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AP News in Brief at 8:58 p.m. EDT

By The Associated Press

Syria uses helicopters to battle rebels in Damascus as clashes spread

BEIRUT (AP) Syrian government forces attacked rebels with helicopter gunships in the heart of Damascus on Tuesday, escalating a campaign to crush their opponents as clashes spread to new areas, illustrating the rebels' growing reach.

Cracks of gunfire and explosions echoed inside the capital for a third day, including a firefight near the country's parliament, in an unprecedented challenge to government rule in President Bashar Assad's seat of power.



Neighboring Iraq called on its citizens living in Syria to return home, as the fighting overshadowed another round of diplomatic maneuvering to end the civil war, with special envoy Kofi Annan in Moscow in an attempt to rescue his faltering peace plan.

Plumes of gray smoke billowed over the Damascus skyline and helicopter gunships strafed the area, activists said a sign the regime is growing desperate to push the rebels away from the heavily-guarded capital.

Terrified families fled the city or said they were prepared to leave at a moment's notice. Residents said they were packing "getaway bags" in case they had to run for their lives.

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Romney says Obama wants Americans to be 'ashamed of success'; Democrats press for tax returns

IRWIN, Pa. (AP) A fiery Mitt Romney on Tuesday accused President Barack Obama of believing the government is more vital to a thriving economy than the nation's workers and dreamers, scrambling to get back on message by declaring of Obama, "I'm convinced he wants Americans to be ashamed of success."

The new Romney approach came as Democrats pressed for the release of more of Romney's tax returns and hounded the Republican candidate over discrepancies in when he left his private equity firm. The conservative magazine National Review urged Romney to release more of his tax records.

Obama has been trying to keep Romney focused on matters other than the sluggish economy, even releasing a single-shot TV ad Tuesday that suggests Romney gamed the system so well that he may not have paid any taxes at all for years.

As the campaign's tenor grew combative, Romney seized on comments Obama uttered while campaigning in Virginia last week. The president, making a point about the supportive role government plays in building the nation, said in part: "Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

Obama later added: "The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."

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House GOP measure would kill AmeriCorps program, end government funding of NPR, PBS

WASHINGTON (AP) House Republicans Tuesday unveiled legislation to get rid of AmeriCorps, the national service program, and cut off federal funding for National Public Radio, public television and Planned Parenthood.

The moves would come in a controversial spending bill that pays for labor, health and education programs for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.

The measure is dead on arrival with Democrats but contains many provisions to please tea party conservatives.

"This bill is an extremely partisan proposal, stands little chance of even being brought up on the House floor, and will rightly be disregarded by both the Senate and the president," said Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington, top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

It's the last of 12 annual spending bills for the upcoming budget year to be released. The GOP-controlled House has passed six of the measures but the Democratic Senate has yet to debate a single measure, and lawmakers are sure to have to pass a stopgap funding bill in September to avoid a government shutdown when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

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The CEO is pregnant: Yahoo's new chief reignites the can-we-have-it-all debate, with a twist

NEW YORK (AP) "Another piece of good news today," tweeted the expectant mom, announcing to her online followers that she and her husband are awaiting a baby boy.

But this wasn't just any excited mom-to-be. This was 37-year-old Marissa Mayer, the newly named CEO of Yahoo obviously a huge achievement for anyone, but especially for a woman in the male-dominated tech industry. And she was about six months pregnant, to boot.

Exciting news especially for Mayer and her husband, of course but did it mean something for the rest of us, too? Was it a watershed moment in the perennial debate over whether women can "have it all," with the pendulum swinging happily in the positive direction?

Or was it, as some claimed in the inevitable back-and-forth on Twitter, actually a development that would increase pressure on other working moms, who might not have nearly the resources that Mayer does, in terms of wealth, power, talent and flexibility on the job?

Or was it even sexist to raise the question at all? Would anyone be saying anything if the new Yahoo CEO were an expectant father? No, went a frequent online thread: No one would even pay attention to that.

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Accused Alabama bar gunman charged in earlier shooting at home, also suspected in arsons

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) A gunman stood outside of a crowded downtown bar and opened fire from two different positions early Tuesday, sending patrons running or crawling for cover in a chaotic and bloody scene. At least 17 people were hurt as bullets ricocheted and glass shards and brick chunks fell around the nightclub.

Nathan Van Wilkins, 44, surrendered about 10 hours after the 12:30 a.m. shooting near the University of Alabama campus, police said. The rampage started a couple of miles away about 45 minutes earlier, police said, when Wilkins knocked on the door to a home and waited for a person to answer it. He then started firing, wounding the person.

Wilkins was also suspected of setting three fires to equipment or property owned by his former employer, an oil and gas company.

Police were not sure of a motive. They were investigating whether the shootings came from a dispute between rival motorcycle gangs.

There were signs Wilkins' life was unraveling.

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Minnesota court upholds conviction of former nurse who encouraged 2 to commit suicide online

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld the convictions of a former nurse who hunted for suicidal people in online chat rooms and encouraged two to kill themselves, saying his actions were not protected speech.

William Melchert-Dinkel, 49, of Faribault, was convicted in 2011 of two counts of aiding suicide. He acknowledged that what he did was morally wrong but argued that he merely exercised his right to free speech. The appeals court disagreed.

"We are confident that the Constitution does not immunize Melchert-Dinkel's morbid, predatory behavior simply because it appears in the form of written words," the justices' 31-page decision said.

Melchert-Dinkel's attorney, Terry Watkins, said that while his client's actions are unsavory, he still believes they are protected by the First Amendment. He plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

"We never saw this as a two inning game," he said. "These are still not cut and dry issues."

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Bernanke warns US economy could topple into recession if Congress doesn't end budget impasse

WASHINGTON (AP) Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke sketched a bleak picture of the U.S. economy Tuesday and warned it will darken further if Congress doesn't reach agreement soon to avert a budget crisis.

Without an agreement, tax increases and deep spending cuts would take effect at year's end. Bernanke noted what the Congressional Budget Office has warned: A recession would occur, and 1.25 million fewer jobs would be created in 2013.

The Fed is prepared to take further action to try to help the economy if unemployment stays high, he said. Bernanke didn't signal what steps the Fed might take or whether any action was imminent. And he noted there's only so much the Fed can do.

But the Fed chairman made clear his most urgent concern is what would happen to the economy if Congress can't resolve its budget impasse before the year ends.

Cuts in taxes on income, dividends and capital gains would expire. So would this year's Social Security tax cut and businesses tax reductions. Defense and domestic programs would be slashed. And emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed would run out.

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FDA approves Vivus' anti-obesity pill associated with significant weight loss in patients

WASHINGTON (AP) The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved a new weight loss drug from Vivus Inc. that many doctors consider the most effective therapy in a new generation of anti-obesity pills designed to help patients safely shed pounds.

The agency cleared the pill Qsymia for adults who are obese or overweight and have at least one weight-related condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol.

Patients taking Qsymia for a year lost 6.7 percent of their body weight in one study and 8.9 percent in another study, the FDA said. That was more than two other weight loss pill recently reviewed by the FDA.

Despite its impressive performance in clinical trials, Qsymia is not exactly a scientific breakthrough, and its development underscores the slow pace of research for obesity treatments.

The drug is actually a combination of two older drugs that have long been known to help with weight loss: phentermine and topirimate.

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Lawn-chair balloonists recount harrowing weekend flight over Central Oregon

Two men flying matching lawn chairs suspended by helium-filled party balloons over Central Oregon last weekend said Tuesday they were floating along peacefully at 14,000 feet when thunderstorms grabbed control of their homemade craft like a giant hand.

"It was so nice, so beautiful, so peaceful," for the first three hours of the flight, said Iraqi adventurer Fareed Lafta, who joined lawn chair ballooning veteran Kent Couch in an attempt to fly from Couch's gas station in Bend, Ore., to Montana as a warm-up for a future flight over Iraq. "I remember I can hear the cow when they are moo, the dogs. Everything was so peaceful and so nice.

"Then we were in this thunderstorm."

Couch said it was like some giant hand grabbed hold of their craft.

"It felt like a wind just raced up and grabbed the balloons and just squeezed them," said Couch. "Ten of them popped at one time. It sounded like a string of firecrackers being let off. I would say that's probably where we felt threatened."

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London Olympics fails promise to get Britons active; a lack of exercise as deadly as smoking

LONDON (AP) Britons may be watching lots of Olympic athletes this summer but they sure aren't moving more themselves.

When London was awarded the 2012 Summer Olympics seven years ago, officials promised they would get 2 million more people physically active in time for the opening ceremonies.

But when the torch is lit July 27, the government will not only have failed, it will have backed away from its pledge entirely. Last year, the U.K. quietly dropped its aim to get 1 million more Britons into sports; the pledge to get another 1 million people more active through things like biking or walking to work has also been scrapped.

Britain's strategy was based largely on providing free school sports programs for children. While numbers grew in the first few years, they have since flat lined, according to national surveys. As the government cut spending amid Europe's debt crisis, it also slashed sports programs for adults, including free swimming for Londoners.

With a population of about 60 million, Britain is western Europe's fattest country. Soccer is wildly popular, but Britons are more likely to cheer on their favorite teams from the local pub rather than emulating them on the pitch.


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