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Stay home to stop Ebola

Sierra Leone's 6 million people were told to stay home for three days beginning Friday, except for religious services, as the West African nation attempted a final push to rid itself of Ebola.

Thousands of teams were out reminding people how Ebola is spread and how to prevent it. Teams were also going to search for Ebola cases, particularly in regions around the capital and in the north, where flare-ups persist.

Streets were largely empty Friday except for police on patrols and soldiers and their checkpoints. Muslims were allowed to go to Friday prayers but attendance was low, and the streets emptied quickly after services. Christians will be allowed to go to church on Sunday.

Mabinty Conteh, a community health worker in Freetown, the capital, said some people her team visited were receptive but others were hostile. The National Ebola Response Center said there were no major incidents.

Alfred Palo Conteh, the head of Sierra Leone's Ebola response, said a major goal was to fight complacency, more than a year after the Ebola outbreak was declared in West Africa.

"We understand that people are tired and want to get back to their normal life, but we're not there yet. It's the final meters in the race," said Roeland Monasch of UNICEF.

Ebola has infected nearly 12,000 people in Sierra Leone, more than in any other country, and it has resorted to some of the most stringent measures to stop the disease. Over 10,000 people have believed to have died in the yearlong outbreak, mostly in West Africa.

While recent weeks have seen a steep reduction in infections, 33 new cases were confirmed in Sierra Leone last week, according to the World Health Organization.

Still, the outbreak is most worrying in Guinea, where it is driven by hidden cases. Liberia's last remaining Ebola case — who became infected weeks after the last previous patient had recovered — died on Friday, said Tolbert Nyenswah, the head of the country's Ebola response.

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Associated Press writer Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia, Liberia, contributed to this report.

The Canadian Press


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Slugs are a problem

Farmers in Oregon's Willamette Valley hate slugs, slimy mollusks that munch their way through crops.

But as familiar as farmers are with the mollusks, they acknowledge they're often baffled. And answers to their questions have come, shall we say, sluggishly.

Growers and researchers at a recent Oregon State University "Slug Summit" in Salem agreed that the pests are causing more problems these days. But they have no good explanation why that's so.

And the agricultural publication The Capital Press (http://bit.ly/1xCNiLT) reports that they came down from the summit with an unanswered question: What to do?

Some farmers say the decline of field burning and the rise of reduced-tillage farming in recent decades has left more vegetative shelter for slugs in fields.

But other farmers report persistent slug problems despite tilling heavily and burning fields.

Growers say a crop may sometimes be devastated by slugs despite the use of poison bait, but the same field will do well with the bait in other years,

Slugs that survive one commonly used chemical quickly develop an aversion to it, Oregon State University researcher George Hoffman said.

The summit was told it's unlikely more toxic pesticides will enter the market because of harmful consequences for other species.

Disrupting the pest's reproduction with pheromones or releasing natural predators are viable options, but these measures must be employed in concert to be effective, said Paul Jepson, director of Oregon State's Integrated Plant Protection Center.

"There are plenty of things that eat slugs and really love them. But the problem is they're not sufficient," Jepson said.

Bottom line: More research needed.

But Dan Arp, dean of Oregon State's College of Agricultural Sciences, said that appropriations for extension agents have barely kept up with inflation. The school may be able to establish a slug-fighting position as faculty members retire, or perhaps put together a "strike team" of existing professors and agents, he said.

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Information from: Capital Press, http://www.capitalpress.com/washington

The Canadian Press


Hilltop piano mystery solved

For a couple of days this week, a Southern California hilltop was alive with the sound of — mystery.

Hikers venturing to Topanga Lookout in the Santa Monica Mountains found a battered upright piano, sitting on a graffiti-scrawled concrete slab with a panoramic view over the mountains between Calabasas and the Pacific Ocean.

Turns out, the piano was used for a music video by Seattle-based artist Rachel Wong.

The cinematographer, Michael Flotron, says he and four others used a dolly and rope to haul the 350-pound instrument a mile up the trail on Tuesday.

After the shoot, it was too dark to get the piano back down.

Flotron says people seem happy to leave it there — but if necessary, he'll haul the piano back down.

The Canadian Press




Knox conviction overturned

Italy's highest court overturned the murder conviction against Amanda Knox and her ex-boyfriend Friday, bringing to a definitive end the high-profile case that captivated people on both sides of the Atlantic.

"Finished!" Knox's lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova exulted after the decision was read out. "It couldn't be better than this."

The decision by the supreme Court of Cassation is the final ruling in the case, ending the long legal battle waged by Knox and Italian co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito. Both Knox, who was awaiting the verdict in her hometown of Seattle, and Sollecito have long maintained their innocence in the death of British student Meredith Kercher.

The supreme Court of Cassation overturned last year's convictions by a Florence appeals court, and declined to order another trial. The decision means the judges, after thoroughly examining the case, concluded that a conviction could not be supported by the evidence.

Their reasoning will be released within 90 days.

The case has aroused strong interest in three countries for its explosive mix of young love, murder and flip-flop decisions by Italian courts.

Kercher, 21, was found dead Nov. 2, 2007, in the apartment that she shared with Knox and two other students. Her throat was slashed and she had been sexually assaulted.

Knox and Sollecito were arrested a few days later. Eventually another man, Rudy Guede from Ivory Coast, was arrested, tried and convicted of the murder in a separate trial and is serving a 16-year sentence.

The couple maintained their innocence, insisting that they had spent the evening together at Sollecito's place watching a movie, smoking marijuana and making love.

Knox and Sollecito were initially convicted by a Perugia court in 2009, then acquitted and freed in 2011, and then convicted again in 2014 in Florence after the Cassation court overturned the acquittals and ordered a new appeals trial.

That Florence appeals conviction was overturned Friday.

The Canadian Press


Lufthansa could face big bill

Lufthansa could face "unlimited" compensation claims for the crash that killed 150 people in the French Alps and it would be difficult, even counterproductive, for the German carrier to try to avoid liability, experts said Friday.

Under a treaty governing deaths and injuries aboard international flights, airlines are required to compensate relatives of victims for proven damages of up to a limit currently set at about $157,000 — regardless of what caused the crash.

But higher compensation is possible if a carrier is held liable.

"So more or less you will have unlimited financial damage," said Marco Abate, a German aviation lawyer.

To avoid liability, a carrier has to prove that the crash wasn't due to "negligence or other wrongful act" by its employees, according to Article 21 of the 1999 Montreal Convention.

That would be a difficult argument to make when a pilot intentionally crashes a plane into a mountain, and one that Lufthansa would likely avoid as it could further damage the brand, Abate said.

Investigators say the co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525 locked himself into the cockpit and slammed the Airbus A320 into the Alps. Germanwings is a subsidiary of Lufthansa.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr on Thursday said the airline would honour "international arrangements regulating liability" and noted that it already has offered immediate financial aid to anyone requiring. He didn't mention any figures.

How much the airline ends up paying in compensation will depend on where claims are filed. The options in this case, a German flight en route from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, are many, said Dutch lawyer Sander de Lang.

"For example, French law because that is where it ... crashed, German law because in most cases the passengers had return tickets to and from Germany. But some people may have bought tickets in Spain, then Spanish law could be appropriate," he said.

In some countries including the Netherlands, there's no compensation for emotional suffering, he said.

Damages are typically much lower in Europe than in the U.S., where in domestic air crashes, juries have awarded plaintiffs sometimes millions of dollars per passenger.

Abate said that in German courts, damages for pain and suffering typically don't exceed 10,000 euros ($11,000). However, Lufthansa could face much bigger claims for loss of financial support. If the breadwinner of a family was killed in a plane crash, the survivors can sue for years of lost income, Abate said.

Several analysts said Lufthansa will probably reach settlements with relatives of victims to avoid going to court.

Once the shock and grief subsides, the compensation issues should be resolved quickly, said Wouter Munten, a Dutch lawyer representing relatives of victims of last year's downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine.

"People always say take your time for grief," he said. "But not everyone has the luxury to wait. Children have to be fed and go to school."

The Canadian Press


No fetus murder charge

Prosecutors say a Colorado woman accused of removing a baby from an expectant mother's belly will not face murder charges, but they have not explained the decision or disclosed what charges she will face.

Investigators say Dynel Lane lured Michelle Wilkins, 26, to her Longmont home March 18 with an ad on Craigslist offering baby clothes. Inside, police say, Lane attacked Wilkins and cut the unborn baby girl from her belly.

Lane's husband found the infant in a bathtub and rushed the child to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Wilkins survived the attack and was discharged from the hospital on Wednesday.

Catherine Olguin, a spokeswoman for the Boulder County District Attorney's Office, said Thursday night that prosecutors won't bring the murder charge in the baby's death.

District Attorney Stan Garnett is expected to release more information Friday about that decision, and the coroner's office is expected to release the findings of an autopsy performed on the baby.

After rejecting a fetal homicide law in 2013, Colorado legislators did pass a measure that makes it a felony to violently cause the death of a mother's fetus. The maximum punishment under that provision is 32 years in prison. The maximum punishment for homicide in Colorado is the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The gruesome attack revived the highly-charged debate over when a fetus can legally be considered a human being.

Even though the baby girl died, legal experts say the situation is complicated by the fact that Colorado is one of 12 states that do not have laws making the violent death of an unborn child a homicide. State legislators in 2013 voted down such a measure over fears it would interfere with abortion rights, and voters overwhelmingly agreed when they rejected a similar ballot measure in 2014.

Advocates say the attack shows the need for a fetal homicide law.

Legal experts say a person can still be charged with homicide for an unborn child's death under existing Colorado law if the baby was alive outside the mother's body and the act that led to its death also occurred there.

The Canadian Press


Famous otter killed by shark

A sea otter that became an ambassador for her species after a remarkable recovery from an oil tar soaking off the coast of Northern California has been killed by a shark.

"Olive the Oiled Otter" made headlines in 2009 when she was found covered in oil and near death on Santa Cruz beach. Olive recovered fully and went on to deliver a healthy pup years later.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife says Olive was found dead by a beachgoer on Sunday.

The department says wildlife biologists found wounds consistent with a shark bite on the 7-year-old marine mammal's body.

It says Olive's wounds showed no signs of healing, indicating that she died quickly after the fatal bite.

Olive had more than 5,000 Facebook followers, in an account set up by wildlife officials. Hundreds of followers expressed sadness after reading about her passing.

The Canadian Press


Pilot union sues over leaks

France's leading pilots union said Friday it is filing a lawsuit over leaks about the investigation into the crash of a German jet into the French Alps.

Pilots around Europe are angry that information about the final moments of the flight was reported in the media before prosecutors and others were informed. Pilots are concerned that the circumstances of Tuesday's crash will damage public trust.

After leaks in the media about the crash, a prosecutor announced that cockpit recordings indicate the co-pilot of the Germanwings A320 jet intentionally flew the plane into a mountain. All 150 aboard were killed.

Guillaume Schmid of France's SNPL union told The Associated Press on Friday that the lawsuit is over violating a French law on keeping information about investigations secret while they are ongoing. The lawsuit doesn't name an alleged perpetrator, a method in French law that leaves investigators to determine who is at fault.

"We can understand there is a certain pressure, a wish to know," Schmid said — but he warned that leaking information too early can mislead the public instead of informing accurately.

The French air accident investigation agency, the BEA, "will never be able to satisfy the demand for immediate information. ... It is designed to resist that," and instead is meant to focus on "establishing irrefutable facts," he said.

European Cockpit Association also expressed concern about the leaks and urged further investigation before drawing final conclusions.

The idea that the crash was deliberate is "shocking," it said in a statement. "Our thoughts are with the victims and their relatives. As trusted professionals, who invest a lifelong career in making air travel safe, this is a very difficult day for us."

The Canadian Press


100 bison flown to Alaska

One hundred wood bison that will be the foundation for the first wild herd on U.S. soil in more than a century have been safely delivered to a rural Alaska village, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"They are acclimating very rapidly," said department biologist Cathie Harms. "They are doing very well so far."

They likely will be released from Shageluk into the Innoko Flats in one or two weeks, she said.

Wood bison are native to Alaska, but disappeared from the state more than a century ago.

They're bigger than plains bison found in Lower 48 states and are North America's largest land animal. Adult wood bison bulls can weigh more than 2,000 pounds and cows up to 1,200 pounds.

Wood bison from Canada were imported to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in 2008 but restoration of the threatened species was delayed. Landowners didn't want their property listed as critical habitat with additional federal oversight. The state and federal governments agreed to consider the Alaska wood bison as "experimental" without the usual Endangered Species Act requirements.

The department with help from corporate and non-profit sponsors moved 50 cows and 50 juveniles age 2 or less to the village and the task of doing that safely was a challenge.

"When you're transporting a very large, not completely domesticated animal, you always have to worry about injuries," Harms said.

Young animals were especially vulnerable to broken limbs, or if they fell, trampling.

To minimize jostling in a cargo plane that had to land on a short, gravel runway, the juveniles were crammed in small groups within special "bison boxes." The cows had individual pens giving them just enough room to stand for the one-hour drive from the conservation centre to Anchorage and a one-hour flight to the village.

The first animals left Sunday morning. The landing was delayed when a small airplane carrying department staffers, including Harms, blew a front tire while taxing on the Shageluk runway. A Lynden Air Cargo C-130 Hercules carrying the bison circled until villagers put the front wheel of the small plane onto a sled behind a snowmobile and towed it away.

The last flight was Tuesday afternoon, Harms said.

All of the bison moved on their own from the boxes to snow-covered fields in a fenced area outside Shageluk.

"Some of them trotted out," Harms said. "Some of them galloped out. Some of them made it all the way to the opposite end of the pen, as far away from people as they could get. Some of them stopped 15 feet from the box and started eating hay."

The next seven to 14 days will be spent preparing bison for release. The bison will be moved daily from one acres-large pen to another to keep them from settling into one place. A snowmobile dropping tasty alfalfa cubes will lure them into second pen.

On the day of their final release, the snowmobile will lead the bison across the frozen Innoko River to a trail of hay that will lead to fields of sedge, one of their natural foods. Sedge should start appearing when the snow melts and the hay runs out, Harms said.

The Canadian Press


10 killed in stampede

At least 10 people were killed and dozens more injured Friday in a stampede during a Hindu religious gathering in Bangladesh, police said.

Local police chief Nazrul Islam said the accident took place in Langalbandh, a Hindu pilgrimage spot on the banks of the Brahmaputra river, 20 kilometres (12 miles) southeast of capital Dhaka.

The annual religious bathing ritual in Bangladesh's Narayanganj district draws thousands of Hindu devotees from Bangladesh and also neighbouring India and Nepal.

Nikhil Chandra Das, a devotee, said the accident occurred after rumours spread that a bridge at the festival site had collapsed and people started running in panic.

Das blamed local authorities for not controlling the crowds.

"Had there been enough volunteers or police, the incident could have been avoided," he said.

Mohammed Jakaria, a senior police official in the district, said that more police had been sent to the festival site after the accident and the bathing ritual had resumed after the stampede had been controlled.

The Canadian Press


Russia offers job to Clarkson

A television station owned by the Russian defence ministry is offering a job to former "Top Gear" host Jeremy Clarkson.

The BBC announced Wednesday that it wouldn't renew Clarkson's contract after a fracas with a producer, ending his connection to the immensely popular program.

The Zvezda TV channel published a letter to Clarkson on its website late Thursday, inviting him to visit Moscow in April and discuss launching a car show in Russia.

Zvezda also quoted a Clarkson representative, saying that the offer has been forwarded to his client and that he is considering it.

The Guinness Book of World Records has described "Top Gear" as the world's most widely watched factual program. It broadcasts to 214 territories worldwide and has an estimated global audience of 350 million.

The Canadian Press


Co-pilot was hiding illness

Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz appears to have hidden evidence of an illness from his employers, including having been excused by a doctor from work the day he crashed a passenger plane into a mountain, prosecutors said Friday.

The evidence came from the search of Lubitz's homes in two German cities for an explanation of why he crashed the Airbus A320 into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board.

Prosecutor's spokesman Ralf Herrenbrueck said in a written statement that torn-up sick notes for the day of the crash "support the current preliminary assessment that the deceased hid his illness from his employer and colleagues."

Such sick notes from doctors excusing employees from work are common in Germany and issued even for minor illnesses. Herrenbrueck didn't reveal details of what illness Lubitz was suffering from.

Herrenbrueck said other medical documents found indicated "an existing illness and appropriate medical treatment," but that no suicide note was found. He added there was no indication of any political or religious motivation for Lubitz's actions.

Germanwings, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, refused to comment on the new information.

Investigators had removed multiple boxes of items from Lubitz's apartment in Duesseldorf and his parents' house in Montabaur, near Frankfurt.

A German aviation official told The Associated Press that Lubitz's file at the country's Federal Aviation Office contained a "SIC" note, meaning that he needed "specific regular medical examination." Such a note could refer to either a physical or mental condition, but the official — who spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, said the note does not specify which.

However, neighbours described a man whose physical health was superb.

"He definitely did not smoke. He really took care of himself. He always went jogging. I am not sure whether he did marathons, but he was very healthy," said Johannes Rossmann, who lived a few doors down from Lubitz's home in Montabaur.

German news media painted a picture of a man with a history of depression who had received psychological treatment, and who may have been set off by a falling out with his girlfriend. Duesseldorf prosecutors, who are leading the German side of the probe, refused to comment on the anonymously sourced reports, citing the ongoing investigation.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said there was a "several-month" gap in Lubitz's training six years ago, but would not elaborate. Following the disruption, he said, Lubitz "not only passed all medical tests but also his flight training, all flying tests and checks."

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had issued Lubitz a third-class medical certificate. In order to obtain such a certificate, a pilot must be cleared of psychological problems including psychosis, bipolar disorder and personality disorder "that is severe enough to have repeatedly manifested itself by overt acts."

The certificate also means that he wasn't found to be suffering from another mental health condition that "makes the person unable to safely perform the duties or exercise the privileges" of a pilot's license.

French investigators, who are in charge of the probe into the plane crash, believe the 27-year-old locked himself inside the cockpit and then intentionally smashed the Germanwings plane into a mountainside on Tuesday during a flight from Barcelona to Duesseldorf.

People in Montabaur who knew Lubitz told AP they were shocked at the allegations that he could have intentionally crashed the plane, saying he had been thrilled with his job at Germanwings and seemed to be "very happy."

Germanwings, a low-cost carrier in the Lufthansa Group, said it was setting up a family assistance centre in Marseille for relatives of those killed in the crash.

"In these dark hours our full attention belongs to the emotional support of the relatives and friends of the victims of Flight 9525," Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann said in a statement.

The Canadian Press


Search for jet crash motive

Police have searched the homes of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz in two German cities in search of an explanation for why he may have crashed a passenger plane into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board.

German tabloid Bild reported Friday that Lubitz had a "serious depressive episode" six years ago and that a medical problem was noted in aviation records.

The Federal Aviation Office couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

French investigators believe the 27-year-old locked himself inside the cockpit and then intentionally smashed the Germanwings plane into a mountainside.

A spokeswoman for Duesseldorf police, Susanna Heusgen, said "no crucial piece of evidence has been found yet" after the searches in Duesseldorf and Montabaur.

Duesseldorf prosecutors say they plan to release an update later Friday.

The Canadian Press


Obama discusses drug war

Talk of overhauling the criminal justice system is serious business — but before diving into the subject, President Barack Obama had something else he wanted to say.

Obama told David Simon, creator of the acclaimed HBO series "The Wire," that he was a huge fan of the program about life in drug-plagued Baltimore.

Obama and Simon sat down this week at the White House for a 12-minute discussion about the need to reduce the incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders and steps to make cities safer. A video of their conversation was played at Thursday's Bipartisan Criminal Justice Summit in Washington.

Obama said "The Wire" wasn't just one of the greatest TV shows ever. He called it one of the greatest "pieces of art" in the last couple of decades.

The president said people looking for solutions to the drug war need to "humanize what so often, on the local news, is just a bunch of shadowy characters and tell their stories."

"That's where the work you've done has been so important," Obama told Simon.

Obama once again paid tribute to his favourite "Wire" character: Omar Little, a stick-up man who targets drug dealers.

The Canadian Press




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