Syrian activists: Clashes rage in rebel bastions of Aleppo as regime presses on with assault

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's foreign ministry says Moscow will attend talks on the Syrian crisis organized by Iran.

The ministry says that Russia will be represented by its ambassador in Tehran if the talks set for Thursday take place. It said in a statement late Wednesday that the meeting was called at short notice, leaving little time to prepare.

Russia in the past has urged the West to allow Tehran to take part in international discussions on how to settle the crisis, arguing that the Islamic republic could play an important role.

Russia has been the main protector and ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, shielding it from the United Nations sanctions over its brutal crackdown on an uprising that evolved into a full-blown civil war.


Even before Romney makes VP pick, Obama campaign begins effort to pick apart GOP running mate

CINCINNATI (AP) — President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies aren't waiting for Republican Mitt Romney to reveal his vice presidential choice. They're already trying to scuff up those considered by political insiders to be most likely to join the GOP ticket.

The president's campaign started swinging at the potential Republican running mates this week while urging home-state Democrats to chime in about the shortcomings that — as emails to donors and supporters put it — "Americans need to know." The pre-emptive strikes are an effort to define a possible No. 2 in a negative light and reflect a sense that time is precious to sway opinion in a stubbornly close presidential race dashing quickly toward November.

Tim Pawlenty? The former Minnesota governor is a fee-raiser whose record "is painful for the middle-class families who lived under his leadership," the Obama campaign argues.

Rob Portman? The Ohio senator is "one of the architects of the top-down Bush budget" that the Obama team blames for "crashing our economy."

Marco Rubio? The rookie Florida senator has "led the way on almost every extreme position Mitt Romney has embraced," according to the missive that seeks examples of "the good, the bad and ugly" of Rubio.


Scientists: Crater where Mars rover touched down looks like Earth, feels 'comfortable'

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — The ancient Martian crater where the Curiosity rover landed looks strikingly similar to the Mojave Desert in California with its looming mountains and hanging haze, scientists say.

"The first impression that you get is how Earth-like this seems looking at that landscape," chief scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology said Wednesday.

Overnight, the car-size rover poked its head out for the first time since settling in Gale Crater, peered around and returned a black-and-white self-portrait and panorama that's still being processed.

It provided the best view so far of its destination since touching down Sunday night after nailing an intricate choreography. During the last few seconds, a rocket-powered spacecraft hovered as cables lowered Curiosity to the ground.

In the latest photos, Curiosity looked out toward the northern horizon. Nearby were scour marks in the surface blasted by thrusters, which kicked up a swirl of dust. There were concerns that Curiosity got dusty, but scientists said that was not the case.


A rematch for redemption: US women's soccer team takes on Japan for Olympic title

LONDON (AP) — A day before the Olympic gold medal game, players and coaches from the U.S. and Japanese women's soccer teams stood in front of reporters side-by-side, like buddies on the same squad, arms linked around each other's waists. The white warmup jackets of the United States alternated with the blue ones from Japan.type:bold,italic;

All that cordiality? It ends at kickoff.

"They snatched our dream last year," U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe said. "And still we have that respect for them."

No matter the result Thursday, the Olympic women's soccer tournament couldn't ask for a better finale. The teams from last year's World Cup final meet again at Wembley Stadium, with organizers expecting the largest crowd ever to watch women play the sport at a Summer Games.

For the players, of course, the result does matter. The Japanese are attempting become the first team to win World Cup and Olympic titles in back-to-back years. The Americans are bent on mending the heartache from a penalty kick shootout in Frankfurt 13 months ago.


Official says court heard that wife of disgraced Chinese politician poisoned businessman

HEFEI, China (AP) — The wife of disgraced politician Bo Xilai invited a British businessman to a hotel room, where she got him drunk on wine and fed him poison, according to the evidence presented Thursday in one of China's highest-profile murder trials in years.

The trial of Gu Kailai and a household aide, who are accused of murdering Bo family associate Neil Heywood, lasted all of four hours. International media were barred from the courtroom, so details of the case against Gu were provided by Tang Yigan, deputy director of the Hefei Intermediate People's Court in eastern China.

He did not say when a verdict was expected, but said Gu and the aide, Zhang Xiaojun, did not contest the murder charges.

The secretive and tightly orchestrated court proceeding marks a step toward resolving the messiest scandal the leadership has faced in two decades. Observers say the Communist Party leadership's main objective in the case is to keep the focus tightly on the murder case and not on larger allegations of corruption that could further taint the Chinese regime.

Tang said prosecutors told the court that Gu sent Zhang to meet and accompany Heywood from Beijing to the southwestern mega-city of Chongqing. On the night of Nov. 13, Gu went to Heywood's hotel and drank wine and tea with him.


Tropical Storm Ernesto skirts along Gulf of Mexico on its way flood-prone inland area

VERACRUZ, Mexico (AP) — Tropical Storm Ernesto skirted along Mexico's far-southern Gulf coast early Thursday, passing among some of the country's offshore oil wells while building again toward hurricane strength before landfall in a region prone to flooding.

Ernesto moved out over open water late Wednesday after crossing the Yucatan Peninsula without doing serious damage. It was expected to stay close to shore while heading westward, raising the threat of heavy rains for coastal communities.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm's sustained winds had increased to about 70 mph (110 kph) after getting over the water and was expected to gain more strength, probably growing into a hurricane again. It was a hurricane when it made landfall in Yucatan just before midnight Tuesday but weakened over land.

The Interior Department said Ernesto was expected to come ashore between the oil port of Coatzacoalcos and the coastal city of Alvarado in the Gulf of Mexico state of Veracruz. The U.S. hurricane center said it should make landfall by late afternoon or early evening.

Officials in Veracruz have readied about 20 storm shelters, said Victor Hugo Ceron of the state civil defense agency. The port captain for Veracruz city, Enrique Casarrubias, said the port there was closed to smaller vessels. The Carnival Elation cruise ship canceled a Wednesday stop, he added.


US starts landmark cleanup of Agent Orange nearly 4 decades after Vietnam War's end

DANANG, Vietnam (AP) — The United States on Thursday began a landmark project to clean up a dangerous chemical left from the defoliant Agent Orange — 50 years after it was first sprayed by American planes on Vietnam's jungles to destroy enemy cover.

Dioxin, which has been linked to cancer, birth defects and other disabilities, will be removed from the site of a former U.S. air base in Danang in central Vietnam. The effort is seen as a long-overdue step toward removing a thorn in relations between the former foes nearly four decades after the Vietnam War ended.

"We are both moving earth and taking the first steps to bury the legacies of our past," U.S. Ambassador David Shear said during the groundbreaking ceremony near the area where a rusty barbed wire fence marks the site's boundary. "I look forward to even more success to follow."

The $43 million joint project with Vietnam is expected to be completed in four years on the 19-hectare (47-acre) contaminated site, located near Danang's commercial airport and an active Vietnamese military base.

Washington has been slow to respond, quibbling for years over the need for more scientific research to show that the herbicide caused health problems and birth defects among Vietnamese. It has given about $60 million for environmental restoration and social services in Vietnam since 2007, but this is its first direct involvement in cleaning up dioxin, which has seeped into Vietnam's soil and watersheds for generations.


EYES ON LONDON: Bolt, Blake seek 200-meter gold, world record; Reese wins for Gulfport, Miss.

LONDON (AP) — Around the 2012 Olympics and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of the games to you:



Both jogged across the finish line.

Both know they've got more in the tank — maybe even a gold medal.


News organizations go to court to challenge seal on documents in Colo. theater shooting case

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — News media organizations were set Thursday to ask the judge in the Colorado theater shooting case to unseal court documents and scale back a gag order that bars a university from releasing details about a former student who is the alleged gunman.

The Associated Press and 20 other news organizations want Chief District Judge William Sylvester to unseal documents that could provide the public with details about James Holmes and the massacre in Aurora on July 20.

The shooting during a midnight showing of the latest Batman movie left 12 people dead and injured 58 others. Holmes, a 24-year-old former Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado, is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder.

Court officials said Holmes was expected to attend the hearing.

Arapahoe County prosecutors argue releasing documents could jeopardize their investigation. Holmes' attorneys want to ensure he receives a fair trial.


Amid severe drought, livestock producers seek pause in ethanol production to help corn prices

WASHINGTON (AP) — Livestock farmers and ranchers seeing their feed costs rise because of the worst drought in a quarter-century are demanding that the Environmental Protection Agency waive production requirements for corn-based ethanol.

The Obama administration sees no need for a waiver, siding with corn growers — many of them in presidential election battleground states Iowa and Ohio — who continue to support the mandate.

"If not now, when?" Randy Spronk, a Minnesota pork farmer, said of the EPA's authority to defer the ethanol production requirement when it threatens to severely harm the economy of a state or region. "Everyone should feel the pain of rationing."

Spronk, who is president-elect of the National Pork Producers Council, said livestock producers will have to reduce their herds and flocks because feed is becoming scarce and too expensive. Cattlemen and chicken farmers have the same concern.

"We do support the American ethanol industry," said Kristina Butts, executive director of legislative affairs at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "All we are asking for is that competition for that bushel of corn be on a level playing field."