BEIRUT

Assad supporters target U.S. ambassador in protest

Angry supporters of President Bashar Assad’s regime hurled tomatoes and eggs at the U.S. ambassador to Syria on Thursday as he entered the office of a leading opposition figure and then tried to break into the building, trapping him inside for three hours.

The Obama administration blamed the Syrian government for the attack in Damascus, saying it was part of an ongoing, orchestrated campaign to intimidate American diplomats in the country. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the attack as “wholly unjustified.”

Ambassador Robert Ford, an outspoken critic of Assad’s crackdown on the 6-month-old revolt against the regime, has angered Syrian authorities before by showing support for the uprising. The latest incident promises to raise tensions even further.

KABUL, Afghanistan

Reports on militant attacks offer contrasting findings

International forces in Afghanistan released new data Thursday showing violence trending downward in their favor, only a day after the U.N. reported considerably more clashes and other attacks per month than last year.

The quick scheduling of the news conference to unveil the statistics underscored NATO’s sensitivity about how the war is perceived back home as the U.S. and other nations start to withdraw some forces with an eye toward pulling all combat troops out by the end of 2014.

The new statistics show insurgent attacks in the first eight months of the year were down 2 percent compared with the same period last year.

The U.N. report, by contrast, found that the monthly average number of clashes and other attacks was running nearly 40 percent higher than last year. The U.N. study measured not only Taliban attacks but also assaults by NATO and Afghan forces on insurgents; it did not provide a breakdown between the two.

DES MOINES, Iowa

Gingrich outlines ‘Contract’ plan for taxes, health care

Hoping to revive his flagging bid for the Republican presidential nomination, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is calling for an overhaul of the way Americans pay taxes, buy health care and contribute to the Social Security system.

Gingrich mapped out the 10-point plan, which he’s calling The 21st Century Contract with America, in a speech at a Des Moines insurance company Thursday. Key elements include repealing President Barack Obama’s health care plan, giving taxpayers the option of paying a flat tax and allowing young people to opt out of Social Security.

WASHINGTON

Census: More Hispanics self-identified as white

In a twist to notions of race identity, new 2010 census figures show an unexpected reason behind a renewed growth in the U.S. white population: more Hispanics listing themselves as white in the once-a-decade government count.

The shift is due to recent census changes that emphasize “Hispanic” as an ethnicity, not a race. While the U.S. government first made this distinction in 1980, many Latinos continued to use the “some other race” box to establish a Hispanic identity. In a switch, the 2010 census forms specifically instructed Latinos that Hispanic origins are not races and to select a recognized category such as white or black.

The result: a 6 percent increase in white Americans as tallied by the census, even though there was little change among non-Hispanic whites. In all, the number of people in the “white alone” category jumped by 12.1 million over the last decade to 223.6 million. Based on that definition, whites now represent 72 percent of the U.S. population and account for nearly half of the total population increase since 2000.

— From news service reports