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POSTED: August 16, 2012 8:20 a.m.

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — In the two months since Julian Assange ducked into Ecuador's London embassy to seek political asylum, President Rafael Correa has been consistently deferential to Britain while insisting on his right to protect what he sees as a free speech advocate facing persecution.

Asked earlier this week if he felt solidarity with the WikiLeaks founder, Ecuador's leftist president told a TV interviewer "of course, but we also feel solidarity for England and for English and international law."

The decision on Assange's petition, which his government said it would announce Thursday, would come only after careful scrutiny of the law and consultations with the governments involved, Correa insisted. And after London's Olympics fest was over.

On Wednesday, the cordiality ended.

Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino accused Britain of threatening to "assault our embassy" if Assange was not handed over.

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WikiLeaks' Julian Assange's long fight against extradition to Sweden for questioning

LONDON (AP) — Julian Assange, founder of secret-spilling website WikiLeaks, has been fighting to avoid extradition to Sweden, which wants to question him about allegations of rape and molestation. His latest efforts involve seeking asylum from the government of Ecuador, which is due to announce its ruling on Assange's request Thursday. The following are key events in Assange's two-year-long legal saga:

                       

            2010

— Aug. 20: Swedish prosecutor issues arrest warrant for Assange based on one woman's allegation of rape and another woman's allegation of molestation.

— Aug. 21: Arrest warrant is withdrawn. Prosecutor Eva Finne says there appears to be insufficient evidence for allegation of rape.

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Over 40 civilians killed in airstrike in northern Syria, says Human Rights Watch

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government airstrikes on a residential neighborhood in a rebel-held town killed over 40 people and wounded at least 100 others including many women and children, international watchdog Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

The strikes on the town of Azaz in northern Syria a day earlier leveled the better part of a poor neighborhood and sent panicked civilians fleeing for cover. So many were wounded that the local hospital locked its doors, directing residents to drive to the nearby Turkish border so the injured could be treated on the other side.

Reporters from The Associated Press saw nine bodies in the bombings' immediate aftermath, including a baby.

Human Rights Watch, which investigated the site of the bombing two hours after the attack, put the number at over 40.

"This horrific attack killed and wounded scores of civilians and destroyed a whole residential block," said Anna Neistat, the group's acting emergencies director. "Yet again, Syrian government forces attacked with callous disregard for civilian life."

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UN to debate setting up a new office to support peace efforts in Syria after observers leave

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Security Council on Thursday will debate whether to establish a new civilian office to support U.N. and Arab League efforts to end the 18-month conflict in Syria as the U.N. military observer mission comes to an end Sunday.

The council had set two conditions for possibly extending the mission of the unarmed observers past Aug. 19: a halt to the government's use of heavy weapons and a significant reduction in violence. In a letter to the council last Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said neither condition was met and Syria now risks "a descent into a full-scale civil war."

But with the end of the unarmed observer mission looming, Ban said, "it is imperative for the United Nations to have a presence in Syria" aside from its humanitarian operation in order to support U.N. and Arab League efforts "in mediating and facilitating a peaceful resolution to the crisis."

"I intend therefore to work in the immediate future towards establishing an effective and flexible United Nations presence in Syria that will support our efforts with the parties to end hostilities," Ban said.

France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud, the current Security Council president, said members will be discussing the observer mission and Ban's proposal at a closed meeting on Thursday where they will be briefed by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Edmond Mulet.

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Biden vs Ryan: No. 2s with similar roots, vastly different political views

DENVER (AP) — Paul Ryan likes exercise, budget charts and the Green Bay Packers. Joe Biden likes train rides, foreign policy and talking — a lot.

In some ways, these presidential ticket No. 2s could not be more different. They are separated in age by nearly three decades, were born to families in different regions of the country and have views on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

But in other ways, the 42-year-old Republican congressman and 69-year-old Democratic vice president are very much alike. Both were born to Catholic families in working-class neighborhoods and were young stars in their parties who became experts on the inner workings of Washington.

And perhaps above all, these men both do political things their respective No. 1s cannot.

Biden, with his back-slapping image, big smile and hardscrabble roots in Scranton, Pa., is seen as more effective than President Barack Obama at courting white working-class voters. Ryan, while less known outside his Janesville, Wis., hometown, is a favorite of the Republican Party's conservative base, a group that long has been skeptical of Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney's conservative credentials.

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Just Perfect: Hernandez pitches record 3rd perfect game this year and 6th no-hitter of season

Twenty-seven up, 27 down. Again.

Seattle's Felix Hernandez threw Major League Baseball's third perfect game of the season Wednesday — a record — joining San Francisco's Matt Cain and the White Sox's Philip Humber, who also tossed his gem at Safeco Field.

That means six of the 23 perfectos in baseball history have come since 2009. Little wonder this is being called the Decade of the Pitcher.

Still not impressed? It gets better. Hernandez's gem was the sixth no-hitter this season. One more and major league pitchers will have tied the seven set in 1990 and matched a season later.

There's only been one year with eight no-hitters. Want to guess? Here's a hint: Chester Arthur was president.

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Reversing Obama Medicare cuts may backfire on Romney by speeding up program's insolvency

WASHINGTON (AP) — GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's new promise to restore the Medicare cuts made by President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law could backfire if he's elected.

The reason: Obama's cuts also extended the life of Medicare's giant trust fund, and by repealing them Romney would move the insolvency date of the program closer, toward the end of what would be his first term in office.

Instead of running out of money in 2024, Medicare says its trust fund for inpatient care would go broke in 2016 without the cuts. That could leave a President Romney little political breathing room to finalize his own Medicare plan.

The Romney campaign says there's no problem with the candidate's pledge.

"The idea that restoring funding to Medicare could somehow hasten its bankruptcy is on its face absurd," said spokeswoman Andrea Saul.

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Syria civil war shatters unity in tight-knit Druse community on Israeli-annexed Golan

MAJDAL SHAMS, Golan Heights (AP) — Civil war in neighboring Syria is tearing apart the once tight-knit Druse community on the Golan Heights. Angry arguments between supporters and foes of Syrian President Bashar Assad have pitted husbands against wives, driven a wedge between neighbors and even threated to ruin an upcoming wedding.

The two camps scrawl tit-for-tat graffiti on walls and run rival news websites. At a brawl last month, regime supporters pelted their rivals with eggs, shoes and rocks, prompting religious leaders to declare a ban on political demonstrations in the Golan's four Druse villages.

"We shout at each other, when before, we used to say hello," lamented Assad supporter Ghandi Kahlouni, a 53-year-old pharmacist.

The growing divisions between those backing Assad and those sympathizing with Syrian rebels are surprising, considering the tight weave of the 22,000-strong Druse community on the Golan, a fenced-off plateau Israel captured from Syria in 1967 and annexed in 1981.

Since the capture by Israel, most of the Golan Druse — followers of a secretive offshoot of Islam — have continued to identify themselves as Syrian, even though many have never been to Syria, and in public at least they all backed Assad's regime as their one-day savior from Israeli rule.

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Former Penn State president faces scrutiny over role in scandal; 2 administrators face charges

More than a month after an explosive investigative report accused Penn State's ousted president of burying child sex abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky, Graham Spanier has so far avoided criminal charges — unlike two of his colleagues.

That doesn't mean he's in the clear, according to legal experts.

As attorneys for Athletic Director Tim Curley and retired Vice President Gary Schultz try to persuade a Dauphin County judge to dismiss the case against them on Thursday, Spanier remains vulnerable to criminal charges over his alleged role in a scandal that has shaken Penn State to its core, outside lawyers said.

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh's university-commissioned report that accused the ex-president — along with Curley, Schultz and football coach Joe Paterno — of covering up a 2001 allegation against Sandusky could help lay the groundwork for a prosecution.

"The Freeh report, whose findings of fact and conclusions were not challenged by PSU, suggests potential liability for Spanier," said Paul DerOhannesian, an Albany, N.Y., defense attorney and former sex-crimes prosecutor who has been following the Penn State case.

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Study says 26 'kingpin' CEOs made more last year than their companies paid in federal tax

NEW YORK (AP) — Twenty-six big U.S. companies paid their CEOs more last year than they paid the federal government in tax, according to a study released Thursday by a liberal-leaning think tank.

The study, by the Institute for Policy Studies, said the companies, including AT&T, Boeing and Citigroup, paid their CEOs an average of $20.4 million last year while paying little or no federal tax on ample profits, according to regulatory filings.

On average, the 26 companies generated net income of more than $1 billion in the U.S., the study said.

The study blasted tax rules allowing unlimited deductions for CEO "performance-based" pay, like many stock options. It said the five biggest performance payers among the 26 companies took $232 million of these deductions last year.

Among the "kingpins" it criticized was CEO James McNerney Jr. of Boeing. It said he got $18.4 million in pay last year while his company received a tax refund of $605 million.

 

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