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TOP HEADLINES: NATO leaders strive to keep Afghanistan resolve intact

Sunday, May 20, 2012 | 5:44 p.m. CDT; updated 3:39 p.m. CDT, Monday, May 21, 2012

Here are today's top stories from The Associated Press.

NATO leaders strive to keep Afghanistan resolve intact

CHICAGO — President Barack Obama and NATO allies declared Sunday that the end of the long and unpopular Afghanistan war is in sight even as they struggled to hold their fighting force together in the face of dwindling patience and shaky unity.

From his hometown and the city where his re-election operation hums, Obama spoke of a post-2014 world when "the Afghan war as we understand it is over." Until then, though, remaining U.S. and allied troops face the continued likelihood of fierce combat.

Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, offered a stern warning Sunday that the plan to give Afghan forces the lead in fighting next summer won't take coalition troops out of harm's way. "It doesn't mean that we won't be fighting," Allen said. "It doesn't mean that there won't be combat."

As NATO powers and other nations contributing to the war effort gathered, the alliance's top officer, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, asserted that "there will be no rush for the exits" in Afghanistan. "Our goal, our strategy, our timetable remain unchanged," he said.

Convicted Lockerbie bomber al-Megrahi dies of cancer in Libya

TRIPOLI, Libya — He was the embodiment of one of modern Libya's darkest chapters — a man synonymous with horrifying scenes of wreckage, broken families and a plane that fell out of the sky a generation ago. His name, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, was little known compared to the single word that his deeds represented: Lockerbie.

Seven months after his patron dictator Moammar Gadhafi was slain in a revolution that began a new chapter for his homeland, al-Megrahi died Sunday of cancer, leaving behind countless unanswered questions about the midair attack in 1988 that blew up Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland. All 259 people on board — mostly Americans — and 11 on the ground were killed.

"I am an innocent man," al-Megrahi insisted, most recently in his final interview in December, in the final stages of prostate cancer. "I am about to die and I ask now to be left in peace with my family."

But his death at age 60 leaves no peace for families who still question his guilt and whether others in one of history's deadliest terror attacks went unpunished. Scotland's government said it would continue to investigate the bombing even after al-Megrahi's death.

Magnitude-6.0 earthquake kills at least 4 in northern Italy

SANT'AGOSTINO DI FERRARA, Italy — A magnitude-6.0 earthquake shook several small towns in northeast Italy on Sunday, killing four people, knocking down a clock tower and other centuries-old buildings and causing millions in losses to the region known for making Parmesan cheese.

The quake struck at 4:04 a.m., with its epicenter about 22 miles north of Bologna at a relatively shallow depth of 3.2 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Civil protection agency official Adriano Gumina described it as the worst quake to hit the region since the 1300s.

The four people killed were factory workers on the overnight shift when their buildings, in three separate locations, collapsed, agency chief Franco Gabrielli said, In addition, he said, two women died — apparently of heart attacks that may have been sparked by fear. Sky TG24 TV reported one of them was about 100 years old.

Undercount left 1 million blacks out of 1940 US Census

NEW YORK — It was on the streets of her Harlem neighborhood in the 1940s that teenager Althea Gibson began working on the tennis skills that would take her all the way to winning Wimbledon.

But according to the 1940 census, the trailblazing athlete didn't even exist.

There's no record of Gibson and her family in the decennial census, the records of which were released online to the public April 2 by the U.S. National Archives after a 72-year confidentiality period lapsed.

She and her family aren't the only ones — more than a million black people weren't accounted for in 1940, an undercount that had ramifications at the time on everything from the political map to the distribution of resources.

Tropical Storm Alberto hovers off South Carolina coast

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Tropical Storm Alberto hovered off the South Carolina and Georgia coasts Sunday, canceling tourist cruises, producing showers along the coast and serving as a reminder that the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season is just around the corner.

The first storm of the season that officially begins June 1 was not expected to approach landfall on the Carolinas' coast, but it had prompted a tropical storm watch and forecasters warned that it could produce high winds, heavy surf, rip currents and scattered rain across the region.

"It's making the closest approach to the coastline now, so the impacts shouldn't be much different than what we are already seeing," said Jonathan Lamb, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston, S.C.

At 4 p.m. CDT, the National Hurricane Center said Alberto was about 130 miles (210 km) south of Charleston. It has maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (72 kph).

It's currently moving southwest at 6 mph (10 kph), but forecasters expect it to turn northeast sometime Monday.

'Avengers' sinks 'Battleship" to remain No. 1 with $55.1M

LOS ANGELES — "The Avengers" continues to muscle out everything else Hollywood throws at it, easily sinking naval rival "Battleship" and other new releases.

With $55.1 million domestically, Disney's superhero sensation remained No. 1 for a third-straight weekend and took in more than the three big newcomers combined. Overseas, "The Avengers" added an additional $56 million.

The film is approaching the $1.2 billion mark worldwide, totaling $457.1 million domestically and $723.3 million internationally.

"'The Avengers' is dominating the marketplace so profoundly that the newcomers are having a tough time breaking in now," said Paul Dergarabedian, analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com.

Universal's "Battleship" opened a distant No. 2 with $25.4 million domestically, well below industry expectations.


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