people gave Chavez a 3.9 on a scale of 1 to 10 – the second-worst score on the list after his ally and mentor Fidel Castro.

Chavez scored 5 on the same annual survey in 2005, and has declined steadily since, said Carlos Macuada, a Latinobarometro researcher in Chile.

“As the years have passed, his image has been viewed more negatively by people in Latin America,” Macuada said.

The poll in September and October surveyed more than 20,000 people and had a margin of error of about plus or minus 3 percentage points, he said. Public opinion toward Chavez varied widely by country, with 69 per cent in the Dominican Republic and 55 per cent of Venezuelans saying they view Chavez favourably. In Colombia and Mexico, in contrast, only 14 per cent expressed a favourable view of Chavez, and in Peru, 18 per cent.

Chavez’s approval ratings at home have slipped in the past few years as the country weathered a recession, and have been hovering in the 50-per cent range. Polls suggest he remains the country’s single most popular politician, and in recent months the economy has returned to positive growth. Still, other woes weighing on him include Latin America’s highest inflation, one of the region’s highest murder rates and corruption that critics say is among the worst in the world.

While Chavez has been away in Cuba, a deadly prison riot left 22 dead, and at least two soldiers and one prisoner were killed days later when troops stormed the prison trying to disarm inmates. The bloody riot prompted the government to announce plans for a new ministry dedicated to prison issues.

It’s unclear how soon Chavez could return from Cuba, where he underwent surgery June 10 to have a pelvic abscess removed. Cuban state media published photos of him on Saturday standing next to his hospital bed and smiling beside Fidel and Raul Castro.

Chavez clearly wants to be back in Caracas in time for a July 5-6 summit of presidents from across the hemisphere on the 200th anniversary of Venezuela’s independence. He has promoted it as an event to lay the groundwork for a new bloc, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which would exclude the United States and Canada.

Chavez has kept up his vociferous antagonism toward the U.S., especially after Washington imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company last month for supplying fuel to Iran.

Aside from his long-running feud with the U.S., though, Chavez has taken a less confrontational approach recently with other Latin American leaders, and in particular has opted for a cordial relationship with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, a U.S. ally whose predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, was a staunch Chavez adversary.

Steve Ellner, a political science professor at Venezuela’s University of the East, said he doesn’t think Chavez’s international influence is weaker, but rather that “he is following a more cautious approach than he did a few years back with regard to inter-American relations.”

Ellner said he thinks the pending creation of a new bloc of Latin American and Caribbean countries furthers Chavez’s international aims.

“Chavez’s main goal has been to isolate the United States,” Ellner said, adding that Chavez views the U.S. “as the main impediment to his vision of change for the region.”

However, Romero said Chavez is clearly focusing first on Venezuela’s internal problems, while being more moderate internationally and trying to avoid the verbal spats he had in years past with leaders of Colombia, Mexico and other nations.

“He hasn’t really fought again with anyone, and I don’t think he’ll do it from now until the 2012 elections,” Romero said. “He’s taking a lower profile.”

Tunisia’s ex-president goes on trial on embezzlement, money laundering and drug trafficking

TUNIS, Tunisia – Tunisia’s former autocratic ruler, whose ouster triggered a series of Arab world uprisings, went on trial in absentia Monday in the first of what will likely be a long series of court proceedings five months after he went into exile.

The Tunis Criminal Court is hearing two embezzlement, money laundering and drug trafficking cases against Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. It follows the discovery of around $27 million in jewels and cash plus drugs and weapons at two palaces outside Tunis after he flew to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14.

Ben Ali, 74, vigorously denied the charges in a statement through his French lawyer, calling the proceedings a “shameful masquerade of the justice of the victorious.”

Five public defenders have been assigned to Ben Ali and his wife, Leila Trabelsi, who is accused in one of the two cases in Monday’s trial. Tunisian law prohibits a foreign lawyer from defending a client in absentia, judicial officials said, meaning French lawyer Jean-Yves Le Borgne cannot take part in proceedings.

Saudi Arabia did not respond to an extradition request, and some Tunisians expressed frustration that he would not be present for his judgment. A verdict could come later Monday.

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Ben Ali and his wife are charged in the discovery of a trove of valuable jewels and cash in Tunisian and foreign currency at a palace in a village north of Tunis. Images of the cache shown on TV after the discovery shocked Tunisians.

The second case surrounds the seizure of arms and drugs at the official presidential palace in Carthage during a search by a commission investigating abuse of authority formed after Ben Ali’s departure. He faces charges of possessing and trafficking drugs, detention of arms and munitions and failing to declare archaeological works also found at the palace.

If convicted, Ben Ali faces five to 20 years in prison for each offence.

More serious charges, including plotting against the security of the state and murder, will be dealt with at future trials. Judicial authorities say that Ben Ali and his entourage are implicated in 93 civil cases and 182 others that fall under military jurisdiction.

In the statement released by Le Borgne, Ben Ali “vigorously denies” accusations against him, saying he never had huge sums of money and claiming most of the weapons found were gifts from visiting heads of state.

“As for the drugs allegedly found, that is a lie and an ignominy … It is absurd and defamatory,” the statement from the lawyer said. The trial has “no goal but to accuse yesterday’s president.”

“I devoted my life to my country and aspire, at the twilight of my existence, to conserve my honour,” Ben Ali said in the statement.

Backed by his powerful party that controlled all sectors, Ben Ali governed with an iron fist, suppressing dissent and quashing all freedom of expression. An official for the Ministry of State Domains, Mohamed Adel Ben Ismail, evaluates the fortune amassed by Ben Ali and the powerful Trabelsi clan of his widely detested wife at a quarter of the value of the Tunisian economy.

In power for 23 years, Ben Ali’s regime unraveled with a monthlong uprising around the country triggered by the fatal self-immolation of an unemployed man in the rural heartland. That sparked protests that moved through the countryside to Tunis, the capital, and failed to die down despite concessions from the president. In a surprise move, he left for exile.

Ben Ali denied that he fled Tunisia, saying he left to avoid “fratricidal and deadly confrontations” among Tunisians. The statement said he would clarify the circumstances of his departure at an appropriate time.

2 workers at public pool in Kentucky disciplined after disabled gay men forced to leave

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – An employee at a public swimming pool in eastern Kentucky was suspended for a week without pay after telling two disabled gay men to leave, city of Hazard officials said Saturday.

The suspended city employee Kim Haynes told investigators that the two men were engaged in an excessive display of affection June 10, and that he would have told any other couple to leave had he seen similar behaviour. Haynes, however, also acknowledged he said, “We don’t tolerate that kind of activity around here” and cited the Bible in an argument with Laura Quillen, a member of the social service group Mending Hearts, which was overseeing the group.

Quillen told investigators the men did nothing inappropriate.

According to a report released by city attorney Paul R. Collins, summing up the conflicting accounts, at least one witness saw the men “standing ‘man to man’ or ‘belly to belly’ in the pool . splashing each other with water and pushing each other under the water.” The witness “also said he observed them hug each other on at least one occasion” and give each other a kiss, the report said.

Pearlman and Haynes were not at work on Saturday and could not be reached by the newspaper for comment by telephone.

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Meanwhile, dozens of people rallied at the pool Saturday in support of the gay men.

“It’s time that people stood up for people. It’s just the right thing to do,” Marsha Morgan from Leslie County told WYMT-TV.

Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation, said the men were discriminated against.

“There was not kissing, and there was nothing of that sort. One of them sat on the other’s knee and that was it,” said Palmer.

The manager of the Hazard Pavilion also was reprimanded for unbecoming conduct, The Courier-Journal reported. Charlotte Pearlman used inappropriate and obscene language when declining comment to a television news crew, the city said.

The city also said new anti-discrimination signs will be posted at the pool, as well as signs warning against excessive public displays of affection.

Van Doos pull out of Taliban redoubt; ready to wrap up combat mission

ZANGABAD, Afghanistan – The road to Zangabad is lined with graves and for many years was littered with mines, but for Canadian troops it is now memory lane.

The place they fought hard for over so many years, a place they occupied for the first time last fall, was quietly handed over to the Americans on Sunday as the withdrawal of the Canadian army from Kandahar hit full stride.

Alpha Company 1st Battalion Royal 22e Regiment, which rolled into the notorious Taliban redoubt as part of NATO’s major offensive last year, pulled back to Kandahar Airfield as a first step on the long journey home.

“Au revoir, Zangabad,” the radio crackled on Sunday morning as the last Canadian light armoured vehicles rolled out the gate of the region’s main forward operating base.

The stubborn little knot of tightly-woven villages has gone by a few nicknames over the years, including “Zangaboom” because of all of the improvised explosives. At one point in 2008, troops could not drive into the area because it was so heavily mined.

It’s also been called “Zanga-not-so-bad” when compared with even wilder communities, such as Mushan to the west.

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“There is real a sense of accomplishment,” said Maj. Pierre Leroux, the company commander, shortly after the Canadian flag was hauled down at the spartan, sun-drenched forward base that he carved out of an empty field.

The road coming into this hard, angry little corner of Kandahar is in some ways the story of the Canadian mission here.

At the northern edges, near the village of Sperwan, are the cemeteries where the Taliban buried their dead in 2006 following the milestone battle Operation Medusa. It was the main route the insurgents used to escape the grinding NATO offensive.

It was fertile poppy country, where the insurgency draws its financial strength.

Scorched and depopulated by the Soviets in the 1980s, the Taliban found sanctuary among ruined compounds and abandoned farms, turning them into bomb-making factories ready to unleash with deadly precision against Canadian troops.

It was only with the American surge that Canada gained enough strength to be able to overrun the region and stay to build an extension to the road, which the army counts among its legacies.

The commander of the American unit replacing them said the Van Doos kept up the tempo of patrols right to the end _ a time when most other soldier might have coasted to the finish line.

“They wanted to go out with a sense of professionalism that was truly inspiring,” said Lt.-Col Steve Miller, the soft-spoken leader of 3rd Battalion 21st U.S. Infantry Regiment.

He said he and his men could sense the weight of expectation placed on the Van Doos company, which is among the last Canadian combat units in the field.

The U.S. Stryker unit knows its taking over a tough neighbourhood, one that has been unusually quiet despite being well into the Taliban’s spring-summer fighting season.

Miller’s troops have only faced few if any heavy weapons, such as mortars and roadside bombs, in the increasing number of ambushes being laid to the west and southwest of here, near the border with the Registan desert.

He attributed it to operations conducted by the Canadians last winter, where they uncovered more improvised explosives than at the height of violence last year. The Van Doos also captured a number of prisoners last spring, who were presumably Taliban returning from the winter hiatus in Pakistan.

“I’m surprised it’s not been more kinetic,” Miller said reflecting on the number of firefights his men have faced. “Knowing the history of the place, I’m surprised, but who knows what will happen in three weeks.”

Canadian commanders say they’ve only received harassing firing from the Taliban, but Miller said there are signs a more determined band of foreign fighters is operating in the area, a group that not only shoots but moves with the skill of trained insurgents.

As the column of Canadian armoured vehicles snaked its way out of the area, NATO attack helicopters unleashed a barrage on a distant field.

A huge column of white smoke rose into the blinding noon day sun, a poignant reminder to the soldiers of the war they’ve left behind.

Never a doubt: McIlroy shatters record to win his first major at US Open

BETHESDA, Md. – Rory McIlroy buried the memory of his Masters meltdown the same way he buried the competition at the U.S. Open, with a breathtaking performance filled with the promise of more majors to come.

Four days of flawless golf at Congressional ended Sunday afternoon when McIlroy polished off a 2-under 69 to shatter U.S. Open records that simply defy logic at the major known as the toughest test in golf.

He finished at 16-under par.

The last 10 U.S. Open champions combined were 14 under.

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The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland walked off the 18th green and into the arms of his father, Gerry, who worked three jobs so his only son could pursue his passion. Not even he could have imagined a day like this.

“Happy Father’s Day,” McIlroy told him.

Dad had a Northern Ireland flag draped over his green shirt.

“Unbelievable,” he said. “With what’s happened over the last couple of months, and to come back and do this, it’s fantastic. After the Masters, he worked so hard. I really can’t put it into words. And on Father’s Day, it’s fantastic. You couldn’t beat it.”

It was the second straight U.S. Open title for the tiny country of Northern Ireland, and defending champion Graeme McDowell walked back across the bridge to the 18th green to embrace the new winner.

“You’re a legend,” McDowell told him.

Not many would dispute that now, not after a week like this.

McIlroy finished at 268 to break the U.S. Open record by four shots. That record 12-under par by Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach? McIlroy matched it in the second round and kept right on rolling.

“I couldn’t ask for much more, and I’m just so happy to be holding this trophy,” McIlroy said. “I know how good Tiger was in 2000 to win by 15 in Pebble. I was trying to go out there and emulate him in some way. I played great for four days, and I couldn’t be happier.”

When he arrived for his press conference, he took a picture of the silver U.S. Open trophy on the table and posted it on Twitter with two references that said it all: Winning. Bounceback.

“Going back to Augusta this year, I felt like that was a great opportunity to get my first major. It didn’t quite work out,” McIlroy said. “But to come back straightaway at the U.S. Open and win that is nice. You can always call yourself a major champion, and hopefully after this, I can call myself a multiple major champion.”

Since the Masters began in 1934, McIlroy is the second youngest major champion next to Woods.

His freckled-face bursting with joy when he tapped in for par, McIlroy won by eight shots over Jason Day, who closed with a 68 and moved to No. 9 in the world. It was the second straight runner-up in a major for Day, only this time he didn’t have a chance.

No one did this week.

McIlroy opened with a three-shot lead, stretched it to six shots after 36 holes and eight shots going into the final round. No one got any closer over the final 18 holes.

Tributes poured in throughout the steamy afternoon outside the nation’s capital – first from the players he beat, then from Jack Nicklaus and ultimately from Woods.

“What a performance from start to finish,” Woods said in a statement. “Enjoy the win. Well done.”

Nicklaus invited McIlroy to lunch last year in Florida and talked to him about how to close out tournaments. He apparently wasn’t listening when he took a four-shot lead into the final round of the Masters, only to implode on the back nine and shoot 80.

“I didn’t think it was going to happen again, and it hasn’t,” Nicklaus said by telephone to NBC Sports. “I think this kid’s going to have a great career. I don’t think there’s any question about it. He’s got all the components. He’s got a lot of people rooting for him. He’s a nice kid. He’s got a pleasant personality.

“He’s humble when he needs to be humble, and he’s confident when he needs to be confident.”

And to think that only four days ago, this was being called the U.S. Wide Open with no clear favourite in the game. Woods has gone 18 months without winning and isn’t even playing now because of injuries to his left leg. The top two players in the world have yet to win a major. There appeared to be no one who stood out in the game.

McIlroy, who goes to No. 4 in the world, now stands above everyone going into the final two majors of the year.

Just think: If he had avoided the collapse at Augusta National, he could be headed to Royal St. George’s for the British Open with the first two legs of the Grand Slam.

“Nothing this kid does ever surprises me,” McDowell said. “He’s the best player I’ve ever seen. I didn’t have a chance to play with Tiger when he was in his real pomp, and this guy is the best I’ve ever seen. Simple as that. He’s great for golf. He’s a breath of fresh air for the game, and perhaps we’re ready for golf’s next superstar.

“And maybe,” he said, “Rory is it.”

Among the records he set in a U.S. Open unlike any other:

– The 72-hole record at 268.

– The 54-hole record at 199.

– The 36-hole record at 131.

– Most under par at any point at 17 under.

– Quickest to reach double digits under par – 26 holes when he got to 10 under in the second round.

McIlroy also tied Woods’ record for a six-shot lead at the halfway point, and he joined Lee Janzen in 1993 and Lee Trevino in 1968 as the only players to post all four rounds in the 60s.

Some of that had to do with Congressional, which was softened by rain and cloud cover. The USGA did nothing to try to protect par, moving tees forward to tempt players to take on some risk. The result was a whopping 32 rounds under par on Sunday. The previous record of 18 final rounds under par was at Baltusrol in 1993.

But there is no denying that one guy played far better than anyone else – eight shots better. McIlroy became the first player since Woods in 2002 at Bethpage Black to go wire-to-wire in the U.S. Open without ties, and his best might still be ahead of him.

“I think he’s still growing, and it’s just scary to think about it,” said Y.E. Yang, who played in the final group the last two days.

Adam Hadwin (68) of Abbostford, B.C., finished the tournament at 3-over par. Calgary’s Wes Heffernan (78) struggled in the final round, finishing at 19 over.

Amid the celebration of McIlroy came growing concern about the state of American golf. For the first time since the Masters began in 1934, Americans have gone five majors without winning. They were on the verge of being shut out of the top three for the fourth time in the last five majors until Yang made bogey on the last hole for a 71.

That put the South Korean into a tie for third with PGA Tour rookie Kevin Chappell (66), Robert Garrigus (70) and Lee Westwood (70).

“It says, I think, that the Americans struggle a little bit,” PGA champion Martin Kaymer said. “Since Tiger has been on a – how you do say? – little down, nothing has really happened. We’ve just become so much stronger.”

The game also is getting much younger.

McIlroy became the fourth straight player in his 20s to win a major, the longest such streak since 1897.

The drama Sunday was not who would win, but by how many.

There was simply no catching McIlroy, not when he was staked to an eight-shot lead while playing flawless golf, not on a soft course that allowed him to hit wedge into six greens on the front nine.

With chants of “Let’s go, Ror-eee” coming from the massive gallery, and teenagers climbing pine trees to see golf’s bright new star, McIlroy came out firing with a wedge that settled 8 feet from the pin for an opening birdie.

Twice when he faced putts from across the green, he holed seven-footers for par. He stretched his lead to 10 shots, and when he made the turn, his tee shot on the par-3 10th rolled down the slope and stopped inches away from an ace.

The way his week had been going, it was shocking not to see it fall.

He didn’t make a bogey until the 12th hole, when he failed to get up-and-down from short of the green, and he had his only three-putt of the championship on the 17th hole. McIlroy made worse than par on only four of 72 holes.

In wake of bin Laden raid, Pakistani chief works on military pride, shoring up own position

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s military chief is working to repair his army’s wounded pride in the bitter aftermath of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, a humiliation that has strained U.S.-Pakistani relations and raised questions about the top general’s own standing.

Retired and serving officers interviewed by The Associated Press spoke of seething anger within army ranks over the secret strike the Americans carried out on May 2, undetected by Pakistan’s military.

The U.S. helicopter-borne operation set off a nationalist backlash: The usually untouchable army was sharply criticized in the press and on television talk shows, people demonstrated here in the capital demanding accountability, and open calls were made for the resignation of Gen. Asfaq Parvez Kayani, the military chief.

The army is Pakistan’s strongest institution, and Kayani the nation’s most powerful leader, but he “has to be very careful,” said retired Lt. Gen. Talat Masood.

Like others interviewed, he doubted Kayani’s underlings would try to unseat him in an intra-army coup, but he noted occasions in the past when disgruntled officers were found to be plotting against their chief.

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These rumblings generally occurred after the army suffered an embarrassing defeat, most notably Pakistan’s 1971 loss of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, when India took 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war who weren’t released for a year. Last month’s raid on the al-Qaida leader’s Abbottabad compound resurrected public comparisons to that Bangladesh debacle.

In one sign of dented military prestige, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the withdrawal of a two-star general after his men were caught on video killing an unarmed youth. The court took the unusual action “in light of the hostile environment in the society toward the military,” said defence analyst Hasan Askar Rizvi.

The public disquiet weighs heavily on the officer corps and down through lower ranks, Masood said.

“It could all result in loose talk,” he said, but he thought it wouldn’t go beyond that. He noted that within days of the bin Laden raid, Kayani met with key corps commanders in an effort to assure his ranking officers they had not been humiliated.

There’s “quite a lot of anger” within the military, retired Gen. Jehangir Karamat, a former chief of staff himself, said in a telephone interview from the eastern city of Lahore.

“Maybe there is talk,” he told the AP. “Maybe anti-U.S. feeling has gone up in the army. But actually there is in the country a whole lot of anger over the way it happened and the humiliation suffered, and it is inevitably reflected in the army.”

But, he added, “all this talk of him fighting for his job, his survival, I don’t see any signs of that.”

Kayani is consistently described as a “professional soldier” by his own men and knowledgable foreigners. But the general, who as a younger officer did some training in the U.S., may face criticism because of the Pakistani army’s close past co-operation with the U.S. military and dependence on U.S. aid.

At the same time, the Pakistanis have come under sharp criticism in Washington for having apparently missed bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.

Knowledgable observers here said the fracture with Washington could set back military-to-military relations between the two countries by years, as the Americans seek to step up the joint fight against al-Qaida and other militant groups in the Afghan border area.

“There is a very strong resentment, a very strong sense of betrayal of being discredited in the eyes of our own public. What our enemies have not been able to do they (the U.S.) have done to us,” said a senior military official, who asked that his name not be used to speak candidly.

Pakistan has already sent home nearly 100 U.S. military personnel, most of whom were training the Frontier Corps, the tribal force that patrols Pakistan’s long and porous border with Afghanistan. Pakistan is holding up visas for CIA officials waiting to come here, and Pakistan’s intelligence agency has arrested alleged CIA informants said to have helped lead the Americans to bin Laden.

In Washington last week, Adm. Mike Mullen, the Joint Chiefs of State chairman who has been to Pakistan to try to patch up differences, said letting the relationship with this nuclear-armed nation deteriorate isn’t an option.

If the relationship crumbles or “were we to walk away, I think it’s a matter of time before the region is that much more dangerous and there would be a huge pull for us to have to return to protect our national interests,” Mullen added.

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Kathy Gannon is AP special regional correspondent for Pakistan and Afghanistan. She can be reached at 杭州桑拿按摩论坛twitter杭州夜网/kathygannon.