Syrians fleeing crackdown cross border into Lebanon

Hundreds of Syrians fled to neighboring Lebanon on Saturday to escape a violent crackdown against an anti-government uprising that has claimed the lives of more than 800 civilians, Lebanese security officials and a leading human rights group said.

President Bashar Assad, meanwhile, reportedly has set up a committee to lead a dialogue with the opposition, the latest offer by the regime as it struggles to end the unrest threatening his family’s 40-year-old dynasty.

Protesters have been taking to the streets in a number of Syrian cities for the past two months to try to force Assad to introduce reforms or resign from office, as leaders in Tunisia and Egypt already have. The government has responded by sending the army onto the streets to counter the demonstrators.

The Lebanese security officials said more than 5,000 Syrians have fled the area in the past weeks, with more than 500 people crossing the border on Saturday alone.


Man jailed because tests identified cheese as drugs

An enzyme found in cheese triggered false drug test results that led Buncombe County deputies to think a man with 91 pounds of tortilla dough was actually carrying that much cocaine, the sheriff said.

Antonio Hernandez spent four days in jail in Asheville earlier this month before tests by a state lab came back showing he was carrying food instead of drugs.

A deputy stopped Hernandez on May 1 and found what turned out to be a mix of cheese, shrimp and tortilla and tamale dough in his truck. A portable kit used by deputies changed colors, indicating the mixture was illegal drugs.

Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan said he plans to have his officers talk to the company that makes the tests.

Hernandez’s arrest angered Latino groups, who said he was targeted because of his race.

The sheriff’s office is writing Hernandez a $400 check to cover the food he lost. But Hernandez said that isn’t enough to also cover other expenses, like the impound fee for his truck.


Pennsylvania police may get broader access to DNA

State lawmakers are considering allowing investigators to use the genetic material from relatives to track suspects in violent crimes who have left DNA evidence at a crime scene but whose genetic fingerprint is not contained in any database. Opponents of the plan say it raises privacy and fairness concerns.

The legislation would allow familial DNA searching and expand the crimes for which DNA samples can be collected. It would allow law enforcement officials to collect DNA samples from people arrested for felonies and a larger number of misdemeanors. It would also require those samples to be purged automatically from the database if the person is acquitted of the charges or never charged with the crime.

Such an expanded DNA search was used successfully to find a suspect in the “Grim Sleeper” slayings in the Los Angeles area. Investigators were led to Lonnie Franklin Jr. after his son was arrested on an unrelated matter and swabbed for DNA.

Only California and Colorado have policies that allow them to perform familial DNA searches, although Texas has also used, and Virginia says it will use, the technology without any change in law.


Police question IMF leader about alleged sex assault

The leader of the International Monetary Fund and a possible candidate for president of France was pulled from an airplane moments before he was to fly to Paris and was being questioned Saturday by police in connection with the violent sexual assault of a hotel maid, police said.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn was taken off the Air France flight at John F. Kennedy International Airport by officers from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and turned over to police Saturday afternoon, said Paul J. Browne, New York Police Department spokesman.

He was being questioned by the NYPD special victims office. Strauss-Kahn had retained an attorney and was not making statements to police, Browne said.

“He’s being arrested for a criminal sex act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment,” Browne said.

The 32-year-old woman told authorities that she entered Strauss-Kahn’s suite at the luxury Sofitel hotel not far from Manhattan’s Times Square about 1 p.m. Saturday and he attacked her, Browne said.

She said she had been told to clean the spacious $3,000-a-night-suite, which she had been told was empty.