Blast determined to have been assassination attempt

An explosion earlier this week in the Green Zone, a protected area in the center of the Iraqi capital, was an assassination attempt against the Iraqi prime minister, an Iraqi spokesman said.

That assailants were able to get a bomb inside what is supposed to be the most heavily fortified area in the country raises serious doubts about the abilities of Iraq’s security forces at a crucial time when American troops are leaving the country.

The Baghdad military spokesman, Qassim al-Moussawi, said an attacker was able to get a vehicle carrying about 44 pounds of explosives into the Green Zone and then tried to join a convoy of other vehicles going into the parliament grounds.

But at a checkpoint leading into the parliament compound, guards prevented the driver from going any farther because he did not have proper authorization. The driver then drove to the parking lot just opposite the parliament entrance where many lawmakers or their staff park, and the vehicle exploded seconds later.


Artwork reclassified as work of Rembrandt, not student

Experts have reclassified a painting as a Rembrandt after years of attributing it to one of the Dutch master’s students.

Ernst van de Wetering of the Rembrandt Research Project said Friday that X-ray analysis of “Bearded Old Man” has revealed outlines of a self-portrait of Rembrandt as a young man underneath.

He also cited stylistic analysis and circumstantial evidence in support of the conclusion that the painting – showing a man with unkempt white hair, lost in thought with just a hint of sadness – is by the Dutch master.

Van de Wetering dates the small (6- x 8-inch) but emotive painting to 1630, when Rembrandt van Rijn would have been 24 years old.


Ruling party backs same-sex marriage, but impact diluted

Australia’s ruling party voted today to endorse same-sex marriage, a reversal of its long-standing position that has little practical effect on the chance of gay marriage being legalized in the country.

The impact of the vote at the center-left Labor Party’s annual conference was diluted by the party’s endorsement of a motion by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to allow lawmakers to make a “conscience vote” on bills attempting to legalize gay marriage.

That means legislators can vote on the issue according to their personal beliefs rather than being forced to vote in line with the party’s official position.

Gillard’s government holds a wafer-thin majority in Parliament over the conservative Liberal Party – which opposes same-sex marriage – and several Labor members personally oppose gay marriage. So any bill proposing to legalize gay marriage will still face a tough battle.

Recent polls show a majority of Australians favor allowing same-sex marriage, and several Australian states already permit civil unions between gay couples.

But Gillard opposes any changes to Australia’s Marriage Act, which prohibits same-sex marriage.

She called the party’s support of the conscience vote “the right decision,” but brushed off questions about its endorsement of the policy change.

“My focus was on the conscience vote and people should be able to vote in accordance with their conscience – and certainly now they will,” Gillard said.


Air bag problem forces Honda recall of 304,000 cars

Honda Motor Co. is recalling 304,000 vehicles globally for air bags that may inflate with too much pressure in a crash, send metal and plastic pieces flying and cause injuries or deaths. Honda said there have been 20 accidents so far related to the problem, including two deaths in the U.S. in 2009.

The Japanese automaker announced the recall Friday, which affects the Accord, Civic, Odyssey, Pilot, CR-V and other models manufactured in 2001 and 2002.

The recall spans 273,000 vehicles in the U.S., some 27,000 in Canada, nearly 2,000 vehicles in Japan and another 2,000 in other countries. It affects 359 vehicles in Europe – 200 in Germany, 158 in Israel and one in Britain, according to Honda.

The latest recall is an expansion of recalls for the same problem in 2008, and again carried out in 2009, as well as last year. It now covers about 2 million vehicles worldwide, according to Tokyo-based Honda.

Honda spokesman Hajime Kaneko said the cause for the latest recall was the use of incorrect material in the chemical used to deploy the air bags.

— From news service reports