MOSCOW

In shift, Russia urges Assad to end conflict in Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad must take the first step toward settling his country’s yearlong conflict by pulling his forces out of cities and allowing humanitarian assistance, a senior Russian lawmaker said Thursday, in a statement that signaled a marked shift in Moscow’s stance.

The comments by Mikhail Margelov, the Kremlin-connected chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of Russian parliament, indicated Moscow’s increasing impatience with Assad and its eagerness to raise pressure on an old ally.

“Syrian President Bashar Assad must urgently fix numerous mistakes that he has made, according to Russia’s official position,” Margelov said, according to the ITAR-Tass and RIA Novosti news agencies.

SAO PAULO, Brazil

Chip-embedded T-shirts tell parents if kids skip school

Grade-school students in a northeastern Brazilian city are using uniforms embedded with locator chips that help alert parents if they’re cutting classes, the city’s education secretary said Thursday.

Twenty thousand students in 25 of Vitoria da Conquista’s 213 public schools started using T-shirts with chips earlier this week, secretary Coriolano Moraes said by telephone.

By 2013, all of the city’s 43,000 public school students, aged 4 to 14, will be using the chip-embedded T-shirts, he added.

Radio frequency chips in “intelligent uniforms” let a computer know when children enter school and it sends a text message to their cell phones. Parents are also alerted if kids don’t show up within 20 minutes after classes begin.

“The city government invested $670,000 to design, test and make the microchipped T-shirts, Moraes said.

WASHINGTON

Sergeant faces 17 murder charges in Afghan massacre

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales will be charged with 17 counts of murder, assault and a string of other offenses in the massacre of Afghan villagers as they slept, a U.S. official said.

The charges signed against Bales include 17 counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder and six counts of aggravated assault as well as dereliction of duty and other violations of military law, the official said on condition of anonymity because the charges had not been announced.

The 38-year-old soldier and father of two who lives in Lake Tapps, Wash., will be charged with going on a shooting rampage in two villages near his southern Afghanistan military post in the early hours of March 11, gunning down nine Afghan children and eight adults and burning some of the victims’ bodies.

The charges are to be read to Bales today. He is being held in a military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and faces trial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

PASADENA, Calif.

NASA spacecraft transmits images of far side of moon

A NASA spacecraft in orbit around the moon has sent back five dozen new images of the lunar surface including a view of the far side with Earth in the distance.

Don’t thank scientists for it. Fourth-graders from Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Bozeman, Mont., directed the spacecraft to snap pictures as part of a project headed by Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.

The images were returned earlier this week.

Twin NASA probes entered lunar orbit over the New Year’s weekend on a mission to study the gravity field. During non-critical parts of the mission, select students get to choose camera targets. The Montana students got first dibs for winning a NASA-sponsored contest that renamed the craft Ebb and Flow.

MILWAUKEE

Minor earthquake may be linked to booming sounds

A minor earthquake occurred this week near the eastern Wisconsin city where researchers have been investigating a series of unexplained booming sounds, federal geologists said Thursday.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the 1.5 magnitude earthquake struck Tuesday just after midnight in Clintonville, a town of about 4,600 about 40 miles west of Green Bay.

Geophysicist Paul Caruso told The Associated Press that loud booming noises have been known to accompany earthquakes. It’s possible the mysterious sounds that town officials have been investigating are linked to the quake, he said.

Earthquakes can generate seismic energy that moves through rock at thousands of miles per hour, producing a sonic boom when the waves come to the earth’s surface, he said.

— From news service reports