National & International News

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This story was written by a Syrian citizen in Damascus who is not being further identified out of safety concerns.

In a surprising religious decree, Syria's government-appointed grand mufti has issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to fight on the side of President Bashar Assad's regime against the rebels who have been waging an uprising for two years.

In a televised statement Sunday, Syria's Grand Mufti Ahmad Hassoun said: "I urge the sons of Syria to join the army and fight for the unity of this great country."

The group of scientists working with NASA's Curiosity rover made a big announcement during a press conference today: "We have found a habitable environment that is so benign" if there was water there, "you be able to drink it," John P. Grotzinger, professor of geology at Caltech, said summing up the rover's latest findings.

That is, at one point Mars had the right conditions to support living microbes.

Google has agreed to pay a $7 million fine to settle claims from 37 states and the District of Columbia that the search giant improperly collected data from unsecured wireless networks across the United States using its "Street View" vehicles.

It became the iconic photograph of Israel's military strikes in Gaza last November:

After his attorneys said they need more time to prepare to respond to the 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and other crimes he faces, a Colorado judge on Tuesday entered a not guilty plea on behalf of accused movie theater gunman James Holmes.

An Air Force general's decision to dismiss the charges against a lieutenant colonel who was convicted of sexual assault has outraged many members of Congress and led new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to say he's ordered a review of the case.

Reports from Mali indicate few, if any radio broadcasts went out today in Bamako, the capital of Mali. Newspapers didn't publish morning editions either - journalists are angry over last week's arrest of Boukary Daou, the publisher of The Republican newspaper.

A photo of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad holding the hand of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's mother and appearing to brush his face against her cheek as they consoled each other last week has him "mired in a fresh controversy" in Iran, as the BBC writes:

"Conservative critics, already irked by Mr Ahmadinejad's effusive eulogy for the leftist leader, reminded him that he has not only committed a sin, but also behaved in a way inappropriate for the president of an Islamic state."

Update at 11:15 a.m. ET: Senate Passes Measure:

The Associated Press reports that the committee cast a 10-8 party-line vote, with all Republicans opposed, on the measure to expand a requirement of background checks for gun sales between private parties.

The Associated Press reports:

(Note at 11:20 a.m. ET: Scroll down to see the GOP plan, which has now been released; new comments from Rep. Ryan; and White House reaction.)

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, unveiled his latest budget plan Tuesday morning — and as NPR's Tamara Keith told our Newscast Desk, he says it would bring the federal budget in balance by 2023.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Update at 2:43 p.m. ET. No Pope Today:

Black smoke just poured from the chimney above the Vatican. That means, as was expected, the cardinals did not choose a pope on the first vote of their conclave to name a successor to the now-retired Pope Benedict XVI. As the cardinals' ballots are burned, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli says, chemicals are added to a fire in a second stove to turn the smoke black if there's no pope elected and white if there is.

We'll get back to the news in no time. But first, some fun.

A meteorite that lit the sky over Sri Lanka with a yellow and green flame when it fell to earth on Dec. 29, 2012, contains "fossilized biological structures," according to researchers in Britain, Sri Lanka, and the United States. Elaborating on claims they first made in January, the scientists are also seeking to answer critics who are skeptical of their findings.

The judge in charge of the case against the alleged Colorado theater shooter said he would warn James Holmes that if he pleads not guilty by reason of insanity he could be drugged for interviews with the state.

Denver's ABC affiliate reports:

In separate events, the Chinese and American governments called for standards regarding cyberattacks.

The New York Times reports that in a speech, today, President Obama's national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, called on China to takes steps to stop the attacks.

Lawyers for former Sen. Larry Craig argued today that using campaign money for a legal defense over his 2007 arrest was proper because he was arrested while on official business.

If you recall, Craig, a Republican from Idaho, was arrested during a sting at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Craig used a bathroom there during a layover, when an undercover officer said Craig sexually solicited him by tapping his foot.

Craig pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor but after his case became public he tried to renege.

This video is not for those who are squeamish about seeing others in danger. So think before you click play.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett's administration has terminated three top employees of the Department of Public Welfare, several weeks after the agency's secretary left.

A department spokeswoman declined Monday to say why the men lost their jobs, calling it a personnel matter.

The men included Philip Abromats, the executive director of audits and regulatory affairs, and special assistants Erik Randolph and Ron Semerjian. Former Secretary Gary Alexander's last day was Feb. 15.

Abromats says he was fired without notice Friday and not told why.

Sandusky Scandal tops $41 Million for Penn State

Mar 11, 2013

Penn State's bill to pay costs associated with the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal has topped $41 million, including $8.1 million to pay for the internal investigation led by former FBI director Louis Freeh.

The latest disclosure posted Monday on a university website offered more itemization for certain costs including the bill for the Freeh probe. The bill also for the first time includes the $12 million payment to the NCAA — the first of five annual installments of the $60 million fine that's part of the sanctions.

Days after news spread that Danish restaurant Noma, three-time winner of Restaurant magazine's "World's Best Restaurant" title, was blamed for a norovirus outbreak in which dozens of diners fell ill, the restaurant has issued a public response and sought to clarify its handling of the situation.

Update at 8:35 a.m. ET, March 12. Nearly Unanimous:

In the exiled Tibetan calendar, March 10 is an emotive day, the anniversary of a failed uprising in 1959.

There is one bit of news from last week's Kenyan elections that's just now getting international attention: Malik Obama, President Obama's older half brother, suffered a crushing loss in his bid to become governor of Siaya.

Kenya's Daily Nation reports:

Delegates to an international species conservation conference in Bangkok, Thailand, this week have agreed to limit the trade of shark fins and meat.

NPR's Christopher Joyce reports that government representatives to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, have agreed to put the porbeagle, oceanic whitetip, three kinds of hammerhead shark and two kinds of manta ray on its Appendix II list, which places restrictions on fishing but still allows limited trade.

Saying that the action was required because a confidential email that was leaked to the news media "threatened the privacy and due process afforded students," Harvard University administrators on Monday issued a statement explaining why they last year authorized searches of 16 resident deans' email accounts.

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, once a rising star in the Democratic Party, was convicted in a Detroit federal court Monday on a variety of corruption-related charges.

Here's how Michigan Radio sums up the news:

A Pittsburgh man has been scheduled to change his not guilty plea to federal charges that he used a stolen cell phone to call in false bomb threats to the Allegheny County 911 Center, saying that a bomb would go off at Allegheny County Jail, PNC Park, and a Port Authority light-rail station in Pittsburgh.

Federal court records show 22-year-old Termaine Washington was scheduled to change his plea Monday morning before a federal judge in Pittsburgh.

Authorities say Washington called in several false threats from Sept. 15-19.

A coroner says a decomposed body found by kayakers may be that of a southwestern Pennsylvania man reported missing at Ohiopyle State Park in January.

The family of 29-year-old Jeremy Walker, of Somerset, hasn't heard from him since New Year's Eve and crews began searching the park after his car was found parked there Jan. 2.

The park covers more than 20,000 acres and includes whitewater rapids on the river. Dogs had previously traced Walker's scent from his car to a bridge on the river.

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