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Retired racehorses' group sues donor's rep in NYC

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — A noted charity that cares for retired racehorses has sued a representative for its biggest benefactor amid a feud over finances and the horses' well-being.

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation filed a defamation lawsuit Thursday against New York City lawyer Frederick Terry, an executor of the estate of philanthropist Paul Mellon.

A $7 million endowment from the estate provides about 12 percent of the Lexington, Ky.-based thoroughbred foundation's annual budget.

Terry's assistant said he was out of his office Thursday.

The estate expressed concern last year about the horses' care and the foundation's management. The lawsuit says Terry slandered the foundation by telling auditors and the New York attorney general's office that the Mellon endowment was being misused.

The foundation says it has a legal opinion to the contrary.

China pork prices to hog global indicator limelight:Analysis

BEIJING (iBBC News) - The price of pork in China could soon rival U.S. payrolls as the world's most watched economic indicator.

International investors are increasingly focused on domestic demand in the world's second-largest economy as their key measure of global economic health.

And there are few better ways to gauge that demand than by tracking staple food prices that directly hit discretionary consumer spending -- a sector of economic activity that typically generates 40 percent of China's annual GDP growth.

Lower or even just slower food price rises are a gift to consumers, says Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics in New York .

"I don't think China has anything like the recession risk that people seem concerned about and I don't think they need any stimulus," Weinberg told Reuters.

Weinberg's calculations suggest that Chinese consumers enjoyed at least a 1.8 percent increase in real disposable income between July and November as consumer price inflation eased from a three-year high, with a boost to discretionary spending of 0.9 percent.

The implication is that China's factories will ramp up output to meet rising discretionary spending power, making slower increases in food prices the most important factor boosting GDP growth and aggregate demand.

"The slowdown of food prices is a massive economic stimulant," Weinberg says. "(It) will generate more economic stimulus than any government programme of monetary policy change ever could."

Inflation is a major preoccupation for China's ruling Communist Party, as rising prices have often been accompanied by periods of protest and social upheaval.

Spikes in pork prices have constantly driven up Chinese inflation. Though pork only accounts for 3 percent of China's consumer price index, it is the most popular meat in the country and its price has a big impact on the public's inflationary expectations.

Until a few weeks ago, the government's economic policies were calibrated to contain the inflationary aftereffects of the 4 trillion yuan ($635 billion) package unveiled in 2008 as the global financial crisis tore through market and consumer confidence worldwide.

Inflation running at an average annual rate around 150 basis points above the official 4 percent target in 2011 is one key reason why Beijing is reluctant now to offer anything other than policy "fine-tuning" to combat slowing GDP growth.

Economists expect China's annual growth rate to have eased for a fourth successive quarter in the last three months of 2011, perhaps even coming in below 9 percent.

It makes the domestic demand story all the more vital.

The point was underlined by China's Ministry of Commerce on Thursday, when it revealed that the country's trade surplus had shrunk to just 2 percent of GDP in 2011. It was more than four times that size just five years ago.

EXTERNAL DEMAND SHOCKS

Successive demand shocks from the global financial crisis of 2008/09 and the festering European debt crisis have also reinforced the determination of China's Communist Party to rebalance the economy away from exports. It needs robust consumption growth at home to do that.

The trade-off for the global economy is that Beijing is pledging to ramp up imports to help deliver its domestic growth agenda -- great news for both Europe and the United States. that could use vibrant demand from China to pay debts and bridge deficits.

It's already a force to be reckoned with, according to Jeremy Stevens, China economist at Standard Bank in Beijing.

"Over the past two years, twice as much domestic demand has been created in China ($2.4 trillion) than in the euro zone ($1.2 trillion). Over the next two years, China is likely to contribute more to global domestic demand than the euro zone and the U.S. combined," Stevens said.

Retail sales have been one of the most consistently robust economic indicators in China in 2011 and, absent a seasonal slide in February, have averaged annual growth of some 17 percent every month.

Analysts at Citi have high hopes that China's pace of urbanization will fuel both that growth as well as retail sector profits. Beijing's 12th Five Year Plan targets an urban population of 51.5 percent by 2015 versus 2009's 46.6 percent.

"Per capita household consumption in urban households in China had been 3.6-3.8 times higher than rural household consumption between 2003 and 2009," they wrote in a client note, pointing out that grocery shopping is China's largest retail segment, accounting for 41 percent of all retail sales in 2010.

That's a crucial point for HFE's Weinberg who estimates non-farm workforce growth of 2-4 percent a year.

That equates to 10-20 million people moving to the modern economy experiencing annual income growth of up to 400 percent and contributing between eight to 20 percentage points to the growth rate of aggregate incomes.

PROPERTY PAIN

But while domestic consumption is a salve to ease the pain of decaying external demand, the fly in the ointment is the falling price of property.

Rising home values have been closely correlated with rising consumer spending, which makes a private sector survey showing the fourth successive monthly fall in average house prices in key Chinese cities a clear risk for investors.

Home prices and sales are falling because of government measures to rein in rampant speculation, measures which Beijing has promised to follow unswervingly to make home prices "reasonable".

Meanwhile the government has embarked on programme to build affordable housing.

Furnishing millions of new homes -- the official Xinhua news agency says 5 million are slated for completion in 2012, versus estimates of 3 million in 2011 -- could give substantial impetus to consumer spending, especially if the government also introduces new measures to support the purchase of consumer durable goods, such as electrical appliances, which the China Daily reported this week.

Ultimately, China has to find a way to engineer sufficient growth to keep people in jobs and shift those employed in the export sector into industries supporting internally-driven value-added production, not simply into jobs tied to the conspicuously speculative investment bubble, which has seen real estate prices surge 10-fold in the last decade.

"The potential for further growth in domestic demand remains extraordinary," economists at Berenberg Bank in London wrote in a research report, pointing out that at $7.1 trillion, Chinese GDP remains less than half of that in the United States.

"More and more households are joining the urban middle class, adapting their saving and consumption behavior to that of their counterparts in more advanced countries. Bar a major political crisis, China looks set to remain the growth engine of the world."

Calif. marine biologist accused of feeding whale

SAN FRANCISCO (iBBC News) — A marine biologist who runs popular whale-watching tours on California's Monterey Bay has been indicted for violating federal laws that protect marine mammals, though her attorneys said her interactions with the creatures were scientific research.

Nancy Black, a marine scientist whose work has been featured on PBS, National Geographic and Animal Planet, was charged Wednesday with four violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

She was accused of feeding killer whales in 2005 during a research trip, and misleading investigators by editing video footage of her encounters with other whales during a whale watching trip, and then lying about it. All of the alleged incidents occurred within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, one of 13 ocean sanctuaries established in 1992.

Prosecutors say the charges were filed after an investigation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Department of Justice. Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the DOJ, declined to comment, as well as a spokesman for NOAA.

In addition to her scientific work, Black owns Monterey Bay Whale Watch and operates two commercial whale-watching vessels. Black has also worked with federal agencies on the study of whales, including the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, which is part of NOAA.

If she is found guilty of editing the video and then lying about it, Black could receive a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a half million dollars in fines. Each of the feeding charges carries a maximum penalty of a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

According to the indictment, Black was asked to provide video taken from her whale-watching boat during an October 2005 trip that investigators believe included an illegal encounter with a humpback whale. Whale-watching boats are supposed to stay at least 100 yards from the animals.

Black is accused of providing an edited version of the video that took out the humpback encounter.

Lawrence Biegel, one of Black's lawyers, said the videos in question are often edited and offered to whale watching customers as keepsakes of their day. He said Black provided an edited copy to federal investigators, not knowing they wanted the original.

"She was out whale-watching with a full complement of passengers and spotted a humpback whale. It was a friendly whale, which loves to come up close to a boat and breach and frolic," he said. "There's video of this, which she turned over, of this whale doing exactly that, literally going from one side of the boat to another."

Biegel said Black never fed the creatures during her research trips.

Black was working with federal marine scientists at the time, Biegel said, to study the feeding habits of the powerful sea creatures. Orcas sometimes come to Monterey Bay to feed on gray whale calves as they migrate north along the Pacific coast, Biegel said.

Biegel said Black had collected a piece of gray whale blubber that was floating in the sea, cut a hole so a rope could be fed through, and dropped it back into the ocean. The idea was to keep the blubber close to the boat so Black could use a pole camera to film the killer whales eating underwater, he said.

"In the specific incident in question, Ms. Black used an underwater camera and filmed the eating habits of killer whales who were feeding off free floating pieces of blubber from a gray whale that had been killed by a pack of killer whales," Biegel said.

"She was never hiding what she did or how she did it. In fact, she was acting with the knowledge of other marine mammal scientists, some of whom work for agencies of the federal government," he said. Biegel said Black had a permit granted by the federal government to conduct the research.

Prosecution of MMPA violations is not uncommon. In 2010 a recreational fisherman pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor violations after his boat struck two humpbacks in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Massachusetts. In 2008, four members of the Makah Tribe were sentenced to prison and probation for illegally killing a gray whale off the northwest coast of Washington.

Rockies acquire manager's son from Rangers

DENVER (iBBC News) — The Colorado Rockies have acquired a minor league infielder that manager Jim Tracy loves — his son.

Chad Tracy was traded from the Texas Rangers to Colorado on Thursday for right-hander Greg Reynolds, the No. 2 selection in the 2006 amateur draft out of Stanford.

The 26-year-old Tracy hit .259 with 26 home runs and 109 RBIs for Triple-A Round Rock last season. He receives a non-roster invitation to spring training.

Reynolds was 3-0 with a 6.19 ERA in 13 appearances for the Rockies in 2011, including three starts. He was 6-7 with a 6.81 ERA in 19 starts for Triple-A Colorado Springs.

Colorado also finalized a $2 million, one-year deal with third baseman Casey Blake, who can earn another $1 million in performance bonuses.

The 38-year-old Blake batted.252 with four homers and 26 RBIs for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

Santorum comes under closer scrutiny in New Hampshire

MANCHESTER/NORTHFIELD, New Hampshire (iBBC News) - Republican presidential upstart Rick Santorum found himself under increasing scrutiny on Thursday as front-runner Mitt Romney tried to chip away at his credibility ahead of the key New Hampshire primary.

Santorum's surge in Iowa, which held its nominating contest on Tuesday, was so quick that his record as a U.S. senator and strong conservative views against abortion and gay marriage escaped close attention from his 2012 presidential rivals and the media.

His entry into New Hampshire was rocky. College students booed him at New England College over his position against gay marriage and he was forced to explain a remark he made in Iowa that appeared to single out blacks as recipients of federal assistance.

A Suffolk University tracking poll showed Romney on cruise control in New Hampshire ahead of its primary next Tuesday but that Santorum had risen to a distant third. It gave Romney 41 percent support, Ron Paul 18 percent and Santorum 8 percent, and Romney spent the day campaigning in South Carolina.

After finishing a close second to Romney in Iowa and bursting into the limelight, Santorum is under the microscope, drawing fire from Senator John McCain, a Romney supporter who clashed often with Santorum over government spending when they were Senate colleagues.

McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, is a sharp critic of spending items called earmarks that typically escape the scrutiny that accompanies U.S. budget legislation, to the dismay of conservatives.

"He was an avid earmarker and a staunch defender of porkbarrel spending," McCain told Reuters. "I just don't think he can portray himself as a fiscal conservative. We all know that earmarking is a 'gateway drug' to corruption."

Santorum's efforts to obtain taxpayer funds for spending projects for his home state of Pennsylvania have long been an issue. McCain specifically cited the $500,000 that Santorum engineered for a polar bear exhibit at the Pittsburgh zoo as an example of wasteful spending.

"The polar bears are living well," McCain said wryly. "That's the good news."

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Santorum has fought back against accusations of profligate spending, saying he wanted to make sure his taxpayers got their "fair share" of money back. He says he will fight for deep spending cuts if elected next November.

Santorum is hoping to recreate his Iowa magic in New Hampshire, which holds the second contest to determine a Republican challenger to Democratic President Barack Obama.

He wants to finish strong enough to generate momentum going into South Carolina, where a conservative like him has a better chance.

"Obviously Mitt Romney is at 40 percent in the polls, the chances in five days to make up a 35 or 40 point lead is going to be pretty limited but we expect to make a run and to move up in those polls," Santorum told reporters in Manchester.

The NAACP civil rights organization complained about a remark Santorum made in Iowa in which he appeared to say, "I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money."

Santorum insisted to Fox News that he had "blurred" the word and did not actually say blacks.

"Senator Santorum's targeting of African Americans is inaccurate and outrageous, and lifts up old race-based stereotypes about public assistance," NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said.

Romney's big lead gives him great expectations in New Hampshire, perhaps more than he can reasonably expect to fulfill in a state that is unpredictable and can provide crucial momentum to the second-place finisher.

McCain said he believed the race will tighten in New Hampshire and doubted Romney will end up with 40 percent support or more.

"It's important for the Romney campaign and all of us who are supporting him not to raise expectations," said McCain, who surprised George W. Bush here in 2000. "So much of this is the expectations game. I think he'll win New Hampshire well but I can't imagine any candidate winning with 43 percent of the vote."

Keeping Obama in their sights, the Republicans blasted Obama for bypassing Congress to fill politically sensitive posts.

Obama upset Republicans by making four recess appointments - naming Richard Cordray to run the new Consumer Financial Protection Board and filling three vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board.

Ron Paul called Obama's move a clear disregard of the U.S. Constitution.

"The president must be called to account for his actions," Paul said in a statement, adding that Congress may need to take action to rein in Obama's "flagrant contempt" for the rules.

Kona farmers want more coffee labeling details

HONOLULU (iBBC News) — Kona coffee growers want Hawaii law to require coffee sellers to provide more details on packages of coffee blends that contain Hawaii-grown beans.

Currently, coffee blends sold in the state that contain Hawaii-grown coffee must disclose what percentage— at least 10 percent — is grown in the islands. The Kona Coffee Farmers Association said Thursday they want the state Legislature to consider a bill they've drafted that would also identify where the remainder of the blend is grown.

An example of a package label would read, "90 percent Panamanian coffee, 10 percent Kona coffee."

Hawaii is the only place in the United States where coffee is grown. Coffee aficionados pay a premium for coffee grown in farms in the Kona district, known for its rich volcanic soil and tropical climate.

Student protest

Sri Lankan university students protest in Colombo, to ask authorities to remove vice chancellor N.L.A Karunaratne of the Sri Jayawardenepura university.

Jeremy Renner unscathed in bloody Thai bar brawl

LOS ANGELES (iBBC News) - "Mission: Impossible" star Jeremy Renner emerged unscathed from a bar fight in Thailand, his spokesman said on Thursday, but a hotel manager in his party was attacked with an ax.

A spokeswoman for Renner, 40, who also played the lead in Oscar-winning Iraq war movie "The Hurt Locker", denied media reports that the actor was hurt in the bloody incident in the Thai resort of Phuket early on Wednesday.

"Jeremy Renner was indeed in a bar in Phuket Thailand as a vicious attack on a patron took place but was not injured or involved. He exited as the fight took place," Renner's publicist said in a statement.

Renner, who co-stars with Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol", is currently working in the Philippines on "The Bourne Legacy" -- the latest in the Bourne action movie franchise, the publicist said.

The Phuket Gazette said on Thursday that six staff at the pub were arrested and charged with attempted murder of the general manager of a local resort hotel.

Manager Vorasit Issara was stabbed in the stomach and slashed in the neck with an ax, Phuket police told local reporters.

Anti-Mubarak

An Egyptian anti-Mubarak protester demonstrates with chains during the trial of ousted president in front of the police academy on the outskirts of Cairo.

TD Ameritrade CEO's pay flat at nearly $6 million

OMAHA, Neb. (iBBC News) — Compensation for the president and CEO of TD Ameritrade stayed near $6 million last year as the online brokerage performed well in a challenging market, according to documents the company filed Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Omaha-based company said Fred Tomczyk and other top executives deserved generous compensation because it reported net new client assets of $41.5 billion while generating solid earnings of $1.11 per share.

"Management was rewarded in fiscal year 2011 for successfully executing on the company's business strategy, which, in the face of extremely difficult operating conditions, resulted in record net new assets," the board said.

Tomczyk's total compensation grew slightly to $5.98 million from $5.97 million in 2010. Stock awards worth $3.56 million and a $1.9 million cash incentive accounted for most of his compensation in fiscal 2011. His salary was $500,000. His other compensation, including an income tax reimbursement and transportation and security, was worth $27,612, the company said.

In 2010, Tomczyk received stock worth $3.2 million and stock options worth $1.1 million on the dates they were granted. Tomczyk did not receive stock options in 2011.

Tomczyk has said he expects the economic environment to remain difficult through 2012. The current low interest rates limit the amount of money Ameritrade can generate on asset-based fees it charges clients.

In fiscal 2011, TD Ameritrade generated $637.8 million net income, which was 8 percent better than the previous year's $592.2 million.

The company is predicting it will earn between $1 and $1.35 per share for fiscal 2012.

The Associated Press formula calculates an executive's total compensation during the last fiscal year by adding salary, bonuses, perks, above-market interest the company pays on deferred compensation and the estimated value of stock and stock options awarded during the year. The AP formula does not count changes in the present value of pension benefits. That makes the AP total slightly different in most cases from the total reported by companies to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The value that a company assigned to an executive's stock and option awards for 2011 was the present value of what the company expected the awards to be worth to the executive over time. Companies use one of several formulas to calculate that value. However, the number is just an estimate, and what an executive ultimately receives will depend on the performance of the company's stock in the years after the awards are granted. Most stock compensation programs require an executive to wait a specified amount of time to receive shares or exercise options.

At Ameritrade's shareholder meeting in Omaha on Feb. 14, shareholders will have a chance to question Tomczyk and vote on the election of four directors.

Shareholders also can voice their approval or disapproval for Ameritrade's executive compensation policies in a non-binding advisory vote.

3 arrested as part of probe into ex-Walker aides

MADISON, Wis. (iBBC News) — A former close aide to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and a Walker appointee were arrested on embezzlement charges Thursday as part of an ongoing criminal investigation centered on people who served during Walker's tenure as Milwaukee County executive.

A third person, who worked six months for the state Department of Public Instruction until being fired Thursday, was charged with child enticement in a case the county prosecutor said was discovered while investigating the others.

The arrests of former Walker aide Tim Russell and Kevin Kavanaugh, Walker's appointee to the Milwaukee County Veteran Service Commission, come more than a year and a half after the investigation into county personnel began. The third person arrested, Brian Pierick, is Russell's longtime partner.

The charges against Russell and Kavanaugh involve embezzlement of money donated to help relatives of veterans killed or wounded in action. Some of the money was used to pay for a trip to Atlanta for Walker's staff member to meet with one-time presidential candidate Herman Cain, the complaint said.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said the investigation is ongoing.

Chisholm, a Democrat, said the investigation was not initiated by his office but by Walker's then chief of staff Tom Nardelli. Nardelli told prosecutors that about $11,000 seemed to be missing from the annual Operation Freedom event at the Milwaukee County Zoo designed to honor military families.

Chisholm said Nardelli wanted the district attorney to look into the local Purple Heart group, which coordinated the event with the county and where Kavanaugh was treasurer.

According to the criminal complaint, Kavanaugh embezzled at least $42,232 from the Military Order of the Purple Heart between 2006 and 2009. The complaint said he and his wife had credit card debt exceeding $40,000. John Leonard, national adjutant of the Springfield, Va.-based Military Order of the Purple Heart, said the first he heard of the investigation was Thursday when an Associated Press reporter sent him the criminal complaints.

Kavanaugh took the money from donations that included more than $28,000 given by former state Rep. Mark Gundrum, the complaint said. Gundrum, who Walker appointed as a state appeals court judge last year, donated his legislative salary to the group while serving on active military duty in Iraq.

Russell, who worked on and off in Walker's county administration between 2002 and 2010, also was involved with Operation Freedom. In 2009, Walker transferred control of the Operation Freedom event to a private entity controlled by Russell called the Heritage Guard Preservation Society.

The complaint said Russell stole at least $21,000 from that group and used it to pay, at least in part, for vacations to the Caribbean and Hawaii. The money also was used to pay for a trip to Atlanta in December 2010 where Russell met with Cain and his chief of staff to discuss policy issues and the possibility of Cain getting in the presidential race, the complaint said.

Russell also is charged with taking $3,000 from the campaign fund of Milwaukee County Board candidate Chris Kujawa in 2007 and stealing $550 from the campaign fund of county board candidate Larry Spicer in 2010.

Russell's attorney, Mike Maistelman, said his client is innocent. Kavanaugh's attorney did not immediately return a message.

Russell, 48, and Kavanaugh, 61, each face up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $25,000 if convicted of the most serious felony embezzlement charges.

Russell was released on a $20,000 signature bond after pleading not guilty to the misdemeanor charge Thursday. His preliminary hearing on the felony embezzlement charges was set for Jan. 23. Kavanaugh also was released on a $20,000 signature bond and his preliminary hearing set for Jan. 13.

The arrest of a close Walker aide raises more questions about the extent and direction of the county's investigation as Walker faces a possible recall election motivated by anger over his push to effectively end collective bargaining rights for public workers.

Walker said in a conference call with reporters that he was "extremely disappointed" with the charges against Russell and Kavanaugh. He also reiterated past assertions that he has not been contacted by prosecutors about the ongoing investigation.

Walker emphasized it was his then-chief of staff who alerted investigators to concerns about Kavanaugh's handling of money for the Purple Heart group, but said he had no idea Russell was allegedly doing anything illegal.

The Wisconsin Democratic Party, which is helping to organize the recall effort against Walker, seized on news of the arrests saying it raises serious questions about Walker's management and judgment.

"He owes the people of Wisconsin an explanation for his role in these alleged bad acts," Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said in a statement.

Pierick had worked as an office operations assistant at the state Department of Public Instruction dealing with education for homeless children and youth since October, but was fired Thursday. Department spokesman Patrick Gasper would not say why Pierick was fired, but said it could be done without cause because it was within his six-month probationary period. Gasper said he worked as a secretary and had no contact with children.

The complaint alleges Pierick tried to entice a 17-year-old boy into his van to have sex. He could face up to 25 years in prison and a $100,000 fine on the most serious charge he faces.

A message seeking comment was left at Pierick's home in Sun Prairie. He was assigned a public defender who did not immediately return a message left late Thursday.

Chisholm didn't take questions Thursday citing the ongoing investigation, but said his office adhered strictly to its "legal and ethical obligations."

"We go where the evidence leads us and partisan politics plays no role in any decisions made by this office," Chisholm said.

The arrests follow more than a year of raids on the homes of former Walker aides and much speculation about the how close the probe, being conducted as a secret John Doe investigation, will get to Walker.

Witnesses in John Doe investigations can be compelled to testify under oath about potential criminal matters but state law prohibits anyone involved in such secret proceedings from talking publicly about them.

Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie and Milwaukee County Republican Party official Roseann Dieck have been granted immunity in the investigation, which already has resulted in one conviction.

William Gardner, president and chief executive officer of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co., was sentenced to two years' probation in July after being found guilty of exceeding state campaign donation limits and laundering campaign donations to Walker and other Wisconsin politicians.

Walker's campaign returned the $43,800 in donations Gardner had given him.

Apollo reports drop in 1Q net income

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — The for-profit education company Apollo Group Inc. said Thursday that its net income sank by 37 percent in its fiscal first quarter as enrollment at its flagship University of Phoenix decreased.

Its adjusted earnings, however, topped analysts' expectations and the company's shares rose in extended trading.

For the three months ended Nov. 30, Apollo Group said it earned $149.3 million, or $1.14 per share. That's compared with a net income of $235.4 million, or $1.61 per share a year ago. It had 130.9 million outstanding shares in the latest quarter, down from 146.7 million a year ago.

Excluding one-time items, Apollo Group said it earned $1.28 a share in the latest quarter. Analysts on average expected net income on that basis of $1.18 per share, according to FactSet.

The company also said that Charles B. Edelstein will retire as co-CEO and director of the company in late August, at which point Gregory W. Cappelli will assume all duties as the sole CEO.

For the quarter, Apollo said its quarterly net revenue was $1.18 billion, down 11 percent from $1.33 billion the same time a year ago.

The company said the drop was primarily due to lower enrollments at the University of Phoenix. Degreed enrollment for the quarter was 373,100, down 15 percent from 438,100 a year ago. Apollo said the lower enrollment was the result of changes it made last year to "more effectively support students and improve educational outcomes." It also cited competition as a factor.

This summer, the federal government introduced a new regulation that would cut off federal tuition aid to for-profit schools whose students have elevated rates of student loan defaults or high debt-to-income ratios.

The cutoff in funding would be a huge blow, as for-profit schools rely heavily on federal grants and loans.

Apollo said total costs and expenses for the quarter were $914.2 million, down from $919.3 million. Operating income was $264.5 million, or 22 percent of revenue. Operating income a year ago was $407.1 million, or 31 percent of revenue.

Shares of Apollo rose 68 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $54.40 in after-hours trading, after closing down 39 cents at $53.72.

In many parts of US, it's a winterless wonderland

PORTLAND, Maine (iBBC News) — The big snowstorms of autumn are just memories in New England, where people who make their living off winter tourism are losing income and New Hampshire primary candidates lack picturesque winterscapes for photo ops. Tourists in the West play golf instead of skiing. In Midwestern hockey country, you can barely slog a puck through the slush.

A continuing dearth of snow in many U.S. spots usually buried by this time of year has turned life upside down. The weather pattern that left many northern states with a brown Christmas is still sticking around, and the outlook for at least the next week is bleak for winter recreation enthusiasts.

Nationwide, the lack of snow is costing tens of millions of dollars in winter recreation, restaurant, lodging and sporting goods sales, experts said.

"It's Mother Nature. She's playing tricks on us, or something. Now it's getting nerve-racking," said Terry Hill, whose cash flow is nonexistent because her rental cabins are empty at Shin Pond Village, north of Maine's Baxter State Park, normally alive this time of year with the buzz of snowmobiles.

Early in the winter, the Southwest saw some heavy snow, as did parts of the Northeast clobbered by snow around Halloween and Thanksgiving that has since melted. The Pacific Northwest has seen snow recently. And longer-range forecasts predict above-normal or normal snow amounts for much of the country's northern half for the rest of the season.

Many economic losses can be made up, said Charles Colgan, an economist at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie Institute of Public Service.

But that's of little comfort right now in the Northeast, where businesses that depend on winter recreation usually see heaps of snow around the Christmas and New Year holidays as a bonus and it's critical to have snow by Martin Luther King Jr. weekend — about a week from now.

As of Thursday, only 19 percent of the nation was covered in snow, less than half the average snow cover over the past five years on the same date, according to the National Weather Service's National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center in Minnesota.

On Friday, the forecast calls for the Northeast to thaw out from its first big cold spell. It'll be in the 50s and sunny in Reno, Nev., a place that's normally snowbound by now. In the Midwest, where the temperature hit the 40s Thursday, the warm weather has turned frozen ponds and backyard rinks to slush, sending ice skaters indoors.

"There's no place that has reliable ice. You're skating on Jell-O. You try to shoot the puck. It goes a little ways and it gets stuck in a puddle," said Barbara Garn, who has seen a big uptick in the number of participants in pickup hockey games she organizes at indoor rinks in Minnesota's Twin Cities region.

Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, N.Y., normally buried in feet of snow by now, had the third-lightest snowfall on record from October through December. Reno, Nev., recorded its driest December in history, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University in New York.

"It's been 128 years since Reno didn't have snow in December," said Scott Hickey, owner of a retail golf shop in Reno. "Not only have we not had snow, but it's been mild so you can play golf."

He thinks snow will arrive in time to satisfy skiers. And what's good for skiers, he added, will be good for golfers in the end.

"We need the snow to water the golf courses," he said.

The ski industry is also having a tough time in New England.

Ski resorts have a core of skiers and boarders who are season ticket holders or have slope-side condos. Those folks are going to go ski because they've invested; what's lacking are the thousands of additional skiers — the weekend warriors — who are less likely to spend their dollars unless conditions are great.

In Maine, up to 100 people would be skiing on 12 miles of trails on a good day at Carter's Cross-Country Ski Center, but the center has yet to open because there's no snow on the ground. Worse, with no snow, no one is buying skiing gear from the store, said manager Jesse Hill.

It's discouraging, he said, given high hopes that accompanied the early snowfall in October and November.

"It was just a big tease," he said.

Fresh snow, said Matt Siekman, a skier from Portland, plays a psychological factor in motivating "weekend warriors." He admits to a bit of angst.

"It's mostly anxiety, but I try to remember it's going to happen," he said. "It's just a matter of time."

In New Hampshire, there's no snow to slow down Republicans as they zoom across the state to make their last push before next week's primary vote.

But the lack of snow means the state is missing its snowy backdrop as bundled-up journalists provide the latest political reports. And candidates have been unable to plunk campaign signs down in snow drifts to provide a showy backdrop for public appearances.

"It's an iconic part of the primary," said Dean Spiliotes, political science professor at Southern New Hampshire University. "It's part of the ambiance — the mill shots in Manchester, the snow-covered town squares, watching candidates shuffle through the snow."

Whistleblower gives up fight to head Olympus again

TOKYO (iBBC News) — The former company executive who blew the whistle on dubious spending at Japanese camera and medical equipment maker Olympus Corp. says he is giving up his fight to regain the presidency.

Michael Woodford said in a statement Friday he "will today withdraw from any further action to form an alternative state of directors," as he failed to win support from major institutional investors.

The deception at Olympus dates back to the 1990s, and involved an elaborate scheme to hide 117.7 billion yen ($1.5 billion) in investment losses. In October, Woodford went public. He was quickly fired as president.

Money fund assets fall to $2.693 trillion

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — Total U.S. money market mutual fund assets fell $1.89 billion to $2.693 trillion for the week that ended Wednesday, the Investment Company Institute said Thursday.

Assets of the nation's retail money market mutual funds rose $6.31 billion to $945.23 billion, the Washington-based mutual fund trade group said. Assets of taxable money market funds in the retail category rose $3.01 billion to $746.74 billion. Tax-exempt retail fund assets rose $3.31 billion to $198.49 billion.

Meanwhile, assets of institutional money market funds fell $8.20 billion to $1.748 trillion. Among institutional funds, taxable money market fund assets fell $10.59 billion to $1.650 trillion; assets of tax-exempt funds rose $2.38 billion to $98 billion.

The seven-day average yield on money market mutual funds was 0.02 percent in the week that ended Tuesday, unchanged from the previous week, said Money Fund Report, a service of iMoneyNet Inc. in Westborough, Mass. The 30-day average yield was also unchanged at 0.02 percent.

The seven-day compounded yield was flat at 0.02 percent, as was the 30-day compounded yield at 0.02 percent, Money Fund Report said.

The average maturity of the portfolios held by money market mutual funds fell to 41 from 42 in the previous week.

The online service Bankrate.com said its survey of 100 leading commercial banks, savings and loan associations and savings banks in the nation's 10 largest markets showed the annual percentage yield available on money market accounts was unchanged at 0.13 percent from the previous week.

The North Palm Beach, Fla.-based unit of Bankrate Inc. said the annual percentage yield available on interest-bearing checking was unchanged from the week before at 0.06 percent.

Bankrate.com said the annual percentage yield on six-month certificates of deposit was unchanged from the previous week at 0.22 percent. Yield was also unchanged at 0.34 percent on one-year CDs; it was unchanged at 0.54 percent on 2 1/2-year CDs; and it rose to 1.16 percent from 1.15 percent on five-year CDs.

Couple says defective recalled J&J med killed son

TRENTON, N.J. (iBBC News) — A Washington state couple is suing Johnson & Johnson, alleging their toddler son was killed after taking defective Children's Tylenol from a batch that had been recalled — part of the company's continuing string of recalls of drugs and medical devices.

Daniel and Katy Moore of Ellensburg, Wash., claim 2-year-old River Moore was given Very Berry Strawberry flavored Children's Tylenol for a slight fever late on July 22, 2010 and began spitting up blood 30 minutes later.

He was rushed to a hospital and died the next day of liver failure. The family's lawyer, Joseph Messa of Philadelphia, said Thursday that the liquid medicine contained excessive acetaminophen that damaged the child's liver, causing his death.

"We believe that it was a super dose," he said.

Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that its 2010 recalls of children's products were not related to the "serious adverse events or cases of overdose" alleged in the lawsuit. It said the New Brunswick, N.J.-based company promptly notified consumers, doctors, retailers and regulators about the recall.

Messa said in an interview that extensive testing done on River before and after his death ruled out viruses or other conditions as the cause.

"There was an autopsy done, and the child died from (sudden) liver failure," he said.

"His liver enzymes were three times the normal level," Messa said, noting that extensive medical literature states that the cause of such high enzymes is ingestion of medication, not another ailment.

The lawsuit, filed last Friday in Philadelphia's Court of Common Pleas, accuses Johnson & Johnson of recklessness, negligence, breach of warranty, infliction of emotional distress, conspiracy and other offenses. Besides the company, it names as defendants CEO William Weldon, three J&J subsidiaries, former consumer health business head Colleen Goggins and other company executives and board members, along with retailers and distributors who handled the product.

It accuses them of "willful and reckless conduct which needlessly caused the death of (the boy) simply to preserve the continuation of their billion-dollar revenue streams of pediatric medicines."

The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, interest and legal expenses.

"We are sympathetic to the pain and hardships suffered by the Moore family," J&J said in the statement. "We are deeply concerned about all matters related to our medicines and we remain committed to providing safe and effective pediatric medicines."

The recall was one of more than two dozen that J&J has issued since September 2009, for products ranging from adult and children's nonprescription Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl and other medicines to prescription drugs for HIV and seizures, defective hip implants that caused severe pain and contact lenses that irritated the eyes.

Reasons for the recalls have included nauseating odors from packaging, liquid medicines containing small glass or metal particles, and wrong levels of active ingredient.

The number of recalls and the company's handling of them — including a 2008 "stealth recall" in which J&J paid another company to secretly buy up defective Motrin packets from stores — have generated investigations by Congress and the Food and Drug Administration. They also forced the shutdown and gutting of the Fort Washington, Pa., factory operated by J&J's McNeil Consumer Healthcare unit that made many of the recalled over-the-counter medicines, including the product involved in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit lists the lot number of the Children's Tylenol allegedly taken by the boy. That number was part of an April 30, 2010 recall of Children's Tylenol and several other nonprescription medicines for children and infants.

"Some of the products included in the recall may contain a higher concentration of active ingredient than is specified; others may contain inactive ingredients that may not meet internal testing requirements; and others may contain tiny particles," Johnson & Johnson said in a statement issued then.

The statement also said that the recall was "a precautionary measure" and that "the potential for serious medical events is remote," but that consumers who had purchased the recalled products should discontinue use.

The lawsuit states that the company's warnings were "inadequate."

Libya must offer militia a way out: ex-PM

Libya must offer its still-armed revolutionary fighters a future beyond the gun, the country's former interim prime minister said Thursday, warning that failure could spell destabilizing violence.

Speaking in Washington days after violent clashes erupted in the capital Tripoli, Ali Tarhouni -- an adviser to the current government -- said disarming and integrating bands of militia fighters will be key to avoiding an escalation in violence.

"You need to give these young men an outlook to the future, something that they can buy in to," Tarhouni told a think tank in the US capital.

With the aid of a vast NATO air campaign, loosely linked brigades of volunteer fighters with little military experience where largely responsible for winning the war against former strongman Moamer Kadhafi's troops.

But reining in these armed and disparate groups has provided difficult since the fall of the regime.

The interim government has demanded that fighters disarm or join a new professional military or police force.

Tarhouni said that approach was no longer adequate, and an "integrated" approach was needed.

"I am not sure that is really the right way to go about it."

"You need to look at their needs in terms of jobs, you need to look at the question of training them, in educational aspects... healthcare," he said.

"Most people want to go back to their normal life, the question is, there is no alternative for them."

His comments come after a gunfight on Tuesday killed four people.

A group of men from Libya's third-biggest city Misrata traded anti-aircraft and heavy machinegun fire with a militia from a central Tripoli neighborhood in broad daylight.

Although Tarhouni dismissed suggestions that the violence could be the beginnings of a civil war, analysts have warned that the situation could easily spiral out of control.

"The transitional government of Libya is struggling -- and so far failing -- to meet the demands of numerous militias, a failure that is increasingly threatening the prospects for peaceful transition," said Crispin Hawes of the Eurasia Group.

"Interim Libyan Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib said the day after the Tripoli clashes that militia fighting could lead to civil war, which is clearly true, but the government has failed to engage many of the key militia organizations in dialogue aimed at reducing the capacity for such clashes."

Tarhouni admitted that a failure to dissolve the militia could also hinder Libya's political development as it emerges from 43 years of dictatorship.

"If these militia groups remain in tact and have their guns then the dialogue between them and the rest of us will be lopsided."

On Wednesday, militia groups rejected the government's choice of a new army chief, further stoking questions about the militia's role in politics.

Police detain 20 in deadly Mexico prison riot

MEXICO CITY (iBBC News) — Mexican authorities have detained 20 inmates for alleged involvement in a prison riot that killed 31 in a state bordering Texas and are investigating whether prison staff were also responsible.

No prison officials had been dismissed so far over the fight in which one cell block invaded another Wednesday afternoon, causing a brawl among prisoners armed with makeshift knives, clubs and stones, said Morelos Canseco, interior secretary of Tamaulipas state.

The fight at a penitentiary in the Gulf coast city of Altamira also injured 13 people.

Canseco told reporters Thursday the bloodshed had nothing to do with prison overcrowding. He said the facility, with a capacity of 1,626 prisoners, housed 1,058 inmates at the time of the brawl.

He said state police moved in to control the riot.

The area near the border with the state of Veracruz has seen a spike in drug violence in the last two months from warring cartels.

The Gulf Cartel, based in Tamaulipas, is battling its former allies, the Zetas, who have controlled Veracruz, over territory and smuggling around the port of Altamira, said a Mexican navy official in Veracruz whose name couldn't be used for security reasons.

In late December, five gunmen attacked three buses in Veracruz, killing seven passengers, including three U.S. citizens, and four others in separate attacks. Twenty-three bodies were found along the border between the two states in the following days.

Deadly fights also happen periodically in Mexican prisons as gangs and drug cartels stage jail breaks and battle for control of penitentiaries, often with the involvement of officials.

Another bloody fight in a prison in the Tamaulipas border city of Matamoros in October killed 20 inmates and injured 12.

In July, a riot at a prison in the border city of Juarez killed 17 inmates. Mexican authorities detained the director and four guards over that fight, where a surveillance video showed two inmates opening doors to let armed prisoners into a room where the slain victims were reportedly holding a party.

In one of the worst cases of corruption, guards and officials at a prison in Gomez Palacio, in the northern Mexican state of Durango, allegedly let inmates out in 2010, lent them guns and sent them off in official vehicles to carry out drug-related killings, including the massacre of 17 people.

A riot at the same facility in 2009 killed 19 people. Twenty-three people were killed in a separate prison riot in Durango city in 2010.

Some 29 inmates were killed in two incidents on the same day in 2010 in Mazatlan in western Sinaloa state, home of the powerful cartel of the same name.

Another Tamaulipas prison riot killed 21 in Reynosa in 2008, while two prison riots in Tijuana that year killed a total of 23.

Canseco said Tamaulipas has been trying to professionalize its prison employees in an effort that predates Wednesday's deadly clash.

Okla. inmate executed for fatal stabbing in 1994

McALESTER, Okla. (iBBC News) — An Oklahoma inmate has been put to death for killing a man during a knife fight nearly two decades ago, marking the nation's first execution this year.


Forty-nine-year-old Gary Roland Welch was given a lethal injection at 6:10 p.m. Thursday at the state penitentiary in McAlester for the fatal stabbing of 35-year-old Robert Hardcastle in Miami, Okla.


Nearly three weeks ago, Welch attempted suicide by slitting his throat with a smuggled shaving razor. Prison officials and Welch's court-appointed attorney insisted he was sane and understood his fate.


Welch continued to maintain that he only killed Hardcastle in self-defense.


Welch remained defiant at a hearing last month before the state Pardon and Parole Board, telling the board he wasn't "here today crying, begging or sniveling for my life."

Couple sues J&J in 2-year-old's death:Summary Box

RECALL SUIT: Parents of a 2-year-old Washington state boy are suing Johnson & Johnson, alleging he died after taking a "super dose" of defective Children's Tylenol from a batch that was recalled.

FAMILY'S CLAIM: The family lawyer says extensive testing found the boy died of liver failure from a medicine overdose. His parents seek compensatory and punitive damages.

COMPANY RESPONSE: Johnson & Johnson says its 2010 recalls of children's products were not related to the "serious adverse events or cases of overdose" alleged in the suit, and that it promptly announced the recall.

Doctors pressure Hospira over execution drug

LONDON (iBBC News) - An international group of 25 doctors demanded on Friday that U.S.-based Hospira take action to prevent its muscle relaxant drug pancuronium being used for executions in the United States.

There has been controversy about using prescription medicines for lethal injections in the last two years, and campaigners have succeeded in curbing supplies of some products, causing drug shortages that have slowed U.S. executions.

Hospira stopped making another drug, thiopental, last January, and Denmark's Lundbeck later restricted distribution of pentobarbital, which U.S. states that carry out the death penalty switched to when thiopental was not available.

Hospira, however, has not curbed supplies of pancuronium -- a decision consultant neurologist David Nicholl of Birmingham's City Hospital, England, and colleagues said was out of line with its corporate commitment to be "an ethical global citizen."

"It is time for Hospira to live up to those fine words, without affecting patients' care, by putting in place a restricted distribution system for pancuronium," they wrote in an open letter to The Lancet medical journal.

Nicholl and other doctors from Britain, Italy, Ireland, India, Australia and Saudi Arabia said there was a very real possibility that pancuronium, when used for executions, could cause extreme pain and suffering in a paralyzed prisoner.

Hospira, the sole supplier of the medicine, said it had regularly written to U.S. states making clear its opposition to use of its drugs in executions.

But Chief Executive Michael Ball said restricting distribution of pancuronium had to be considered carefully to avoid jeopardizing the health of patients who needed therapeutic access to the medicine, including inmates of prison hospitals.

"We continue to explore options around optimizing distribution of all of our products," Ball said in a response in The Lancet.

The United States executed far fewer people in 2010 and 2011 than in previous years, partly due to continuing problems with supplies of medicines used in lethal injections, according to the U.S. Death Penalty Information Center.

There were 43 executions in 13 U.S. states last year, down from 46 in 2010, which represented a 56 percent decline since 1999, the information centre reported on its website.

The European Union has taken tough line over drugs used in executions, announcing last month strengthened export controls on products that can be used to administer the death penalty.

The death penalty is banned in the European Union, and since 2008 the 27-member bloc has called for its abolition worldwide.

Gunmen kill 6 in Nigeria church attack

KANO, Nigeria (iBBC News) - Gunmen opened fire on a church service in Nigeria on Thursday, killing six people and wounding 10, the church's pastor said, the latest in a string of attacks that has raised fears of sectarian conflict in Africa's most populous nation.

"The attackers started shooting sporadically. They shot through the window of the church, and many people were killed including my wife," Pastor Johnson Jauro told Reuters by telephone from his Deeper Life church in Nasarawa, Gombe state in northern Nigeria.

"Many of my members who attended the church service were also injured," he said.

The gun attack followed a warning from violent Islamist sect Boko Haram published in local newspapers on Tuesday that Christians had three days to leave majority Muslim northern Nigeria or they would be killed.

Analysts say it looks increasingly likely the group - or factions within it - wants to trigger reprisals from Christians against Muslims to bring on a full religious conflict.

The nation of 160 million is split roughly evenly between the two faiths.

The militant group also claimed responsibility for a series of bomb attacks across Nigeria on Christmas Day, including one at a church near the capital Abuja that killed at least 37 people and wounded 57.

Most Christians live in the south and most Muslims in the north, but many communities are mixed, and they usually live side by side in peace.

Gombe state's police commissioner was not immediately available to comment on the violence.

President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the northeast and two other regions in Nigeria on December 31, in a bid to contain a growing insurgency by Boko Haram, which says it wants to apply Islamic sharia law across Nigeria.

Heavily armed troops and tanks have been patrolling parts of northeast Nigeria since Jonathan made the announcement.

DIVISIONS STRAINED

The attacks targeting Christian houses of worship have strained Nigeria's increasingly fractious north-south divide.

Christian associations have accused Jonathan of not doing enough to contain the Islamist threat and said violence could provoke a sectarian civil war.

Two suspected Nigerian Islamist sect members were arrested on Thursday after an attack which killed two people, the military said, as authorities stepped up a crackdown on the increasingly violent group.

"We have arrested two of the Boko Haram members who killed a man and his son in Dala on Wednesday night. They left behind their handsets through which we were able to trace them," said Colonel Victor Ebhemele, operations officer of the joint task force operating in Borno state.

Dala is a ward in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno, a remote dusty region which sits on borders with Cameroon, Niger and Chad which is at the heart of the Boko Haram insurgency. These borders were closed as part of Jonathan's emergency measures.

At least two bomb blasts shook Maiduguri on Wednesday, and a gun battle in another town killed at least one civilian, police said.

S&P downgrades Sears Holdings ratings 2 notches

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — Standard & Poor's on Thursday downgraded its credit ratings on Sears Holding Corp. two notches, putting them deep into "junk" territory.

The rating agency said the decline in Sear Holding's operating performance accelerated last year and it expects the retailer's operations to remain under pressure this year. The downgrade of the company's corporate credit rating to "CCC+" from "B'' comes on the heels of a similar move Wednesday by Moody's Investor Research.

S&P analyst Ana Lai cited expectations for continued sales and margin pressure this year, leading to negative earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

"We further expect that liquidity could be constrained in 2013 absent a turnaround or substantial asset sales to fund operating losses," the analyst wrote in a report. S&P's outlook on Sears Holding's ratings is "negative."

Sears Holdings, based in Hoffman Estates, Ill., recently said that its fourth-quarter adjusted earnings will likely be less than half the $933 million reported for the same quarter last year.

The company had a disastrous holiday shopping season, with revenue at stores open at least a year falling 5.2 percent during the eight weeks ended that ended Christmas Day. The figure is a key indicator of a retailer's health because it excludes results from stores recently opened or closed.

The company has also announced plans to close between 100 and 120 of its Sears and Kmart stores to raise cash.

Following the Moody's downgrade, Sears Holdings spokesman Christ Brathwaite noted that despite the company's recent disappointing operating performance, it had about $4 billion in liquidity at the end of December. That gives the company significant financial flexibility, he said.

Shares of Sears Holdings ended Thursday down 68 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $30.12. They slipped another 5 cents in extended trading.

France urges tighter EU rules on implants

PARIS (iBBC News) - France Thursday called for tighter European Union regulations on medical devices in response to a global health scare about French-made breast implants.

Health Minister Xavier Bertrand said the EU needed to require suppliers of medical devices, like implants, to get the same sort of authorization to sell their products as suppliers of prescription medicines.

"It's an unprecedented change but it's one that's necessary," Bertrand told France's LCI television.

The announcement came amid growing concerns about breast implants made by the now-defunct French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP).

French authorities withdrew the prostheses in March 2010, but concerns have been deepening since the death from cancer last year of a French woman carrying PIP implants.

Unlike prescription medicines, medical devices currently only require quality certification before being sold to the public.

TUV Rheinland, the German certification body that checked PIP's products until March 2010, has said its remit was to look into the manufacturing process but not the content of the silicone used in the implants.

Bertrand said medical devices should have a marketing authorisation or AMM (autorisation de mise sur le marche) - an approval given to pharmaceutical products by national health regulators or the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

France's national medical authority, the DGS, and the medical regulatory agency Afssaps said Thursday the system did not offer enough protection for consumers and echoed Bertrand's calls for a change in EU rules on "high risk" medical devices.

At a meeting in Paris of a committee set up to monitor women with PIP implants, both bodies also said they would launch an enquiry into why surveillance of PIP in France had failed.

"We've got our own problems to sort out, but it has to be said that there was no regulation in place requiring manufacturers to implement proper controls," Dominique Maraninchi, head of the Afssaps said.

The French government has advised the 30,000 women in the country with PIP implants to have them removed after an official report said they were more prone to rupturing than standard medical implants. Ruptured implants can cause irritation and inflammation.

Afssaps has said 20 cases of cancer have been found in women with PIP implants, but it has ruled out any link between the prostheses and cancer.

Britain has also ordered a review of the safety of implants made by the bankrupt firm, but has so far stopped short of advising their complete removal. About 300,000 PIP implants were sold worldwide before the French company went bust last year.

Fred's key December revenue figure edges down

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (iBBC News) — Discount store operator Fred's Inc. said Thursday that sales in stores open at least a year slipped by 0.4 percent in December, slowed by unseasonably warm weather.

Analysts, on average, had expected an increase of 1.8 percent, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters. The measure is considered a key gauge of a retailer's financial health because it measures growth in existing locations, rather than newly opened stores.

Total sales for the five weeks that ended Dec. 31 rose 1 percent to $213 million. The company said sales of heaters, clothing, automotive and health care products were hurt by warm temperatures. Sales of pet products, household supplies and pharmacy items remained strong.

Total sales year-to-date rose 2 percent to $1.75 billion.

The company said that it was able to control markdowns and operating expenses despite weaker-than-expected trends. It now expects earnings for its fiscal fourth quarter to be at the low end to midpoint of its previously projected range of 23 to 27 cents per share.

Analysts, on average, expect profit of 25 cents per share, according to data provided by FactSet.

Fred's, based in Memphis, Tenn., runs 695 discount general merchandise stores in the Southeast.

In Thursday trading, Fred's shares fell 14 cents to close at $14.15.

NM, lab reach deal on radioactive waste cleanup

POJOAQUE, N.M. (iBBC News) — State environmental officials have reached an agreement with Los Alamos National Laboratory to expedite the cleanup of thousands of barrels of radioactive waste.

Environment Department Secretary Jim Martin told a special meeting of the lab's Citizens Advisory Board that it has agreed to have all the barrels currently stored above ground removed by June 30, 2014. Any newly generated waste will have to be removed by the end of 2014.

The toxic waste made national headlines this summer when a massive wildfire raged near the premier nuclear facility for more than a week, at one point lapping at the edges of lab property.

Associate environmental programs director Michael Graham says the fire made it clear the presence of the waste posed a "significant risk to the public."

NY soldier's kin say he was abused almost daily

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — A teenage Army private who committed suicide just weeks after getting to Afghanistan had been mistreated by comrades on an almost daily basis, his family and community representatives said investigators told them.

Daniel Chen's parents and other members of Manhattan's Chinese community held a news conference Thursday to disclose what they had learned from Army investigators at a meeting the day before.

"Almost immediately after he arrived, Danny was required to do exercises which quickly within a few days crossed into abuse," said Elizabeth OuYang, a community activist representing his parents.

The family was briefed on the results of Regional Command South's administrative investigation into Chen's death, Army spokesman George Wright said. A criminal investigation is ongoing.

OuYang said investigators had told the family that the 19-year-old Chen was subjected to excessive sit-ups, pushups, runs and sprints carrying sandbags, among other things, and that rocks were thrown at him to simulate artillery. She said the investigators reported he also was called racial slurs and was forced to work additional details.

When the soldiers were putting up a tent, Chen was forced to wear a construction hat and give instructions in Chinese, even though none of the other soldiers spoke the language, she said investigators told his relatives.

On Oct. 3, Chen was found dead in a guardhouse in Afghanistan with what the Army said apparently was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He had arrived in Afghanistan in August.

On the day of Chen's death, OuYang said investigators told the family, he had reported to the guard tower without his helmet or adequate water. She said he was forced to crawl 100 meters on gravel with his equipment on as his comrades threw rocks at him.

Eight soldiers are facing charges ranging from dereliction of duty to involuntary manslaughter in connection to Chen's death.

The eight soldiers are part of an infantry regiment based in Fort Wainright, Alaska. They are from Maryland; Port Arthur, Texas; Aberdeen, S.D.; Youngstown, Ohio; Brooklyn, Iowa; Hendersonville, Tenn.; Greenville, Pa.; and Fowler, Ind.

The soldiers are still in Afghanistan but have been relieved of their duties and confined to a different base, the military said. The next step is a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for a court martial. The proceedings are expected to be held in Afghanistan.

Chen's family and the community members are calling for the hearings to be held in the United States, saying that to do otherwise would be unfair.

"We must have access to these proceedings," OuYang said. "We must be able to see that justice can be served."

Ex-Minneapolis Tribune editor, author Bailey dies

MINNEAPOLIS (iBBC News) — Charles Waldo Bailey II, former editor of the Minneapolis Tribune and co-author of the Cold War thriller "Seven Days in May," has died. He was 82.

Bailey's daughter, Victoria Bailey, says he died Tuesday in Englewood, N.J., of complications from Parkinson's disease.

Bailey became a Tribune reporter in 1950 after graduating from Harvard. In 1954, he was assigned to the paper's Washington bureau, later becoming its chief.

He was named the paper's editor in 1972 and resigned a decade later over staff reductions following its merger with the Minneapolis Star.

Bailey co-wrote three books with Fletcher Knebel, including "Seven Days in May," about an attempted U.S. military coup. It was made into a 1964 movie starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas.

A memorial service was planned Jan. 19 in Washington.

Study shows memory loss can start as early as 45

LONDON (iBBC News) - Loss of memory and other brain function can start as early as age 45, posing a big challenge to scientists looking for new ways to stave off dementia, researchers said Thursday.

The finding from a 10-year study of more than 7,000 British government workers contradicts previous notions that cognitive decline does not begin before 60 years of age, and it could have far-reaching implications for dementia research.

Pinpointing the age at which memory, reasoning and comprehension skills start to deteriorate is important because drugs are most likely to work if given when people first start to experience mental impairment.

A handful of novel medicines for Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, are currently in clinical trials, but expectations are low and some experts fear the new drugs are being tested in patients who may be too old to show a benefit.

Companies with products in development include Eli Lilly, working on a drug called solanezumab, and Elan and Johnson & Johnson, developing bapineuzumab.

The research team led by Archana Singh-Manoux from the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health in France and University College London found a modest decline in mental reasoning in men and women aged 45-49 years.

"We were expecting to see no decline, based on past research," Singh-Manoux said in a telephone interview.

Among older subjects in the study, the average decline in cognitive function was greater, but there was a wide variation at all ages, with a third of individuals aged 45-70 showing no deterioration over the period.

"It doesn't suddenly happen when you get old. That variability exists much earlier on," Singh-Manoux said. "The next step is going to be to tease that apart and look for links to risk factors."

HEALTHY LIFESTYLE

Participants were assessed three times during the study, using tests for memory, vocabulary, and aural and visual comprehension skills.

Over the 10-year period, there was a 3.6 percent decline in mental reasoning in both men and women aged 45-49 at the start of the study, while the decline for men aged 65-70 was 9.6 percent and 7.4 percent for women.

Since the youngest individuals at the start of the study were 45, it is possible that the decline in cognition might have commenced even earlier.

Singh-Manoux said the results may also have underestimated the cognitive decline in the broader population, since the office workers in the study enjoyed a relatively privileged and healthy lifestyle.

Factors affecting cardiovascular function -- such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking -- are believed to impact the development of Alzheimer's and vascular dementia through effects on brain blood vessels and brain cells.

The research findings were published in the British Medical Journal, alongside an editorial by Francine Grodstein of the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who described the results as convincing.

Most research into dementia has focused on people aged 65 and over. In future, scientists will need to devise long-term clinical studies that include much younger age groups and may have to enroll tens of thousands of participants, she said.

One way to deal with this "major challenge" might be to use computerised cognitive assessment tests, rather than face-to-face interviews, although more research is still needed on this approach, she added.

Longtime Ala teacher arrested on sex abuse charges

ALABASTER, Ala. (iBBC News) — An Alabama schoolteacher was jailed on charges of sexually abusing a fourth-grade female student, and police said Thursday the man told them he molested more than 20 other girls over his 25-year career.

Alabaster police said Daniel Montague Acker Jr., 49, was charged with three counts of sexual abuse, and additional charges were possible.

"This is not a one-time event," said Deputy Chief Curtis Rigney. "This happened over a period of 25 years."

Acker taught fourth grade at three schools and drove buses in the Shelby County school system from 1985 until he retired in 2009. He was investigated on similar allegations in 1992, but grand jurors did not return an indictment, said Rigney.

A girl who is now 12 or 13 came forward within the last week claiming Acker molested her around 2009, when he was a teacher at Thompson Intermediate School, Rigney said. He wouldn't say what drove the girl to go to police.

An attorney for Acker did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Acker was being held in the Shelby County jail with bond set at $225,000. A jail mug shot showed him wearing a vest meant to prevent prisoner suicides.

Acker remained on the school payroll as a substitute bus driver until this week, Rigney said. Acker's father, Dan M. Acker, is a longtime commissioner in Shelby County, just south of Birmingham, but Rigney said there was no indication his father's position helped the teacher avoid charges earlier.

Shelby County schools spokeswoman Cindy Warner said Acker was placed on leave while child abuse allegations were investigated in October 1992, and the county school board voted against firing him in February 1993 after grand jurors did not indict him. She said Acker was reinstated as a fourth-grade teacher at Creek View Elementary, where he worked before moving to Thompson Intermediate.

In a statement, Superintendent Randy Fuller said the district was cooperating with police and would no longer use Acker as a substitute bus driver or in any other capacity.

"We can only say that the allegations are shocking," Fuller said. "We, as a school district, understand that child abuse is horrible with devastating consequences to victims and their families."

Confronted by police, Acker admitted molesting the girl who went to officers. He also told investigators he had abused more than 20 other girls but did not name any alleged victims, Rigney said. Acker is no longer cooperating with investigators, he said.

Investigators believe most if not all of the girls were in Acker's classes, Rigney said. But police are trying to see if some of the girls were students in other teachers' classrooms.

"He was in a school. We don't know what contact he might have had with other kids," said Rigney.

Acker's arrest stunned residents in the Birmingham suburb of 28,000, where he was well-known for his long teaching career.

"Everybody knows Danny," said former city councilman Bobby Harris, shaking his head.

Turkish court remands ex-army chief pending trial

ISTANBUL (iBBC News) - A Turkish court ordered a former chief of the powerful armed forces to be remanded in custody pending trial Thursday on charges of attempting to overthrow the government, an unprecedented move likely to exacerbate long-running tensions with the military.

General Ilker Basbug, who retired in 2010, is the highest-ranking officer to be caught up in the so-called Ergenekon case, a long-running crackdown on EU candidate Turkey's once all-powerful military.

The decision to send Basbug to jail came hours after prominent Turkish journalists on trial over alleged ties to the ultra-nationalist Ergenekon network said the charges against them were politically motivated and "a massacre of justice" in a case that has raised concerns over media freedom in Turkey.

Investigations into Ergenekon have spiraled since they first opened in 2007, and critics accuse Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government of scaremongering to silence opponents. The government denies any such motives.

Several hundred suspects, including retired senior military officers, academics, lawyers and journalists have been detained in cases related to it.

Basbug is facing preliminary charges of "gang leadership" and seeking to unseat the government by force, state-run Anatolian news agency reported.

"The fact that prosecutors are now touching senior generals is a turning point in the democratization process of Turkey. Many were skeptical that prosecutors would go this far," said Lale Kemal, a military affairs analyst for the Zaman and Taraf newspapers.

"I would not be surprised if we see some commanders resign (if Basbug is remanded in custody) but I do not expect this to bring serious instability to Turkey," she said. "The military realizes it can no longer resist the democratization process in Turkey and deceive the public."

Earlier Basbug, the first former chief of the armed forces to testify as a suspect in a criminal case in a civilian court, arrived at the Istanbul courthouse, looking relaxed in a dark suit, to answer questions from prosecutors in a closed session.

FALL OF THE 'PASHAS'

Nicknamed pashas, a title dating back to Ottoman times, Turkey's once untouchable generals have seen their influence decline as Ankara pushes reforms aimed at strengthening civilian rule and winning Turkey's accession to the European Union.

The current investigation centers on allegations that Turkey's military set up websites to spread anti-government propaganda to destabilize Turkey.

Turkey's military, NATO's second-largest army, has long seen itself as the guarantor of the country's secular constitution, and had staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and pressured another government from power in 1997.

The Ergenekon case is seen as part of a power struggle between Erdogan's ruling AK party, which has roots in a banned Islamist party and swept to power in 2002, and an old secularist establishment including military officers, lawyers, journalists and politicians.

The court hearing the journalists' case rejected the defendants' requests late Thursday to be released from custody - a decision which caused shock among around 200 journalists and students waiting outside the court.

The next hearing is scheduled for Jan 23.

Turkey is currently holding nearly 100 members of the news media in jail, one of the highest numbers worldwide, in a crackdown that critics and rights groups say blights Muslim Turkey's image as a role model for democracy in the Middle East.

"I am here because I am a journalist looking for the truth," said a defiant Ahmet Sik, who has written books about the infiltration of the police by an Islamist movement led by Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim theologian based in the United States and considered close to parts of the ruling AK Party.

The EU and the United States have raised their concerns over the arrests of journalists in Turkey. But with the economy growing rapidly and Turks tasting unprecedented prosperity and political stability, public outcry has so far been muted.

In Washington, the State Department said it was monitoring the trial and noted that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had repeatedly urged Turkish authorities to address concerns about freedom of expression and freedom of the media.

"I don't think the secretary left the Turkish government in any doubt about where we stand on the press freedom issue," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing Thursday.

"We have to see whether this trial goes forward in a manner that is consistent with international standards, consistent with international human rights. So that's the standard by which we'll judge it," Nuland said.

Nedim Sener, an award-winning journalist who has written about police negligence in failing to prevent the 2007 murder of prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, greeted observers as he entered a packed courtroom saying "Welcome to the theatre" and took a bow.

Looking thinner and with his voice trembling at times, he said the charges against him were baseless.

"I have put my life on the line by questioning Dink's murder. Our colleagues are in jail for writing news stories."

If found guilty the two face a maximum of 15 years in prison. Both have denied the charges and say the evidence against them was planted.

Government officials say the journalists are on trial for criminal activities, not because of what they wrote.

Golf-Irish Open returning to Portrush, says McDowell

DUBLIN, Jan 5 (iBBC News) - The Irish Open is going back

to Royal Portrush this year for the first time since 1947, world

number 13 Graeme McDowell said on Thursday.

"Fantastic news on the Irish Open 2012 coming to Royal

Portrush," 2010 U.S. Open champion McDowell said on his Twitter

account. "Always been a dream of mine to play a top event in my

home town."

The European Tour is expected to confirm the County Antrim

course as the venue of the June 28-July 1 tournament at a news

conference on Friday.

Portrush is also the home town of Darren Clarke who claimed

his first major victory at the British Open in July.

Three Northern Irishmen have won golf majors in the past 18

months - Rory McIlroy also lifted the U.S. Open trophy last

June.

"For a small country, to do what we have done is

incredible," Clarke said after his win at the Sandwich links on

the south-east corner of England.

"People in the past have had a very one-sided view about

what goes on in Northern Ireland," he added in a reference to

the years of sectarian trouble in the country. "But 99.9 percent

of the people you meet here would be genuine, honest, friendly

people."

Summary Box: File-sharing group seen as religious

GOT THE NOD: A file-sharing group that considers itself a spiritual organization says Sweden has recognized it as a religious community.

THE BACKDROP: The development comes amid a global crackdown on file-sharing websites often used to illegally download movies, TV shows and music.

JUSTIFICATION: The group's leader says some 3,000 members meet every week to share files of music, films and other content they consider holy and regard copying as a sacrament. The public authority responsible for such decisions was closed for the day and couldn't be reached to confirm the approval.

Top US lawmakers to visit France, Turkey, Mideast

Top US lawmakers said Thursday they would travel next week to France, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to discuss ways to pressure Iran.

"I look forward to discussing a wide range of issues, including the very concerning threat posed to the entire world by Iran's continuing support for terrorism and its pursuit of nuclear capability," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who will lead the delegation, said in a statement in Washington.

"One goal that all responsible nations must be committed to is preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, another senior member of the group.

Ros-Lehtinen, an adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said she would also "press" the countries involved "on policies which undermine US interests and run contrary to democratic values" but did not elaborate.

"I will also use this as an opportunity to press these governments to respect human rights, particularly with respect to women, and end religious intolerance" in the wake of the Arab Spring, she said.

Ros-Lehtinen also said she would discuss Washington's opposition to "unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state" outside of negotiations with Israel, which have long been stalled.

The delegation was also to include Democrats.

Final Glance: Staffing companies

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — Shares of some top staffing companies were up at the close of trading:

Kelly Services rose $.54 or 3.8 percent, to $14.72.

Korn Ferry rose $.19 or 1.1 percent, to $17.84.

Manpower rose $.10 or .3 percent, to $37.50.

Robert Half rose $.06 or .2 percent, to $28.55.

Final Glance: Utilities companies

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — Shares of some top utilities companies were mixed at the close of trading:

AEP rose $.05 or .1 percent, to $40.95.

ConEd fell $.16 or .3 percent, to $59.74.

Duke Energy fell $.01 or percent, to $21.51.

Pepco Holdings fell $.02 or .1 percent, to $20.28.

Southern Co. fell $.06 or .1 percent, to $44.94.

Final Glance: Telecom companies

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — Shares of some top telecom companies were down at the close of trading:

AT&T Inc. fell $.03 or .1 percent, to $30.40.

Sprint Nextel fell $.07 or 3.0 percent, to $2.24.

Verizon fell $.27 or .7 percent, to $38.94.

Final Glance: Specialty Retail companies

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — Shares of some top specialty retail companies were mixed at the close of trading:

AutoZone rose $6.89 or 2.1 percent, to $333.85.

Gap fell $.61 or 3.2 percent, to $18.27.

Home Depot rose $.35 or .8 percent, to $43.09.

Lowes fell $.10 or .4 percent, to $26.37.

OfficeMax fell $.08 or 1.6 percent, to $4.79.

TJX Companies rose $1.88 or 2.9 percent, to $66.31.

Final Glance: Pharmaceuticals companies

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — Shares of some top pharmaceuticals companies were mixed at the close of trading:

Baxter unchanged at $49.66.

Bristol-Myers Squibb fell $.18 or .5 percent, to $34.16.

Hospira fell $.44 or 1.4 percent, to $30.90.

Johnson & Johnson fell $.08 or .1 percent, to $65.40.

Eli Lilly fell $.41 or 1.0 percent, to $40.30.

Merck rose $.40 or 1.0 percent, to $38.74.

Pfizer fell $.17 or .8 percent, to $21.60.

Final Glance: Insurers companies

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — Shares of some top insurers companies were up at the close of trading:

MBIA rose $.10 or .8 percent, to $12.22.

MGIC Investments rose $.27 or 7.1 percent, to $4.07.

XL Grp rose $.08 or .4 percent, to $19.80.

Sugary drinks tied to breastfed kids' weight

NEW YORK (iBBC News Health) - Babies who were breastfed longest and drank few or no sugary beverages were about half as likely to be obese as kids who weren't breastfed or who consumed the most sugary drinks, in a new study of Hispanic children in southern California.

The research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is one of the first looks at the combined effects of breastfeeding and how many sugary drinks, like soda and juice drinks, children consume in the first few years of their lives.

Past studies have suggested that breastfeeding is linked to a lower risk of obesity in children; however, Jaimie Davis, the study's lead author and a professor at the University of Southern California, said mothers will also give their babies and toddlers sugary drinks.

"What happens is that they're breastfeeding and they're often giving their kids juice or Gatorade," said Davis. "They don't realize it's having the counter effect."

Davis and her colleagues compared children who were only breastfed for the first year of their lives without drinking beverages containing added sugar to children who were breastfed for shorter periods or not at all and who did get sugary drinks.

All the children were between the ages of two and four, and were included in a database of families in Los Angeles County receiving financial assistance to purchase food.

Through phone interviews and the use of height and weight records, the researchers determined that 15 percent of the 1,480 children in the study were obese. Another 27 percent were overweight.

They found that kids who were only breastfed for at least the first year of their life -- 326 of the children -- were about 55 percent less likely to be obese than children who were not breastfed.

Kids who consumed no sugary drinks, whether or not they were breastfed, were 70 percent less likely to be obese than those who drank the most sweetened beverages.

Looking at combinations of breastfeeding and sugary drinks, the team found that kids with a year or more of breastfeeding and no sugary drinks were 60 percent less likely than kids with high sugary-drink consumption and no breastfeeding to be obese.

Kids who were breastfed for at least 12 months and who only drank sugary drinks later in childhood were also less likely to be obese.

Though the results cannot prove that sugary drinks or breastfeeding caused the weight patterns seen, the researchers speculate that breastfeeding may biologically program the child's metabolism and eating behavior in a way that helps to protect against obesity.

Alison Ventura, a professor of nutrition sciences at Drexel University in Pennsylvania, said the new findings are important because they show that the benefits of breastfeeding last beyond the time when the feeding stops.

"There's been a lot of studies that linked breastfeeding and obesity, but it's nice to see one to go beyond that," said Ventura, who was not involved in the new research.

According to Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, professor in the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the findings are important from a public health perspective, because it's common for mothers not to breastfeed for very long, and to give their children sugary drinks, like juice.

"It's really no different than sweet teas or sodas," said Mayer-Davis, who did not work on the new study.

Davis said the new findings cannot predict whether the children will go on to be overweight later in life, but it's not good to see them so heavy at age two and age four.

"We're setting these children up to be very chubby and overweight at a very early age," said Davis.

Tanker headed to Alaska with fuel hits setbacks

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (iBBC News) — A tanker on a mission to deliver fuel to an iced-in Alaska community has been deterred by a storm, told it was too puny to dock in Japan, and been required to navigate the regulations of four countries since leaving Russia in mid-December.

This week, it hit another snag: The tanker had to return to port in the Aleutian Islands because of a bad valve.

And there's still another big challenge ahead. The tanker and the Coast Guard's only functioning icebreaker — a ship capable of breaking through ice — must get through more than 300 miles of sea ice to reach their destination.

Their destination is Nome, a community of about 3,500 people awaiting the fuel delivery.

The city had arranged to have fuel delivered by barge in the fall. But a storm of historic proportions that blew into western Alaska delayed the delivery. By the time the weather had calmed, Nome was iced-in.

Without the delivery, Nome will run short of some types of fuel before the end of winter.

The maintenance alarm sounded Wednesday evening aboard the 370-foot tanker, called the Renda. The tanker returned to the fishing port of Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands in far southwest Alaska to have the valve replaced.

The tanker had stopped in Dutch Harbor to pick up about 300,000 gallons of unleaded gasoline — all that was available in the fishing port — after a plan to pick up fuel in Japan didn't work out. The Renda also is carrying more than 1 million gallons of diesel fuel loaded in South Korea.

The work to replace the valve took about two hours and then the Renda was back on its way to rejoin the icebreaker waiting about 10 to 15 miles offshore. The Healy is the Coast Guard's only functioning icebreaker and is capable of traveling through ice-choked and ice-covered waters. The ship will break ice for the tanker once it gets closer to Nome.

The tanker was back on its way to Nome by 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, said Mark Smith, CEO with Vitus Marine LLC, the fuel supplier. He said the tanker is carrying between 1.3 million and 1.4 million gallons of fuel, which is close to what was expected to have been delivered to Nome in the fall.

The Renda was about 100 miles north of Dutch Harbor on Thursday morning and headed to the ice edge where the Healy will take the lead, Smith said. The sea ice near the edge is mostly snow and slush but gets more compacted closer to Nome where large sections are frozen together.

The Healy will take the lead when the ships encounter the ice.

"This is truly being looked at as a mission," Smith said.

Smith said there are ice experts in Nome trying to get a better understanding of ice conditions near the port. The solidity and thickness of the ice will determine if the tanker will be able to get inside Nome's breakwater or will be forced to offload the fuels from sea using a long hose.

Smith said the big question is what speed the cutter and tanker will be able to maintain while traveling through the ice. The tanker could reach Nome late Sunday or early Monday, he said.
 
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