JUNEAU, Alaska

Former Exxon Valdez heads for Indian Gulf scrap heap

The ship formerly known as the Exxon Valdez, responsible for one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history, appears destined for the scrap heap in a shipyard along the Indian Gulf of Cambay.

The tanker ran aground at Alaska’s Bligh Reef on March 24, 1989, and spewed 11 million gallons of crude oil into the rich fishing waters of Prince William Sound.

An Anchorage jury in 1991 called for Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp. to pay $5 billion in punitive damages, although the U.S Supreme Court later reduced that to $507.5 million.

Exxon maintained at the time that it should not be liable for the actions of the supertanker’s skipper, Joseph Hazelwood, when the nearly 1,000-foot vessel ran aground with 53 million gallons of oil in its hold.

According to prosecutors, Hazelwood was drunk, but he denied it and was acquitted of the charge in criminal court.

KABUL, Afghanistan

U.S. soldier faces 17 counts of murder for massacre

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was charged Friday with 17 counts of premeditated murder, a capital offense that could lead to the death penalty in the massacre of Afghan civilians, the U.S. military said.

The 38-year-old soldier is accused of walking off a U.S. military base with his 9mm pistol and M-4 rifle, which was outfitted with a grenade launcher, before dawn on March 11, killing nine Afghan children and eight adults and burning some of the bodies.

Bales also was charged with six counts of attempted murder and six counts of assault in those cases, according to Col. Gary Kolb, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Bales, a father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., was informed of the 29 charges at the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he is confined.

His civilian attorney, John Henry Browne, said that he believes the government will have a hard time proving its case and that his client’s mental state will be an important issue. Bales was on his fourth tour of duty, having served three tours in Iraq, where he suffered head and foot injuries.

WEST MONROE, La.

Santorum explains remark about Obama over Romney

Facing heightened pressure to revive his presidential bid, Rick Santorum was forced to explain another apparent misstep as he courted Louisiana voters Friday, the eve of a critical contest in a Republican nomination battle that increasingly favors Mitt Romney.

Santorum said he would support the eventual GOP nominee — if it isn’t him — despite what he insists are similarities between front-runner Romney and President Obama that make them indistinguishable on some issues. He caused an intraparty uproar after suggesting he’d prefer a second term for Obama over a Romney presidency.

“I’ve said repeatedly and will continue to say, I’ll vote for whoever the Republican nominee is and I will work for him,” Santorum said as he walked back his original comments less than 24 hours before Louisiana polls were due to open. “Barack Obama is a disaster, but we can’t have someone who agrees with him on some of the biggest issues of the day.”

The situation underscored Santorum’s challenges ahead of a Louisiana contest he’s favored to win. He has had success in the South, having won last week’s contests in Alabama and Mississippi. Regardless of the outcome today, however, Romney will have collected more delegates than his opponents combined as the race then turns to more favorable territory in the coming weeks.

BERLIN

Reebok pulls ad campaign about cheating on girlfriend

Reebok has withdrawn a controversial ad campaign telling gym visitors to cheat on their girlfriend rather than on their workout.

Reebok spokesman Kerry Summers said in an email Friday the company apologizes for “any offense they may have caused” and that the company “does not condone this message or cheating in any way.”

Summers says the posters — “Cheat on your girlfriend, not on your workout” — were placed in men’s and women’s locker rooms in 85 of the brand’s partner gyms across Germany for two weeks.

The posters were criticized in social media, with many people concerned over what appears to be an endorsement of cheating. Photos of the poster have gone viral online.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti

U.N. official cites progress in Haiti since earthquake

A United Nations official says she sees improvements in Haiti since the powerful earthquake two years ago.

Helen Clark of the U.N. Development Program says there is a “huge difference from the desolation” that she witnessed four days after the 2010 disaster.

A UNDP statement Friday said more than 60 percent of the millions of tons of rubble left by the disaster has been removed in one of the biggest clearance operations of its kind.

Haitian authorities say the quake killed 314,000 people and collapsed tens of thousands of buildings. About 1.3 million people had to move into precarious tent camps.

Still, reconstruction has been slow because of political infighting. 

— From news service reports