AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EDT

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Associated Press

Posted on May 26, 2013 at 5:02 AM

Updated Sunday, May 26 at 5:03 AM

Thousands of bridges similar to I-5 span at risk of freak accident due to outdated designs

SEATTLE (AP) — Thousands of bridges around the U.S. may be one freak accident or mistake away from collapse, even if the spans are deemed structurally sound.

The crossings are kept standing by engineering design, not supported with brute strength or redundant protections like their more modern counterparts. Bridge regulators call the more risky spans "fracture critical," meaning that if a single, vital component of the bridge is compromised, it can crumple.

Those vulnerable crossing carry millions of drivers every day. In Boston, a six-lane highway 1A near Logan airport includes a "fracture critical" bridge over Bennington Street. In northern Chicago, an I-90 pass that goes over Ashland Avenue is in the same category. An I-880 bridge over 5th Avenue in Oakland, Calif., is also on the list.

Also in that category is the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River north of Seattle, which collapsed into the water days ago after officials say an oversized truck load clipped the steel truss.

Public officials have focused in recent years on the desperate need for money to repair thousands of bridges deemed structurally deficient, which typically means a major portion of the bridge is in poor condition or worse. But the bridge that collapsed Thursday is not in that deficient category, highlighting another major problem with the nation's infrastructure: Although it's rare, some bridges deemed to be fine structurally can still be crippled if they are struck hard enough in the wrong spot.

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NTSB on Wash. bridge collapse: Teams must determine if dangers exist for similar spans in US

SEATTLE (AP) — The collapse of an Interstate highway bridge in northern Washington state is a wake-up call for the entire nation, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board says.

Investigators need to find out what happened at the I-5 span 60 miles north of Seattle and if it could be repeated at similar bridges around the country, Debbie Hersman said Saturday.

"This is a really significant event and we need to learn from it, not just in Washington but around the country," Hersman said after taking a boat ride on the Skagit River below the dramatic scene where a truck bumped against the steel framework, collapsing the bridge and sending two vehicles and three people falling into the chilly water.

"At the end of the day it's about preventing an accident like this," she said.

Her team will spend a week to 10 days looking at the bridge, talking to the truck driver whose vehicle hit it, and examining maintenance documents and previous accident reports.

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Anti-Muslim activity on the rise in UK after soldier killed in London

LONDON (AP) — Police, politicians and activists in Britain are warning of rising anti-Muslim sentiment following the slaughter of an off-duty British soldier in a London street, an apparent act of Islamic extremism that has horrified the nation.

Metropolitan Police investigating the killing of Lee Rigby, a 25-year-old soldier who was run over by attackers then butchered by knives, arrested three more men in the murder investigation Saturday. Stun guns were used on two of the three men, aged 24 and 28, police said.

The latest arrests came as an estimated 1,500 members of an extremist right-wing group called the English Defense League marched in the northern English city of Newcastle, chanting Rigby's name. In the southern English city of Portsmouth, police arrested two men for a racially motivated assault as hundreds of demonstrators gathered near one mosque, while several more people were detained for alleged racist offenses elsewhere.

The two men suspected of killing the soldier, Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22, remained under armed guard in separate London hospitals after police shot them at the scene. Police have not officially named the suspects because they have not been charged, but British officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the investigation, have confirmed their names to The Associated Press.

Wednesday's murder in southeast London's Woolwich area shocked the nation partly because the horrific scenes were recorded on witnesses' cellphones, and a video picked up by British media showed one of the two suspects, his hands bloodied, making political statements and warning of further violence as the soldier lay on the ground behind him.

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2 rockets slam into Beirut stronghold of Lebanese Hezbollah group, wounding 4

BEIRUT (AP) — Rockets slammed Sunday into two southern Beirut neighborhoods that are strongholds of Lebanon's Hezbollah group, wounding four people and raising fears that Syria's civil war is increasingly moving to Lebanon.

Lebanon's sectarian divide mirrors that of Syria, and Lebanese armed factions have taken sides in their neighbor's civil war. One leader of Syria's overwhelmingly Sunni rebels had threatened to strike Hezbollah strongholds to retaliate against the Iranian-backed Shiite group for sending fighters to assist Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Street fighting between rival Lebanese groups has been relatively common since the end of the country's 1975-1990 civil war, but rocket or artillery attacks on Beirut neighborhoods are rare.

The rockets were launched hours after the militant group's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, vowed to help propel Assad to victory in Syria's civil war and warned that his overthrow would give rise to extremists.

One rocket fired Sunday landed in the Mar Mikhael district on the southern edge of the capital, striking a car exhibit near a church on the street and causing all four casualties, a Lebanese army statement said. Another struck the second floor of an apartment in a building in Chiyah district south of Beirut, about two kilometers (one mile) away from Mar Mikhael. The apartment's balcony appeared peppered with shrapnel, but no one was wounded.

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Obama recasts threat from enemy fighters to path away from 'perpetual war', critics doubtful

WASHINGTON (AP) — Some call it wishful thinking, but President Barack Obama has all but declared an end to the global war on terror.

Obama is not claiming final victory over extremists who still seek to kill Americans and other Westerners. Instead, he is refocusing the long struggle against terrorism that lies ahead, steering the United States away from what he calls an equally frightening threat — a country in a state of perpetual war. In doing so, Obama recasts the image of the terrorists themselves, from enemy warriors to cowardly thugs and resets the relationship between the U.S. and Islam.

His speech Thursday was designed to move America's mindset away from a war footing and refine and recalibrate his own counterterrorism strategy. Obama asserted that al-Qaida is "on the path to defeat," reducing the scale of terrorism to pre-Sept. 11 levels. That means that with the Afghanistan war winding down, Obama is unlikely to commit troops in large numbers to any conflict — in Syria or other countries struggling with instability in the uncertain aftermath of the Arab Spring — unless, as his critics fear, he tragically has underestimated al-Qaida's staying power.

"Wishing the defeat of terrorists does not make it so," said Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican who is vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

In Thornberry's view, Obama is pushing the idea that "we can simply declare al-Qaida beaten and go back to the pre-9/11 era."

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French soldier stabbed in throat outside Paris; unclear yet if any link to UK attack

PARIS (AP) — A French soldier was stabbed in the throat in a busy commercial district outside Paris on Saturday, and the government said it was trying to determine if there were any links to the brutal killing of a British soldier by suspected Islamic extremists.

French President Francois Hollande said the identity of the attacker, who escaped, was unknown and cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the assault on the uniformed soldier in the La Defense shopping area. The life of the 23-year-old soldier was not in danger, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

On Wednesday, British soldier Lee Rigby, 25, was viciously stabbed on a London street in broad daylight in a suspected terrorist attack that has raised fears of potential copycat strikes.

The French soldier was on a group patrol as part of a national protection program when he was attacked from behind, prosecutor Robert Gelli told Europe 1 radio. The assailant did not say a word, Gelli said.

"There are elements — the sudden violence of the attack — that could lead one to believe there might be a comparison with what happened in London," Interior Minister Manuel Valls told France 2 television. "But at this point, honestly, let us be prudent."

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San Antonio-area flooding kills 2; more than 200 people rescued from homes, cars

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Two women died after being swept away by floodwaters after weekend rains deluged numerous roads in San Antonio, forcing more than 235 rescues by emergency workers who aided stranded motorists and homeowners at times using inflatable boats.

At least one teenage boy also was reported missing after Saturday's torrential rains, carried away while trying to cross the swollen Cibolo Creek in the San Antonio suburb of Schertz, authorities said.

At the height of Saturday's torrential downpours, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro urged residents not to drive as a flash flood warning covered nearly two dozen counties. Nearly 10 inches of rainfall was reported in a matter of hours Saturday at the city's airport.

The National Weather Service said the flash flood threat would persist until late Sunday morning though mostly cloudy weather with occasional thunderstorms and showers was expected to give way to partly sunny skies later in the day.

The rains left more than 200 residents of the Texas city stranded in cars and homes when water rose unexpectedly up to 4 feet in some spots. Traffic also was snarled, making driving difficult.

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Demonstrators rally against Monsanto in global anti-GMO protest

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Protesters rallied in dozens of cities Saturday as part of a global protest against seed giant Monsanto and the genetically modified food it produces, organizers said.

Organizers said "March Against Monsanto" protests were held in 52 countries and 436 cities, including Los Angeles where demonstrators waved signs that read "Real Food 4 Real People" and "Label GMOs, It's Our Right to Know."

Genetically modified plants are grown from seeds that are engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, add nutritional benefits or otherwise improve crop yields and increase the global food supply.

Most corn, soybean and cotton crops grown in the United States today have been genetically modified. But critics say genetically modified organisms can lead to serious health conditions and harm the environment. The use of GMOs has been a growing issue of contention in recent years, with health advocates pushing for mandatory labeling of genetically modified products even though the federal government and many scientists say the technology is safe.

The 'March Against Monsanto' movement began just a few months ago, when founder and organizer Tami Canal created a Facebook page on Feb. 28 calling for a rally against the company's practices.

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Hezbollah leader vows to propel Syrian regime to victory in country's civil war

BEIRUT (AP) — The leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group vowed to help propel President Bashar Assad to victory in Syria's bloody civil war, warning that the fall of the Damascus regime would give rise to extremists and plunge the Middle East into a "dark period."

In a televised address, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah also said Hezbollah members are fighting in Syria against Islamic radicals who pose a danger to Lebanon, and pledged that his group will not allow Syrian militants to control areas along the Lebanese border. He pledged that Hezbollah will turn the tide of the conflict in Assad's favor, and stay as long as necessary to do so.

"We will continue this road until the end, we will take the responsibility and we will make all the sacrifices," he said. "We will be victorious."

The Hezbollah leader's comments offered the clearest public confirmation yet that the Iranian-backed group is directly involved in Syria's war. They also were Nasrallah's first remarks since Hezbollah fighters have pushed to the front lines of the battle for the strategic Syrian town of Qusair near the Lebanese frontier.

The fighting in Qusair, which government troops backed by Hezbollah pounded with artillery on Saturday, has laid bare the Lebanese Shiite group's growing role in the Syrian conflict. Hezbollah initially tried to play down its involvement, but could no longer do so after dozens of its fighters were killed in the town and buried in large funerals in Lebanon.

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Report: Former players say new Rutgers AD ruled through humiliation, fear, emotional abuse

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The woman hired to clean up Rutgers' scandal-scarred athletic program quit as Tennessee's women's volleyball coach 16 years ago after her players submitted a letter complaining she ruled through humiliation, fear and emotional abuse, The Star-Ledger reported Saturday night on its website.

"The mental cruelty that we as a team have suffered is unbearable," the players wrote about Julie Hermann, hired May 15 as Rutgers' athletic director after serving as the No. 2 athletic administrator at Louisville.

In the letter submitted by all 15 team members, the players said Hermann called them "whores, alcoholics and learning disabled" and they wrote: "It has been unanimously decided that this is an irreconcilable issue." The players told The Star-Ledger that Hermann absorbed the words and said: "I choose not to coach you guys."

The 49-year-old Hermann, set to take over the Rutgers' program June 17, told The Star-Ledger she didn't remember the letter. The newspaper said when it was read to her by phone Wednesday, she replied, "Wow."

Hermann, the first woman to head Rutgers' athletic program and one of three female ADs at the 124 schools that make up college football's top tier, has promised a restart for the program following the ouster of its men's basketball coach and the resignation of other officials.

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