Sunday, July 29, 2012

US team could get tough test from France in opener

LONDON (AP) — As the world watched the queen, David Beckham and what seemed like all of England take part in the Olympic opening ceremonies, Mike Krzyzewski stayed in.
Back at the U.S. team's hotel, Krzyzewski and his assistants studied tape of France.
Krzyzewski isn't taking any chances.
"To not prepare would be the ultimate sign of disrespect," Krzyzewski said, "and the biggest, poorest assumption that you could make."
It's gold time for the Americans, who open the 12-nation tournament Sunday against France, a squad led by San Antonio guard Tony Parker and featuring five other NBA players. The French are one of several teams that believe they have a legitimate chance of shocking the star-studded Americans.
"It's a big test for us," U.S. forward Carmelo Anthony said, lacing up his sneakers Saturday before practice at East London University. "We're going up against guys that we normally play on a night-to-night basis, and those countries have put them all together just like we have. And at the end of the day their main goal is to beat the United States.
"There's going to be some good battles."
France will only be the first. This isn't going to be some easy sightseeing stroll along the Thames for the American team before stepping onto the gold-medal stand. Spain, Argentina and Brazil are all talented enough to not only compete with the U.S., but potentially upset the world's No. 1 team.
That wasn't the case four years ago, when the U.S. steamrolled through the field, winning by at least 20 points in each of its first seven games before beating Spain 118-107 in the final. Krzyzewski, who guided the 2008 "Redeem Team" to gold, believes a potential road to gold could have some dangerous bumps.
"The overall 12 teams are more talented, more seasoned," he said. "Spain is just in the prime of their — 28, 29 (years of age). Brazil is in that wheelhouse. I think Russia's really, really good. Obviously Argentina, everyone says they're older but their heart and talent has not gotten older, It's just gotten better.
"There's just more teams that feel that they have a chance to win the gold medal — and medal — than they did in '08."
Count the French among them.
They finished second to Spain at last year's European Championships, and maintain they won't be intimidated by the U.S. team's collection of All-Stars, MVPs and household names. France's players have no intention of being posterized on a dunk by LeBron James or Kobe Bryant the way 7-foot-2 countryman Frederic Weis was famously embarrassed by a soaring Vince Carter in the 2000 Sydney Games.
France, 0-4 against the U.S. in Olympic competition, isn't frightened.
"For us there is no fear factor because we play against them all the time," said Parker, who will wear goggles to protect his surgically repaired left eye. "We know they are really, really good. But it's not going to be like the other teams where they don't see them and it's like, 'Oh, wow, I'm playing against Kobe and LeBron.'"
Bryant likened France's offense to the one Parker runs with the Spurs. Everything starts with the ball in Parker's hands, so the U.S. team's challenge will be to make him give it up.
"Slow him down and surround him," Bryant said. "Keep bodies in front of him at all times."
Turiaf, who recently won an NBA title with James in Miami, said France's familiarity with the U.S. players will help — to a point.
"If you look at the NBA game everyone knows each and every one of those players tendencies," he said. "Can they stop them? No. What you try to do is just give yourself the best chance in order to have some sort of success. I think all you can do is put yourself in position to disturb them as much as possible."
This U.S. team, comprised of five holdovers from the '08 squad, five from the 2010 world championship team and two newcomers, was loose and relaxed before Saturday's workout, a final tune-up before beginning the five-game preliminary round. Durant and Anthony playfully horsed around in the foul lane and Bryant smiled amusingly as photographers jockeyed for position like paparazzi trying to record his every move.
The mood will be decidedly different Sunday.
That's when everything change. That's when it matters.
"Everybody expects us to win gold," James said. "And that's what we're here for. Nothing else."
In recent days, Bryant, James and the other U.S. players have been careful not to get trapped into making comparisons to the Dream Team. Bryant recently caused a stir by saying the 2012 Olympians could beat the 1992 version that included Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
Jordan called Bryant's comments "not one of the smarter things he ever could have done."
For now, the talk has quieted, the comparisons can wait. For this American team to be regarded among the others before them, there can only be one medal.
"The legacy will be determined if you win the gold or you don't," Krzyzewski said. "We're not talking about legacy everyday but it is. We're here to win a gold medal, and if we do less than that, then it will be a big loss for us."

Cuba dissident movement suffers blow with leaders' deaths

Two of the country's top government critics have died nine months apart, leaving a depleted opposition that was already being eclipsed by a new generation.

Cuba dissident funeral
Ofelia Acevedo, left, and Rosa Maria Paya, widow and daughter of Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Paya, attend his funeral in Havana. (Adalberto Roque, AFP/Getty Images / July 29, 2012)

Cuba dissident's widow rejects official death account

The widow of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya has rejected a government report that blamed the car crash that killed her husband on the driver because she has been denied access to witnesses of his death.
Ofelia Acevedo criticized the government for not allowing her to talk to the two survivors of the crash, including the driver, who have been kept in custody since the July 22 incident in southeastern Cuba.
"I reject this report because it is the official report of the government of Cuba and because I have not had access to this information that they say they have," she told AFP. "I have no reason at all to believe this version of events."
The government insists Paya, 60, was killed when the rental vehicle in which he was riding went out of control and struck a tree.
In a lengthy report issued Friday, the Interior Ministry said the driver, Spanish political activist Angel Carromero, lost control of the vehicle when he abruptly hit the brakes on the slippery surface of an unpaved section of road while speeding.
Paya's family, however, has said it had information that the rental car was driven off the road by another vehicle.
Acevedo said she had not yet been able to talk to Carromero, 27, or the other survivor, Swedish political activist Jens Aron Modig, also 27.
"They were the last people who saw my husband alive and they have to know a lot more than I do so far," she said.
Authorities have kept the two witnesses in custody since they were discharged from hospital after being treated for injuries they suffered in the crash. Both men were in Cuba on tourist visas.
Acevedo said she did not believe the government's account of what Carromero said about the accident because "he has not had access to the communications media, outside the presence of state security, which has had him sequestered since he came out of the hospital."
Paya's widow said she had asked the ambassadors of Spain and Sweden to arrange for her to speak to Carromero and Modig but "not even they have been able to speak with them without the presence of state security."
Carromero, who is being held by police in a town close to where the crash occurred, faces charges of traffic violations resulting in death, which can carry up to 10 years in prison under Cuba's penal code.
In Madrid, Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo confirmed Carromero was still being held in Cuba, and could possibly be charged on Monday or Tuesday once the investigation was over.
"If he were to be charged, we would like him to be staying in our embassy; in any case the most important thing is to bring home" Carromero, the Spanish minister said.
Also killed with Paya, winner of the European Parliament's Sakharov prize in 2002, was a fellow Cuban dissident, 31-year-old Harold Cepero Escalante.
Paya, a fervent Catholic, is best known for presenting the Cuban parliament in 2002 with a petition signed by 11,000 people demanding political change in Cuba.
Known as the "Varela Project," the initiative was instrumental in opening debate in Cuba on the direction of a communist regime dominated for more than half a century by Fidel Castro and his brother Raul.
Paya's death was keenly felt among Cuba's dissident community, and authorities have been quick to respond to any sign of protests.
About 50 people were arrested Tuesday after they emerged from Paya's funeral in Havana shouting anti-government slogans. Most were later released without charge, activists said.
Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman Anders Jorle said there was no reason Modig, who is being held in an immigration detention center in Havana, should not be allowed to go home.
The Cuban Commission on Human Rights, officially outlawed but tolerated by the government, urged the regime to allow the two survivors to speak publicly about the accident.
"Now that the government has given the official version, we continue to insist that the absolute truth will be known when both survivors are able to make statements, without any kind of conditions," said the group's leader, Elizardo Sanchez.

Spirited queen happy to play Bond girl

LONDON (Reuters) - Queen Elizabeth needed little persuading in making her film debut, appearing with the country's most famous fictional spy James Bond during the London Olympic opening ceremony.
In a brief, tongue-in-cheek film broadcast to a packed Olympic stadium late on Friday - as well as a massive worldwide television audience - Bond actor Daniel Craig entered Buckingham Palace wearing his trademark tuxedo.
After a pause, Her Majesty turns from her writing desk and says simply: "Good evening, Mr. Bond."
She uttered just four words, but they were seen as a highly personal touch from a monarch once seen as aloof.
"The queen was delighted to be asked, and be involved in something so exceptional," a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman told Reuters on Saturday. "Very pleased to take part, and it was our Olympics and the queen was delighted to be part of it."
Princess Diana's death in 1997 was a low-point for the royal family, yet the huge crowds that greeted her during Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June were proof of how far the queen had recovered in the eyes of the public.
London Mayor Boris Johnson, who escorted the 86-year-old monarch around the Olympic Park during an official tour on Saturday, said that she was "thrilled" about the film and keen to know if people found her cameo role funny.
"My impression is that she loved it," the staunch royalist told reporters. "Maybe, you know, there won't be many film performances that she will give and whether she will get an Oscar, I don't know," he joked.
The pre-recorded clip also showed 007 escorting the queen to the stadium in a moment of levity rarely shared by the public, who can only read about her well-reported sense of humour.
The 86-year-old monarch was happy for two of her beloved corgis, Monty, 13, and Holly, nine, to play a role. The depiction of her derring-do arrival was a quirky moment in an eclectic ceremony on Friday.
The opening shot showed the Queen sitting at a writing table in Buckingham Palace, welcoming Bond, played by Daniel Craig.
The pair made their way to a waiting helicopter in the grounds of the central London palace, apparently leaving her doting corgis on the doorstep.
The helicopter zipped across the city and a man dressed as Bond skydived down towards the Olympic Park in east London, followed by a figure in a pale peach dress matching that worn by the queen in the film.
She then appeared for real in the main stadium before 60,000 spectators - and without a hair out of place - before taking her seat.
The film was the brainchild of the ceremony's director Danny Boyle, but it was London organising committee (LOCOG) chairman Seb Coe who first approached the palace in 2011.
When asked how much it took to persuade the queen to take part, a LOCOG spokeswoman said: "Not much."
"I think she really liked the whole concept Danny had put together."
Oscar-winning director Boyle shot the scenes in the palace's quadrangle, the Grand Entrance, the East Gallery, the Audience Room and the West Terrace, in March and April this year.
"You don't have to tell her something twice," Boyle was quoted as saying by British media.
"She picks it up straight away, about cameras and angles."
The queen was then given a viewing before its official showing.
"She was very happy to take part, she was happy to do what she did," the Buckingham Palace spokeswoman added.
Her off-beat appearance was a hit with the British media.
"It's been received really well, we always knew it would," the palace spokeswoman added.
When asked if it might be the monarch's last appearance in a film, she said: "Never say never, but I imagine so, it was a very special one-off."
Other members of the Royal Family have had cameo appearances in long-running TV and radio soap operas.
Her stuntman Gary Connery said the part had been exciting, but he'd not been allowed to keep the dress.
"It's all part of it, and you just go with the flow," he told BBC television.
"Last night was the first time I'd actually had the make-up on.
"The process of making me the queen ... had been three to four months."
It capped off a successful year for the queen who in June marked 60 years on the throne with a weekend extravaganza that saw millions of flag waving Britons take to the streets to show their affection and appreciation for a monarch more normally renowned for her stately dignity.
(Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Alison Williams)

2 missing US climbers found dead

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Searchers on Saturday found the bodies of two U.S. mountaineers who apparently plunged to their deaths off a ridge after ascending a glacier-capped 20,000-foot (6,100-meter) Peruvian peak, the rescue coordinator said.
"They did summit and they got into trouble on the way down," said coordinator Ted Alexander. "What led to the fall, I cannot tell you now."
Gil Weiss, 29, and Ben Horne, 32, fell an estimated 300 meters (nearly 1,000 feet) off a ridge after reaching the west summit of Palcaraju in the Cordillera Blanca range in mid-July, he said.
"Unfortunately, they died whenever they fell because they had been there long in the snow," he said from the nearby town of Huaraz, where he runs a guide business.
He said a private plane had helped the three-person search team piece together what might have happened. He said he would have a better idea of how the climbers died after examining photos taken by rescuers on-site.
Both Weiss, of Queens, N.Y., and Horne, of Annandale, Virginia, were experienced climbers. Weiss was a repeat visitor to the Cordillera Blanca while this trip was Horne's first.
Both belong to the climbers' collective and Horne wrote about the first, six-day leg of their trip on its blog, saying they had been buffeted by hurricane-force winds when the two reached the top of the 20,216-foot (6,162-meter) Ranrapalca.
After a rest in Huaraz, the two set out again on July 11 for an excursion of seven to 10 days. Their families contacted Alexander after 13 days passed with no word from them.
Weiss's sister, Galit, said the two were not carrying a satellite phone.
Alexander said it should not be too difficult to remove the bodies and hoped they could be out on Sunday.
"We'll use manpower to get them down and try to put them on a horse as soon as possible," he said.
Horne was a graduate student in economics at the University of California, San Diego. Weiss was founder of a business in Boulder, Colorado, called Beyond Adventure Productions that specialized in organizing and photographing events in remote and spectacular locations.
The Cordillera Blanca climbing season runs from June to September and the deaths of Weiss and Horne bring to eight the number of mountaineers who have lost their lives in the range so far this year.
At least 40 have been evacuated due to medical problems, mostly altitude sickness and hypothermia, said Maj. Marco Carrera, commander of Peru's police high-mountain rescue team, which was aiding in the recovery of the climbers' bodies.
Many of the roughly 8,000 foreigners who Carrera said climb the Cordillera Blanca annually do so without hiring local guides, whose absence can make the trips more perilous as snow and ice conditions can quickly change.
On the blog, Weiss posted a comment on July 10 that demonstrated his acute awareness of the potential dangers of his passion for climbing. He was contemplating the death of his friend Michael Ybarra, who had been solo climbing in California's high Sierras.
"I sit here in a coffee shop in Huaraz, Peru, planning another foray into the Cordillera Blanca, where the sense that one's life is in the hands of the mountains can be as blinding as the endless white glaciers, and a thirst for glory can darken our better judgment more than the blackness of night."

Romney builds ties in Israel, woos voters at home

JERUSALEM (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will confront some of the world's most difficult peace and security challenges on Sunday as he looks to demonstrate to Jewish and evangelical voters back home that he's a better friend to Israel than Democratic President Barack Obama.
Romney faces high stakes as he begins a series of talks with top Israeli officials and meets with the Palestinian prime minister. Mindful of polls back home that show a tight presidential contest, the former one-term governor is looking to burnish his foreign policy credentials and prove his mettle as a possible commander in chief. The trip is a chance for Romney to draw implicit contrasts with Obama and demonstrate how he would lead America on the world stage.
But Romney arrived in Jerusalem Saturday night after a difficult few days in Britain, where he made the mistake of criticizing the country's Olympic Games and raised the hackles of his hosts. The gaffe undermined the stated goal of his weeklong journey through Britain, Israel and Poland: emphasizing America's ties with longstanding allies.
"In a time of turmoil and peril in Israel's neighborhood, it is important that the security of America's commitments to Israel will be as clear as humanly possible. When Israel feels less secure in the neighborhood, it should feel more secure of the commitment of the United States to its defense," Romney said in a Friday interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz.
What he's not doing: Specifically outlining how a Romney presidency would approach Iran's nuclear program, the escalating civil war in Syria, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process differently from Obama. As Romney visits, Israel's leaders are weighing a military attack on Iran, warily watching the shaky regime in neighboring Syria and Mideast peace talks are going nowhere.
Romney has pledged not to criticize Obama while on foreign soil, honoring longstanding American tradition of leaving politics at the water's edge. In London on Thursday, he said he also didn't think it appropriate to discuss foreign policy while overseas.
In interviews with Israeli newspapers ahead of his arrival, Romney has both criticized Obama and commented more extensively on policy details.
"Iran is closer to nuclearization than it was when President Obama took office. It is hard to feel that the events of the last three and a half years have strengthened America's posture and promoted the prospects of peace," Romney told Hayom, a conservative Israeli publication bankrolled by billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. Romney was still in the U.S. when he spoke to the paper, though his remarks weren't published until Friday, when he was already abroad.
In the interview with Ha'aretz, Romney urged caution in supporting rebel forces in Syria. He's previously said the U.S. should do more to arm the opposition there, but reports this week say Islamist terror groups could now be an element of rebel forces, prompting caution from U.S. officials.
"I think it is important for the responsible nations of the world to seek to understand which forces in Syria represent real change, rather than the kind of destruction that might occur if al-Qaeda were to seize the development of chaos and assert leadership in some significant way in Syria," Romney said Friday.
Romney will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a host of Israeli security officials. He'll also meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres and the leaders of Israel's political opposition. Romney will also hold a meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, though his advisers say he didn't have time to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.
He'll also deliver a speech in Jerusalem, where advisers say he will "lock arms" with Israel. Romney doesn't plan to outline specific policies in the address, which he'll make outdoors near the historic Old City.
Romney plans to spend the evening dining at Netanyahu's home — the Israeli leader invited Romney and his wife to break the fast for the Jewish holiday Tisha B'Av. The holy day, celebrated Sunday, commemorates the destruction of two temples in Jerusalem. Romney and Netanyahu have known each other since both were young businessmen at Boston Consulting Group in the 1970s.
On Monday, Romney plans a fundraiser with top American supporters in Israel, some guests have flown in from the U.S. specifically for the event. His campaign has barred reporters from covering his comments to the 50 or so wealthy backers who will gather at the luxurious King David Hotel — all of whom will have donated $50,000 or raised at least $100,000. Keeping the remarks private is a change from how Romney handles fundraisers in the United States, where a group of reporters are allowed into events held in public spaces like hotels.
Expected among the attendees is Adelson, who has pledged to spend $100 million to defeat Obama and who has given millions to a third-party group supporting Romney's presidency.
While Romney is left to implicit contrasts with his Democratic opponent, Obama has been focusing on Israel, signing legislation on Friday increasing military and civilian ties between the U.S. and Israel. And he authorized the release of an additional $70 million in military aid for Israel, a previously announced move that appeared timed to Romney's trip.