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Stolen race car found

The No. 44 race car returned to its NASCAR shop in North Carolina on Saturday after it was recovered along a remote road in suburban Atlanta, apparently abandoned by the thieves who stole it from a hotel parking lot.

While the discovery didn't occur in nearly enough time for Team XTREME to compete in this weekend's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, it was a huge boost for the small-budget operation in its bid to make the next event at Las Vegas.

"There was no damage whatsoever," team owner John Cohen told The Associated Press. "Nothing was taken off the car. Even the antennas that went to the radio were still in the seats."

Police in Gwinnett County northeast of Atlanta received a suspicious vehicle call at approximately 2:30 a.m. Saturday, nearly 24 hours after the race car was stolen, said Jeffery Richter, the public information officer. A motorist spotted the No. 44 machine along a darkened road and quickly realized it must be the stolen race car.

Cohen was called to the scene, confirmed it was his $250,000 race car off the shoulder of the road, and called a tow truck to take it back to their shop in suburban Charlotte.

"It was backwoods," Cohen said. "There were no lights around. (The thieves) made sure no one could see them while they were getting rid of the car."

While the truck and trailer that were hauling the race car weren't found at the scene, the truck was spotted a few hours later in Stockbridge, Georgia, not far from the hotel where the theft took place, said Morrow police Detective Sgt. Larry Oglesby, who led the investigation in the south Atlanta suburb.

"The truck was on the side of the road," Oglesby said. "A citizen driving by noticed it and said, 'Hey, that looks like the truck on TV.'"

He said the handle on the driver side door was busted, as well as the ignition switch. While no arrests had been made, Oglesby said his department had a "person of interest" and was continuing to pursue leads to determine just how many people were involved. He also identified a vehicle used by the thieves, which was spotted on a surveillance video.

There was still no sign of the trailer and its other contents, which included a spare engine valued at $100,000 and racing equipment valued at $17,500.

"We've got two out of three," Oglesby said. "Now we're looking for the trailer."

The car was found about 20 miles from the hotel south of Atlanta where it was stolen early Friday. Since the truck and trailer had no markings to indicate they were part of a race team, police speculated that thieves likely didn't realize what they had stolen and might abandon the high-powered car.

"Have you seen that show '48 Hours?'" Cohen said. "I figured if we didn't have it back in 48 hours, we were not getting the car back. The first 24 hours is crucial. It was definitely right at 24 hours when we got the car back."

The team didn't bring a backup car to Atlanta, so it had to withdraw from Sunday's Sprint Cup race after missing Friday qualifying. Travis Kvapil was set to drive.

Since the No. 44 car wasn't damaged, Cohen said it should be able to run at Las Vegas with Kvapil behind the wheel. The team also plans to send a backup car.

Kvapil is also set to run for Team XTREME the following week at Phoenix.

Normally, the car is transported using the team's hauler, an 18-wheel tractor trailer. But, with a winter storm moving through the Southeast this past week, Cohen sent the hauler to Atlanta a couple of days early.

Back at its shop, the team continued putting in 18-hour days to prepare the car, a different version than the restrictor-plate version that raced in the season-opening Daytona 500. The No. 44 was sent to Atlanta late Thursday aboard the much-smaller trailer, accompanied by crew chief Peter Sospenzo and six other team members.

They got to Morrow, not far from the speedway, and stayed overnight at a hotel. The trailer, with the red race car inside, was parked outside along with the black 2004 Ford F-350 pickup truck. Surveillance video showed the truck and trailer being driven out of the parking lot shortly after 5:30 a.m., Oglesby said.

The team was scheduled to leave for the track at 5:45 a.m.

"I've been doing this since 1979," Sospenzo said. "I've probably been to 1,200 hotels and 1,200 race tracks. Never once has this happened. It's crazy. But there's a first for everything, I guess."

The Canadian Press


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Nemtsov a 'sacrificial victim'

Maybe it was Islamic extremists who killed Boris Nemtsov. Or someone offended by his love life. Or agents of a Western power that will stop at nothing to disfigure President Vladimir Putin's image and drive him from power.

Russian investigators, politicians and political commentators on state television on Saturday covered much ground in looking for the reason Nemtsov was gunned down in the heart of Moscow, but they sidestepped one possibility — that he was murdered for his relentless opposition to Putin.

Nemtsov, a 55-year-old former deputy prime minister and leading Russian liberal political figure for the past two decades, was gunned down shortly before midnight Friday as he walked across a bridge near the Kremlin with a female companion.

The killing came just hours after a radio interview in which he called on Moscow residents to join an opposition rally on Sunday to protest Putin's handling of the economic crisis and his "mad, aggressive and deadly policy of war against Ukraine."

After his death, organizers cancelled the rally and instead called for a demonstration to mourn him on Sunday in central Moscow. The city gave quick approval, in contrast to its usual slow and grudging permission for opposition rallies.

The mourning march could serve to galvanize the beleaguered and marginalized opposition, or it could prove to be a brief catharsis after which emotions dissipate. Popular support for Putin has remained above 80 per cent in recent months, despite the severe economic recession and soaring inflation.

Russia's leading investigative agency said it was looking into several possible motives for the killing.

The first possibility, the Investigative Committee said, was that the murder was aimed at destabilizing the political situation in the country and Nemtsov was a "sacrificial victim for those who do not shun any method for achieving their political goals."

This suggestion echoed comments by Putin's spokesman and other Russian politicians that the attack was a "provocation" against the state.

The term "sacrificial victim" was also the same one Putin used three years ago when he warned that his political opponents were planning to kill one of their own and then blame it on his government.

The investigators said they also were considering whether there was "personal enmity" toward Nemtsov in his domestic life. State-controlled and Kremlin-friendly TV gave considerable attention to Nemtsov's companion, identifying her as a Ukrainian model 30 years his junior and showing photos of her in alluring poses. The Investigative Committee said the pair was headed for Nemtsov's apartment.

The agency also listed the possibility that the killing was carried out by Islamic extremists angered by Nemtsov's position on the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris or was connected to the Ukraine conflict, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since last April.

Nemtsov was working on a report presenting evidence that he believed proved Russia was directly involved in the Ukraine conflict, despite official denials that it has supplied the separatists with troops and sophisticated weapons.

In a previous report on corruption released before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Nemtsov alleged that Russian officials and businessmen had stolen up to $30 billion during the preparations for the games. He also has exposed alleged corruption in state gas company Gazprom.

Nemtsov served as a regional governor and then a deputy prime minister in the 1990s and once was seen as a possible successor to Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first elected president. But Yeltsin chose Putin instead.

Nemtsov then served a term in Russia's parliament, until all opposition parties were driven out as Putin consolidated his power. He and other leading opposition figures long have been purged by state television and steadily marginalized by the Kremlin.

In recent years, Nemtsov has been identified by Kremlin propaganda as among the leaders of a "fifth column," painted as a traitor serving the interests of a hostile West.

His death was a blow to other opposition figures, who blamed the Kremlin for creating an atmosphere of hatred and intolerance of dissent that made such a killing possible.

"For more than a year now, the television screens have been flowing with pure hate for us," Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the exiled former oil tycoon who spent a decade in prison after challenging Putin, wrote on his website. "And now everyone, from the average blogger to President Putin, is searching for enemies and accusing one another of provocation."

Through the day, hundreds of people came to the site of Nemtsov's death to lay flowers, among them the ambassadors of the U.S. and many European countries.

Putin ordered Russia's law enforcement chiefs personally to oversee the investigation of Nemtsov's killing.

He also sent a telegram to Nemtsov's 86-year-old mother, promising that "everything will be done so that the organizers and perpetrators of the vile and cynical murder get the punishment they deserve," the Kremlin said.

Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier said Putin saw the murder as "extremely provocative."

Ramzan Kadyrov, the Putin-backed leader of Chechnya, raised the suggestion into an accusation. "There's no doubt that Nemtsov's killing was organized by Western special services, trying by any means to create internal conflict in Russia," he said on Instagram.

On a political talk show on Channel One state television Saturday night, the discussion was framed around the question of "who benefits" from Nemtsov's killing, with the accepted conclusion that it serves only Russia's enemies.

Sergei Markov, a prominent Kremlin-connected political scientist, said he suspected Ukraine's special services of carrying out the attack with the aim of splitting Russian society and bringing a more Western-friendly government to power. He added that Nemtsov was too well regarded by the Americans for them to have had him killed.

President Barack Obama said the Russian people have "lost one of the most dedicated and eloquent defenders of their rights."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised Nemtsov's courage in criticizing Kremlin policies, and urged Putin to insure that the killers are brought to justice, her spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev echoed the suggestion that the killing was a provocation. "It's an attempt to push the situation into complications, maybe even to destabilizing the situation in the country," he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov agreed. "It's a provocation; for big fires, sacrificial figures are necessary," Interfax quoted him as saying.

"This is a monstrous tragedy and a loss for us all," Alexei Navalny, Russia's most prominent opposition figure, said on his Facebook page. He is serving a 15-day jail sentence for handing out leaflets on the subway urging people to join Sunday's protest.

The Canadian Press


Court rules Hamas as terrorists

An Egyptian court declared Hamas a "terrorist organization" on Saturday, further isolating the blockaded rulers of the Gaza Strip once openly welcomed by the country's toppled Islamist-dominated government.

The ruling is unlikely to have any immediate effect on Hamas, still reeling from last summer's war with Israel and choked by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade set up in 2007. Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas' No. 2 leader, is based in Cairo and is receiving medical treatment there, members of the group say.

The move underlines Egypt's increasing hostility to Hamas, which the court blamed for violence in the country's restive Sinai Peninsula. The secretive movement, founded in Gaza in 1987 as an offshoot of the region's Egyptian-originated Muslim Brotherhood, faces a growing cash crunch and has yet to lay out a strategy to extract Gaza from its increasingly dire situation.

"There is no doubt that Hamas is being pushed into the corner further and further," said Mkhaimar Abu Sada, a political science professor at Gaza's Al Azhar University. Hamas' relationship with Cairo has "reached a point of no return" and is unlikely to be salvaged, he said.

The ruling Saturday by Judge Mohamed el-Sayed of the Court For Urgent Matters said Hamas had targeted both civilians and security forces inside the Sinai Peninsula, and that the group aimed to harm the country. Sinai has been under increasing attack by extremists since the Egyptian military ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

"It has been proven without any doubt that the movement has committed acts of sabotage, assassinations and the killing of innocent civilians and members of the armed forces and police in Egypt," the court wrote, according to state news agency MENA.

The ruling said that Hamas' fighters had used heavy weapons against the army, and that the group was colluding with the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has described as the root of extremism. Morsi belonged to the Brotherhood.

"It has been also ascertained with documents that (Hamas) has carried out bombings that have taken lives and destroyed institutions and targeted civilians and the armed forces personnel," the ruling said. "This movement works for the interests of the terrorist Brotherhood organization."

On its official website, Hamas called the decision a "shocking and dangerous" one that targeted the Palestinian people.

"This decision is a great shame and sullies the reputation of Egypt. It is a desperate attempt to export the internal Egyptian crisis and will have no effect on the position of Hamas which enjoys the respect of all the people and leaders of the nation," the statement read.

In Gaza, Hamas official Mushir al-Masri condemned the decision and urged Egypt to reverse course.

"This ruling serves the Israeli occupation. It's a politicized decision that constitutes the beginning of Egypt evading its role toward the Palestinian cause," he said. "This is a coup against history and an Egyptian abuse of the Palestinian cause and resistance, which fights on behalf of the Arab nation. We call on Egypt to reconsider this dangerous decision."

An Egyptian court banned Hamas' military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, and designated it a terrorist organization just last month. In 2014, a similar ruling in the same court banned all Hamas activities in Egypt and ordered the closure of any Hamas offices, though the order apparently was never carried out. Government officials in Egypt did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday's ruling.

Hamas seized the Gaza Strip by force in 2007. Since then, it has fought three wars with Israel, the latest last summer killing some 2,200 Palestinians and 72 on the Israeli side, according to the United Nations.

Since a major attack on security forces last October, the Egyptian army has been clearing a buffer zone on the frontier with Gaza in an attempt to destroy a cross-border network of tunnels.

Hamas considers the tunnels an economic lifeline, at one point earning an estimated $500 million from taxing Egyptian imports. Cheap fuel, cement and other supplies from Egypt also powered Gaza's economy, particularly the local construction industry which employed several tens of thousands.

That dried up after Morsi's 2013 ouster. Egypt's new government now sees the tunnels as a two-way smuggling route for guns and fighters.

Earlier this month, Egyptian security officials said they had found and shut down the largest-ever tunnel leading into Gaza, a 2.5-kilometre (1.5-mile) passageway they said was used to smuggle weapons used in attacks on security forces.

The crackdown has been accompanied by Egypt's closure of the Rafah border crossing — the main gateway for Gazans to the outside world. That's left Gaza's population of 1.8 million people largely unable to travel abroad.

Hamas officials have said they believe Egypt is trying to crush their organization, but have refused to be quoted by name for fear that criticism of the el-Sissi government would invite further sanctions.

Mohammed Hijazi, a Gaza-based analyst, said the court ruling can be appealed. However, he cautioned that both sides needed each other.

"At the end of the day, Egypt needs to deal with Hamas because Hamas is a main player in the Palestinian arena and one day Egypt will find itself in a position to talk to Hamas if it wants to play a role in the Palestinian issue," he said.

 

The Canadian Press




Stolen Oscar dress found

A white dress that strongly resembles the custom gown taken from Lupita Nyong'o's hotel room earlier this week turned up Friday under a bathroom sink in the same hotel, a Los Angeles County Sheriff's official said.

The dress found at a West Hollywood hotel "greatly resembles" the pearl-adorned Calvin Klein Collection by Francisco Costa dress the actress wore to Sunday's Academy Awards, sheriff's spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said.

Detectives were trying to verify whether the recovered dress is the same one Nyong'o wore, she said.

One of the actress' representatives reported the dress was stolen from her room at the London Hotel late Wednesday.

Authorities placed its value at $150,000, although experts say it could have fetched more on the black market.

In a statement to Women's Wear Daily, Costa said everyone at Calvin Klein was thrilled to learn that the dress may have been found.

"Once it's returned to us, we will be able to have the dress restored and archived, as it now represents an important moment for the brand," Costa said in his statement.

The recovery of the dress was first reported by TMZ.com, which said that a person claiming to have taken the gown gave the celebrity website information about where to find the dress.

Detectives found it in a black garment bag stashed underneath the bathroom counter.

Nyong'o won an Oscar in 2014 for her role in "Twelve Years a Slave" and was a presenter at Sunday's ceremony.

"I'm happy that it has been potentially recovered," Nyong'o said in the statement to Women's Wear Daily. "It's a timeless and priceless piece of art."

The 31-year-old actress has become a darling of Hollywood's red carpets in the past two years, with commenters and fans praising her fashion choices. She accessorized the dress with Chopard diamond earrings and diamond rings.

"There are a lot of collectors out there who are very private and have private collections of stolen merchandise," said style expert and fashion commentator Mary Alice Stephenson. "Some of these dresses have global fame as big as any Van Gogh."

The Canadian Press


Spock trivia for Trekkies

Leonard Nimoy, who died Friday at age 83, likely had the most famous lobes in Hollywood. As the logical half-human, half-alien Mr. Spock in "Star Trek," his pointy Vulcan appendages became a signature — and a nuisance — for the actor. Here are a few facts about those iconic ears:

AURAL HISTORY

"Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry was determined to have Nimoy don pointed ears as the Enterprise's chief science officer. It was easier said than done. Before the first episode was filmed, numerous designs of the ears' shape and size were created before he settled on the perfect ears.

EAR JOB

Roddenberry promised a reluctant Nimoy that if the pointy ears didn't appeal to the viewing public after the initial episodes of "Trek" that he'd arrange for Spock to undergo an "ear job" and they'd be removed. Instead, the character was a hit, and no such operation was needed.

NOW HEAR THIS

The early ears were made of foam rubber and had to be glued on every morning and removed every night. The process usually required Nimoy to be in the make-up chair for about 45 minutes each day. However, applying Spock's slanted eyebrows typically took twice as long.

LATER EARS

The process was eventually streamlined, and Spock's ears were made of latex and cranked out on an assembly line. Over the years, the lobes and their moulds turned up in various celebrity auctions. A pair is on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

The Canadian Press


What set off gunman?

A man who authorities say may have been unhinged by the death of his ailing mother killed seven people and then took his own life in a house-to-house shooting rampage that wiped out a swath of this tiny town in the Missouri Ozarks.

Joseph Jesse Aldridge, 36, carried out the killings with a .45-calibre handgun Thursday night or early Friday at four homes in Tyrone, the no-stoplight community of about 50 people where he lived with his mother, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said.

Joseph Aldridge was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound before dawn in a running pickup truck on the middle of a highway 15 or 20 miles away.

The patrol said four of the dead — two couples — were cousins of Aldridge's, ranging in age from 47 to 52. The names of the rest of the dead — and an eighth victim who was wounded but expected to survive — were being withheld until relatives could be notified.

All the victims were adults and were gunned down within a few miles of one another.

Authorities said the motive was unclear and no suicide note was found. But as the investigation unfolded, they found Aldridge's 74-year-old mother, Alice L. Aldridge, dead, apparently of natural causes, on a couch at her home, officials said.

She had been under a doctor's care and appeared to have been dead at least 24 hours, Texas County Coroner Tom Whittaker told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Whittaker speculated that the son "came home and found her deceased and then for whatever reason went on a rampage and started killing people."

Around town, Aldridge was described as a recluse, and it was unclear what, if anything, he did for a living.

The killings traumatized Tryone, a town about 40 miles (64 kilometres) from the Arkansas line where many residents are related to one another, Sheriff James Sigman said. He said the last homicide in the county was a year and a half ago.

The sheriff's office learned of the attack when it got a call about 10:15 p.m. Thursday from a young woman who said she had fled to a neighbour's home after hearing gunshots in her house.

The neighbour, who refused to give his name, told The Associated Press that the teenage girl was barefoot and clad only in a nightgown when she came running across a snow-covered field full of thickets that left her legs cut up.

"She was crying so hard, but I finally got out of her 'My mom and dad have been shot,'" the neighbour said.

When officers arrived at the girl's home, they found two people dead. Authorities later found five more people dead and one wounded in three other homes. The wounded person was hospitalized in undisclosed condition.

John W. Shriver, 72, of Tyrone, said he discovered the bodies of two of the victims after getting a call Thursday night from a screaming relative who had been wounded in a shooting that killed her husband. Shriver said he found a man and his wife unresponsive on their bedroom floor and alerted law enforcement.

Shriver said the couple's 13-year-old son slept through the killings and that he took the teen to his home after the bodies were found.

The patrol identified some of the dead as Garold Dee Aldridge, 52; his 47-year-old wife, Julie Ann Aldridge; Harold Wayne Aldridge, 50; and that man's wife, 48-year-old Janell Arlisa Aldridge.

Tyrone is in largely rural Texas County, where the scenic rivers and woods draw canoeists, trout fishermen and deer hunters. The area has seen an exodus of shoe and garment factories over the decades, along with a drop in dairy and poultry farms, County Clerk Don Troutman said.

The Canadian Press


Phoney art ring busted

Spanish police have broken up a gang that allegedly created and then sold fake works of art purporting to be by renowned artists including Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Joan Miro.

Officers have arrested nine suspects in the eastern region of Valencia, including the alleged counterfeiters and intermediaries involved in selling the fakes online and through galleries, an Interior Ministry statement says.

The investigation began following a complaint that art objects had been stolen from a house in the eastern city of Denia.

Police proceeded to search seven addresses and seized 271 works, including canvasses, sculptures and documents to be used in the falsification of the art's provenance.

Saturday's statement says the alleged counterfeiters were three brothers and a couple, who had all been faking art for seven years.

The Canadian Press


Why was Nemtsov killed?

Russia's top investigative body said Saturday it is looking into several possible motives for the killing of prominent opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, including an attempt to destabilize the state, Islamic extremism, the Ukraine conflict and his personal life.

A statement from the body, the Investigative Committee, did not address the possibility seen as likely by many of Nemtsov's supporters — that he was killed for being one of President Vladimir Putin's most adamant and visible critics.

The 55-year-old Nemtsov was gunned down Friday near midnight as he walked on a bridge near the Kremlin with a female companion. The killing came just a few hours after a radio interview in which he denounced Putin's "mad, aggressive" policies and the day before he was to help lead a rally protesting Russia's actions in the Ukraine crisis and the economic crisis at home.

After his death, organizers cancelled the rally and instead called for a demonstration to mourn him on Sunday in central Moscow. The city gave quick approval for that gathering, in contrast to its usual slow and grudging permission for opposition rallies.

The Investigative Committee said it was looking into whether Nemtsov had been killed as a "sacrificial victim for those who do not shun any method for achieving their political goals," a suggestion echoing the comments by Putin's spokesman and other Russian politicians that the attack was a "provocation" against the state.

It also said it was considering whether there was "personal enmity" toward him in his domestic life. State-controlled TV and Kremlin-friendly media outlets on Saturday gave considerable attention to Nemtsov's companion, identifying her as a Ukrainian model 30 years his junior and showing photos of her in alluring poses. The Investigative Committee said the pair were headed for Nemtsov's apartment.

The statement also said it was investigating whether the killing was connected to the Ukraine conflict, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since last April, or whether there was a connection to Islamic extremism.

Nemtsov had been one of Putin's most visible critics and his death hit other members of the opposition hard. The mourning march on Sunday could serve to galvanize the beleaguered and marginalized opposition, or it could prove to be a brief catharsis after which emotions dissipate.

Through the morning, hundreds of people came to the site of Nemtsov's death to lay flowers.

Nemtsov was working on a report presenting evidence that he believed proved Russia's direct involvement in the separatist rebellion that has raged in eastern Ukraine since April. Moscow denies backing the rebels with troops and sophisticated weapons.

Putin ordered Russia's top law enforcement chiefs to personally oversee the investigation of Nemtsov's killing.

"Putin noted that this cruel murder has all the makings of a contract hit and is extremely provocative," presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.

President Barack Obama said the Russian people "lost lost one of the most dedicated and eloquent defenders of their rights."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised Nemtsov's courage in criticizing Kremlin policies, and urged Putin to insure that the killers are brought to justice, her spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev echoed the suggestion that the killing was a provocation. "It's an attempt to push the situation into complications, maybe even to destabilizing the situation in the country," he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov agreed. "It's a provocation; for big fires, sacrificial figures are necessary," Interfax quoted him as saying.

Nemtsov frequently assailed the government's inefficiency, rampant corruption and Ukraine policy.

In an interview with the Sobesednik newspaper, Nemtsov said earlier this month that his 86-year old mother was afraid that Putin could have him killed. Asked if he had such fears himself, he responded: "If I were afraid I wouldn't have led an opposition party."

Speaking on radio just a few hours before his death, he accused Putin of plunging Russia into crisis by his "mad, aggressive and deadly policy of war against Ukraine."

Kasyanov, the former prime minister, said he was shocked.

"In the 21st century, a leader of the opposition is being demonstratively shot just outside the walls of the Kremlin!".

"This is a monstrous tragedy and a loss for us all," Alexei Navalny, Russia's most prominent opposition figure, said on his Facebook page. He is currently on a 15-day jail sentence for handing out leaflets without authorization.

"The country is rolling into the abyss," Kasyanov, the former prime minister, told reporters as Nemtsov's body, placed in a plastic bag, was removed on a rainy and cold night, as the Kremlin bells chimed nearby.

Nemtsov served as a regional governor and then a deputy prime minister in the 1990s and once was seen as a possible successor to Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first elected president.

Nemtsov was widely liked for his good humour, larger-than-life character and quick wit, but he and other top opposition figures long have been purged from state television and steadily marginalized by the Kremlin.

The Canadian Press


This collector's no Muggle

A young Mexican's fascination with Harry Potter has grown into the world's biggest private collection of toys, books, clothes and other items related to author J.K. Rowling's fantasy hero. Now, other fans have a chance to see it all.

The collection belonging to real estate lawyer Menahem Asher Silva Vargas has been certified by Guinness Awards as the largest anywhere. And it is on display at the Mexican Museum of Antique Toys in Mexico City.

Silva Vargas started collecting Harry Potter items 15 years ago, when he was 12. He started with toys, then branched out to all sorts of things, from scarves to soda cans from Japan and Chinese language editions of Rowling's books.

He has 3,097 items in all. The exhibit formally opens Saturday.

The Canadian Press


Bombing trial to remain in state

The trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev can stay in Massachusetts, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

A three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that any high-profile case would receive significant media attention, but that knowledge of such case "does not equate to disqualifying prejudice."

"Distinguishing between the two is at the heart of the jury selection process," the panel wrote.

Tsarnaev's lawyers argued that intense media coverage of the case and the large number of people personally affected by the deadly attack made it impossible for him to find a fair and impartial jury in Massachusetts.

Prosecutors insisted that Judge George O'Toole Jr.'s individual questioning of prospective jurors has successfully weeded out people with strong opinions on Tsarnaev's guilt.

Tsarnaev's lawyers had asked O'Toole three times to move the trial, but he refused, saying bias among prospective jurors could be rooted out through careful questioning about their thoughts on Tsarnaev and the death penalty.

As of Thursday, the day the appeals court heard arguments, O'Toole had provisionally qualified 61 jurors, finding that they are capable of being fair and impartial. He said once he qualifies 70 people, Tsarnaev's lawyers and prosecutors will be allowed to eliminate 23 people each for strategic reasons.

A panel of 12 jurors and six alternates will be chosen to hear the case. The same jury will decide whether Tsarnaev lives or dies. If he is convicted, the only possible punishments are life in prison without pariole or the death penalty. Only jurors who said they are willing to give meaningful consideration to both punishments can be seated on the jury.

Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured when twin bombs exploded near the marathon finish line on April 15, 2013.

In arguments before the appeals court, federal public defender Judith Mizner said the local jury pool is "connected to the case in many ways" and cannot be counted on to be fair and impartial.

"This attack was viewed as an attack on the marathon itself ... and an attack on the city of Boston," Mizner said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb told the appeals court that prospective jurors who have strong opinions have "unhesitatingly admitted" them, allowing the judge to rule them out as jurors.

Mizner also argued that the trial needed to be moved to maintain public confidence in the judicial system.

The Canadian Press


Ford back in Blade Runner 2

Harrison Ford is set to reprise his role as Rick Deckard in a sequel to the dystopian, neo-noir "Blade Runner," more than 31 years after the film first premiered.

Ridley Scott directed the 1982 movie, which was adapted from the Philip K. Dick novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep."

Alcon Entertainment announced Ford's role Thursday and said Scott will serve as an executive producer on the sequel.

Production on the film will begin in the summer of 2016.

Hampton Fancher, who co-wrote the original, and Michael Green have written a script based on an idea from Fancher and Scott.

The story will take place several decades after the events at the conclusion of the 1982 film.

A director has not yet been confirmed for the project.

The Canadian Press


Nimoy's mark beyond fiction

Leonard Nimoy didn't just leave a lasting impression on the science-fiction genre, he also left his mark on science itself.

Seth Shostak, who researches the possibility of real-world extraterrestrial life as the senior astronomer at SETI Research, recalled that Nimoy was regularly willing to lend the organization a helping hand. When he was asked to narrate a planetarium introduction or appear as a guest at an event, Nimoy did so graciously and never charged.

"That struck me then, and it strikes me now," said Shostak. "If you play a famous alien, you might have little interest in how science is searching for real aliens, but Nimoy was actually interested in the science — and he was always willing to help us out."

Remembrances poured in from beyond the entertainment spectrum after news spread Friday about the death of the 83-year-old actor, who played the half-alien, half-human Spock in "Star Trek" films, TV shows and video games. NASA, Virgin Galactic, Intel and Google all sent messages, as did other groups motivated by Nimoy and his role as a truth-seeking science officer.

"Leonard Nimoy was an inspiration to multiple generations of engineers, scientists, astronauts and other space explorers," said NASA administrator Charles Bolden. "As Mr. Spock, he made science and technology important to the story, while never failing to show, by example, that it is the people around us who matter most."

NASA posted a photo online taken in 1976 of Nimoy and his "Trek" cast mates in front of NASA's real-life space shuttle Enterprise, parked outside the agency's manufacturing facilities in Palmdale, California.

Samantha Cristoforetti, an Italian astronaut aboard the International Space Station, similarly tweeted her condolences from space.

"Live Long and Prosper, Mr. #Spock!" she wrote.

Nimoy's commitment to astronomy frequently warped from beyond the starship Enterprise and into the real world. He and his wife, Susan, donated $1 million to the renovation of the iconic Griffith Park observatory complex overlooking Los Angeles. The observatory's theatre is named after Nimoy.

"Mr. Nimoy was committed to people, community and the enlarged perspective conferred by science, the arts and the places where they meet," the observatory said in a statement. "The theatrehonours Nimoy's expansive and inclusive approach to public astronomy and artful inspiration."

The actor, director and photographer narrated several films focusing on astronomy, including a 2012 short film about NASA's Dawn mission and the 1994 IMAX documentary film "Destiny in Space."

"All I can say is if and when we pick up a signal, it'll be wonderful if the real aliens are half as appealing as Mr. Nimoy was as Spock," said Shostak of SETI Research.

The Canadian Press


Opposition leader killed

Boris Nemtsov, a charismatic former deputy prime minister turned Russian opposition leader, was shot and killed in Moscow Saturday, officials said. He was 55.

Nemtsov's death comes just a day before a planned protest against President Vladimir Putin's rule. The Kremlin said that Putin will personally oversee the investigation.

Nemtsov was a sharp critic of Putin, assailing the government's inefficiency, rampant corruption and the Kremlin's policy on Ukraine, which has strained Russia-West ties to a degree unseen since Cold War times.

The Russian Interior Ministry, which oversees Russia's police force, said that Nemtsov was shot four times from a passing car as he was walking a bridge just outside the Kremlin shortly after midnight.

Nemtsov served a deputy prime minister in the 1990s and once was seen as a possible successor to Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first elected president. After Putin was first elected in 2000, Nemtsov became one of the most vocal critics of his rule. He helped organize street protests and wrote extensively about official corruption.

The Canadian Press


Trekkies mourn Spock's death

Leonard Nimoy, the actor known and loved by generations of "Star Trek" fans as the pointy-eared, purely logical science officer Mr. Spock, has died.

Nimoy's son, Adam Nimoy, said the actor died Friday of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at his Los Angeles home. He was 83.

Although Leonard Nimoy followed his 1966-69 "Star Trek" run with a notable career as both an actor and director, in the public's mind he would always be Spock. His half-human, half-Vulcan character was the calm counterpoint to William Shatner's often-emotional Captain Kirk on one of television and film's most revered cult series.

Nimoy's ambivalence to the role was reflected in the titles of his two autobiographies, "I Am Not Spock" (1975) and "I Am Spock" (1995).

After "Star Trek" ended, the actor immediately joined the hit adventure series "Mission Impossible" as Paris, the mission team's master of disguises. From 1976 to 1982 he hosted the syndicated TV series "In Search of ... " which attempted to probe such mysteries as the legend of the Loch Ness Monster and the disappearance of aviator Amelia Earhart.

He played Israeli leader Golda Meir's husband opposite Ingrid Bergman in the TV drama "A Woman Called Golda" and Vincent van Gogh in "Vincent," a one-man stage show on the life of the troubled painter. He continued to work well into his 70s, playing gazillionaire genius William Bell in the Fox series "Fringe."

He also directed several films, including the hit comedy "Three Men and a Baby" and appeared in such plays as "A Streetcar Named Desire," ''Cat on a Hot Tim Roof," ''Fiddler on the Roof," ''The King and I," ''My Fair Lady" and "Equus." He also published books of poems, children's stories and his own photographs.

But he could never really escape the role that took him overnight from bit-part actor status to TV star, and in a 1995 interview he sought to analyze the popularity of Spock, the green-blooded space traveller who aspired to live a life based on pure logic.

People identified with Spock because they "recognize in themselves this wish that they could be logical and avoid the pain of anger and confrontation," Nimoy concluded.

"How many times have we come away from an argument wishing we had said and done something different?" he asked.

In the years immediately after "Star Trek" left television, Nimoy tried to shun the role, but he eventually came to embrace it, lampooning himself on such TV shows as "Futurama," ''Duckman" and "The Simpsons" and in commercials.

He became Spock after "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry was impressed by his work in guest appearances on the TV shows "The Lieutenant" and "Dr. Kildare."

The space adventure set in the 23rd century had an unimpressive debut on NBC on Sept. 8, 1966, and it struggled during its three seasons to find an audience other than teenage boys. It seemed headed for oblivion after it was cancelled in 1969, but its dedicated legion of fans, who called themselves Trekkies, kept its memory alive with conventions and fan clubs and constant demands that the cast be reassembled for a movie or another TV show.

Trekkies were particularly fond of Spock, often greeting one another with the Vulcan salute and the Vulcan motto, "Live Long and Prosper," both of which Nimoy was credited with bringing to the character. He pointed out, however, that the hand gesture was actually derived from one used by rabbis during Hebraic benedictions.

When the cast finally was reassembled for "Star Trek — The Motion Picture," in 1979, the film was a huge hit and five sequels followed. Nimoy appeared in all of them and directed two. He also guest starred as an older version of himself in some of the episodes of the show's spinoff TV series, "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

"Of course the role changed my career— or rather, gave me one," he once said. "It made me wealthy by most standards and opened up vast opportunities. It also affected me personally, socially, psychologically, emotionally. ... What started out as a welcome job to a hungry actor has become a constant and ongoing influence in my thinking and lifestyle."

In 2009, he was back in a new big-screen version of "Star Trek," this time playing an older Spock who meets his younger self, played by Zachary Quinto. Critic Roger Ebert called the older Spock "the most human character in the film."

Among those seeing the film was President Barack Obama, whose even manner was often likened to Spock's.

"Everybody was saying I was Spock, so I figured I should check it out," Obama said at the time.

Upon the movie's debut, Nimoy told The Associated Press that in his late 70s he was probably closer than ever to being as comfortable with himself as the logical Spock always appeared to be.

"I know where I'm going, and I know where I've been," he said. He reprised the role in the 2013 sequel "Star Trek Into Darkness."

Born in Boston to Jewish immigrants from Russia, Nimoy was raised in an Italian section of the city where, although he counted many Italian-Americans as his friends, he said he also felt the sting of anti-Semitism growing up.

At age 17 he was cast in a local production of Clifford Odets' "Awake and Sing" as the son in a Jewish family.

"This role, the young man surrounded by a hostile and repressive environment, so touched a responsive chord that I decided to make a career of acting," he said later.

He won a drama scholarship to Boston College but eventually dropped out, moved to California and took acting lessons at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Soon he had lost his "Boston dead-end" accent, hired an agent and began getting small roles in TV series and movies. He played a baseball player in "Rhubarb" and an Indian in "Old Overland Trail."

After service in the Army, he returned to Hollywood, working as taxi driver, vacuum cleaner salesman, movie theatre usher and other jobs while looking for acting roles.

In 1954 he married Sandra Zober, a fellow student at the Pasadena Playhouse, and they had two children, Julie and Adam. The couple divorced, and in 1988 he married Susan Bay, a film production executive.

The Canadian Press




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