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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Militants staged two suicide attacks that killed at least 19 people on Saturday, the first full day of U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's visit to Afghanistan. They were a fresh reminder of the challenges posed by insurgents to the U.S.-led NATO force as it hands over the country's security to the Afghans. "This attack was a message to him," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said of Hagel, in an email to reporters about the bombing outside the country's Defense Ministry in Kabul. Hagel was nowhere near that attack, but heard it across the city. He told reporters traveling with him that he wasn't sure what it was when he heard the explosion. "We're in a war zone. I've been in war, so shouldn't be surprised when a bomb goes off or there's an explosion," said Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran. Asked what his message to the Taliban would be, he said that the U.S. was going to continue to work with its allies to insure that the Afghan people have the ability to develop their own country and democracy. In the first attack, a suicide bomber on a bicycle struck outside the Afghan Defense Ministry early Saturday morning, just as employees were arriving for work. About a half hour later, another suicide bomber hit a joint NATO and Afghan patrol near a police checkpoint in Khost city, the capital of Khost province in eastern Afghanistan, said provincial spokesman Baryalai Wakman. Nine Afghan civilians were killed in the bombing at the ministry and 14 wounded, and two Afghan policemen and eight children died in the blast in Khost while another two Afghan civilians were wounded, according to a statement from President Hamid Karzai's office. Karzai condemned the bombings, calling them un-Islamic. "The perpetrators of such attacks are cowards who are killing innocent children at the orders of foreigners," he said in a statement emailed to reporters. Karzai usually uses the term "foreigners" to refer to Pakistan, which he blames for failing to crack down on Taliban militants who take sanctuary there. Hagel's first visit to Kabul as Pentagon chief comes as the U.S. and Afghanistan grapple with a number of disputes, from the aborted handover of a main detention facility - canceled at the last moment late Friday as a deal for the transfer broke down - to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's demand that U.S. special operations forces withdraw from Wardak province just outside Kabul over allegations of abuse. The prison transfer, originally slated for 2009, has been repeatedly delayed because of disputes between the U.S. and Afghan governments about whether all detainees should have the right to a trial and who will have the ultimate authority over the release of prisoners the U.S. considers a threat. The Afghan government has maintained that it needs full control over which prisoners are released as a matter of national sovereignty. The issue has threatened to undermine ongoing negotiations for a bilateral security agreement that would govern the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after the current combat mission ends in 2014. U.S. military officials said Saturday's transfer ceremony was canceled because they could not finalize the agreement with the Afghans, but did not provide details. Afghan officials were less forthcoming. "The ceremony is not happening today," Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said, without elaborating. Regarding Wardak, Karzai set a deadline for Monday for the pullout of the U.S. commandos, over allegations that joint U.S. and Afghan patrols engaged in a pattern of torture, kidnappings and summary executions. "Each of those accusations has been answered and we're not involved," said Brigadier Adam Findlay, NATO's deputy chief of staff of operations, in an interview with The Associated Press Saturday. "There are obviously atrocities occurring there, but it's not linked to us, and the kind of atrocities we are seeing, fingers cut off, other mutilations to bodies, is just not the way we work." Findlay said NATO officials have made provisional plans to withdraw special operations forces, if Karzai sticks to his edict after meetings this weekend with Hagel and top military commander in Afghanistan Gen. Joseph Dunford. "What we've got to try to do is go to a middle ground that meets the president's frustration," but also keeps insurgents from using Wardak as a staging ground to launch attacks on the capital, Findlay said. "That plan would be that you would put in your more conventional forces into Wardak," to replace the special operators and maintain security, he said. NATO officials see the weekend violence as part of the Taliban's coming campaign for the spring fighting season. "There's a series of attacks that have started as the snow is thawing. We had a potential insider attack yesterday ... and there's been a number of attacks on the border," Findlay explained. The suspected insider attack occurred in Kapisa province in eastern Afghanistan several hours before Hagel arrived Friday. Three men presumed to be Afghan soldiers forced their way onto a U.S. base and opened fire, killing one U.S. civilian contractor and wounding four U.S. soldiers, according to a senior U.S. military official. The official said investigators were "95 percent certain it was an insider attack," because the three men came from the Afghan side of the joint U.S.-Afghan base, and rammed an Afghan army Humvee through a checkpoint dividing the base, before jumping out and opening fire on the Americans with automatic weapons. All three attackers were killed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. The Taliban said it was not behind the Tagab base attack, and has not yet weighed in on the attack in Khost, but the group claimed responsibility for the morning attack at the ministry shortly after it happened. Pentagon spokesman George Little said Hagel was in a briefing at a U.S.-led military coalition facility in another part of the city when the explosion occurred. He said the briefing continued without interruption. Azimi, the defense ministry spokesman, said the bomber on a bicycle struck just before 9 a.m. local time about 30 meters (yards) from the main gate of the ministry. A man at the scene, Abdul Ghafoor, said the blast rocked the entire area. "I saw dead bodies and wounded victims lying everywhere," Ghafoor told the Associated Press. "Then random shooting started and we escaped from the area." The ministry said at least nine civilians were killed and others were wounded. Reporters traveling with Hagel were in a briefing when they heard the explosion. They were moved to a lower floor of the same building as U.S. facilities in downtown Kabul were locked down as a security precaution.
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ushering in the bloom of spring, it's time to set the clocks forward for daylight saving time. At 2 a.m. local time Sunday, daylight saving time arrives with the promise of many months ahead with an extra hour of evening sunlight. You lose an hour of sleep, but make sure to turn the clock ahead - spring forward - before heading to bed Saturday night to avoid the panic of a late rise. It's also a good time to put new batteries in warning devices such as smoke detectors and hazard warning radios. Some places don't observe daylight saving time. Those include Hawaii, most of Arizona, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Marianas. Daylight saving time ends Nov. 3.
Saturday, 09 March 2013 11:29
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ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The swatch of blue hair and Batman stud earrings call attention to Saint Louis sixth man and free spirit Cody Ellis, the Australian import who's also the team's top 3-point threat.

A return to form in the regular-season finale Saturday for Ellis greatly increases the odds for a school that's one win away from its first conference title in more than 40 years.

Ellis was 0 for 15 in an overtime loss Wednesday at Xavier, 11 of the misses from 3-point range. And with his parents right behind the bench after making the arduous, 40-hour globe-hopping trip to see the 6-foot-8 senior off in style, too.

"I'm just going to try to get it out of my head," Ellis said. "Probably next game, the law of averages says I should knock a couple down, eh?"

Ellis has made three or more 3-pointers nine times this season, including six at Fordham to tie his career best. He leads the team with 52 3-pointers and reasoned, "I've just got to stay confident."

Interim coach Jim Crews' advice at Xavier was simple: Fire away.

"I told him probably three times in the game to keep shooting," Crews said. "You're not going to pinch-hit for Pujols or Mantle or Musial or someone who's good, are you? If he's open, I want him shooting it."

Crews has kept the program built by the late Rick Majerus humming with the 16th-ranked Billikens (23-6, 12-3 Atlantic 10) tied for first place in the conference heading into the finale against La Salle (21-7, 11-4), which also has a title shot.

Saint Louis last earned at least a share of a conference regular season title in 1970-71, in the Missouri Valley. The last outright title was in 1956-57.

To accomplish that, the Billikens need a win coupled with a VCU loss against Temple.

Crews won four conference championships at Indiana as a player, including the Hoosiers' unbeaten season in 1976, but coaching has been a reality check. In 24 years at Evansville and Army, he produced four NCAA tournament teams.

"I'd say the majority of players go through college without a championship," Crews said. "This league has 16 teams and that body of work, you've got to earn it."

The opponent is no pushover. La Salle, which has won seven of eight, needs a win on Saturday and a VCU loss against Temple to take the championship.

La Salle has beaten two Top 25 teams and is 2-0 at Saint Louis' Chaifetz Center.

"It's a big game for La Salle, it's a big game for us," Crews said. "It would really be neat and cool for these kids, all the things they've been through, to win a championship."

That Saint Louis is NCAA tournament-bound for the second straight season after ending a 12-year drought last year is a given.

"When I first got here we were on the bottom of the league," senior reserve forward Cory Remekun said. "Now we're fighting for a championship. It's crazy to see how much we've improved."

The Xavier loss ended an 11-game winning streak for Saint Louis, which has had a season of high notes with one of the stingiest defenses in the country and a balanced attack with six players averaging seven or more points.

"Some of the guys I've played with have gone through a lot," said senior guard Kwamain Mitchell, who was suspended for a semester in 2010 and returned as a calming presence on the court. "I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of it and I'm going to leave everything on the court."

The three seniors plus Femi John, who had a career-ending knee injury a few seasons ago, will be honored after the game.

"It is emotional, should be emotional," Crews said. "Personally, I've always had a hard time with senior day. It's hard on the coaches, too."
Saturday, 09 March 2013 11:25
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MOBERLY, Mo. (AP) -- As an adult, Tim Wolfe parlayed a lucrative career as a software executive into a return to his alma mater as the University of Missouri's 23rd president. The teen Wolfe? A self-described "unfocused student" who cared more about football, girls and his part-time job at a Columbia gas station.

Those personal details don't often make into the speeches Wolfe typically gives to civic leaders, business owners, alumni donors or state lawmakers. But as he kicked off a statewide "Show Me Value" higher education tour Friday morning in the Moberly High School gym, the 54-year-old prodigal son played to his audience.

"No matter what path you follow, you should include college on that plan," he told more than 300 Moberly eighth- and ninth-graders. "Quite simply, education is a path toward lifelong success."

While few in Columbia - home to both the flagship campus and the four-campus system's headquarters - need a reminder about the university's prominence, the statewide tour is aimed at promoting higher education to Missourians who live outside the state's major cities. Wolfe next heads to St. Joseph on March 22, with additional stops planned in April and May as well once classes resume after summer beak.

Wolfe, who took office in February 2012, said he wants to combat what he sees as a growing national sentiment that devalues the benefits of a four-year college degree and suggests more students should enter the workforce sooner. He didn't gloss over those criticisms, making reference to both spiraling student debt and plunging job placement rates.

He encouraged the students not to be "scared away" by college costs, noting that generous financial aid means many students won't pay the full "sticker price" at the Missouri campuses and other schools. Wolfe also referenced recent research by Georgetown University's Center for Education and the Workforce estimating that those who obtain a four-year degree will earn $1 million more over their lifetime than their counterparts who only graduate high school. Count 15-year-old Gage Mast among those who took the message to heart. "It kind of made me want to go to college more," he said. "You see not just your parents want you to go, but somebody else who was successful."

Wolfe isn't the first University of Missouri president to hit the hustings in hopes of propping up higher education's battered image. Elson Floyd, the university's president from 2003 to 2007, took pride in visiting each of the state's 114 counties on a more informal goodwill tour. But his audiences consisted of grown-ups, not kids.

"The more you can personalize it, and they see you as a human being, the (better) it can be," said Moberly High principal Aaron Vitt. "They're used to adults pontificating, being on a pedestal. When you can humanize it, it's more effective."

Wolfe didn't try to sell the teens too hard on the Columbia campus, which he attended, or the system's other campuses in Rolla, St. Louis and Kansas City.

Not that Mizzou in particular needs much help attracting new students. Enrollment has increased steadily over the past decade, with about 34,000 now calling Columbia home.

Stan Jones, president of Complete College America, said it's rare for those of Wolfe's stature to work so directly on community outreach. He also suggested the personal touch could resonate in ways that reminders from teachers, parents and guidance counselors could not.

"For an awful lot of students who go to college, it's a 12th-grade decision," said Jones, whose nonprofit group works to boost college completion rates. "Some of its not as deliberate and thoughtful as it needs to be."

Jones, a former Indiana higher education commissioner, said Wolfe's visit could help demystify the college experience and get students thinking sooner about what classes to take to prepare for college, how to obtain financial aid or even prompt some early campus visits - an experience he said is pivotal to winning over noncommittal or disinterested prospects.

"A lot of the knowledge these students have of college is from watching basketball games," he said. "They've not been on campus. It makes it more tangible."
Saturday, 09 March 2013 11:23
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